16 December 2009

Spirit at TEP Medellín

The final part of the academic program of TEP was a forum focussed on spirit and development of the sport. Eight presentations were given on ultimate and growth in Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, USA, Canada, the Dominican Republic and Australia. I gave a talk on Australian ultimate. My focus was basically the "other ultimate" that is a big part of our community, calendar and culture, as it is to varying degrees in many countries. 

During the tournament itself, every game that I saw was a positive experience.

For the spirit prizes, the winners for TEP 2009 were Revolution in the women´s division and Sockeye in the men´s. The TD, Mauro, was very happy that two finalists took home the spirit awards, illustrating his point that spirit is compatible with high level play.

My personal experiences included calling, discussing, then withdrawing two fouls in the game against Kiê, and bottling up some serious frustration against Warao. That involved getting fouled on a throw (and feeling the smack firmly on the back of my hand), and then four Warao sideline players instinctively yelling "no" loudly when I called foul. The lack of perspective or trust from them had me silently jumping up and down for seconds, wanting to yell back.  

My team Oso-Matanga had none of the really negative experiences of Nationals. The wish to play with spirit was repeatedly mentioned by several of our leaders. This really reaped rewards against a team like Warao who were motivated and who we knew to be a big challenge, but we seem to deflate them by discussing calls calmly and briefly, and even accepting some tight line-calls that weren´t in our favour. They lacked "fire" as a result, which helped us play our game, and win. I felt that we had decided to make the game spirited, and we controlled this.

I received the even more cheery news that Oso played a very spirited rematch against Euforia two weeks later, in the final of Disco Volador 2600. Without foreigners like Sockeye or Furious (or myself) around, and with some established hotheads back on both teams, these two rivals met in an important final and played a spirited game. I hope it is a pattern from here on in.

30 November 2009

Day 3 of TEP Medellín 2009 - the finals

The women's semis were up first. Riot toppled Wayra convincingly. The other game was tighter. Traffic struggled to contain the break throws of Revolution, and were pipped in the end - a North American team was defeated by a Colombian team. These are the milestones in the progress of South American ultimate.

The men's semis followed. Warao (Venezuela) threw everything at Sockeye, but Sockeye prevailed 15-9.

In the Oso - Furious match-up, we jumped to 2-0 lead, prompting an emotional timeout from Furious George. They pegged it back to 6-6, Oso's speed matching Furious' experience and height. But the story of the game soon matched that of many other previous games: a Colombian team unable to maintain composed offence and pressure defence once the legs fatigue slightly. Furious ran out 15-9 winners.

Oso working against the Furious zone

After lunch, the women's final took place before an audience of around 1500. Riot vs Revolution. Team names these days sound like everyone wants to fight the system...

Revolution have so many young players - almost everyone is a teenager. Their skills were so impressive. The score edged from 4-4 to 8-7 Riot, and then the North American dominance prevailed, as Riot pulled out the win 15-10. Awesome match for spectators.

Riot (black) and Revolution (pink) after the final

The men's final was a classic derby between Sockeye and Furious. I believe the first time either team took a two-point lead was Furious at 12-10. Then Sockeye stepped up. They clawed back points to come to 13-13. A Sam Harkness block of a huck to Andrew Brown helped them go to 14-13.

Then on match point, the primary handler for Furious, Mauro Ortiz, stayed on the bench. On the second pass, Skip Sewell read the throw of the replacement Furious handler to perfection, with a layout block. Possession to Sockeye. A pass or two, and the disc is on the endzone line. Is it in? Reminiscent of the final moment of 2005 World Games, the players finally agree it is a goal, and Sockeye are inaugural open champions of the Torneo Eterna Primavera.

 Scobel photographs Hassell getting one over Seth

A great finish by Sockeye, with two athletic defensive plays on the end of a long and hot tournament, to cap a 4-1 comeback and win. An ideal spectacle of elite, spirited ultimate for Colombian players and fans to see at the conclusion of the biggest ever ultimate event in South America.

Big congratulations to Mauro Moore and his colleagues for creating such an impressive event. Can't wait to see it return in the future.

28 November 2009

Day 1 and 2 of TEP Medellín 2009

My team, Oso, has now completed the pool games at TEP Medellín after two days. Most of the results are online now.

We polished off Mamoots, Argentina, Warao (from Venezuela) on day 1, and defeated Caobos (Venezuela) to start day 2.

The Sockeye game was enjoyable. We took an early 3-1 lead, held on til 7-6 down, then faded in the sun, to lose 15-8. Sockeye used their aggressive zone fairly often, with four tall guys up front trying to trap the disc.

Euforia (white) play Sockeye (red).

The final game of Friday for us was with Medellín's strongest team, Kie. The winner would advance to the semis, as we had both lost to Sockeye and defeated other teams in our pool. We pegged out an early 6-2 lead and kept it throughout, winning 15-10. Our team had four spectacular grabs, rivalled today only by Seth Wiggins' layout fading blade catch in a different game. Certainly fires up the team and the crowd.

