Monday, September 25, 2006


Luke says that nothing is going on in Boston. Last I checked I was still posting, but I guess my comment that I had heard OTHER people say that the West Coast Offense was a tacit agreement to neuter the meaning of a turnover really hit home.

In other news, the 11th edition draft is here. I have taken a cursory look at it. I like the new Cap language. I dipped my toe over in the 11th Edition discussion group and asked Peri if there had been discussion about raising the minimum number of players needed to start play (currently 2), and she, as usual, took a moment out of her day to inquire why I would ask (there had been no discussion on this topic apparently). Ultimate7, as usual, weighed in with the tact and finesse that we have come to expect from him, so I think I will write Peri directly as it seems like there won't be a conversation over in that least not when there is an "RSD voice" present.

So Sectionals is complete. I have been "on-call" for the past three weekends. I work sometimes on the weekends (lately I have been doing audio work for BC football games), so my colleagues don't know quite what to make of me stopping work to discuss the placement game rule in the 13th place bracket of a tournament 2000 miles away. While all the results are not quite in, I think things seem to be playing out as expected. Mischief beat Brass Monkey to win the NorCal tournament. All the talk this year has been around Brass picking up Griego, Casey, Coco, and Greenough, but Mischief must have done some serious recruiting as they are playing very consistently in a very tough Region. Moe beat the Carleton folks to win NWP. I will be watching to see if they can do it again in two weeks. Slow White went through ENE without much difficulty. They seem to be ramping up very effectively. There was talk on RSD about the Gendors "curse" and them not being able to beat a team twice in a weekend. We shall see this upcoming weekend when we have three Regional tournaments (anyone else notice that there is no RSD talk about the other divs for yet another year. Someone said it is because the results in the other Divs are probably set in stone. This goes back to my post last fall about upsets equaling excitement). I think Regional is the best time of the year.......

On the home front, practices at Wellesley started last week. As usual, we have many brand new players, but this year the new folks seem to be hanging in there a bit longer. I have been impressed with my returning players as they have been working very hard to teach the new players the basic fundamentals. I think we need to remain committed to working very hard to push the new players through this stage even though it feels like the vets are not able to focus on their skills and progression. This is going to require patience and I hope it will pay off in a few months as there is a great deal of energy and enthusiasm overall. Things did get off to a bit of a rough start at the first practice, however. There must have been forty people there and it was very exciting. We introduced ourselves, and then the team went for its usual jog warm-up. I made my way around the field putting down the eight cones. As the team passed me by, one of the girls toward the back of the pack said to me "What is this? The track team". Weird, but I could let it slide. We stretched out in a circle and went around and said names. We then did the NUTC throwing demo. Have you ever noticed that people from Canada and Minnesota manage to work in how great those places are into most every conversation? You can say something like "I saw this coffee mug I liked the other day", and the response will be "Yeah, I have this friend back home in the Twin Cities that is a potter, and she makes the BEST coffee mugs!". Etc, etc. I am like this about NUTC now, and my captains have pretty much had it with me. They will say "Let's do go-to today", and I will say "Great idea! Let's do the REALLY GREAT version we did at camp". So far no one has rolled their eyes at me (which was a big camp no-no), but I think we are close. Anyway. So we are doing the NUTC throwing demo. I have Jess, Angie, and Peter out there to demo the basic throws (Peter is a Wellesley employee and an Ultimate player. He has been at the school for a year now and is coming to pretty much every practice to help out with things. He is great with the girls and with so many girls right now we are able to split up the squad and be
much more efficient). We start with flat backhands. I am talking while they are throwing and I go through the basics of the motion. As I start to talk about body rotation for power, I hear giggling from the circle. I turn around and it is Track Girl. I walk over and ask if there id a problem. She says "I just think talking about this is so funny. I mean.....its just frisbee". Now, I think I have demonstrated that I maintain my sense of humor through most circumstances. I do have a problem, though, with disrespect. My first thought was to tell her to get the fuck off the field and don't come back. I did manage to have some self-restraint (which my captains thanked me for later) and I just walked away. Peter came up to me once we started to drill and said "We won't see her on Thursday", and, indeed, we did not. While I was quite taken aback by such of show of disrespect for a voluntary activity, I have to say that was far and away the only display of this sort that I have experienced so far at the school, and in all other respects, it has been a great start to the year.


Monday, September 18, 2006

The Break

So it is reiterated frequently that offense has the advantage, the offense should score most, if not all the time, etc. While I recall someone saying that they thought that the West Coast Offense was actually a tacit agreement among the NW teams to neuter the impact of a turnover, I think we can mostly agree that the goal and expectation of most high level offenses is to become automatic. I know that some teams give their O only one shot to score before going with Plan B. Having said all that, it seems to me that, like tennis, one of the most significant and exciting moments in an Ultimate game is, therefore, The Break. The Break is a coveted opportunity, but only if set up by efficient offenses. The Break will lose much luster in a game of many turnovers and inefficient offenses, but as a team develops confidence in the efficiency of its offense, it can start to turn its attention to converting its break opportunities.

