Monday, October 03, 2011


Mental Intensity, a checklist

A large part of the game has nothing to do with execution,
and everything to do with getting our minds in the right place.
This takes energy (hard to focus when you're huffing and puffing)
and foresight (these thoughts don't just happen on their own).

Here's a checklist of things we should be doing. (Additions welcome.)

* know the D (sideline included)

* know the call and think about your role before it happens

* remember to chase swill / play the rebound / run it down

* if you don't know, remember to ask (the D, the call, for help,...)

* call it Up!

* expect the underneath after the initial burst, or some other change of direction

* anticipate: defenders, get yourself into position before the cut happens

* don't ever get beat to the near cone (a mindset)

* be ready for a clever play (no-look pass, no walk-up, no countdown)

* ask your teammates if they're ready before you tap it in

* call your poaches

* use your peripheral vision: handlers, look for poaches; markers, see
what's developing around you

Friday, June 04, 2010



From a recent e-mail:

I think that plays fall last in a hierarchy that goes

1. Principles
2. Formations
3. Audibles/Directives
4. Plays

As for 1, a team can't operate in flow unless people know
what to do based on what's happening on the field -- and
time spent together should be used to make sure that
the team's principles are shared (and understood) knowledge
among the players. Principles like (for example)
look downfield first, take what they give you on offense,
right-of-way to the downfield cutter, communicate
actionable information, move it off the
line, through-or-over against zone D, ....

With principles in play, formations (2) are important. How
do we structure our endzone? What is our Ho stack, exactly,
and what should we be looking to do with it? Which cutters
get preference? How do handlers set up? How do they dump,

As for 3, audibles can tell us who should cut, and where,
how to focus the O or D [such as, "move left" or "endzone"],
or how to get out of a jam [a signal for give-and-go or
break-mark]. Even just having signals for
break-mark and deep cut might be enough.

Finally come plays, which are usually only useful
off of stoppages, and only if people are in position
and have the wherewithal to set it up. Typically
it will unfold as follows: travel call; handler
thinks to call a play rather late during the stoppage,
just before the tap in; four of the six other players hear
the call; two of those four are not in position and start to
head into position only after the tap comes; the
timing of the start of the play is off, and one or
two of those who didn't hear the play have gotten
in the way or somehow messed it up by not being
aware. Because a play involves lots of people
knowing what to do and implementing this knowledge
in unison and on cue, it is the hardest thing to
do. The HUGE majority of deep cuts, for example,
come from opportunistic cutting, not plays.

Teams should acknowledge these difficulties
openly and honestly, freeing themselves from
the lie that plays make the difference.
1, 2, and 3 make the difference. Plays, if
used at all, are icing. If a team *does*
acknowledge these truths,
then it should focus its time
according to its priorities.

Thanks for listening,


Friday, August 14, 2009



(Or, Generation H and the Search for a Stackless O)

Okay, I don't play much ultimate anymore. Five tournaments in the past year: Sandblast (does that count?), GrandMasters '09, Masters '08, Masters Regionals '08, Masters Worlds '08. I do still think about disc, and have watched a bit of good play at those tournaments, however.

The sport is certainly maturing. Observations which were lessons 10 years ago are now common knowledge to even middling teams. (Examples: communicating switches, help from the sideline, calling the danger spot, getting inside of the cutter, high count marking behavior.) Also, you can now assume that every decent team takes its athleticism seriously. In light of this, I feel I have little concrete intellectual content to offer -- hence the bloglessness, even when I *am* thinking about the game. (Plus, Facebook has proven itself *the* welcoming home for all of our psychoanalytical exhibitionism.)

Do we see significant differences between teams? Experts will tell us we do, but that's because they are able to look with a keener eye. The fact that we even need a keen eye to discern among top teams is a testament to the convergence of play.
I don't think the "Turnover Compact" (archives: 8/14/05) is still valid. Good teams have a more refined sense of probabilities and expected outcomes, and have eliminated most unnecessary turnovers. In short, "Generation H" (archives: 8/10/05) is all growed up. What does it look like?

