Monday, September 24, 2007

Looking at Offense with questions

The girls and I began work on revamping the offense last week. For us, any work on the O begins with the acknowledgment that any specific work is predicated upon the assumption that we can throw and catch. Without specific focus on those skills and a practice regime that emphasizes their importance and development, we would be better off playing huck and play D and working on the defense. The good thing about working on throwing and catching is that everyone, both new players and vets, need the work and benefit from it.

One of the changes for me this year is that I am reducing my personal assumption that the girls can, without the benefit of defined structures or principles, properly read a situation and react. It is all well and good to say "take what you are given", but without context, it is pretty much meaningless. For example, a new cutter is fronted, so she cuts away. However, she makes her cut starting 25 yards away from the disc in the same third as the thrower, who only has a 20 yard flick, and the team is going upwind. This is a brief example only meant to say that there are many factors to consider in any given situation and it is probably unfair to expect "correct" reads, let alone basic improvisation, from players who are beginning their involvement in the sport.

So, I have been looking at structure, principles, and creating options in a manner that is manageable for my young, but very smart players. Obviously, the idea of breaking down a potentially complex series of interactions into familiar components (for example, dump pass when trapped) is not earth shaking in its originality. I do, though, appreciate the clarity offered by Phil Jackson in his book "More than a Game" when he says:

"Tex's way of teaching the formatting of the offense (which is the most critical consideration) is to break every possibility down to its constituent parts. For example, when Pippen makes the wing-entry pass to MJ, the way in which the defense chooses to pressure Pippen and Paxson will determine which one of them moves to the corner. The timing and rhythm between Pippen and Paxson must be established before the entire five-man offense can operate smoothly. So Tex will drill this particular two-man sequence until it becomes instinctive".

This systematic approach has an appealing potential, it seems to me, for developing confidence in players as the situations they experience will be somewhat familiar. An additional benefit is less real time thinking and "creativity" ("the cross field blade forehand to the break side seems like a good thing to do now"). The next steps are rather clear: identification and drilling.

When breaking things down into components, it is, however, pretty difficult to ignore what occurs several pages later than the paragraph I quoted above in "More than a Game": The Seven Principles of a Sound Offense. Unfortunately, it is hard these days, with a modicum of awareness of RSD, to read the Seven Principles without a smirk and the thought, "Here I go into Crazy Frank land". Research calls, though, and the Seven Principles is a resource. So, I guess my disclaimer, for what it is worth, is that I have been interested in the Seven Principles potential relevance to Ultimate long before CF publicly attached himself to it, and I do recall feeling a bit bummed that I would probably associate the "Swimmy Swim" with the Seven Principles for years to come. In any case, I do think that when one reads the Seven Principles that questions arise: "Could there be something similar for Ultimate?" and/or "How applicable are the Seven Principles to Ultimate?" are just a couple that come to mind. It is important to keep in mind that the Triangle is a "system" which, in the opinion of PJ and TW, makes the best use of the Seven Principles. So what follows is a point by point look at these hallowed concepts and their possible application in Ultimate:

"A sound offense...

1. Must penetrate the defense.
A. Create good % shots. Define what is a good shot for each player
B. Stress inside power game. Play for the 3-pt power play.
C. Break down all defenses from full court presses to double teams.

Before getting into the specifics, I think this is a an interesting example, potentially, of jargon. Several pages before this listing of principles, Jackson says, "The idea is not to go head to head with the defense. In fact, the offense players will always take the path of least resistance and move to open areas". To me, "breaking down" and "penetrating" sound pretty similar to "going head to head". Now, this is certainly nit picking, but I do have basic questions: what is the difference between "breaking down" and "not going to head to head"? and why is it important? I would say my interpretation is that the former tries to identify weakness and exploit it, while the later will try to impart an approach regardless of what the defense presents, but I don't think this interpretation is overwhelmingly clear based on the somewhat vague language.

I think, for Ultimate, that this principle could be simply "Break down all defenses". A possible addition could be specifics about what breaking down actually means. B seems irrelevant and A could possibly be adapted, if one was really limiting themselves.

2. Basketball is a full court game, end to end play. Skills must be learned at a fast-break pace. Know the optimum speed and work to increase it. Transition basketball begins on D. Look to run!

Clearly, #2 is a problem for most pro basketball teams. I do think that #2 is an odd inclusion. Rather than a principle, it seems more like a process for teaching.

3. Provides proper floor spacing 15'-18', creating an operating area and clearing area on the court. It keep the defense occupied on and off the ball.

Obviously, for Ultimate, the "15'-18'" needs to be removed. I think most Ultimate schemes have considered spacing as well as open and dead spots. My opinion is that the vertical stack does struggle to occupy defenders, specifically those guarding the 2nd and 3rd players from the front of the stack in a 5 person stack.

4. Provides player and ball movement with a purpose. There is only one ball and five players. All things being equal, a player is without the ball 80% of the time.

#4 is good stuff. Speaks to discipline and creating space for others.

