Thursday, January 10, 2008


I have been watching a bunch of NFL games over the past few months. I found myself recently noticing a bunch of drops that left me thinking, in that Ultimate way, "You have to catch that." Granted, I think many drops occur when the QB is pressured and the pass is a bit wayward or at an unexpected pace, but there are many out and out drops on the gridiron. Randy Moss' drop against the Giants comes quickly to mind, but I am thinking more about the benign drops on the 4th read that results in a little dump/swing pass to the running back.

So, the pros go back to the huddle and do it again as they should, but I have been wondering, as a coach, to what standard can we expect of our players if pro players make these kind of unforced errors?

At the elite level, there is obviously a standard of "no turns" and, practically, this is an elusive standard, even for our best players. I can think of 4 instances when a team has turned it less than 5 times at Nationals.

So, when coaching college or youth players, I am skeptical that a) a mantra of "no turns" or b) maintaining a outcome goal of the number of turns is useful. When rain and wind, etc are a factor, forget about it.

Watching the drops at the pro level has reinforced for me that mistakes are going to happen, and many times, frequently. As usual, I think that a focus on process is vital. Work and drill on throwing and catching as a means of developing confidence in the fundamentals. Don't saddle young players with an unattainable standard. Perhaps, with enough work and a bit of luck, the young players we coach will find themselves on a windless day on the fields of Sarasota facing a tenacious defense, and it will all come together in the right way. Maybe, with good coaching, they will be able to remain enough in the moment to enjoy that experience and not count the few turns that their team makes.


Match said...

Couple of things:

1) after giving it a lot of thought, football is so much more difficult than disc. Hitting a guy in stride and catching a football are so much harder than the equivalent in ultimate.

2) I think the main thing to think about when it comes to turns is focus on the receivers part and good decession making by handlers. A drop can occur in either situation and both should be emphasized. I think handlers get off light sometimes because they put their cutter in a really difficult position. I do this too much and am working on it.

3) I think the best way to get teams to not turn it over is go back to fundamentals (catch and throw). Its all about possession (in open at least) and holding on to the disc will get you victories over trying to score. In addition, the DoG philosophy has always been take what the defense gives you. Very simple but it really is why ultimate is one of the only sports where great offense beats great defense. If you take a turn over situation and you dissect it and try and show alternatives that are higher percentage you probably will get farther than just yelling at your team mates/players to catch the disc. That and get guys throwing more, especially with a mark. An unmarked 30+ yard throw doesn't happen in ultimate often.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Gambler said...

Turnovers definitely happen in ultimate, no matter how hard you try to focus on not having them. I think it's a good idea to have different categories of turnovers so you can try to focus on eliminating certain types of turnovers. This can also help people "get over" other types of turnovers. I see these categories as:
1) execution error
2) decision mistake
3) risk within your offense structure

Depending on your team, you can focus on one or more of these categories to help reduce turnovers. For instance, a newer, less experienced team is going to need to spend a lot of time focusing on category 1 since that's likely where most of its turns will come from. A more advanced team will have problems with category 2 and will need to work on helping players see what decisions are more or less likely to work. The third category encompasses "strategic" turnovers like punting for field position or gambling on an upwind shot. If teams find a number of their turnovers would be classified as risks worth taking within their offensive structure, then perhaps the team should rethink its structure a little to help reduce turnovers.

I think, it's too much pressure to try and eliminate turnovers from all three categories at once. There needs to be room for risk in any team's offense.

Knappy said...

My (mixed) club team (Amp) used to have an issue with drops. We decided 3 years ago to really focus more on the basics at every practice: catching drills, simple throwing drills, dumps. Our drops, in particular, went way down. The best drill--and we do it at just about every practice---is the 3 or 4 tight lines of cutters, throwers about 10 yards away. Cutter takes a few steps away, plants hard & makes tight & straight line back to thrower. Goes to next line. All lobster catches for several sets. Pancakes/drops result in push-ups. Then, mix in one handed catches---dominant hand, & then off hand. Great drill for throwers, too. I think this is a pretty common drill, but if it isn' should be. Muscle memory is a good thing.

Josh Mullen said...


I started doing the drill that Knappy talks about last year, and it dramatically improved MIT's catching. I make them go through each line 2 times catching right hand, left hand, claw, and pancake.

We normally have 2 coaches and 2 injured people as the throwers. It should be noted that you should vary which way you run the drill, because the disc will come in different. Throw a mix of forehands and backhands in at them. They need to learn to negotiate spin.

Once some kids are going through the drill perfect, chose one person (I always chose me) to throw absolute crap (too low, fast and bladey, way too fast, wobbly, etc) at those kids. Everyone is still challenged and everyone improves.


gcooke said...

Hi Folks,

Thanks for those replies.

A couple of quick thoughts:

MD, I agree with point #1. I do agree that it is hard to discern on TV how difficult some of the catches are. However, this post was in response to the drops I did see in the NFL in which there was no pressure on the QB or coverage on the receiver...and they seemed to happen more frequently in recent weeks.


I very much like the way you have broken down the turns. We do a similar thing, but I hadn't included your #3. I try to encourage the girls to identify if their turns are #1 or #2.

Knappy and Josh,

Thanks for the drill idea.

There seems to be general agreement that in the case of drops that fundamental work is needed and can be directly helpful. I do think that focusing on fundamentals is positive, and that it is good that the attention is on fundamentals and not on attaining an unreasonable standard.


bl said...

Obvious football/ultimate difference: You are less likely to get blasted after a catch in a game of Ultimate.

Less-obvious difference: On many (most?) pro football routes, the receiver never actually sees the ball leave the quarterbacks hand. Instead, the receiver reads the D, makes a move to get into a predetermined route structure, and then turns their head to find the ball, which should already be in the air.
I think this means our standard for catching discs should probably be higher than NFL receivers...their job is much more difficult, even given their superior talents.

