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.


Bill Mill said...

> 5. Provides ... good defensive balance on all shots.

To me, this part is extremely relevant to ultimate. When I envision "good defensive balance", I imagine a defense flexing and bending to the current handler's available plays, while being available to move to block everyone else's plays if necessary.

So, on a cross-court pass to the corner behind the arc, everybody shifts to new responsibilities; the defender on the ball forces baseline or perimeter, depending on team strategy. The post man gets to the opposite side of his guy to prevent the entry pass. The wing D on the strong side shifts from poach mode to deny mode, and the weak side switches from deny mode to poach mode since his man is farthest from the ball.

Bad defensive balance is this: point guard drives from the top of the key to the post, so the power forward rotates over to help. However, the wing guy doesn't rotate over to cover the most threatening position on the court, so the PG dumps inside to the PF for the easy dunk, the crowd goes wild, and the momentum has changed.

Similarly, in ultimate, you have to consider what is the most pressing threat at any given moment. I play deep in a zone a lot, and I have to remember this very frequently. On a break up the middle, where my wing cheated up to make a bid on the disc and failed, I need to sag in and stop the continuation up the field even though there's a guy behind me (which is usually my responsibility). The greater threat is of the team walking it up the field and getting me Iso'd in the end zone against their deep, so I've got to stop the continue, play no huck, and hope my cup catches up so I can beat feet back to cover.

If we all see what's happening, I get extra help with the no huck while I recover, or the wing is already back there and I push over to play his spot, and we're back in a stable zone D.

Good defensive balance.

gcooke said...

Hey Bill,

Thanks for those comments. I am in general agreement about your points from a defensive point of view.

However, I think this is a good case in which the 7 Principles are very open to interpretation.

That language reads:

"A sound offense...

provides good defensive balance on all shots".

So, to me, this is talking about defensive balance while you are on offense, not while on defense (meaning that you need defensive balance on defense as your comments point out, but it is a different kind of balance than when you are on offense).

My current interpretation is that TW is talking about taking shots when you are properly prepared for a defensive rebound and the resulting fast break.

Does this make sense?


Sam TH said...

George (and Bill) -

I think that principle 5 should certainly be relevant to ultimate. In any game where the offense can become the defense instanatneously (not baseball or football, but basketball or ultimate), you need to be prepared at all times to make that transition. In high-level open ultimate, this is less important, since there are so few cases where this comes into play. But in mid-level college women's ultimate, where they might be 30 possessions per team in a game (about 1/3 as many as in NBA basketball), the improving your O to D transition could be valuable.

gcooke said...


Thanks for your comments. I was thinking about this as I ran to the gym just know, and I was going to post an I agree with your comments.

One things I was thinking about is that I really hate turnovers on the dump pass(leads to bad defensive balance, short field, etc). Now, this can be worked on via execution, but, from a systematic point of view, a team needs to examine its effectiveness on dump passes and consider that turning it over downfield is a much better proposition.

However, I don't think that saying "on a turnover, pick up the biggest threat" in and of itself is defensive balance. It can lead to defensive balance.

So, i think that I have changed my mind and that "offensive defensive balance" is relevant. At this moment I am thinking that systematic approaches like increasing dump efficiency are in the "spirit" of what TW is saying.


gcooke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
parinella said...

Re: balance. Relevance to ultimate
a. Where you turn it over, dump vs downfield (although you also need to balance the likelihood of completing the dump vs a hail mary)
b. Having a defense called (and having everyone know it). A good O squad make go 20-30 minutes in a game without having to play defense and will forget/won't be aware of whatever conventions for the game have been established.
c. Having a plan to stop the fast break. Know what to do when there is a 3 on 2 or an isolated deep cutter.
d. Having a plan on how to pick up after a zone/junk D turnover.

For point #1, this seems to be more about moving without the disc. Or it could be more appropriate to zone offenses, especially point C. Reduce a team defense to a set of two-on-one (like with a zone offense) or one-on-one with two viable cutting options.

Good post. It makes me want to read that book.

The Pulse said...

I've found that playing a 3-4 vertical stack instead of 2-5 creates a lot more space and cutting opportunities downfield, with less opportunities for defenses to poach and rest on static cutters.

It should also help reduce dump turnovers, once you drill it enough.

gcooke said...


Thanks for those comments. I think b is very good. It is hard to get everyone on the same page all the time.


Thanks for the comment.


Tarr said...

I think that (speaking broadly) a lot of ultimate teams have the problem of going "head to head" with the defense in stead of taking the path of least resistance. Basically, they try to do "what they do", be it hucking or dump-swing or whatever, even when the defense overplays against that particular option.

While I agree that you only want 1 or 2 active cutting options in most situations, having a viable, high percentage pass in the direction of 5 or 6 players drastically reduces the ability of the defense to poach or play help defense. This is why spread offenses are so much more effective when the disc is in the center of the field - you actually get those isolation looks that you want.

gcooke said...


Thanks for the comments.

In terms of your second paragraph, I agree and I wonder if a wording of it is, for Ultimate, "increase the number of potential threats" rather than "the ability to pass to any of your teammates".


parinella said...

"increase the number of potential threats" could also be interpreted as giving each player multiple options. Besides cutting downfield, there are options for the thrower (the Triple Threat), where (I am translating (somewhat incorrectly) Frank) the thrower can pass for yardage, feed to someone in a position to pass for yardage, or give and go either for yardage or to set up someone else for yardage. (I am using "yardage" here as a proxy for "increasing your likeilihood of scoring").