21 October 2008

Your defensive mindset

Each time you play defence, you should have a focus for what you, as an individual, plan to do on defence.

There are many factors that influence your choice: previous points in the game, what your leadership has set as a focus, what the offence is trying to do, who you are guarding, and what your personal strengths and weaknesses are.

Some guarding tactics are:
  • cover my player cutting under
  • cover my player cutting deep
  • look to be a help defender on deep throws
  • look to be a help defender on short throws
  • stay physically really close to my player
  • clog the passing lanes
  • interfere with the offence's set plays
And there are marking tactics too:
  • stand off the thrower
  • bait a handblock
  • force to make the inside break harder
  • force to make the around break harder
  • hold a constant force
  • move around with the thrower as they rotate to find a dump
  • hassle the hammer
  • go clown-crazy hyperactive
  • change the tempo of your mark (from a passive, flat-footed stance, to an active, moving stance as the count increases)
Know what you want to do. Smart defenders will think about what approach they can use, reflect on how it worked, and adapt.

Just chasing your player around the field produces seven games of one-on-one. Team defence is far more powerful, and it starts with individuals having flexibility in how they play defence.

16 October 2008


I like how every time I am writing a new post for this blog, I see a link next to "Posting" and "Settings" that reminds me to "Layout".

15 October 2008

How to present to humans

I have an amateur interest in graphic design.

I figure that this ties into ultimate. Ultimate is quite the grassroots sport - the players are the administrators, coaches, referees, and recruiters. And when it comes to recruiting, you need to communicate clear ideas to the ultimate community or wider world, often through print, powerpoint, websites or video.

Most of us have zero training in design. If we design something, we just dump the information into the Word document or PowerPoint template, fiddle with a couple of borders or pictures til it looks a little nicer, and go with it. Passion for your topic will partly make up for lack of expertise!

But if you would like to really make your message more powerful, a few simple principles can make a big difference. And help you stand out from the crowd.

So from one of the blogs I read, Presentation Zen, I thought I would share an intro to presentation design and delivery.

It is a short pdf, that is a great reference for when you design your next PowerPoint, poster or flier for ultimate.

If you have to give a presentation, talking and visuals, and you decide to use PowerPoint, then you need to learn about Really Bad Powerpoint (and how to avoid it), from Seth Godin.
We can do better than this.
The biggest idea I took away was knowing the difference between what an audience member hears in your presentation, what they see in your presentation, and what they physically take away (e.g. a handout) from your presentation.

These three things should be very, very different, but with a cohesive overall message. Using the advice in the above pdfs, preparing your materials will actually take less time.

Personally, I have sat through too many lectures this semester where the lecturer shows slabs of text on a screen, read the same slabs of text, then hands out those same slabs of text as printouts. Has this happened to you?

I may as well print them out and read them at my own pace at home (and have actually taken that option regularly)!

If I give you my presence and attention, make it worth my time to be there!

14 October 2008

2008 Uni Games Part 3 - the point differentials

In Part 2 of my Uni Games review, I looked at the five teams with the best point differential per game.

Team A: +7.9
Team B: +5.4
Team C: +4.6
Team D: +3.5
Team E: +3.5

These teams were, in order, Sydney Uni, Flinders, Monash, UWA, Adelaide.

Most folks guessed Sydney at the top correctly, then it was a mix of correct and incorrect guesses.

Here is a graph. All game results and the graph are here. Scores came from AFDA.
The teams are ordered left to right by where they finished the tournament. So Flinders (1st) is the left most column, Sydney (2nd) is next, then Adelaide, Melbourne and so on all the way across to QUT (19th).

The point differential measured here is good predictor of ability, in a single number.

Let's look at an example. Deakin had 5 wins and 6 losses for the tournament. Meanwhile La Trobe went 5-5. They seem pretty close? I mean La Trobe only finished one spot higher. Actually, La Trobe was losing games to the best teams by only a few points, and generally thumping low teams. While Deakin never got closer than 6 points to a top 8 finishing team.

The point differential shows this: La Trobe +3.1 and Deakin -2.6.

What else do we notice?

Flinders had a point differential of +5.4, lower than Sydney Uni (+7.9), who had swept through all their opponents more easily than anyone else. So Flinders' win in the final can be considered an upset, given Sydney's scoring ability.

Melbourne Uni, the team that finished 4th, finished higher than point differential would predict, while Monash finished lower (7th). Melbourne's one-point victory in the quarterfinal (the single game that changes final position the most) over Monash was responsible for that.

Point differential isn't strictly comparing apples with apples. Some players get injured. Some teams rest their stars for parts of games. And the teams did not play all other opponents.

What is consistent is that the top 8 teams played 3-4 pool games, 4-5 crossover games against strong opponents, and then 3 games against strong opponents. So comparisons between them are pretty reliable. Latrobe, Deakin, Murdoch and Ballarat had a different run, playing 3 weaker opponents to finish the tournament. La Trobe, in particular, feasted on RMIT and ECU on Thursday (15-2 wins both games) while the top 8 teams were playing strong opponents.

The remaining 7 teams had weaker opponents for the majority of the tournament.
A glance at the graph of point differential does show 9 elite teams though, that matches well with subjective observation at the tournament.