Oso (white) with Kiê (blue)

Tomorrow we will play our semi-final with Furious. Their points differential per game (+5.5) is worse than Sockeye's (+7.3), so we theoretically have a better shot at a win than Euforia Warao, who emerge from the other pool to play Sockeye.

Furious and Sockeye are heavy favourites to meet in the final of course, but I am keen to see what happens.

Meanwhile in the women's, Riot topped Traffic in pool play. Both were otherwise undefeated. Revolution gave the best showing among the Colombian teams, losing 14-13 to Riot. Tomorrow, Riot will play Wayra and Traffic will meet Revolution.

Tonight is trade night, so I am sure no North American will leave without having traded their much-coveted uniforms from teams past.

27 November 2009

Opening Night of TEP Medellín

The opening ceremony for TEP was equivalent to that of any Worlds: a parade of nations, freestyle demonstrations, dance routines, national anthems, thanks to the volunteers, and an audience hungry for the demonstration game.

The opening game for TEP was Canada vs USA, consisting of players from Riot, Sockeye, Traffic and Furious George.

The stands filled up so the spectators without seats were asked to sit down on the field too.

The match started strongly with barely a break for the first 8-9 points. Then errors crept in. USA proved too strong, and won by a few.

The best part was having a few thousand ultimate players and others getting to watch a high quality match featuring stars of the North American game.

26 November 2009

6 days of coaching

Just finished 6 long days of coaching in the TEP Academic Program.

First was a day coaching the sports teachers from the INDER Escuelas Populares.

Day 2 and 3 was training coaches from all over the country (and Mexico), along side players from Riot and Furious George. Without much background on the coaches or chance to plan together, we started with a session finding out what they wanted to learn. We explained many of the approaches and organisational systems of our teams. The second day was smoother, giving all the attendees opportunities to coach the others (who role-played beginner players) and then evaluate that coaching.

There is an insatiable thirst for ultimate knowledge here in Colombia - folks are keen to learn whatever they can. And when players from some of the strongest clubs in the world turn up, they will ask questions on everything.

I also discovered there are three accredited ultimate coaches in Colombia. They did a course in Bogotá through a state department. I'll find out more.

On Day 4 and 5, Alyson and I coached a high school team from Colegio de San José de Las Vegas. They were boys from 13-16 years old. We worked with them on their offensive cutting system (they have a fairly sophisticated set-up) and their marking of the thrower (they are lacking a lot of fundamentals). I think there will be more instances of this in the near future - Colombians implementing whatever new info they discover, when they haven't been presented with fundamentals first.

The lads had excellent patience to train for seven hours a day for two days. By the end, they had a dynamic zone offence, improved marking and guarding, stronger pulls and impressive O flow, due to the effort they put in. So impressive. And this was a team that was already one of the strongest high schools in all of Latin America.

In some ways, the Colombians have better development pathways than Australia. Three of the Las Vegas high school players train and compete with the senior men's clubs, and many clubs (men and women) here have junior teams (16-20 year olds). There are many instances of talented teenagers moving into the senior competitions with lots of tutelage.

Day 6 was a visit to an Escuela Popular. Picture 30 kids from 6 to 19 years old on a hot, dry, sand soccer pitch, plonked in the middle of a sea of three-storey housing. An occasional dog wanders through, and frisbees worn down to 3/4 of their original weight fly everywhere. Every kid has a solid forehand, but most have shoes that have seen much better days. The two teachers organised the introductions, then we spent two hours coaching and having fun. The level of chaos slowly increased, and we left to catch our bus at the end, with swarms of kids wanting autographs on shirts and shorts.

There are somewhere between 600 and 1200 kids in the region, learning ulti through these Escuelas Populares. Creating social change and teaching life-skills to overcome disadvantaged backgrounds are the main aims. The teachers are doing awesome work.

19 November 2009

The INDER program in Medellín

INDER is the sports department in the Colombian city of Medellín.

They manage lots of public sports facilities and programs, including Las Escuelas Populares, devoted solely to teaching sport to youth. There are about 50 escuelas here, and about 14 run ultimate. I am told that INDER love ultimate (well, they are certainly funding and supporting TEP).

They also offer scholarships to a selected 30 of the hundreds of students learning ultimate in the escuelas, many who are from disadvantaged backgrounds. The scholarships give them some funding for uniforms, travel, food and an invitation to play with the elite ultimate clubs in Medellín.

Basically its awesome. Four of the girls came along to today's coaching workshop for teachers from the escuelas populares today, and had fun. Ultimate seems to be a pretty fantastic aspect of their lives now.

The workshop itself was an chance for teachers to problem-solve their issues related to constructively resolving calls on the fields, gender inequalities, building comradery with other teams and teaching self-refereeing. Maddy and Loriana (from Riot), Eva (Traffic) and I were the organisers.

