26 August 2008

Mental skills

Elite coaches recognise that at the top of their sports, athletes need a large toolbox of psychological and mental skills they can draw on: adaptability, the ability to only focus on the controllable elements in the immediate present, the ability to manage emotions, mental stamina and self-confidence.

And like the physical skills, these mental skills are trained. You may luck into individuals with these skills already well developed, but you can be pretty certain that a majority of the athletes holding up medals at the Olympics this year trained their thought processes. You cannot tell an athlete to be "focussed" - it requires ongoing teaching, communication, review and appropriate challenges.

I enjoyed reading how one coach, Bob Bowman, deliberately exposed his athlete to hiccups, hurdles and pressure. He didn't comment when he noticed his athlete forgetting to take equipment to a key event. He damaged other equipment so it would be faulty during a race. This was all followed up with constant communication with his athlete about how to manage adversity.

So at the Beijing Olympics, when his goggles filled with water mid-race, and with the unbelievable expectations of winning eight golds on his shoulders, that athlete, Michael Phelps, swam on to claim the fourth gold of an eventual eight. He had faced pressure before and knew it well.

Bob Bowman has been crafting the skills of Michael Phelps for years.

And I am keen to learn about the training of Zhang Juanjuan of China, who won the Women's individual archery, to break open the 24-year long stranglehold that South Korea had held on the event. Her quarterfinal opponent was the 3rd seed - a South Korean. Her semi-final opponent was the 2nd seed - a South Korean.

Her finals opponent was the number 1 seed, reigning Olympic champion and Olympic record holder, South Korean Park Sung-Hyun. Zhang defeated her by a single point. Quite a story for someone who used to suffer target panic.

Has your team been trained to handle a wet disc, lost cleats, small fields, late transport, changing opponents, missing players, broken limbs, cyclones and anything else that happens?

20 August 2008

The stars of Worlds

Strap on your helmet, fasten your seatbelts, we're entering Stats World...

Here are the player statistics for WUGC2008. I have put the data online as a spreadsheet too, for anyone to analyse. It is a list of the players, in order of goals caught plus assists thrown, per game played.

You can pull some interesting stories out of these numbers, despite their limitations.

Lets sift through this data a bit to find the stars of Worlds 2008.

Firstly, Juniors should be in a separate category. The junior divisions are still mostly uneven playing fields, with a wide range of abilities and athleticism on many teams. Some junior players will go on to become superstars but don't show it now, whereas the older divisions have a bit more "what you see is what you get". Many of the non-North American juniors have only been playing for 1 or 2 years.

So we'll pull them out of this list, and put them in their own category.

Now to the level of ultimate played. The big stats from players on weak teams are less representative of elite play. There is a decently sized pool of players who could throw or catch numerous goals playing with weaker players against weaker teams. But only the best can do so on a strong roster in the top pools. So I have pulled out players whose team finished in the bottom third of their division, an arbitrary cut-off point (I'm all ears for a more objective method for filtering out weak games).

Those left behind are the stars.

Somewhere down the track, WFDF may put in the manpower to track who plays which point, and we can get more reliable goals per point (GPP) and assists per point (APP) stats, as opposed to the current per game stats. Actually these current numbers are not even true GPG and APG stats as we don't know who sat out games in this list.

In this statistically measured future, I feel we need a scaling factor to account for the far larger number of possessions a player starting a point on O faces compared to a D player.

Alternatively, we need to separate the stats into Goals per Offensive Point (GPOP) and Goals per Defensive Point (GPDP), and likewise for assists.

I'll finish with some questions.

How good an indicator of player performance is points plus assists per game? I did a simple comparison to subjective opinion in 2006. The Australian selectors for World Games 2005 picked 6 men from across the country in that year. One year later, 5 of those players were in the top 6 Australian male scorers at World Clubs (I'll try and put those stats online soon too). That's a solid correlation. I am certain we can find better measures though.

How does Ultistats show this info? Does it have different stats? I can't remember what it showed when I last used it.

And lastly, does this list have anyone at the top who looks ridiculously out of place?

I believe it passes the "laugh test".

Rank Division Team # Name Goals Assists Points Avg
1 Open JPN 12 Yohei Kichikawa 23 35 58 5.8
2 Masters GBR 80 Merrick Cardew 23 29 52 4.73
3 Masters NZL 46 Gary Jarvis 5 44 49 4.45
4 Open JPN 10 Masahiro Matsuno 23 20 43 4.3
5 Masters NZL 47 Shane Vuletich 20 26 46 4.18
6 Women JPN 8 Sanako Inomata 12 29 41 4.1
7 Open CAN 7 Michael Grant 21 19 40 4
8 Women AUS 14 Diana Worman 20 22 42 3.82
9 Women GER 44 Sara Wickström 14 24 38 3.8
10 Mixed CAN 98 Brendan Wong 28 10 38 3.8
11 Open VEN 11 Pablo Saade 5 32 37 3.7
12 Women COL 37 Andrea Trujillo 15 22 37 3.7
13 Women AUS 2 Lauren Brown 28 11 39 3.55
14 Open SWE 17 David Wesley 31 8 39 3.55
15 Women JPN 9 Eri Hirai 31 4 35 3.5

19 August 2008


Sure, you can improve as a player by getting faster, throwing further and jumping higher. But if you have a capacity to learn, working on simple unnoticed skills can make a difference too. Like footwork.