And the graph does point out how much better ANU were than their final finishing place of 15th.

Is point differential useful? Well, next time you are at tournament and want to predict the outcome of key games such as semis and finals, check out the scoring margins from previous games. There will always be occassional upsets, but on average, the team with a higher point differential goes through.

5 October 2008

2008 Uni Games Part 2 - the stars and the final

I only got to see some of the players in action at AUG, but I was impressed with BJ and Karen on Adelaide. Chris Lavis, Ellie Sparke and Tegan were guns for Newcastle - a team I thought would do strongly in the semis, but never made it. Twiggy was a standout for UWA. And Gamble was potentially the best player at the tournament.

I was really looking forward to watching Sydney Uni in the final. I hadn't got to play or watch them all week during their undefeated run. Plus I coached them for over four years, so I have lots of connections to the club. The game itself was a surprise, or it least it seemed to be.

The Sydney Uni team that had walked over every other team at the tournament wasn't to be seen. Flinders got on top and never let up. Sydney Uni couldn't stop the Joel to Alec connection, either by 1) stopping Joel catching the disc, 2) hassling Joel's throws with the mark or 3) guarding Alec up field.

They clearly didn't have anyone who could do 3), and the zone they used wasn't as useful as, say, a straight up force for acheiving 2). But failing to do 1) was a mystery. Joel doesn't have a single healthy leg joint, and barely made a strong cut to get the disc. Sending one or maybe even two strong defenders after Joel would have at least pushed Flinders to change their offence a little.

The way Joel threw over the zone to a running Alec irrespective of the defenders made me analyse how I have played against zones. Perhaps this is a new tactic I will try: float looping throws to an elite receiver who is running straight line cuts upfield, and bank on the receiver skying the static zone defenders. I can add it to the list.

An elite male thrower with some targets will trump a deep team in the mixed competition of AUGs. Check out the history: Joel Pillar, Johnny Mac, Matt Dowle, Pete Gardner, and Jonno Holmes have lead their teams to almost all of the last 10 titles, irrespective of who had the deeper team or better women.

Perhaps the surprise wasn't Joel's team triumphing, but why they lost to Sydney in the pool rounds.

Now on to some team stats.

You can compare teams by looking at the points scored for and against them.

The AFL shows this as a percentage (%), ie points for divided by points against, multiplied by 100%.

The NRL shows this as points differential (PD), ie points for minus points against.

The NBA shows this as a differential (diff), ie points for minus points against, divided by games played.

Since teams at AUG 2008 played different numbers of games, I'm going with the NBA format.

The best five teams' differentials at AUG 2008 were:
Team A: +7.9
Team B: +5.4
Team C: +4.6
Team D: +3.5
Team E: +3.5

Your challenge: guess who teams A, B, C, D and E are.

Post your guesses in the comments.

In my next post, I'll reveal the team's identities, and explain more about the strengths and weaknesses of this stat.

2008 Uni Games Part 1 - my personal rollercoaster

This week just gone I played at the 2008 Australian University Games in Melbourne. It was an amazing rollercoaster of a ride, and one of the most memorable ones ever. I entered the week thinking it would be another enjoyable tournament, with a little more excitement than usual, and came out of it emotionally and physically hammered (in mostly satisfying ways).

Uni Games should be old hat for me: I have attended 8 out of 11 Uni Games or Uni Championships, as either player or coach. Across the years, the teams I have been on have won medals of every colour, or come close. Every year I meet old friends and make new mates.

But this year was incredible. My team, Monash, bought into the team vibe in an big way, from their enthusiasm for warming-up to their constant cheering of each other. The rookies and veterans both inspired me with their dedication. There was banner-making, dancing, cheering, glowsticks and team dinners. We had an Indonesian fanclub.

My teammates improved in amazing ways through the tournament. On Wednesday morning, I was grinning in delight to myself at their ability to consistently execute a warm-up drill in the blustery wind. A warm-up drill!

We all put a lot of energy into preparing, playing, cheering, and recovery. Not to mention a bit of partying. After playing limited field time in my previous two tournaments, I played a lot at this one, with fatigue only really hurting my play in the last few points of Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.

My team played five nail-biting last-point-wins games during the tournament, including a 6 point comeback win over UWA. Exhilirating and exhausting. We lost only two games all week, by 1 point and 3 points. But they were the wrong games - we finished 7th out of 19 teams.

We invested a lot into this team, and I wanted to see my teammates rewarded with a good finish for their effort, but it didn't happen this time.

After such effort and to miss out on the semi-finals, my mind has constantly been replaying those little factors in those 2 losses, and pondering the what-ifs. Normally I am pretty good about accepting a loss and moving on. After the 2005 Nationals final (scoring 4 consecutive points with Fakulti to draw level with Chilly then losing that last point on a hail-mary throw to Gack), I was at peace. There were two good teams, we had our chance in the last point with the disc, and I was proud of our efforts. No regrets.

Likewise after losing the 2005 World Games final. We had only 5 turnovers in the game. I didn't throw or catch a goal, but was proud of my team's efforts and my performance. That silver medal was a big accomplishment for Australian ultimate.

Those Uni Games losses though: a heavy weight. The support that Monash gave each other during the week is a mighty salve though.