Also, 30 more people now know how to play schtick. They were possibly the best group of beginners I've ever seen playing schtick.

Today's workshop was one of the dozens of coaching sessions that 13 players from Riot, Traffic and Furious George (plus Nicky and I) are running during the 7-day academic program. Medellín ultimate is being bombarded with coaching. This is the epicentre of ultimate coaching anywhere in the world this week (maybe this year?), and the major cultural differences ensures everyone is learning something (have you ever coached with a translator?). 

Tomorrow, and Friday, I am working with 30 university and club coaches of ultimate from around the country. Saturday and Sunday I help coach a university team, while Monday and Tuesday will be the big forum “Convivencia y desarrollo en el Ultimate: Respiraprofundo”. Monday will also see our North American coaches visit the 14 different Escualas Populares to run a session with the kids.

8 November 2009

Torneo Eterna Primavera: TEP Medellín 2009

TEP Medellín 2009 will be an impressive tournament. TEP is the biggest thing Colombian Ultimate has ever organised. It is effectively a Pan-American championships with teams coming from Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Canada and the US. It will be one of the best tournaments of the year, anywhere.

The Institute of Sport and Recreation, Medellín, is investing some serious funds into the tournament. These funds are supporting the travel and accommodation costs of Furious George, Traffic, Sockeye and Riot.

I stayed at the apartment of Mauro Moore, the TD, for a few days last month, and he has been working on this tournament since about March. There are mountains of discs, rulebooks, jerseys, cones and more, filling one of his rooms.

TEP is more of a gala event than just a tournament. Along side the main three-day ultimate tournament are a one-day mini-hat tournament, a three-day guts clinic, a three-day guts tournament, and the first Pan-American WFDF congress. A lot of things are on the scale of a Worlds or World Clubs tournament.

The venue for the ultimate is Unidad Deportiva Atanasio Girardot, the premier sporting complex in Medellín. Selected ultimate games will be broadcast live on TeleMedellín, a local TV station.

Additionally, in the week prior to the tournament, there is an academic program. This will involve seminars, forums and training sessions for new and experienced ultimate players and teams. There is even a workshop on ultimate photography, presented by the experienced Scobel Wiggins. I have been invited to contribute to some of these academic events, including a forum on international experiences of ultimate and community transformation through ultimate. That last topic may not mean much in a Western country, but in a country like Colombia it has relevance.

The ultimate starts on November 26th; the academic program on November 17th.

28 October 2009

Exploring parameter space

(Warning, this is post is nerdy, even for a blog about ultimate. Read with caution.)

There is a well-known throwing set in Australia. Part of it includes throwing forehands and backhands. For the backhands, you vary the angle: throw 10 outside-in throws, then 10 flat throws, then 10 inside-out throws. Then likewise for forehands.

There are two parameters at work here: backhand/forehand, and the throwing angle.

Someone chose two options for the first parameter and three options for the second. So in total we have 2 x 3 = 6 options, right?

Basic maths, but we often shun certain possibilities created by multiplying the parameters.

A few years back, some folks must have looked at the release points of throws: low-release backhand, I can do that, medium-height release backhand, check, high-release backhand, yep can do. Three options on that side. For the forehands, low and medium, yes - but who could throw the high-release? Wasn't that a bit hard or silly? But it was tested and practised and mastered and now there are 15 year old kids in Ibagué and Seattle and Osaka who can nail it, after we had spent years shunning that seemingly awkward corner of parameter space.

What else is out there?

Look out for reverse forehands. What's a reverse forehand?

Well, in the beginning there were right-handed people. And right-handed folk liked throwing right-handed. To reach wider, they pivoted by moving their right foot. And all was good. Then along came the lefty backhand, and these folk started using it - because the 3 metre forehand is so pesky when throwing a little dump pass. And this involved not moving the feet, because habits are habits, and it was hard enough to change hands without thinking about feet too.

Recently along came those right-handed folk who worked out how to throw lefty backhands and pivot with that left foot. And they had more options. And all was good.

However they were only using half the parameter space of left/right hand and left/right foot.

What about another point in this parameter space: moving the left foot to throw right-handed? We've all "corrected" a beginner who was pivoting that way, and we've pointed out that it was the "wrong" way to pivot, because it gives you less reach. Plus we humans find it comforting to tell others that they are wrong, especially when they say "oh, I see" shortly afterwards.

But what about when this "wrong" pivot gives you more reach? Stand facing your target, feet just over one metre apart, disc in right hand. You have a certain reach out to your right side for that righty forehand. But if, instead, you move your left foot to the right, voila, one metre more reach. And a marker caught off guard by a unsuspected pivot foot.

You get all the reach of a surprise lefty backhand, with the power and accuracy of your well-known righty forehand. The idea is to not commit to a pivot foot until you are ready to throw. Idris pointed out that you usually don´t need to pivot anyway.

