Thursday, October 9, 2008

Confidence and active learning

You're going to fuck up.
It's a part of learning.
But remember this: Please, please, please fuck up actively rather than passively.

What I mean is this: it's better to go out, try to do something, and do it wrong than to let your self-doubt keep you from making the attempt, or keep you from attempting it at 100%. It's easy to half-ass it going into it and tell yourself 'well, I knew it wouldn't work...' It's much, much harder to trust yourself, fuck up at 100%, and then figure out what went wrong.

One trick of active learning is to prepare yourself for the task at hand by putting the stakes in perspective. Never are the stakes so low as at practice: there's nothing on the line except how much you and your teammates improve over the course of those two hours. That being said, two hours of your life should be high stakes indeed.

The next step in preparing yourself is to realize the very basics of the role you're fulfilling: what constitutes success? When you're cutting, it means getting open and catching the disc. When you've got the disc, it means throwing a good pass to another player. When you're playing defense, it means that your man doesn't get it on the open side, and he doesn't break you.

Getting the disc-- you deserve it.
When you're cutting, you need to believe that you deserve to have the disc as well as anyone on that field. We believe it, or we wouldn't put you on the field; if you don't believe it, you shouldn't have let us. Use the system so you know when it's your turn. Never let your defense dictate.

With the disc-- know your throws and trust your dump.
When you catch the disc and pivot downfield to look at eight or ten guys running around like idiots, ten seconds can seem like a very short time. Once you can always trust that you can turn and throw the dump pass, even four to six seconds seems like a lot of time.
Take a breath. Throw a fake. Is there a deep cut you can hit? Is there an under cut on the open side you can hit? Is there a break throw you can make? That's all there is to it. Every thrower has a different routine of making these checks, and modifies them if the team strategy dictates (i.e. you might pivot and look first to see where Francis is, if he's your partner.) But when it comes down to it, it's not worth freaking out because your dump will always be there for you.

Defense-- know your job and do it.
Don't get beat under on the open side. Ever.
Don't let him throw it to the break side. Ever.
Don't let him score on you. Ever.

These things are what you need to step onto the field believing that you are going to do, come what may. With these as your fundamental inner truths, you now have time to process the actual game-situation realities that will happen.
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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

System versus fundamentals

The coaches have a tough job the first week of the year and especially approaching the first tournaments. This is to teach Ultimate at the same time we're teaching our team system. We're walking a balance between making sure the rookies walk away with good basic skills, and knowing that we can't teach everything before the first tournament.

At practice today we split up the returners and freshmen so that the returners could get a concrete grasp of our cutting system, and pass that on consistently to freshmen from this point on.

Questions came up to the tune of "when this happens, shouldn't I..."
Here's the flowchart to answer these yourself:
1) Are you poached? Yes: Go get the disc, No: go to 2.
2) Are you cutting someone off who's coming in? Yes: Clear. No: Go to 3.
3) Is the thrower looking at you? No: Clear. Yes: Go to 4.
4) Are you making significant yardage OR better field position (break side)? No: Clear, Yes: Communicate, and act.

For the most part, however, and especially this early in the season, these situations will be few and far between. For the most part, it's better to skip a minor gain in favor of a reset dump and back to the system. Here's why:

Here's a breakdown on the fundamentals of offense, and which parts of our offense address them.

RULE #1: If your team doesn't turn it over, you will score a point.
Got it? Good.

RULE #2: Always, always, always DICTATE. Make the opponent react to you.
This is more important on the defense end, but the way our cutting system does this is:
a) We set up by striking deep, and should attempt to score deep early in the game. At that point, they'll be so afraid of our deep looks that our in-cuts for yards can be the staple of our (more conservative) offense.
b) We're going to be working more later in the fall with the dead side of the field (breaking the mark). If a team is afraid we can throw it wherever we like, they'll be forced to hustle on the break side of the field as well as the open.

RULE #3: Take what they give you.
Since we're making the defense worry about certain things, above, we're punishing them for the things they get lax on. If they don't back us, we can score by hucking from the brick. If they back us, we're going to move the disc with pretty big gainers. If we hit anyone who's poached, they'll be forced to play us honest.

RULE #4: Know where the important space is.
Always cut and throw to open space, so that the cutter can run onto the disc.
Easy test: think about our system. Where's the important space our system creates and exploits?
It's the corner two thirds of the endzone to huck to, and the center of the field on an incut. In other words, we go deep in the center so that the hucks go to the outside of us, and we cut in to the center of the field.

RULE #5: Get out of the important space the instant you're looked off.
Just because it's at the bottom of the list doesn't mean CLEARING is the least important.
If you're in the way, no one else can go to that space; if you leave, you can then go back and get the disc in the right place.

Any questions?

Read Rule #1 again. Then go throw.
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Saturday, September 20, 2008


Actively work on your damn throws, because your individual grasp of the fundamentals limits what the team can accomplish.


The factor that most indicates the success of a team's season is the average level of throwing ability on the team. This is the biggest facet of a larger picture: to what extent does your team 'buy in' to the fundamentals of your team, and necessarily the sport?

The fundamentals of Ultimate are nothing more than throwing, catching, and defense. Defense is a whole 'nother thing, but throws and catches are absolutely the indicators of the mental and physical commitment of an entire team.

It's easy to ascribe Oregon and Wisconsin, Stanford and Carleton's comparative dominance to their much larger student body and draw towards their legacy of success. In my four years of playing, Reed's weaknesses have been 20% basic athleticism, 20% our offensive and defensive system, and 60% fundamentals.

We've always had a Dylan Levy-Boyd, a Doug Galbraith, a Josh O'Rourke who could dominate most athletes and compete step-for-step with the best of them. Where the Reed program has always fallen behind other teams is in the willingness to hold ourselves to a consistent standard of fundamentals, and then extend this to a disciplined system.

In discussing this post with Fish, he points out correctly that some of the flaws in our system come down to weaknesses in the other areas (throws and athleticism). This is to say, we fall short of running our ideal system because not everyone on the team can make the best throw for the situation, or get open at will.

Commit to an hour of FOCUSED throwing outside of practices, per week.
This means not dropping the disc once. Period. Ditto for throwing before practice. This means no hucking until you've worked on a series of perfect short passes. This means starting a set of reps (40 of both throws, for instance) and keeping your mind on that task until finished. Then fuck around and throw hammers all you like. I'm the last to argue that fucking around with a disc doesn't help you get better, but it doesn't help you get better anywhere near as fast.

*Commit to focusing the instant you get to practice.
Ultimate frisbee is fun. So is getting good exercise, running hard, and learning how to make your body perform. So push yourself as much mentally as you do physically in those two hours you have.

* Demand discipline in O & D systems early in the season from the entire team.
Practice does NOT make perfect-- perfect practice makes perfect. This early in the season you are certainly not there to win scrimmages, or even games at tournaments. You are there to improve, mentally and physically, every damn point you play. If you're not doing that, why are you on the field?

*Demand more of yourself, and give yourself more credit.
As a captain, coach, and fellow player nothing is more exciting than seeing potential in everyone. No one on your team is as good as they can be, and that starts at, yeah, you. Everyone knows to watch their ego, but remember this: never sell yourself short, never give yourself the easy way out that you will (and you WILL!) regret a month or a year later.

*Be a better teammate by talking more.
This extends far past just yelling 'up!' on the sideline. This means, even if you're the quietest shyest freshman, realizing that you have every bit as much stake in the team as anyone else, and taking it upon yourself say a word to congratulate a big play, to pick up a teammate who's having hard day, to encourage someone to do a drill harder and better.
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