Monday, July 17, 2006

National Ultimate Training Camp-Session A

Session A of the National Ultimate Training Camp began this past Saturday, and the big story is its new home. The Northfield Campus of the Northfield-Mount Hermon School replaced our old home of three years, Hampshire College. While more remote than Hampshire College, the new campus offers excellent facilities, a great staff, and, most importantly, fields that are probably in the top five that I have seen for Ultimate.

We have 61 campers this week, and they hail from most of the NE states plus Colorado,Illinois, California, Georgia, and Washington, etc. The campers are mostly experienced players, and the theme of camp this year is "No Flash". This means focusing on fundamental skills. We have a camper from New Brunswick that paid her own way to NUTC with babysitting money she earned, and then had her parents drive her the 11 hours to camp.

Tiina Booth, our director, has, as usual, picked an outstanding crop of counselors for this week's session:

Dan Parrish-NC.....has been at every NUTC
Derek Gottleib- CO
Dylan Tunnell- GA
Micah Flynn- MA
Josh Mullen- MA
Jody Avirgan- lately of San Fran
Shmi Narayan- MA
Emily Baecher- MA
Lexi Marsh- MA

My role, as Assistant Director, is to basically herd campers and to espouse wisdom to anyone who will listen.

Registration featured the usual, "I forgot sheets", "I forgot my toothbrush", etc, but everyone arrived safe, received cool gear from VC, Breakmark and Discraft, and everyone got to play some pick-up after signing in.

We woke up bright and early at 6:45am this morning, ate breakfast, and made our way to the fields. One of the nice thing about Northfield is that we can walk to the fields and not have to bus it like we did at Hampshire. We started the day by discussing mental toughness as the thought of the day was "focus on the things you can control". This was appropriate as it was VERY hot today (upper 90's, very humid). Our EMT weighed in on the dangers of dehydration and we kept on the campers all day about drinking enough fluids. We worked on fundamentals and scrimmaged until lunch. The same template followed in the afternoon. I am very impressed with the teaching skills of our counselors. After Rec Hour (swimming, etc), it was dinner. The evening activity was team night in which the campers are divided into teams for the remainder of the week. Teams for this week:

Team Jody/Shmi
Team Josh
Team Dylan/Micah
Team Derek/Emily
Team Dan/Lexi

We did various team games before lights out. Tomorrow looks to be another hot day. Temps in the 90's and humid. We will be focusing on the camp philosophy of creating a safe place by working very hard to ensure that everyone is hydrated. Monday is a fun day as this is the first time the teams get to work together, and it will be in this environment that we will continue to drill fundamentals.


Alex de Frondeville said...

Make sure not just hydrating but lots of electrolytes, straight salt if you can, or Tums is a great substitute. This has been a requirement for our team down at Nationals the last few years as it has gotten very hot down in Sarasota.

gcooke said...


Thanks for the advice. We have a very nice cafeteria, so we have been monitoring the kids food intake as well. I know from Russ Robar that, like you say, straight salt is excellent. I haven't instituted straight salt as "policy" yet, but your reminder helps....


Ryan said...

No Flash!?

If you get the disc from one endzone to the other without dropping it, who cares how you got it there?

Kids need to develop their individual styles and on-field "personalities". Not everyone is a fast receiver with perfect 100% throws, and they shouldn't want to be. The best players are the ones that get open (no matter how) and come down with the disc or the ones that can put a disc to a receiver by any means possible.

Flash is great. Flash makes the game enjoyable. Flash isn't always the long huck - it's also the crossfield break or the string of give-and-go's just out of the defenders' reach.

Flash it up!

gcooke said...


You can teach whatever you want when you start your own overnight camp.

First, do not take my turn of phrases and then dissect them with an RSD tone.

Second, I do not have the time to quibble as to whether a crossfield break constitutes flash or fundamentals.

Third, nowhere do I say that fundamentals is represented by fast receivers with perfect throws or that such a skill set is flashy.