Those who follow cricket might see an analogy with the sweep shot and the newer reverse sweep (which used to be "wrong", but now is important in one-day cricket).

And what about zone defences and parameter space? Zones are often described by a few numbers that add to 7: for instance, the 3-3-1 zone and the 1-3-2-1 zone. Why not try your own combination of numbers, then try to construct a zone out of it?

For me, this mindset of parameters moves me away from thinking "right" and "wrong", towards three approximate groupings: "tested and currently working", "tested and not working currently" and "untested".

Lastly, avoid facehorns from your teammates, and use the word "options" instead of "parameters" if you are throwing ideas around at a team training.

26 October 2009

A week of clinics

Lucho, Laurel, Nicky and I have finished our fifth and last clinic for this mini-tour. We now have lots of friends in the cities of Cali and Ibagué.

We aimed to leave the players with a friendly and positive experience of ultimate shared with players they usually only play against. We shared our perspectives on spirit from our three countries. And offered some tools for the future: proactive methods for learning spirit, tips for discussing calls on the field and activities to use after an ultimate match.

All the players were so welcoming of new ideas, and so many offered thanks for the clinics. The challenge now is to evaluate them and see what impact they make on the communities we visited. They can't just vanish into the past - the aim of the clinics is to help build the communication and spirit in ongoing local ultimate.

By the way, if one day you ever see that topless dude in this photo, holding up a trophy for winning a major tournament in the future, I met him when he was just learning to play ultimate in Cali, and moving like Bruce Lee.

During the week, we also got to participate in a demo-game during half-time of a Cali futbol match. A few dramatic macs and hucks entertained the soccer fans. It was a very exciting experience for the local ultimate players out on the beautiful turf under the big lights. It was eight minutes of fun before the paid professionals returned to play their sport and not layout.

There was also a day of ultimate in Ibagué on Saturday - hot, humid and fun.

20 October 2009

Project Play Colombia

Project Play Colombia is a project worth checking out. There is a blog and a facebook page.

The aim is to develop conflict resolution skills in ultimate players while teaching the skills of ultimate.

The project is run by Lucho, a mover and shaker on the Colombian ultimate scene who has recently returned from the fertile fields of Vancouver ultimate.

Laurel, Nicky and I will be his fellow coaches for a series of clinics this week in the cities of Cali and Ibagué. We will run clinics with established men's, women's and university clubs.

17 October 2009

A proposal for building stronger spirit

My last post talked about my observations with spirit in Colombia and, to an extent, Venezuela. Between my arrival here in Colombia, the recent Huddle blogposts on spirit and the discussion on line assistants in Australia, the topic seems, well, topical.

There are several factors at work when spirit goes bad.

I believe one of the key ones is a “them and us” attitude. A minority of players adopt a mindset that individuals, or other teams in general, have behaved poorly and are likely to do so again in the future. These other people are framed as “them” in comparison to “us”.

“They” are cheats; “they” often play dirty; “they” think “we” shouldn't have won that last match, but “they” are wrong.

This attitude is built by what ultimate is available.

In Australia, players train and compete with elite clubs during the elite season. It is “them” and “us”.

But, importantly, there is also Other Ultimate, which elite men take part in. There are weekly mixed city leagues. There are numerous mixed tournaments. There are hat tournaments. There are numerous training camps and selection events prior to World Championships. And Australia tends to do well in spirit scores at international tournaments. A bit of a leap to assume causation, but the extent of Other Ultimate in other countries and their reputation for spirit seems to roughly correlate, at first glance.

And this Other Ultimate forces elite players to play with, socialise with and befriend other players outside their club. Ultimate becomes a community, moreso than a collection of clubs where some players happen to know other players, and socialise when they happen to meet.

In a true community, “them” and “us” dissolve into just “us”.

So this is a theory. And there are some facts I have pointed out that seem to support it.

I don't think refining spirit score systems or adding observers address this underlying issue.

I have a different proposal.

The proposal is for the countries and regions that have the desire, to build community through “other ultimate”.

The national organisations and local leaders can build “other ultimate” through many means: ask elite clubs to host hat tournaments, build an annual calendar where mixed ultimate and open/womens ultimate doesn't clash, subsidise travel or minimise travel costs in general, expand selection and development events for National teams, hold gala dinners where a broad range of folk can attend, create incentives for the open club season to be restricted to certain months. When US players head to Kaimana and Paganello on teams with a real mix of players, as they regularly do, this is a positive thing.

And a big "goodonya" for everyone who has built and is building this ultimate.

In the end, with Other Ultimate in place, it's much less likely that Joe Handler will yell abuse at Fred Receiver and complain about Fred when he is in the pub that night, if Fred is on his mixed league team and played a hat tournament with him last year.