A great players once told me that, as a handler, you just can't drop the disc. You have to save your team's allotment of drops for downfield cutters making those big comeback cuts with a defender in pursuit....and you have to expect cuts that give you a bigger gain to have a slightly higher risk. Cutters that give you reliable yardage are allowed a drop per tournament.


Mikey K said...

In my experience as a coach/captain, I usually have told my players that "drops happen" and not to get too down about it. Especially with younger/newer players, it's going to happen often. I just stress that we cannot have mental errors. That's easy enough, and when we cut those down, the physical errors seem to dip as well.

gcooke said...

BLW and MK,

Thanks for those comments.

I think these two comments are really a good indication of how approaching drops is different depending upon who you are working with.

I think MK's comments are of the general "attitude" I am speaking of when working with college/hs players.

On the other hand, it seems to me that Ben's comments are absolutely relevant to the elite player, and I find his assessment of the difficulty very interesting...I agree with it.

I think my point is that I wouldn't say to one of my college handlers "You can't drop the disc".


david said...

I should think there is a certain balance between fostering the drive/motivation/confidence of a player to feel like he/she will catch anything that hits their hands and the understanding that accidental drops will happen. I'm no coach but I'd figure the confidence can be created via the fundamentals work, while the drive/motivation could be encouraged by proper reinforcement in drills and scrimmages and some good role-models.
Another note on the difficulty for nfl players - in football a receiver usually needs to present his body to catch a football over a typically much quicker delivery, in both ways harder than catching a frisbee. In the cases you are thinking of george the ball is going a short distance so less time for the receiver to react and as they are usually bulkier running back types with more pads it is more difficult for them to present themselves.

gcooke said...


I think these are good comments and I agree specifically with the idea of balance. I think it is positive to instill a sense of drive or offer a perspective on what will be expected as a player moves through their career.


I appreciate everyone's comments about subtleties in being a NFL receiver. I think I overlooked many of these insights in my initial post. However, these guys are professionals who are paid money to execute. As pointed out in the comments, though, drops will happen. With that in mind, I think it is important, as a coach of a young player, to not let mistakes get a player overly bummed out or to get overly harsh when mistakes occur.


Marshall said...

Discs are easier to control one-handed than footballs, with the result being that the margin for error gets a little bigger and there ought to be fewer drops with discs. That's offset, of course, by the tremendous athleticism of NFL receivers, who can make adjustments that some of us can only dream about.

I would argue that many turnovers that are considered "drops" are what I'd call "drops under pressure". A receiver who gets away from a defender and has a lot of space is far less likely to drop the disc than one who has a quarter-step against a good defender. One of the differences between better and worse receivers, and cumulatively between better and worse teams, is how small that window is before it becomes a consistent effect on completion percentage.

[Tangent: I feel the same way about throwing choices. In intense games at high levels, one step is "Open". It has to be, because one stall count isn't going to offer three looks at receivers who have three-plus steps.]

As long as I'm rambling anyway, this reminds me of one thing we've talked about, George. An important thing for receivers to do is get to the disc at its earliest point. Mostly this protects the disc from defenders, but it also overall speeds up the offense (subtle differences matter). However, especially for newer players, it temporarily lowers catching percentages by increasing the speed, in exchange for which the margin for "under pressure" improves over time. This is why in the throwing/catching drills I've run, I encourage attacking the disc. That fundamental probably fits with the drills mentioned above (hopefully knappy and Josh agree).

Marshall said...

For what it's worth, I (belatedly) realize that I got pretty far off the original topic of the "unforced" drops - the errors that occur without pressure. Mark down my reading score, I guess...

gcooke said...


These are good points and things that need to be discussed with young players. Thanks for weighing in.


Joe's Brother said...

To beat a dead horse, catching a football and catching a disc are almost too different to compare.

- a disc has a "handle," making one handed catches very very easy by comparison

- footballs have to be thrown harder to fly as far

- as bw stated, sometimes a football receiver doesn't see the ball until it's just feet from his hands

- the football won't stabilize in flight if it started out wobbly

- a football is heavier, bigger, and "bouncier" than a disc

- football players are wearing movement restricting padding

Those "easy" catches in football might be with a ball slightly off target, going 65 miles an hour, just slightly unstable, and might require a difficult arm movement with the pads to get both hands on it.

gcooke said...


I don't think my comparison is really about discs and footballs, although I agree with your points.

I think the point of my article was to say:

-Professional athletes who are paid millions of dollars to do nothing but practice their craft sometimes make mistakes and drop the football when, perhaps, they shouldn't have.

-As such, it is unreasonable to place an expectation of perfection upon young (college and high school), unpaid, and amateur Ultimate players.

gapoole said...

If the expectation for perfection is unreasonable (and I agree that it is for young players), how do you move on as a coach, player, or team? Especially as a team which has committed to stepping up into the next level, I think something needs to replace that kind of mentality, otherwise there's a gap in the team's mental toughness strategy.

It's been said that the key to winning games it to have fewer turnovers than your opponent--fairly obvious, sure, but it's more important in Ultimate than soccer, hockey, or basketball simply because of the way those sports work. I don't think you can ignore drops. You don't need to count them in games, but is there value in having penalties in practice for drops (pushups, etc)? How should you react when your opponents drop the disc? Some teams preach defense, others possession, and the optimal attitude is different for each individual--just as some thrive on criticism, others encouragement. Telling players to be "in the moment" is valuable and practicing the fundamentals is great, but at some point the game will be on the line and they will need to catch this throw. How do you coach "clutchness"? If not by expecting perfection, how do you do it?

All I keep thinking about is Coach Boone from "Remember the Titans" and his stance on perfection.