Fourth, the thought of the day posted on our camp board "Be interested in developing character not reputation" by John Wooden. I don't think the analogy meeds to be explained.

I guess I have to spell it out. What we mean is: everyone here has something to learn and can improve. The camp is not about showing off, it is about stretching past your comfort zone.


gcooke said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
parinella said...

I blogged about junk throws/flash a couple months ago, then discussed it with Tiina after learning that the theme of the camp would be "No Flash."

She said that kids will throw Flash when there is no reason to and non-Flash will work just as well. I countered that at some point in a player's career, if he wants to get great, he has to learn how to use and harness Flash. We then agreed that a camp for high schoolers is not the place for them to learn this. We disagreed a little bit about how much prodigies should be allowed to use Flash.

James Scott said...

It seems to me that if the play at camp is competitive, then let the kids Flash as much as they want. The teams that Flash at the right times and Flash best will probably win. The over-flashy players and teams will probably lose.

Richard said...

After reading your post originally, and then rereading it and the comments I wonder:

What is Flash? (as defined by the camp)

And how do you prevent/discourage it?

gcooke said...

The following are comments from Tiina:

I have no interest in a semantical discussion about the word "flash." What I will point out is that the vast majority of middle school and high school players develop their ultimate skills without the benefit of experienced leadership, be it a coach, parent, alum, or older sibling. In the last few years the explosive growth in youth ultimate has NOT been matched by an explosive growth in people willing to coach. The result is that we have players at NUTC who need to learn or relearn throwing mechanics, basic field movement, or their overall understanding of the game. This is not a complaint by any means. This is why we are here and why we love it.
So my challenge to those of you who are curious or skeptical or just downright contrary is two-fold:
1) coach a team of youth players. Then you will understand the audience, the challenges, and the many rewards.
2) come out to NUTC in the next two weeks and watch what we do. We'll even feed you a free meal.
Finally, I have to tell you about this question I was asked today, the very first time in my 26 years of being involved in ultimate that I have ever been asked this. I showed up after lunch and was told that the Field Guy wanted to see me. Now anyone who has been involved in tournaments knows that the name "Field Guy" strikes fear in your heart. I thought, "Are we in trouble? Did one of the kids do something wrong? Are we going to be kicked off these beautiful fields?"
I walked up to Mr. FG and introduced myself. He immediately said, "I just have one question for you . . . what height would you like the grass on the ultimate fields cut to?"

luke said...

cut, paste, scroll down to the bit about field guys...

and yes, the approach of field guy is always terrifying...

Andy said...

I was at the NUTC the last two years, and I think that it's a great program. Did NUTC have annual themes in years past? It seemed like we focused primarily on fundamentals in the past with the no-zone rule, the no-huck line, and a lot of work on the basics.

No Flash seems like a great theme for the camp to me, which has, in my opinion, seen far more than its fair share of gratuituous layouts in past years.

jtflynn said...

thanks for insight into what sounds like a great camp. i wish there were a left-coast equivalent. (there certainly seems to be more than enough of a market in the juniors-rich NW.) i love hearing the push to skip the SportsCenter highlights and keep the fun in fundamentals!


Ryan said...

It just seems to me that stifling natural instincts can backfire in the long run (I'm not saying you're doing this at NUTC, just talking more generally). I feel like playing "by-the-book" ultimate (no offense Jim ;)) only takes you so far. In order to win a close game or rally from a deficit, you need to turn the tide and come up with something outside of the ordinary. That, and hard aggressive defense.

If you're going to win a game because you made less mistakes than your opponent, that doesn't sit well with me. My personal philosophy is that you should win by making the plays. Just because the other team is throwing the disc to you doesn't mean you're playing good defense. On offense, 5-yard in cuts on the open side all the way up the field won't help you come back or break open a game. The dagger, the crushing blow can demoralize the other team, energize your team, and lead you to victory. Getting a layout D, a monster sky, or a trailing edge grab of a 50-50 huck can make the opponents change their game and start second-guessing themselves.

