Monday, August 28, 2006

Where is the D?

It is interesting to be attending tournaments as a spectator these days. I enjoy watching games, which is good, but my viewpoint is understandably quite different than when playing or coaching. I find myself sometimes watching the games with the underlying question "Is this something that the general public would find exciting?" I think this is because I am highly invested in the sport and want it to grow, obviously, but I am also subjecting the sport to my awareness of the "issues of the day": how does the sport flow, how is the self-officiating working, would it work on TV, etc. In general, I find that the sport has a varying degree of excitement very much in line with other live sporting events I have experienced, and, as I have said before, there are predictable circumstances that contribute to excitement such as semis vs pool play, athletic plays, good stories, etc.

In any case, it was with the above baggage that I decided to take my daughter to the end of Saturday's play at Chowdafest in Seekonk, MA. As an aside, I have been very much enjoying my new found free weekends with my family, but as my wife was not feeling well in the afternoon, I decided to pack up my daughter, hit the zoo, and then catch the last round of pool play.

After driving down south and arriving slightly after the last round had begun, I managed to check out all the games in the round, say hello to a few folks, and even grab a bowl of the Chowda, courtesy of Matty B, the TD. Maybe my expectations were too high due to not having seen any club play since the Boston Invitational, or perhaps it was the last round of the day and the games didn't matter, but I found the overall energy of play to be quite low. Don't get me wrong. I have slogged around with the best of them at this very tournament, especially in 04 when it was 100 degrees and we had 10 people, none of whom were younger than about 30. Mostly I just felt, from my spectator viewpoint described above, that the intensity on D was non-existent. Teams were able to score without many turns, but it seemed that this was the result of a lack of adversity rather than excellent O.

It did make me realize that when it mattered, the D line of 6TM 04 (I was on the O line) was about as fierce as any I have experienced. This is not meant as a reminiscence or a "Glory Days" moment. It is meant to say that while there is a lot of focus on offense in this sport, watching seven folks sprint down as fast as they can after a great pull knowing that the other team will be lucky to complete three passes is quite exciting. I believe in a previous post about what creates excitement in our sport, that Jim P said that "either team having the potential to score" was a big factor in contributing to excitement. I agree with this, but I also feel that great defense, and the resulting intensity, is as compelling as a game with very few turns. Perhaps this is due to a lack of publicity. I recall that in one of Seigs' posts that he said that Jeff "Dick" Brown said that the D line should never talk or write about what they do. On the other hand, Jim P has said several times, when talking about Dog's D "Well, that is enough about the D"(I am sure that this is his blog point of view and not the point of view of his book). Steve Mooney's Conceptual Ultimate articles were very balanced between O and D, and while a bit outdated (the articles are 12 years old now), they do offer some interesting and fundamentally solid perspectives on how think about defense. So, while the D does not get much lip service in our sport, I think the lack of intensity of the defense during the games that I saw on Saturday contributed greatly to an overall lower level of energy than I was expecting and made spectating not as exciting as I hoped.. I am sure that as the Series begins that this will change.


Richard said...

Do you think that the lack of D is attributable to either of the following factors?

1)It was the last round of the day and folks were tired?

2)Offenses have become more risky and so the defense doesn't have to play as hard to get the disc?

As Jim would say the H&H offense doesn't work as often (or more often) then it does. So if the defense can be more confident they will get the disc, they don't have to push as hard to create turnovers.

Was the lack of defensive intensity a function of poorly executing offense or of a lack of pride in defense? or something else?

gcooke said...


Thanks for the questions.

I think was 1) is true. I felt that the offenses I saw were not particularly risky. A lot of come back cuts with defenders trailing. The risky throws tended to be throwing into small spaces and not as much long looks.

I think it is intersting to think about whether the defenses were assuming they would get the disc back regardless of effort. It was hard to gauge that from a spectators point of view. This could very well be true.

I think the contributing factors were more likely conditioning, meaningless games, and/or poor offense rather than a lack of pride.

Just my guess, though.


Jeters said...

One real challenge about D is the psychological up hill battle. The offense has all the advantages, and unlike our close sibling football, you can't protect the end-zone with a hits and double coverage.

Most other court based sports rely on the challenge of getting the object into some sort of goal, so the defense can play very tight protecting the goal.

Over a tournament day, the number of Ds can be small, so you have to constantly fight and motivate the importance of intense defense with what can be little reward.


Kenee said...

So does anyone have any tips for getting the intensity up on D.

As we have heard this is often a tough thing to do, especially after a long weekend or in a less than vital game.

Any other tips on drilling or improving D?



gcooke said...


Thanks for the comments. I agree that the O has many advantages, but, to me, the D does have an opportunity in that they force the O to react to their choice of defensive set. Now, at most club levels I don't think that that this is that big of an advantage, but at any level there will be a few moments at the beginning of every point (or after a turn) in which the O might be thinking about the D and not focusing on themselves.

Your comments do add to something that I have been thinking about posting about. As you say, the number of D's are small in a high level tournament and the number of breaks is even smaller. Perhaps The Break is the most exciting plot line in an Ultimate game.


I am not sure that I am convinced that intensity can be manufactured. In my post "When does the run begin?", there was discussion that, from the O's point of view, that checking in on the fundamentals was crucial when things were going wrong. There has also been discussion in the blog world that most adjustments are made on D. I think continually checking in on what is and what is not working and then tweaking to try to gain an advantage keeps the D focused. I think the D line runs into trouble when they are tired and on the line say "What is the force?.....Shit, let's just do force flick". To me, this is punting.