16 October 2009

Spirit in Colombia

In my two weeks in Colombia, I have seen some worrying incidents relating to spirit in the open division. I have also had a number of Colombians and non-Colombians recount incidents of very poor spirit to me, from intense arguing and border-line cheating to pushing, shoving and punching on the field.

My previous experiences with South American men's ultimate were playing a very fiery Venezuela team and a more subdued Colombian team at Worlds 2008. I also saw that South American teams had very low rankings in Spirit scores for Worlds 2008 in a number of divisions, particularly Open.

The poor spirit has arisen particularly in certain team match-ups and from certain players.

Many other games across Regionals and Nationals had excellent spirit, and this was acknowledged after the game within the teams.

But in a way, spirit is a chain as strong as its weakest link.

Immediately after those disappointing quarterfinals at Nationals, I started talking to players about spirit. It seems to be evolving into a social research project worthy of several PhDs. The more people I talk to, the more I learn.

Many players are aware of the issues with spirit, and have pointed out a range of factors: the strong focus on club ultimate, the culture and history of Colombia (as this Columbian columnist discusses, this country has had "una cultura de justificación de la violencia y de la venganza"), the isolation from other international ultimate, and the lack of restraints or sanctions on those given power within teams.

In my next post, I'll offer an inkling of a proposal aimed at one of these factors. I have started to share this idea with the movers and shakers of Colombia during my time here, and see what they think of it. So far the responses have been supportive.

15 October 2009

Colombian Nationals

The inaugaral Colombian National Championships wrapped up in Medellín yesterday.

This is the first time Colombia has had an official National Championships, and the tournament followed on from the series of Regional Championships held during the previous weekends.

The playing venues were across three locations: a university, a public recreation centre and the big sports stadiums of the city. Half were grass, half were astroturf (sintética).

Word of mouth culture is strong here. I briefly glimpsed a draw once, but otherwise it was a case of ask someone what the games were (much like driving around the city - you don't use a map, you just stop and ask for directions from strangers every few blocks).

Day 1 saw my team, Comunidad de Oso, win its two easier pool games. One comfortably and in the other we fell across the line to win. Playing time was shared reasonably equally across the team, so I got a lot of chances to get my frisbee legs in gear.

Every team seems to have 2-4 excellent throwers who can get open, and put up decent hucks or big hammers, plus lefty backhands. Its the quality of the upfield cutters and the consistency of execution that often determines the game.

Day 2 started well. We defeated another Bogotá team, Matanga. Their poaching was quite effective, especially that of one of their key defenders who got two blocks and was inches from two more. Personally I connected on a number of good breaks and hucks, so it was rewarding to make a big contribution to a team I was so new to.

Then came the quarterfinal. Oso were matched up against key Bogotá rivals, Euphoria, who we had beaten by a point in the Regionals final. In front of a vocal crowd in the stadium, Euphoria grab a lead early. Then trouble starts. One captain calls back-to-back travel calls on hucks from the other captain. The game is held up while one captain demands observers.

Almost ten minutes later the game restarts with the TD pulled in as an observer (he has never been one in his life - no Colombian has). But the calls and argue rain down with the actual rain that arrived. Fouls, yelling, travel, and no respect for the opinions or decisions of opponents. The issues derived from a few key players on each team, but no-one made any effort to cool down any of the hotheads.

Oso claw back to 12 all. However my interest in winning this game has dwindled. What incentive is there to win an arguing competition? I wanted to compete at ultimate. My thoughts circled around the question of what small contribution I, an Australian in Colombia, could make to address this abysmally spirited match. I resolved to talk with the teams post-game and see if they needed to talk to each other.

Euphoria win the last point, and celebrate with gusto, as Oso despondently leave the field. I asked a few Euphoria players post-game if they were happy to talk with Oso and they said yes. But Oso were scattered to the winds of dismay and the key players I found were in no mood to converse, as I judged it.

So I put my feet up, watched some ultimate, and pondered what I had just experienced. The game I watched was another quarterfinal: Matanga vs Aire. Unfortunately this was another poorly spirited game. The last two points took 20 minutes in total, and Aire won the game by a point, mostly because Matanga lost the competition of "who can call the disc back the most times with a dodgy call".

To top things off, there was no party at this tournament, unlike the vast majority of tournaments in Australia.

Day 3 was at least a new day.

Oso played off for 6th vs Mamuts, but we lost in a lacklustre effort.

The finals were in Estadio Atanasio Girardot (pictured), where Colombia had played Chile in the FIFA World Cup qualifying match the night before. It was a great venue but a crowd of 200 ultimate players in a stadium of 53 000 seats rattles around like a handful of marbles in a bathtub.

Revolution defeated Waijra in the women's final, while Euphoria toppled Kie, the top team in Medellin to take the men's title. Both games had decent spirit.

So the theme uppermost in my mind here in Colombia is Spirit of the Game. My next post or two will offer some more optimistic thoughts on spirit, and reveal some amazing work being done here in Colombian ultimate.