And if you layout a little gratuitously and get that D, sometimes the psychological effect is much stronger than the tangible effect on the game.

In short, fundamentals are all well and good. Everyone should have fundamentals. But people should be free to explore as well. Because when you go down 5-0 in a game, fundamentals and mental fortitude can help you lose 15-10, but Flash can help you win.

Because ultimate isn't all physical. It isn't all technique. It's also a huge game of morale, determination, aggression, and mentality.

parinella said...


I think you are not necessarily in opposition to the philosophy of the camp. Of all the examples of hard play that you cited, none of them were related to throw choice, which is how Flash (TM) largely manifests itself. You might even be providing a great example of No Flash, saying that when you really need to step it up, you step it up with your legs, not your throws.

Richard said...

I think perhaps my question about Flash was interpreted. I think the no Flash theme is a great one. As a captain/founder of a relatively new college team I asked because I have begun to see people start doing things I see as unnecessary, particularly when I feel like their fundamentals aren't as sound as they could be.

Example: Do you really need to be working on your hammer when your backhand needs work?

I use a throw as an example here but it can also be viewed on defense (aggresivly attempting handblocks vs holding a force) and elsewhere.

As someone working with new/developing/and veteran players with bad habits I am legitimately curious about how to discourage flash...or rather (and more importantly encourage fundamentals)

Sorry for the confusion.

Ryan said...

Part of it comes through throw choice (completing the 99% short dump or the 50% huck) and part of it comes through team strategy. You can cut for Flash when you know it's there, you can bait cutters on defense for that great layout incut D.

In fact, I think that's a good example. By playing tight downfield D, the thrower dumps it and they keep possession. But by playing loose, crafty, flashy D, the cutter gets "open" and you have (pulling random %'s out of the air) a 25% chance at a D and a 70% chance of a short in-cut (effectively the same as a dump without them getting it in the middle of the field) and a 5% chance of the cutter and thrower faking you out again and going for a wide-open huck.

In my opinion, those are good odds which come from more than fundamentals and could/should be explored (although maybe not at a camp teaching mixed-skill highschoolers).

But like Richard mentions, you can't win games with Flash alone. Flash helps take great teams and make them greater teams or helps good teams beat better opposition. But it can't make a new team a good team (unless you're all ridiculously athletic, in which case it doesn't matter what you throw).

gcooke said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

I think Richard's comment is very close:

"Try to encourage fundamentals"

The "no flash" theme was not something that was presented to the campers at the first camp meeting as "policy", for example. They probably don't even know (unless they are reading this) that the staff is trying to encourage fundamentals.

We just finished the first round of the tournament. I will have a summary on Thurs.


Julian said...

Seems to me that "flash" is about looking/doing something "cool." The "no flash" idea says to me, "don't do something on the field simply because it's cool." If it's the right play, or a good play and it also happens to be cool, go for it--but that's not flash. If the only real purpose of the play is to make you look good--that's flash.

At some level incorporating flash into your game is really fun, and can be a good thing, but you have to walk (fundamentals) before you can run (flash).

Ryan said...

For me, it's not about just showing off for the fans, it's about taking risks and not just playing the safe, "correct" way.

Danielle Duplisea said...

Hey George. Danny D of Canada here.(The kid he mentioned that saved up all the money herself) NUTC was awesome. I'll definitely be back next year! Thanks for the great week. Everything was awesome. Many Thanks to Tiina and all the counselors as well.

gcooke said...

Thanks for writing, Danielle. I am glad that we could make the experience worth your time.

Good to hear that you made the trip home safe.....


Ryan said...

When George said New Brunswick, I thought he meant where Rutgers is in New Jersey. Oops. That's more impressive then :)

Danielle Duplisea said...

For anyone contemplating whether or not to go to camp. GO! It was by far the best week of my summer, and summer isn't even over yet. I would love to go for all 3 sessions next summer. Thats not gonna happen though. Hope Session 2 goes well.
- Danny D