5. Provides strong rebound position and good defensive balance on all shots.

Pretty much useless for Ultimate. I am not a basketball player, but I am assuming that "defensive balance" means that the team has a defensive option in the case of a defensive rebound/fast break.

6. Provides the player with the ball the ability to pass to any of his teammates. (The offense should also provide a counter to whatever action the defense may take).

Very interesting idea. Most Ultimate offenses have, it seems to me, created systematic opportunities for maybe 3 players at any given moment (primary cut, dump, perhaps a break side option). I am not sure that the goal should be for every player to have potential, but maybe 4-5 could be looked at.

7. Utilizes the abilities of the individual players. Must create high % shots for a team's beast shooters, rebound opportunities for bounders, etc., affords the opportunity to play out of a flexible format rather than be restricted to a definite set play"

While the first part of #7 is useful, especially for teams at a high level, I think the last sentence is where the power is and it brings us back to the idea of small components as building blocks to understanding possible options based on what is presented.

So, I am skeptical that the Seven Principles can be used, as written, as a template for Ultimate. I do think it is interesting to contemplate similarities between these concepts and we do now, or could do in the future. I think, for the time being, that, for my girls, increasing the sense of situational familiarity on the field based upon repeated component work is a positive way to begin thinking about offense.


Monday, September 17, 2007


Due to my plea bargain agreement in which I took my wife out swing dancing this weekend, I was let out of my veal pen and allowed to stop in on both ENE Women's(Sat) and Mixed(Sun) Sectionals. Seriously, swing dancing was a lot of fun. We found a community place at a nearby town where they had lessons and a live 18-piece big band, so that was cool.

My captains this year have some very creative ideas about structure this year and Sectionals was just one example. The Whips were able to get two teams out to the event this year. One team (Whiptails) was comprised of Seniors and 2nd year players that played on the B team last year. The other (Whole Damn Bus) was alums plus 2nd year players from the A team. The benefits of this rather quirky arrangement are obvious in that PT is increased, older players are teaching younger players, etc. It seemed to me going in that Whole Damn Bus had a legit shot at Regionals, so I was wondering if the seniors on Whiptails were concerned about placing themselves in a situation in which they might not get the chance at playing at Regionals. I think, though, that my seniors are concerned more about the team as a whole, though, than their personal opportunities in early fall. I am not surprised by their selfless attitude, though. It has been a struggle every fall to teach the first year players how to play while still moving the returning players forward. So, this approach to Sectionals is about focusing our attention on our great group of sophomores and keeping them moving forward. I did receive a call from my alums asking me to come out and say Hi, so I made the trek out to the very nice soccer complex in Lancaster, MA.

Going to tournaments is a real social event these days. I get to see lots of folks I haven't seen in months or years. I ran into Julian, who has been a great commenter on this blog. We discussed the differences between coaching your peers in club vs coaching college teams. Interesting stuff.

Godiva seems pretty strong this year. With VY, Johanna, Mo, Sarah, etc, they are a good team and it showed as I checked the SRT and they lost to Brute by 1 in the final.

My girls did well. The Whips struggled a bit, but had a close win against BC. I think it was great for them to get some reps n this setting. WDB did qualify for Regionals. The alums looked pretty strong. Nell was very poised with the disc and Leslie was running hard as always. My current players made contributions: Min running hard, Caroline in the cup. It was pretty windy, but the overall level of play held up. It was great to see folks again.

On Sunday, I headed down to catch the finals of the Mixed Div. I had read on the SRT that Quiet Coyote had upset Slow White the day before. Due to this format, that meant that Slow could not win the that is kind of a big deal. Again, it is like reunion weekend down there for me. Hard to concentrate on the games while I am chatting away. I plunk myself between the Slow/Chinstrap game(loser is 4th, winner plays for 2nd/3rd) and the Tandem/QC game. Tandem gets a break to go up 1-0, and then QC rattles off 3 and is pulling. I turn my head to check out the Slow/Strap game which is just getting going and, as I am standing on the endzone line near QC, I hear, from behind me, one of the 7 QC players say "Let's go for the kill". I think to myself "Uh Oh....3-1 is a bit early to be going for the kill". QC pulls. Disc is pulled inside out from the right sideline. Never comes back in and Tandem gets the disc 10 yards from the goal they are attacking. 2 short quick passes. Goal. This begins a 14-3 run and a win for Tandem. Now, of course it is convenient to frame things in this manner and I am very certain that saying "let's go for the kill" did not cause the guy to throw the disc out of bounds and begin the Tandem run. However, I do think that language is important and this example does bring up the topic of what is "helpful" language. I talked with Tiina a bunch about this under the tent at NUTC this summer. One thing I used to say to my girls when we would get up to 12 or 13 was "Let's close out this game now". This was intentionally taken from tennis and watching Pete Sampras close out games after breaking his opponents serve. I think, after talking with Tiina, that this is not effective language. It doesn't present any concrete goals or add to focus. It also sets up doubt in that if we don't score...well, then we didn't do what we were supposed to do. I think "Let's go for the kill" at 3-1 is the same thing. We talked at NUTC about saying, instead, "Let's recommit". Commit to running 10% harder. Commit to focus. I think that is better language. Now, I don't think that saying "Let's recommit" prevents the guy from yanking the pull out of bounds, but, perhaps, deciding to commit to focus could remind one not to throw an inside out along the right sideline.