6 October 2009

From the sidelines: The Unselected

The first 13 years of my ultimate career were a bit of a dream run. A number of factors gave me the chance to appear on representative teams for my state and country. I was on University Green and Gold teams, the Dingoes, and was selected to the demo games that have been held at Halibuts, Nationals and Melbourne Hats.

The last 12 months have been a turn-around – I have regularly joined the ranks of the unselected and benched.

Despite being a perspective that hasn't changed my opinions on selection events, methods and selectors, it has given me experience with emotions and thoughts of being on the outside, looking in. Indeed, I regularly considered that perspective when writing the AFDA Rep teams policy and Selectors Manual for the AFDA recently (useful for any team!).

The current example is that I am here in Colombia playing with a club team, Comunidad de Oso. I am a big unknown for Colombian players – overseas pickups are rare here, in comparison, to say Australia, where almost every university and club team has a recently arrived North American player.

Adding to the mix is that in games, every line is called. This a change from the self-managed playing time systems that I have usually experienced. In the past, those times when there have been lines called, it has been me calling them most of the time, as a captain or a coach, so when I do go to the bench, I have at least consulted myself!

So a few poor points in one training and one game have seen me down at the far end of the bench. I have aimed to take constructive steps: get a clear picture from the leadership of their thoughts, dump my frustration on friendly ears who will listen, be present if needed on-field, get some sideline Ds with talking, and get ready and in the right mindset for the next opportunity to show my game.

Let's see how the situation pans out from here...

5 October 2009

A first look at ultimate in Colombia

Last weekend I attended the Regional Championships for Bogotá. The top bracket of teams played their games at the venue I was at.

There was parity among the men's teams unlike anything I have seen – the four games were each decided by one or two points, and no team dominated at any stage. The sponge effect (one team sucks up the strong players in its area) usually makes having multiple, even teams from one place very difficult – look at the US (especially the flux in the Philly to NY region) and Australia. But Bogotá has avoided this, which creates a great competitive environment to develop elite ultimate.

Colombian ultimate has a number of the features that are common hallmarks of well-organised, competitive ultimate: tape for sidelines, lush green fields, many coaches and stat-takers, and O and D lines. There were quirks though, such as sideline players regularly wandering up to 5 metres(!) onto the field during play, teams with only one water bottle between 20 players, and many teams with a hodge-podge of shirts and shorts instead of full matching uniforms.

In terms of style, the stand-out feature was a strong habit of poaching off dumps to defend the forward throwing lanes. Dumps could jog behind the disc to get a reset pass without breaking a sweat, and regularly did so.

And in line with wandering onto the field not being an issue, things that would elsewhere be called as travel and offside were ignored here.

Hucks were limited, most likely because of the consistent breezes. I want to see Colombian ultimate in still conditions.

The stereotype of short, layout machines applied to a good number of players, but they weren't necessarily speedier than Australian ultimate players, which was another stereotype I wanted to check out.

Nationals starts this Saturday, the first time Colombia has had an official National Championships, and is sure to be fun.

18 September 2009

Bound for Colombia

In Australia, there have been more and more Colombian players around. I've met a few, and now it's my turn to take part in the Australia-Colombia exchange, as I am going to Colombia for 6 weeks.

While there, I plan to play in the Colombia National Championships and in the Torneo Eterna Primavera Medellín. Both tournaments will be held in the city of Medellín (cool weather, 3 million residents, culture, 2nd fiddle to Bogotá - think Melbourne with mountains). But I'll spend most of my time in Bogotá.

I've been invited to play with Communidad de Oso by Julian Bocanegra, who played with Fakulti in 2008 (quite the international exchange). And I'm excited!

I aim to post here a bit about ultimate in Colombia - the style of play, the coaching, the competitions and the plans. And Colombia do have plans - they went from little ultimate in 2001, to fielding five strong teams at Worlds 2008. TEP Medellín is an ambitious tournament, judging from the invite list (Sockeye, Furious, Riot and Traffic are on board), the marketing and the website.

Have any other Australians played in Colombia? I know Ben Wiggins and Idaho (Sockeye) visited last year.

14 September 2009

The tools for throwing a break throw

Being able to break the mark whenever you like is invaluable.

Here are the physical tools that will really help you.

1. A wide release.
Don't be tucking that elbow into your body.

2. Hip flexibility
If you can't move your upper body out over your non-pivot leg, you won't get wide.

3. Leg strength
You need to be able to lunge out wide and be balanced once you are out there.

Tex and Jonno demonstrate the tools, even if these examples aren't necessarily break throws.

19 July 2009

The fourth quadrant

As a player on the field, you have two modes you can be in: playing defence or playing offence.

And you can be involved with the throwing of the disc or the catching of the disc.

So put simply, there are four quadrants for the on-field roles: thrower and cutter (on offence), and their defensive counterparts, marker and guarder.

It can be worthwhile to evaluate which of these are your strengths, and which you have to work on.