I can think of 6 instances where good footwork can give you an advantage.

When catching a pass on an in-cut, twist in the air so as to land ready to throw upfield. Basically you are performing a 180 degree turn as you catch. Only use this when you know the defender cannot bid on the catch, and when you are catching at less than 50% of top speed.

When popping, step in past a cup or wall from the blind spot of a defender, to receive a short pass from the thrower.

When catching a simple dump or swing pass against an approaching zone cup, jump a little to catch the disc, and stick your pivot foot out as you land. The defence will come up to mark where your torso is, but you can step back wider than they predicted, because your pivot foot is already stuck out.

When you want to keep a catch in-bounds, toe-drag. Practice. And watch Rueben.

When guarding a cutter, slide step, rather than turning to move forward or back. Avoid turning your hips and shoulders until you really have to.

When cutting, decelerate in a straight line, turn, and accelerate out in exactly the opposite direction, retracing your last 4 steps. There are still Worlds reps out there who don't use this simple vertical cutting skill in a game.

The teams in the Open division - Part 2

Following on from Part 1...

The teams we Dingos didn't play. Obviously I have less to offer, having not played them, so if you saw them play (or even played them) add a comment.

There was a lot of hype, but in the end they only squeaked home twice over GB, and lost by quite a few to the US in the semis. They had a crazy distribution of stats. Guess which 2 guys were running the show? Deserving bronze medallists.

Bam. Canada went undefeated for the second Worlds in a row. The final between the US and Canada was their first meeting of the tournament. Canada punished USA's errors and a home turf advantage probably helped. USA pegged the early 4 point lead back to 2 points by the end, but Canada held on, in no small part because of Mike Grant's strong second half. All that disc golf paid off.

John Hassell was a strong addition to the Furious roster. Mauro Ortiz seems to be the alpha handler for Canada. Like the US, the pull reception play seemed to be pass it to the alpha handler in the middle of the field, and let him have a 5 second look at a huck of his choice.

The Open final, viewed from the grandstand.
Dominican Republic
Beat Mexico twice and even toppled the Netherlands. Got at least 6 points off everyone. What were the bookie's odds 2 years ago on DR being a) a nation that could send a team to Worlds and b) not coming last? Who can fill us in on all this new Central and Southern American ultimate?

Wooden spoon. Developing. They were in the running for best name at Worlds with Tomas Bartolome Garcia Nathan. Though Venezuela did offer two Jesuses and an Elvis.

They needed Diego :) But they did have Alex on board.

Came in 9th, following on from their strong 3rd placing at Euros 2007. After a 10th placing in 2004, I would think they would like to taste the quarters next time...

They had Wombat Mike at least, who joined the elite 30+ assist club.

South Africa
Didn't see them, or hear much. Good to see they got a team over here. I wonder if our flight home was longer, or theirs...

New Zealand
Dave S said they had three practice matches in the week before Worlds, and needed them as they were integrating the overseas-residing half of their squad into the team. Their first game against Finland was a flop with nothing going right. They finished the tournament with a solid win over a South American team (for them, Venezuela) as did Finland, so they righted the ship as the tournament went on. With Shane and Gary in the Masters, this was probably a more rounded team than some previous Kiwi teams.

Like the Dingos, they had very few games that finished with a margin of less than 5. It was either win by a few or lose by a few.

Brazil, Russia, Lithuania, Denmark and the Republic of China all made it to the Open division in 2004, but not this time. Obviously Turku, Finland was on the doorstep of three of these countries, so here's hoping future Worlds can bring them back.

16 August 2008

The teams in the Open division

Searching for a format to spill some of my thoughts on Worlds, I read Gwen's post on the Women's teams.

So here is my take on the teams in the Open division that we Dingos played. The other Open teams will be in Part 2.

Ireland have improved rapidly over recent years, from playing in the UK Tour events and, I presume, European tournaments. While they only got a few points more off the Dingos than in 2004, they were much stronger: an aggressive long game, a innumerable number of handler dump reset passes, that were painful to chase in a zone, and a clever iso game that often isolated one receiver upfield (but not too deep) for a strike when the defence was out of position, German-style.