The Slow/Strap game is similar. Close to begin with, but Slow pulls away. I have to leave to go rehearse with my rock band for my upcoming shows, but Slow beats QC for the 2 spot. It is a competitive section. QC is a good team and they will do some damage at Regionals. I think, after walking through CHC, that Slow realizes that the same will not be true in a few weeks.

Tandem looked good. They have picked up some talented players (Colin M, Pooja S, A Tong...and Tom Matthews...great to see him out there).

So, it was fun to check out some good Ultimate. My opportunities to see Ultimate (other than Whips practices) will be limited this fall. No CHC, one day of Sectionals, one day at Regionals (working the BC game on the 6th), and, sadly, no Nationals(the band I am playing with is opening up a series of shows at a theater in Boston on the Friday of Nats).


Monday, September 10, 2007


I have been trying to integrate the "Inner Game of Tennis" into my approach with the girls this year. Gallwey talks about talking less when working on mechanics, for example. He views "visual modeling"(my words) as a better way to approach getting the mind out of the way of the body. I am thinking about bringing in a camcorder so that the girls can see what they are doing. For now, I am just trying to demo (or have someone who is capable demo) something close to "proper form". I have one girl that has a few quirks with her throws and is also very critical of herself. When we discussed Gallwey's ideas about self 1 vs self 2, she replied "My self 1 hates my self 2". I figure there is hope if the sense of humor is still intact. Anyway, I decided to throw with her the other day and I said that we were going to throw together and we were just going to enjoy the experience and not think too much. I tried to chat a bit while we were throwing just to keep our minds, which weren't going to quiet down that much, at least distracted enough so that she wasn't overly critical of herself. It seemed moderately successful. The other thing I am trying to do is give her only one thing at a time to focus on with her mechanics. Gallwey talk about wanting the serve to be as mindless as turning on a light switch. So that's sort of what I am shooting for.

We have been doing "go to" a lot. I am starting to think "go to" is pretty much all you need as far as drills go. At our first practice, we did go to for a while and then I said that we would shoot for 25 completions in a row (turnover=start at 1 again). The girls had a reasonable amount of focus during the drill. Sometimes they were encouraging and counting out the completions, other times talking amongst themselves and I was the only one counting. So we ranged from 3 to 19 for completions. At the second practice, I asked why "25 completions". One of our 2nd year players said quietly "To psych us out?" That was pretty good answer. We talked about that when the team gets to 18, 19, 20 completions that we launch into our future brains ("what if I drop pass number 25?) and that this is exactly the same situation as when the game is 14-14. So, we want to play loose and quiet our judgmental minds (It is "bad" if we don't get to 25).

One error I have made in the past is assuming that the girls know certain aspects of the game. Like person defense. Last spring, due to this assumption, we really hadn't worked on person d much and it showed. We had to relearn the fundamentals at Sectionals and we did a pretty good job by Regionals. My captains this year are doing a good job of keeping my honest in this regard. At the third practice, the captains stopped the scrimmage early and we worked on inside/out and outside/in throws. Meaning defining what they are, going over the mechanics, and then working on them as a team. I was a bit surprised because I assumed that we all knew that stuff. So, it was a very positive exercise and I think the team will benefit from it.

Today we welcome all the new players. We will focus on bringing them in to the team and probably spend a lot of time on throwing. Our long term challenge will be to teach the new players the stack, throwing, defensive positioning, etc, etc, etc, while still moving the vets forward. We have some new structures in place to try to accomplish this, so it will be interesting to see how it works out.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What's Going On

Seems like I have hit the ground running after a very fun and relaxing summer.

Worked the Wake Forest-BC game on Sat. I continue to find the way that the coaches speak to the players interesting. As I mentioned a year ago, the coaches are jumping from the small details("keep your elbows in on those blocks") to the big picture ("make them beat us with the pass"). The pre-game warm-up routines are highly scripted, but I thought it was interesting that there is little to no warm-up when they return from the locker room for the 3rd qtr. I am working the NC State game this upcoming Sat. Tom O'Brien's reception should be interesting.

Practice with the Whiptails begins today. We are having returning players practice this week, and then we will open things up for the new players next week. The focus this fall will be very much on offensive fundamentals. We will probably hammer away at a few basic principles. I am very curious about the number and experience of our new players. I am hope we can keep building on last year's trend of lots of motivated players.

I am helping with scheduling, etc for CHC. I am not going to be able to make the trip this year due to working the NC State game. I am going to be missing a bunch of tournaments this fall due to other commitments. I think CHC looks to be great, so I am bummed I am missing it.

Sectionals starts this weekend. In general, it seems like teams negotiated the Team Registration Deadline and emerged relatively unscathed. I hope the Coordinators find this is an improvement over past years.