Obviously the thrower role is critical for every player - a team with mostly poor throwers is not a strong team.

I think that the skills of a guarder are under-evaluated. Many folks I know have a very simple approach to guarding: "stay open-side, chase my cutter, get a block if can". There isn't much adapting to circumstance, and while you won't go too wrong, that isn't enough at the elite level. The corresponding skills for throwing, cutting and marking are far longer lists in the conscious and subconscious minds of many players.

There are many small goals and skills for a guarder:
  • Unnerve the cutter with my positioning
  • Talk to teammates
  • Steer the cutter back to the other defenders in the stack
  • Choose when to look over at the thrower and their stance
  • Bait the huck
  • Take a charge
  • Look to switch with a mismatched teammate
Mackey covers some more of this.

2 July 2009

Principles of athletic conditioning

In the last 12 months, I've rethought a few things in ultimate, both from a player's and coach's perspective.

Identifying what works is key to any decisions a coach makes about his or her team.

And this particularly applies to athletic conditioning, which for a small, amateur sport like ultimate is key.

Concepts of periodisation, measurement, goal-setting and individualisation are important.

But getting players to train can be the first goal. This requires setting fitness training in accessible places, setting out clearly what is required, establishing clear reporting guidelines  And managing and preventing injuries during a season of training.

When it comes to ways to make players accountable for the work they do, making fitness competitive can be a big step. Give those who make the biggest gains or attend the most, the bragging rights. Give 'em rewards. Put races and challenges into the activities.

The goal of winning your big comp in 3 months time won't drive most players on most nights to bust a gut.  But knowing that coming second in the next sprint would mean giving piggybacks and losing the food reward does motivate.

And this can all be simple and fun.

16 May 2009

Ultimate has what footy needs

I read an opinion piece on male sporting culture and women, which was written in the wake of the latest footy player sex scandal in Australia.

Ultimate (the mixed version) seems to be an example of what John Fitzgerald

13 May 2009

How to defeat a heavy favourite

The recipe is basically here.

In the context of ultimate, this means change your game and make your opponents play a different game.

You can run and gun on every turnover, or huck incessantly, or zone every point, or do all three. Or some other tactic that effectively changes the game away from a conventional contest where the favourite is favoured.

11 May 2009

Sophisticated forces

When I first started playing ultimate, forces were simple: backhand, forehand and force middle.

Since then I have seen more complexity - specific defences to pressure certain options for the offence, such as straight-up into one-way forces to pressure hucks in general, and funnel (one-way force with straight up on one sideline in the far half) to pressure hucks down the trapped sideline.

In one game at Nationals recently, my team had big successes taking away an opposing team's down the sideline hucks, by forcing middle. But we also wanted to pressure the hucks in the middle so we went more straight up the closer the disc was to the middle of the field. Call it Mesa - flat in the middle and angled on the sides. As we were defending closer to our own endzone this transitioned into a one-way force (the huck threat disappears and having a one-way force to rely is more valuable for a guarder.

I can also see the converse being an option: straight-up in the middle, moving to straight-up in the middle, for teams that you want to see trapped on the sideline. Call it Valley (the converse of Mesa).

Have you used these forces, or anything more sophisticated than just switching a force when the disc moves more than X metres down the field (yet worth the added complexity)?

Where are we headed? Well, we have a long way to go before we reach 100+ year old sports like basketball. Check out just some of the defences you can use against the variety of screens (aka picks) the offence can try.

But as we see teams building deep rosters, engaging coaches, training more and investing time on the details of their defences, more and more sophisticated forces should arise.

7 May 2009

Australian Ultimate Championships 2009 - a HoS perspective

This Nationals campaign was a long and rewarding one for the young Heads of State club.

Our bronze medals were earnt through some hard yakka and good planning.

Here are some of the features of our campaign this year:
  • Our fitness program and training camps started back in November, making it a 6 month long journey to Nationals.
  • We articulated our goals for the season, revisited them and measured them.
  • Building on previous seasons, we had feedback sessions where players got considered feedback from the team selectors.
  • We again took a second team to Regionals and again helped turn around games with sheer forceful sideline support.
  • Kaimana Klassik (and Hollywood Husak) met HoS.
  • HoS also did some recruiting from overseas this year. Stout provided so much to our team in the few weeks he was in Australia - unending confidence, a head sock, humility, backhand hucks, and the desire and ability to guard every star cutter in the land. Check him out accompanied by Queen or Aladdin. And our other Yank, Eric was Mr Versatile Handler when he finally got back from injury. He also is a sideline maestro - unbelievable commitment.
At the tournament itself, I felt we had successes:
  • We had carved out clear expectations of playing time, and roles for players.
  • Boo Boo was our invaluable statistician and advisor at Nationals giving us valuable live stats on what was working and what wasn't.
  • Simple routines for timeouts (and regular use of them) without putting the team into the Chamber of One Person Talking Endlessly
  • We enjoyed the routine of getting in the cold pool each evening for recovery, even if certain individuals still squeal
  • HoS beat every team we played at least once, except the 4-time National Champions
  • Mixing up the defensive looks when our opponents got comfortable
  • Providing routine in our warm-ups that rehearsed how we wanted to play (there's that word again: routine)
  • Having predictable, rehearsed actions to take when we need to alter lines (for example, bringing certain throwers over to the D line in windy games, using crunch lines at certain points)
Good work for a team with an average age of 22 (sorry lads - with me on board, the average shifts up from 21).