If your team's D line is out there, it is probably because you have just scored, so in a sense the D team does enter the proceedings on a positive note. Maybe the real concern is the O team's D as you want to avoid The Break, but the O team's D? We all know the blog world is for serious subjects.

I think Alan Goldberg's comments about confidence provide some real help for the D. He said that conditioning is the foundation of confidence. When I played on D teams, I wanted to be in good enough condition to a) not be breathing as hard as my opponent on stoppages of play, and b) be able to play a point at 100% without worrying about making it through if there were a few turns. Essentially I was doing what Goldberg said: gaining confidence in my abilities via conditioning.

So my opinion is that rather than focus on intensity, a team should maintain focus on the fundamentals(sprinting down on the pull, demonstrate good marks, have good positioning, etc), constantly tweak, and spend time getting in excellent shape. I think good things will happen to a team that focuses on these items, and the likelihood of getting The Break will increase. Intensity will surely follow when good things happen.


Ryan said...

For me, a lot of it is about the personalities of the players involved. I have no problem getting motivated for D - in man it's a pure one on one battle. I always want to show the person I'm defending that he can't get open on me, and if he proves he can, I'll make him work for it.

If you're not the same combative and competitive type of player, I think you'll need someone like this on the D line anyway, to get the entire team amped and focused on doing their job. One of the best things I've been told was that if you go down and play 10 seconds of the hardest D you've ever played, you'll be on O after that. It's a great mentality to have, especially if you can keep that mentality and effort up after a dump or a throw and say "okay, just another 10 seconds of all-out D".

notadeepthreat said...

You know that guy at the end of your bench who gets 1 pt in against the team you hope to beat, and 4 pts in when it's a 5 pt game? He's motivated. He worked hard to make this roster. He's not tired. He's amped and frustrated from not playing, and willing to do anything to get more PT. And if you put him in when it still matters in some game, any game, he'll play that much harder. Open up the roster. Why did you take him anyway? Was he really that much better than the three guys you cut? Or did he just love to run?

No, this does not apply to teams with 3 subs at the end of pool play in a meaningless game. You cannot make those people play more D. As George speculated, it's probably time to encourage them to think as much as possible tired, and play good positioning, etc.

gcooke said...


I agree that the apporach of making the O work as hard as posisble for whatever they get is positive.

While I think my next comment is a mere psychological quibble and not meant to negate the things that work for you, I felt that any amount of confidence I could recruit came from a feeling of being able to play D indefinitely. I didn't want to feel that if I set my goals up for another 10 seconds that I would have to reset if the pass was complete. Again, this is a personal observation and not meant to assume that what works for me works for anyone else.


We had a great story on 6TM last year. We took a couple in late August, and the guy started off the season as last off the bench on a very deep male squad (we hung out together at the end of the bench). At Nats, he went in expecting to play maybe 1 point a game, very much in the situations that you describe. In his first point, he got a block and then scored with a huge layout grab. His PT went up to maybe 3-4 points a game by the end of the tournament.

Great to see.


Ryan said...

"While I think my next comment is a mere psychological quibble and not meant to negate the things that work for you, I felt that any amount of confidence I could recruit came from a feeling of being able to play D indefinitely. I didn't want to feel that if I set my goals up for another 10 seconds that I would have to reset if the pass was complete. Again, this is a personal observation and not meant to assume that what works for me works for anyone else."

Yeah, this probably won't work for everyone, but I take it differently than most people. For me, every time the other team gets a throw off, it's a failure of the D, which just means we need to work harder and try even more. Other people may get discouraged like this, but it just makes me stronger as the point goes on.

Tarr said...

Person-on-person offense is fundamentally about winning a series of 2-on-2 games, while defense is about winning a 7-on-7 game. One of the frustrating things about defense is that you can play great D (or simply competent D on a mediocre player) and shut your man down, but if other defenders on the field are not doing their job, it won't really matter. I think this viscious cycle ("why should I try when they're going to move the disc anyway?") is as much of a contributing factor to late-day defensive lapses as fatigue is.

I agree with George that I need something more concrete to think about than just "beat my guy". In a recent game I was matched up on one of DTL's big guys late in the game. My thought process on D was "this guy has been killing us long all game. I'm going to try to limit his yards and make someone else score". He caught the disc for 10-20 yards roughtly five times, but threw or caught no scores, and I got one block. I saw this as meeting my goal, even though DTL would have scored most posessions if everyone on the field had the same defensive attitiude that I did. I was not thinking of trying to win the 1-on-1 matchup, as much as I was trying to win the 7-on-7.

Johnny Mac said...

I agree with Tarr - often, you have to think about it differently than just "I'm gonna beat my guy". If the player you're marking provides something particularly important to their team, you can't necessarily just try to take them out of the game 100%. It may help your team more to take away their dominance in a particular area.

Tarr provided one example - a dominant receiver, whose team relies on him to score a bag of goals. If you try to win the battle completely, maybe he'll get 12 possessions for the game, and 4 might be goals (totally made up those numbers, but they're somewhat realistic). However, if you mark behind, he may get 25 possessions coming under (again, made up that number), but not score any goals.
The result is that his team can't rely on him to score their goals, which means they need to adapt. The player may also get frustrated at not scoring.
The same can apply to a particularly good handler who assists a number of points - if you can take away their strength (i.e. deny them the disc/stop them hucking or breaking), it may provide a greater benefit for your team.

My 2c.