Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Education of a Coach

My brother is a real Head Coach. He is the coach of the Brown U crew team. We enjoy discussing sports and coaching. The differences between coaching Crew and Ultimate are vast, but we discuss many aspects such as mental toughness and training. We frequently give each other sports books as gifts. This past holiday, he gave me "The Education of a Coach" by Halberstam (I enjoy reading sports books by "real" authors like this guy and John Feinstein). I am not a big Patriots fan as my contrarian nature recoils against provincialism, but I am a big fan of Bill Belichick. This book is well-written and very focused on the education that the elder Steve Belichick provided for his son. The book is as much about Steve as it is Bill, and Steve was a very interesting character. He stayed away from the limelight and glamour of a Head Coach position, and instead focused his life on what he was good at, which was scouting and breaking down film. His obsessive interest was passed on to Bill, and his success in preparing his teams has been well-documented.

As usual, I spend time trying to relate the book to my job as a coach. It is interesting how much the Belichick's strengths play pretty much solely to the defense, although this is not that surprising considering Bill's years as a D coordinator. While there are significant differences in the parameters of being a football coach vs an Ultimate coach, the book does make me ponder if there is a lack of defensive sophistication in Ultimate. Now, a defensive team in Football benefits from each plays re-set, thereby giving the D a chance to see the O's cards right before the play begins. I do think that an Ultimate team does have a similar opportunity when it is about to pull to not only see the O players (and their tendencies), but to also have a chance to make a call and change things up.

The book stresses how much time father and son spent watching film. Over and over again, looking for clues and tendencies. Steve said he begins by watching the center. That is where the direction of the play begins. Of course, I thought about the possible uses of video in terms of preparation for Ultimate. I think there might be untapped opportunities in terms of preparation for our sport.

Steve was unique in terms of his work ethic and methods. He is described as someone who saw scouting and film as and end in and of itself. Most other scouts had higher aspirations, and, apparently, you could see this as the scouts viewed their work as done on Saturday, while Steve (and young Bill) would sit and analyze each play to check on the quality of their work. Steve was also unique in that, while most scouts looked for the oppositions weaknesses, he looked for the way to take away their strengths. Bill certainly inherited and perhaps the best example is the 01 Super Bowl. Not only did the Pats drop 7-8 DB's back (thus inviting the Rams to run), they decided that Faulk, not Warner, provided the team's rhythm. The mission of the team was to knock Faulk down at every opportunity, and Bill spent the week of practicing yelling at his D "Where is he? Where is he?" as a continual reminder of their task. So, the first thing I started to think about is it just a matter of, say, for a team that likes to cut underneath to force them away. Certainly, the idea of making a team uncomfortable like this is pretty obvious, but are there deeper levels of awareness in terms of knocking a team out of its rhythm? I do feel that Ultimate players are creatures of habit and very willing to reveal their tendencies, so there are opportunities on the defensive side of things and that Ultimate is not necessarily all about the O.


parinella said...

D's have tendencies, too. I can often tell which D the DoG D is playing just by watching them run or jog down on the pull. If two guys cheat offsides and then sprint down, they're the points in the zone. Guys who stroll off the line are deeps in the zone or back in the clam. If no one tries to line up across (or if there are obvious mismatches), they're playing junk or zone.

I can also often tell who the primary cutters are, when I'm not in, from how they jog or set themselves up. Or I can tell if there's a set play called because players will hustle to get into a stack.

I've figured this out (with little conscious effort) from thousands of points with the same people. How quickly do you think it could be done if all you did was watch a big name every second of every point?

Sideline Engineer said...

Any recommendations for good sports books for Ultimate coaches (beyond the Ultimate books, of course)?

gcooke said...


I think I oversimplified a bit too much. I agree with your points and methods of looking at what the O is doing.

Your point about the big name is interesting. I think this book speaks to looking at the subtle things under the surface that might drive an offense, but don't get noticed. Again, I am not how applicable this is....but, for now, I want to take a look.....


Here are a few I like:

"Sports Slump Busting"-Alan Goldberg. Great book about mental toughness and goal setting. Targets the athlete, but coaches can benefit from the reading.

"Shooting in the Dark"-John Thompson. Excellent book about setting goals and working with younger athletes.

"More than a Game"-Phil Jackson, Charley Rosen. Sonewhat obvious. I do like the parts about the development of the Triangle as compared to the other systems of the time.

All these books are, for me, very valuable for the things that are applicable to most sports, such as: goal setting, practice design, mental toughness, and interpersonal relationships.

David Lee Paraguay said...

I think video is being used more and more, and not just so the team can sit around and drink beer and heckle each other while watching evidence of their greatness. I see cameras out a lot, even in mixed.

I know for a fact that DTL has all of our important games against them for the last few years on tape, and it is clear to me that they have used these to great effect to come up with specific strategies for playing us. If we weren't so lazy, we'd do the same thing, though me never playing D points allows me to get a pretty good gauge on their offensive tendencies.

We developed a very specific strategy to try to take them out of their prefernces/first options/comfort zone on O after they trounced us in the sectional finals and practiced it a lot before regionals. Then we never played them at regionals and didn't practice it again as it was unlikely we'd play them in Sarasota. Then when we did play them in Sarasota, I don't remember talking about our strategy, but then again I played no D points so maybe we were talking about it on the line.

And its cliched, but in the end its about making plays. When Beau was in mixed two years ago, we had men fronting and backing him, women poaching deep, everything we could think of, but without a big male defender, they still just jacked it to him repeatedly and caught it repeatedly. Good thing he retired to open.

And I'm rambling, but I must mention a teammate of mine who mocks scouting reports and loves that one person glancing over at another game between points or talking to a friend becomes a scouting report: "#17 is their goal scorer, #10 is coming off of a double knee surgery, so run him, and that guy there is their Callahan specialist" Good stuff.

Sideline Engineer said...

Thanks for the books. I read Jackson's Sacred Hoops and found it very good. I'll take a look through the recommendations.

gcooke said...


That is good stuff about the video. I think the insta-scout is still pretty apporpriate these days......


parinella said...

I can't see the term "slump busting" without thinking of this definition taken from baseball.