Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Generation H

The game is being rocked by a new generation of players.
These kids graduated college in the new millenium and
after the revival of force middle and straight-up defenses.
They grew up in a disc world of advanced strategies and
at a time where basic skills were in abundance. They all
can throw. But the most significant thing is that they came
into their own at a time when Horizontal was new and
they have an ingrained belief in the power of H.

I have two concerns about Generation H. The first is what
seems to be a belief that everyone is equal, and so success or
failure is a result of global strategy. Indeed, the offensive
structure of the H-stack is more democratic, and maybe this contributes
to that way of thinking. For example, how often
have you been on the line after a two-drop, three-throwaway
point only to hear people complain about offensive positioning?
Positioning isn't the problem; decision-making is. Generation H has an
inflated view of the importance of strategy over individual accountability.
Okay, maybe the playing field IS leveled in that most people
have the *disc* skills, but the skills in MAKING CHOICES are all
over the map! Having throws during warm-up is not the
same as being able to use those throws wisely in a game. Not
all players are equal. It's like the driver who drifts over the yellow lines
at seven mph because he's on the cell phone asking his mom
to clean his underpants. Being ABLE to drive well doesn't mean
you're a good driver.

The second concern is about the blind faith in the H-stack. They
love it, Generation H. And yet... can these new disciples
articulate the reason for H? Can they explain why it is better than
a conventional (vertical) stack? Can they explain what the offense
should do? Can they explain how to respond to the most obvious
of defensive responses? Maybe semi-finalists at Sarasota can, but
among the rank and file there are too many teams which have
hitched their trailer to a star without knowing its orbit.
(In a nutshell, V-stack frees up alleys for flow, H-stack frees up
deep space for long throws, which is why straight-up can be an
effective D. If every players knows this offensive philosophy in the
H-stack, then your team should have a healthy supply of deep cuts.)

This post is not a knock against the H-stack. A team should have the
H-stack in its repertoire. But should it sell all other O's lock, stock and
barrel? I think the jury is still out on this question, although the disc
world seems to have made up its mind already, somehow.
Maybe the H-stack *is* the Fosberry Flop of the disc world... but maybe
not. Even a decade after Fosberry, records were still set with the
scissor-kick jump. It may take some time to decide.

So how can the H-stack win, if it's not the proven perfect O? Well,
Generation H is in power. If that's what the people in
power want, that's what will happen. If two H teams play each other,
it's hard to tell if a V-stack would have beaten them.
(Separate post: the Turnover Convention. If two teams "agree" to
turn over the disc regularly, neither loses from its poor completion ratio.)

My (boring) view: a team should own the H-stack and the V-stack and
then make an empirical decision about what works better for it -- not
an emotional vote for Danny Way over Tony Hawk. And while
teams are playing an imperfect H-stack, even if it eventually becomes the
Fosberry Flop of disc ("Frisberry"?), I believe there are championships
still to be won with the V.

Well, I would venture to say that the principal weakness of the vertical stack is the force-middle defense.

Suppose the O is comfortable with vertical stack and split/ho stack, and the D is comfortable with FM, straight-up, and force one-way. Then one might see points where the O comes out in vertical stack, the D switches to FM, the O switches to split stack, the D switches to straight-up, the O switches back to vertical stack, etc. instead of the two sides mutually carving out some artificial equilibrium.
Three comments.

1) One of the main advantages of the H stack is that it is easier to learn it to the point where you're not beating yourself anymore. This is basically because you need less coordination between cutters to be effective in an H stack than a V stack.

To wit: I taught Purdue women a spread, and thet were pretty much running it without problems within three months. It took me much, much longer to get the Purdue men to run a V stack well. Basically, it took until the people who were there when I got in charge had moved up the ranks and become the main handlers.

2) To me, the biggest advantage of an H stack relative a V stack is the lack of help defense if your man goes long. The biggest disadvantage IMO is that an H stack invites poaching from those who are far away from the disc laterally.

I've never thought the "sandwich" was a good way to D the H-stack, and in fact I've always had an audible to flood one defender when a team tries that. What is more effective is shifting the off-handler defenders over into the lane (dump defender poaches the lane, swing defender covers the dump), and allowing most of the downfield defenders to play even or slightly behind as a result.

The offense has two options - try to force the pass past the poach (and accept the reduced margin for error), or make an effort to work the disc to the poached handler and flow up the other side (sometimes easy, sometimes difficult, only effective if you have the right personnel). But poaching off the handlers is a fundamentally effective strategy against an H.

Mike G's best rsd post of the last couple years (at least) was this comment on anti-spread O strategy. You can sort of blend his force-middle strategies with the force-sideline strategies I mention above, and you've got a total poaching strategy for force-one-way, depending where you are on the field.

If you try to pull these sorts of poaches in a V, you are more likely to get burned. The clam is a sort of organized way to poach a few cuts here and there off of a V stack, but if you try to run it consistently, it usually degenerates into a sort of crappy zone.

3) I agree that H-stack is taking over on a lot of college teams in the midwest. Also, the Canadian club teams seem to be all about the H. But let's not forget that V-stack still has a strong following. Pike made semifinals last year running V full-time. DoG still uses a V as their standard set.

And let's not forget the other major pretenders to the throne. The "S" (split) stack is popular with the Boston crowd, as well as the Swedes. And the side stack, sort of like a four man play made into a full-time offense.

How all of this will shake out years from now is hard to say, but personally I'd be surprised if one formation won out completely, a-la the Fosbury Flop. I think that at the highest levels, it will always be a chess match where each team tries to make the other give up the spacing and disc movement that they are most comfortable with.
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