It's about 6' 2", muscular (it does CrossFit), does ulty on-line and off, with all pistons blaring. Smart about the game. It's on a team that plays Ho stack on 90% of points. It gets open by using said pistons, juking up and back, outhustling its hapless defender. (There are other cuts, too, but this is the one that serves my purpose.) Here's my only beef: too many teams are racing down the same path toward victory. There is a fixed skill-and-muscle set which will help them down that path. The team which better develops these skills --- *these* skills --- will win the race.

But what if there's another path?

Don't get me wrong: I don't claim to have found it, and I don't claim to have been on a team that found it. I do think there is something to be said for valuing innovation, and I don't think we have had a significant innovation since the Ho stack arrived. I mentioned previously (archives: "The Moral Relativist and the Ho," 7/17/08) that a stack is more of a mindset, or framework, for thinking about offensive structures and spacing. Having a paradigm is great, and being able to shift paradigms is even better ("paradigm shift" or "game changer" is the Holy Grail of business, politics... sports). So why not move between one and another?

So this is both a lament -- that we don't see teams wielding a full arsenal of weapons -- and a challenge, to find the Stackless O, a dynamic offense that instantly locates and exploits *any* viable space on the field. This would require a team to seamlessly move into (whatever) formation is best, shifting on a dime the way a flock of geese do. I'm not saying they're Canada geese.. or condors. Or fish, which also exhibit nice group behavior. They're certainly not packs of DoGs. I don't know what they are. Never seen them on the disc field. Just herds of magic unicorns, I guess. (Not goats.)

(Maybe they're already there. Tell me about them.)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Worlds: USA Masters vs. Canada

We (USA) played on center stage for this game (16-14, USA) against
the #2 seed. This blog would be better if I fed the urge to use spectacular
words like "epic struggle," "wrested victory from...," "battled mightily,"
etc.... but I can't. I'll save the hyperbole for the hyperbolic situations.
(Come back Friday?)

The game*was* intense, and there were big moments. The tide
shifted when we came out of halftime fired-up and rallied to
overcome a 4-point deficit. That was an exhibition of classic DoG
defense. We also showed the ability to win, to get it done when
it needs to get done. That's a vital skill.

At the same time, we showed a lot of unforced errors, miscues, and
iffy decision-making. To Canada's credit, the defensive coverage
was tight and space and time were compressed. At several points,
we responded to these circumstances by trying to thread needles
or wish our way to the endzone, rather than get there with more
work and passes.

Because of the above, the victory was not completely joyful for me.
I want us to win and play well, as well as showcase our capabilities.
We did some of that. We have more to prove.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


His Masters Choice

Ah, the life of a committed Masters player.
Please contrast with a committed Open
player, who eats, sleeps, and breathes disc
(e.g., the author, circa 1998).

Training: Okay, I do have a team and it does
get together every now and again, but that team
is in Boston and I live in Chicago. So I did
what I did on my own. This meant a variety
of running and sprinting days, but the flavor
was decidedly different from fall of 1998 when
I killed myself working out, imagining how
hard my teammates were pushing themselves.
Nowadays, when I imagine what my teammates
are actually doing... ... ...well, let's just leave
it at that.

Hydration: The family will stay in Vancouver
for five months. We have already been traveling
in Santa Barbara and L.A. I keep waiting for the
time when I won't be worrying about FDIC-backing
on deposits and potential problems
at customs, and insuring stored belongings and
car, and health insurance in Canada etc. I keep waiting
for the time when I will be totally focused on training.
Hah! I did get some good workouts in
Santa Barbara, but much of that was at the
good grace of my wife. Anyway, so I was thinking
at least this day -- Friday before Sunday -- I would
be able to give my body some rest and restoration.
Well, we had to stand on line after line, repacking
and reticketing the seatless child under two.
Amazingly, we get it all done and arrive in Vancouver
and settle into our house in time to order dinner.
All that but basically no hydration. (I take it as given,
of course, that there will be nights, like last night, when
my toddler has FOUR teeth coming in at once.)
Today my legs were lead.

