Friday, August 26, 2005


Discs and Demagogues

"`Never play zone when there's no wind.' We called
this `Tito's rule.'" "Who's Tito?" "He's a masters player from the
Western Plains. He's awesome."

"When the disc is stopped, look for a cut from the front of
the stack. We always used to play this way in college and
we had a great team. We made nationals my senior year!"

"You want to move the disc through the middle of the field
in the horizontal stack. That's what my summer league
captain taught us, and he was really good."

"In corporate league we never played zone D with two deeps."

[Readers: more examples?]

When we're young and learning, we have impressionable minds,
and these impressions linger long past their "use by" date.
Children *should* trust their teachers, but a teen who
enters college still believing her sixth grade teacher's
description of the UN as a place "where all the countries of
the world get together and do what's right for everyone"
is in for a rude awakening. Business school tykes often
quote their favorite corporate magnate even in non-business
matters, as though wealth and wisdom were one and the same.

The same thing happens in disc all the time. We repeat
mantras and rules without understanding for ourselves why
they're true. We accept explanations for HOW something
should happen, rather than a WHY that makes sense, as long
as it comes from a source we've chosen to trust -- even
though that trust is often given for arbitrary reasons.
Blind faith is the word for it, and unless some Supreme Deity
plays ultimate, there are no excuses. Sometimes the
advice-giver is knowingly deceptive and a whole team
(or nation) falls prey to demagoguery.

Occasionally you're in a situation where no one really understands.
Say your young team is getting torn up by a by a bunch of old fogeys.
You and your captains can't figure it out. One leader may step
up confidently and say, "this is what we're going to do,"
without any meaningful justification. The strategy
is flawed but the team is all on one page and sharing a goal. Not
terribly bad. But the best thing is usually to spend some time looking
at what the other team is actually doing. Sit on the sideline for a point
or two and observe. Oh, are they playing a force middle and poaching
in the throwing lanes? Well, that piece of information is already
more valuable than just about any slogan or rote response.
At the least, you can know how to avoid turnovers, even if finding
the right offensive solution (e.g., break-mark plays, active play by
poached handler, creating long options on the mark switch) eludes you.

As a sloganeer might say, "you can't get to where you should be
without knowing where you are."

What's funny is that new technology can quickly become demagoguery. The Clam and the horizontal stack (and pickle juice, to a lesser extent) are good examples.
"Transition D does not work in Mixed".
Hmmm... but in any situation (Mixed or elsewhere) where a significant mismatch is possible, transition D does become more difficult. In my return to elite competition this weekend after a long hiatus, I noticed I was woefully slow of foot. This situation was held in stark relief when we'd transition from Clam to Man (one-on-one) D and I'd wind up covering Mr. Swifty. Yuck. Just know the risks.
Brilliant post, Zaz. It is the rare team (or person) indeed which actually studies what the other team is doing, explores why they are scoring easily or shutting you down, and suggests specific strategic measures against it. Usually, even when someone is capable of recognizing the pattern and formulating appropriate responses, he is drowned out by a chorus of:
1) "We just got to want it more!"
2) "Let's play 'in-your-pants' D!"
3) "Look, our heads our down. We gotta get our heads up!"
4) "There's not enough sideline involvement!"
5) "We're not playing as a team!"

...and other common faux-leader comments which never help at all ("Oh, yeah, that's right: I should play tighter D") and bring to mind Mencken's statement: "What most people confuse for thought is just a mouthing of remembered phrases."

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