These folk were deserved Spirit winners and their supporters were fun-loving too.

We played Venezuela on the stadium field, and even with only a few dozen spectators, the echoing concrete steps and roof made on-field communication hard. Along with the language barrier, and Venezuela's fiery style of play, this was a heated game. There were fouls on the mark. Venezuela used a surprising number of injury subs. Catches close to the line came along to keep both teams discussing more than playing. Gav even passed a disc back to the thrower, and unwittingly hit a distracted Venezuelan in the back of the head. Fortunately that didn't get taken the wrong way.

This European powerhouse has slipped - they finished 13th out of the 18 Open teams. Phillip, their go-to guy got injured during our game, and their competitiveness in our game slipped after that. Hans was the source of a lot of their offence. Their defence was more opportunistic than block-seeking. Hopefully they can develop their young players and rise up again.

Venezuela's neighbours would have been equally fiery on a typical day, but they met us shortly after a close loss to Venezuela. And so they looked a bit flat, despite still being an animated and speedy team. We won by a similar margin to that in our Venezuela game, but felt more in control in this one. Colombia finished the tournament in 8th position at their first Worlds. An awesome, and probably unprecedented, effort. I hope the South Americans can make future Worlds (the exchange rate probably isn't nice to them), as they bring a different style of play to the tournament.

Great Britain
GB had high hopes for this tournament after beating up on most of Europe for the last few years. I felt we established ourselves as a notch above them during our pool game - we won almost all the aerial contests, and felt dominant on field. Yet they faced us again in the quarterfinals and beat us convincingly in the more important game. They didn't push Canada in the semi but did come close to Japan twice - I think Japan weren't the force some were expecting, rather than GB pushing up enormously.

The Swedes played a short rotation. Short, as in "the sun is beating down, its the last game of the tournament, the ground is baked hard, we're losing to dozens of fired up Aussies, and we're still only using 8-10 guys in this game" short. In the rematch for 5th place, they found ways to save their legs against us by hucking very often, and going to transition zone on D, but couldn't prevail. Like in 2004, we beat them twice. This time the first match was the argumentative one, and the second one was even-tempered.

Our D didn't get it done in this game on the show field. Only one break at half (USA lead 9-7), but then their D put pressure on our O after that, and we didn't do likewise. Some spectacular plays from both sides (Mr Nord, I believe Mr Neild has that disc you are looking for) and hard running made for a game the crowd really enjoyed. Sockeye didn't really have a lot of tall timber outside of Chase and Nord - they'll happily put 4 guys around 6 foot on the line as their cutters. In comparison we Dingos could field at least 4 guys who were 6'4" downfield.

USA's offence relies on 7 guys running really hard to keep their defenders occupied, and spacing the field well. This means the defence can't help out on hucks, and the moment a defender is wrong footed, the cutter is on the move to get open. One point I marked Tim Gehret and he made about 12+ cuts non-stop before the chance came to cut up the line for a pass.

And the offence really runs through Ben W a lot.

JJ's photo of USA with the disc
The wind had picked up so we played some Pommy zone early vs Finland. It got us 6 straight points. Mikko Paanasalo seemed to be the man they wanted to attack through, but they couldn't move upfield. After half they put him behind the wall to attack from upfield, and their handlers seemed to move the disc quicker, with more success.

The Finns have a crisp style of play, with their sharp looking forehands. A bit of a contrast to the athletic power style game of we Aussies.

Dan with Konstantin, who we reckon looks like Frankie.

4 August 2008

Worlds begins

I have been in Vancouver for almost 2 days and North America for over 2 weeks. And I'm finally about to actually play.

So what's going on?

Due to some construction (installing artificial turf fields) some of the fields are a short bus ride away, which is a little more hassle for getting around, as Parinella points out.

Dorms are nice and simple. The lads with laptops are delighted to have internet access in their rooms. All the Aussies are in one building, spread across 4 or 5 floors. The stairwell is an echo chamber where you meet the others going up or down.

Its great to catch up with faces from the distant ultimate past - it is a big part of the buzz of the start of Worlds.

Weather: delightful. Food: close by but dormitory. Fields: lush but in some spots, need to dry out in and get smoothened. Colombians: loud and in party-mode.

For the Dingos, we have all our support staff on-board now: assistant coach Rueben, physio Bianca and medical assistants/general support Chaddy, Katie and Emma. And I think Abra's dad will be our team photographer.

In terms of the ultimate, the Mixed showcase game between Canada and GB was entertaining. An impressive standard, which the Canadians pulled out in the end. I saw the end of the Australia - Hong Kong mixed game this morning, which the Barramundis won comfortably. Their deep stack gives them lots of nice space for the in-cut. They played on the stadium field, and I hope it survives the week until Saturday (such fields are usually rested as much as possible for the finals).