Keeping Injury Free: Suddenly everything gives
me blood blisters. Suddenly, every time I schlep the 55 lbs
bags (yes, we had to repack both at the airport) they
bruise me in my already tender ankles. And on the
flight we manage to get BOTH kids asleep on the
small, cramped, noisy plane when the flight attendant
tells me we have to have BOTH kids on one side (my
side) because that was the side with three oxygen
masks. So I sat there with one on my lap and holding
the other in my hands. I thought for sure they'd be
too sore for pulling. (The children slept; the hands
were fine.)

Muscles and Joints: Back in the day, I'd worry
about pulling my hamstring during sprint training.
Now I worry about joints. (I'm not fast enough to
injure myself trying to sprint!) Why do my ankles
spontaneously hurt. I used to pride myself
on not coming out with an injury unless it was
season-ending, or at least a few weeks. Now,
back in late June I got hit in a tournament (my only
this spring) and didn't come out, and I still wonder
whether my knee will make it through Worlds as
a result.

Best Perspective: Back then, disc was the priority. The
"only"-ity. Now disc is just daddy's selfish lark.
Opening ceremonies, shmopening
shmeremonies. My children couldn't
come -- nap time!

Thursday, July 17, 2008


The Moral Relativist and the Ho

This is a confession about a man, a Ho, and right or wrong.
What is right? What is wrong? Is it wrong not to cut deep when
someone has the disc on the sideline with a free backhand,
and you are being fronted? In a morally absolute world, yes!
But just as the fist bump can be a friendly greeting or a terrorist
call to arms depending on which network you watch, the
culture you play in has a lot to say about what is right and wrong
on the field.

I just came back from a 4-on-4 practice with the Condors, who
graciously let an aging master take the field with them prior
to worlds (and even more graciously are lending the US team
two star-spangled players -- Hollywood and Dugan).
Anyway, for 90% of the practice I was completely ineffective
and completely unawares. People wouldn't cut for me when
I wanted them to, and I was generally not making an impact
on O. I attributed this to my glacial speed and to being
an unknown factor with the disc. To be sure, that's
part of it. But the other part was something I realized only
toward the end: they were playing a 4-person Ho stack.
For the most part, the man in the center was live, there was
some lateral handler motion, and some circulation among
roles. I was ineffective because I assumed vertical the whole
time and was generally hanging out -- hence clogging -- the
center lane. (They were probably too polite to yell at me.)

The other part of my inability to make an impact was that
during situations when I was looking to advance the disc --
e.g. deep, as in the situation described at the start -- they
were not seeing me as being in a power position. Maybe
the person I wanted to cut was in a resting pattern. Maybe
I was not looking for the naturally "live" player or in the
natural direction of flow for the Ho. So what was right
to me was wrong to them. Likewise, I was not seeing
cutting opportunities that were obvious to them.
I was resting when they were looking for me to cut.
(After my epiphany, I was able to play somewhat more
effectively and with much less energy, since I had an
idea of what was about to happen.)

It is important for a team to be on the same page. There
needs to be some unspoken understanding of what
is to come. But is this necessary state of affairs also
too limiting? Are potential opportunities squandered?
Why not have an offense which is able
to see the opportunities for both patterns of play
and exploit them -- an offensive flex? (Like a defense
which switches mid-pont.) Is this even possible?
It should be. If it is theoretically possible to score
based on the current playing position, then it should
be possible for an offense to recognize this.

I am too tired -- did I mention that I was slow and just
trying to keep up? -- to explore what this would look
like, but my inner moral absolutist wants to know.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007



I never wanted an I-played-two-games-of-foosball-today kind of blog.
The idea from the start was to try to say something of general interest
about the game of ultimate, not necessarily about my personal experience.
But today I am excited to be going to Sarasota with my DoG reunion team.

Two years ago I was ignominiously cut from the open team in Chicago.
I guess I was too old, or too old school, or too slow (more a function of
teething-child-induced-sleep-deprivation than age, but nevertheless).
That year a master's team grew in Chicago, and though it was a lot of
fun (and we qualified, and they're coming this year), I had been sold on
DoG reunion ever since our Easterns win a few years back.

Now it is a reality, and the thrill of playing with TGTITHOTG...BF is
back! Yeah, baby!

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?