To me, this just reinforces my feeling that the most important position in Ultimate is that of the D handler. A player that can play intense and focused D and then turn around around and run the show is special indeed. Is there a better historical example of a D handler than Lenny Engle? Mid-Mid in a zone that actually worked, good person skills, and got as many touches as Mooney. While it is obvious which side of the disc won the Dog media battle even though Zaz wrote a great article on Lenny a few years ago, is there a player more under the radar, in terms of recognition, than Lenny? Perhaps it is in the nature of this position to go unheralded. It seems to me pretty obvious, though, that if a team is going to truly focus its energy on coverting the rare break opprtunities that come along in high level play, then it must make sure that it has the D handler position well-covered.


Monday, September 11, 2006

My CHC Trip

I arrived at the fields on Sat am and I was greeted by two surprises: 1) the fields, while still a bit hard, were as nice have they have been in several years, and 2) one of the first players I saw warming up was Ken Dobyns. Ken was there to play with the new NC Mixed team, Black Molly. Nice to see him out of the fields again. This post is not a blow by blow account of the tournament, but will be random observations that I wrote down from my golf cart.

-It was fun to check in folks I haven't seen in a while. I greatly appreciated that folks would come up to me and ask, "So, how is the...uh....spectating going?" or "Thanks for organizing and..(pause).....watching". While I am touched that folks would appear interested and I thought it was cute that some seemed to not quite fathom how I could possibly be enjoying myself, I did enjoy checking out a lot of Ultimate, helping out in a small way, and I think it was a productive trip.

-The visor is out. Way out in terms of fashion. Pretty much dead. The few that make the choice that a visor is cooler than a baseball cap thankfully do not wear them brim up anymore. While there are many creative ways to deal with hair and the sun, a baseball cap is the way to go. However, I think throwing one's baseball cap dramatically in order to make a play is unnecessary. I saw the following exchange:

Floaty pass into the end zone
O guy takes off his hat and tries to throw it on the ground, but the disc drops too quickly. O guy jumps up in the air and catches the disc with one hand while holding his cap in the other hand...still above his head.
D guy makes the a play on the disc, can't catch it and calls "Foul" saying that the O guy with the hat had violated his vertical space by pushing down on him with his elbow.
O guy then does a full reinactment of why it was impossible for him to have pushed down on the D guy while holding his hat above his head.
D guy is unconvinced and the disc goes back.
O team scores after a pass or two. O team captain (not the O guy with hat) says to his team "Ok, we need to work harder on preventing D guys from jumping into us and calling fouls."

-"Fire!". When did we all decide that "Fire!" is the "code word" for man in transition D? I saw 10 teams from different Regions and Divisions use "Fire!" for this purpose. I spent most of last Feb vacation reading about Baseball signs and codes in other sports. Compared to many other sports that use real codes and signs, we are still banging on rocks and waiting for lighting to strike a rock to create...."Fire!" My feeling is: why not just say "Man!"? We can't really think we are fooling anyone. While we are on the subject, why does the transition always occur at 3 or 5 passes? I think if I had heard a line call like "Zone for 4 passes to backhand, silent count", I would have fallen out of my cart.

-It was pretty windy all weekend which I thought was good for teams with an eye on Sarasota. While this made it tough for good Ultimate, especially on Sat afternoon, I saw lots of "casual" passes become turnovers across all divisions. There were many, many examples of players rushing their throws or not setting up their bodies correctly, and this resulted in turns that could have been avoided. When folks did set up and respect the wind, there were some amazing throws..which was great to see.

-Maybe this is an obvious statement, but intense D makes things exciting. I found myself walking around during rounds looking for the best any division.

-Having said that, I was pretty impressed with DoG this weekend. They are a fun team to watch and the overall feeling from the team is quite positive. When I talked with the guys that I know, they would all say that there is a lot of work to do, but the games I saw were well played, very physically intense, and enjoyable. I thought the O was well-focused on their system and at times looked automatic. They are playing very good D, though, and have the depth to put out some varied looks with confidence. In the final, SubZero had to work very hard against Dog's man D and, at times, threw many passes. Dog did have the depth and conditioning, for the most part, to hold the line without concern about roster depth. While there can be arguments about the effectiveness of the Dog O vs the West Coast run and gun, the answer, it seems to me, will come more from Dog's D providing answers for Nord, Grant, etc, rather than the O proving itself.

