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.)

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