-Nemesis looked goos this weekend. Amy D and Lryica seemed very confident and unruffled by the wind. There was nice trophy presentation after Nemesis won the tournament. The trophy was in honor of Dean Smith, a Windy City player who passed away in 2005. There was some discussion about whether or not the trophy should be spiked in rememberence of the Windy City championship. After a brief talk, the trophy was indeed spiked. I overheard a rather interesting debate afterwards about whether spiking the trophy is actually a sign of respect.

-The Mixed Division was able to put out a very strong field for this tournament. Four regions were there and the teams got in a lot of good games. While the wind made for Uglitmate at times, the quality of play was good. I found the most compelling game was the CLX-Mr Briefcase qtr match-up. Very good defense. Hard fought, physical, and aggressive. Mr Briefcase is a deep squad to this tournament, and they are able to put out varied lines. I think this makes it a little bit harder for their opponents to settle into matchups. Briefcase is a a physical team, but CLX does not seem ruffled by that. One quip of the day was by Briefcase, "Stop making shitty foul calles because your team can' read (the disc)." One point I saw had about four foot blocks. The game ended up with Mr Briefcase winning 8-7 on a Callahan by Tony Blanchet-Ruth.

-While the results of this tournament don't back me up, I thought Annapolis All-Stars had a good tournament, and they seemed as organized and focused on O as any team out there. They are a heady team and do lots of different things on O and D. They are fundamentally solid and experienced. I don't know who they were missing this weekend, but they did seem to have some trouble ramping up to play hard D. They did do this in the first half of their pool play game with Flaming Moe (and it was the other most enjoyable bit of Mixed Div Ultimate I saw), but I guess the second half was a different story. One bit of minutia is that during their qtrs game, one of their pullers kept pulling inside out...out of bounds on the same sideline..and then dropping it in, barely, on the same sideline. To me, this is highly risky as I have seen pulls that never come back in (think Condors in the 99 Finals) as serious momentum shifters.

-Anything can happen in brackets with a lot of parity, and in the Championship bracket of the Mixed Div (7 games) there were three double game points and four win by two games. At that point in the tournament, it is obviously about which team can focus, be mentally tough, and play with confidence. I am sure some teams walked away with questions, but, hopefully, the tournament provided a forum by which teams can get a sense of how they will be challenged, and how they will need to respond, come Regionals time.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Riding Self-Officiated Refs

I just finished reading John Feinstein's "A Season Inside". He spent a year in the mid-80's writing about college basketball (the year Kansas won). One of the chapters profiled several of the refs that work consistently for Div 1 college basketball. It was an interesting look at the lives of folks who get paid a little bit of money (they all have "real" jobs) to officiate big events. One of the interesting points is that this group of refs liked to test each other on new and/or obscure rules. The refs profiled were, at the time, some of the best in the business and yet sometimes they got the rulings flat out wrong. The book also went into the specific relationships between the coaches and the refs. Again, it was a good look at the personalities of the sport and the "game within the game" that is officiating. I came away from reading the book with great respect for the refs interest and energy in doing the best job they possibly could.

So, while I do understand Idris' frustration with Ultimate players not knowing our rules "inside and out" and I do believe that if Ultimate is going to differentiate itself via self-officiating, then a lot of energy needs to go into making sure we know the rules, it was interesting to read about professional refs getting the little details wrong. Now, this is not to say that Ultimate players deserve a wide berth when it comes to getting the rules wrong. Quite the opposite actually. While we can take it for granted that self-officiating players will make mistakes in their interpretations of the rules, we should, in the spirit of Idris' comments, take pride in individually developing high standards for our knowledge of the rules until say, a rules test is needed to step onto the field.

I think it is safe to say that heckling of players about the quality of their play is considered socially acceptable on a broad level. There does seem to be a sense of etiquette that heckling is more acceptable at "social tournaments" than during games "that really matter". Again, it is a difficult and shadowy thing to try to define "good taste" as we all have different interpretations of exactly when it is the best time to get shit-faced and ride someone about their play, and that is not the purpose of this post. So, while we can say that in a general sense that heckling is considered OK, depending on the circumstances, I think we are are a bit more unsure about what happens when we disagree with someone's call or interpretation of the rules. I think we have a bit of trouble differentiating between the player that is cheating and the player that made a bad call. Clearly, this has to do with the interpretation of intent, which is highly subjective. Add to this the bias of either being a player and inherently impartial or rooting for one team over another, and it is clear why aggresively disagreeing with a call could be considered in "bad form". I do, though, think it is possible to disagree with a call and not define the player as a cheater. While riding the refs in other sports has become routine and often crosses the line of acceptability, I think it is possible to consider that Ultimate, as it transitions to bigger venues, could benefit from our very loose social contract of not riding our self-officiated refs.