OK, enough patting our own backs. There is a world more to learn in our next campaign: Nationals and then World Clubs 2010 in Prague...

Prague - Photo by pavelm

27 April 2009

Australian Ultimate Championships 2009 - an overview

Nationals wrapped up yesterday and it was one for the history books.

A smaller field of entrants this year (14 mens teams and 12 womens teams) and the massive fields actually made 450-plus players look small. As the venue for Clubs 2006, UWA Sports Park is huge.

In the women's final, Wildcard met Team Box, a rematch of the 2007 final. Both swam through the draw confidently to reach this game, and the game didn't disappoint. Box took half 9-7, but wavered thereafter as Wildcard pulled to an consistent 2-3 point lead. It seemed like Box fulfilled more of their promise this year - 6th last year was a temporary dip for a very talented club. However, Wildcard were too deep - even their young players are veterans.

Sugar Mags (3rd) and Honey (4th) attained club-best finishes.

In the men's division, a few teams from 2008 were missing - the Taipans (Aussie Masters team), New Zealand and Barefoot to start with. Higher spots were up for grabs for the keen, younger clubs out there.

Returning to an X/Y split, Fakulti didn't yield a top 3 finish for the first time in their club's history. Fakulti Y did fight hard though, falling 2 points shy of the 5th and 6th place finishers, Firestorm and Karma. Sublime were inches from their first return to the semis since 2000 (another WA-hosted Nats), losing to Heads of State in the pre-semi. JD pretty much played savage in that one.

I-Beam had the smoothest offence at the tournament, and claimed 4th. Heads of State pushed Chilly hard in the semi-final (leading 8-6 at one stage), but couldn't hang on. We then took 3rd with a barnstorming defensive run at the end of the 3-4 match vs I-Beam.

Fyshwick's win over Chilly in the rounds seemed to promise lots for them. But it wasn't to be in the final, as Gack hucked and hucked, and the other Chilly players shared the wealth, with every man looking like an option deep. Fyshwick's zippy handler resets of 2008 seemed absent, and they regularly hit 6-7 counts with the disc trapped on the line.

So where are teams tactically in 2009?

Karma and I-Beam ran sidestacks to then iso one cutter, with I-Beam also running split stacks (the "U"). Chilly ran everyone deep, with the occasional Gack feldrenner. Defensively, Chilly showed some 1-pass transitions. Fyshwick would bring out their super-saggy diamond zone as a mix-up D, which I first saw in 2007.
And on Heads of State we started to evolve a straight-up meets force middle, mid-tournament, to combat hucks down sidelines and from the middle of the field. Offensively, we brought in north-west American horo offence ideas. 

Sublime vs Fyshwick United

9 March 2009

Australian Nationals preview - Open division

With one week til Regionals, its time to look at the top open teams lining up for Nationals 2009 in Perth. Once again they will be competing for the Mark Parilla Cup.

So far there have only been three tournaments on the calendar to judge how the teams are going: the BC Invitational in Canberra, Share the Love in Sydney and the Golden City Classic in Ballarat.

The top tier could include these teams (though not in this order):

The Gack is back. No Kiwi pick-up sightings this year, so we'll see if they can push back to the top. Surely there will be a Sydney pick up or 2? Camby will check the eligibility rules to see who he can bring.

Heads of State 
Still getting all our players on board (overseas and injury), but we like where we are at. A new offence, a deep, hard-running roster and a lot of noise.

Looked really good at the BC Invitational. Their uni talent has hit the bigtime (such as Chilly and Chris) and this makes them deeper than in the past, so we'll see if they can improve on the 3rd placing of 2008. They love their split stack.

Didn't put teams away in Canberra like some were expecting, after their dominance at Share the Love. The addition of Waz and Matty is nothing to be sneezed at though. Lacking tall defenders (a lot sits on the shoulders of Jonno and Waz as Matt prefers marking handlers). Fyshwick set the standard for defining roles for players and building confidence in players - they regularly put 7 on the line without a big name, and still get the job done.

Fakulti X & Y

When I think of Fakulti I think of a river. You can throw anything at them, and they will calmly erode your defence and work the disc in for a score. When they are on D, they quietly apply pressure and wait for your errors. The Fakulti system continues to be able to split the club into 2 equal teams, and have both compete at a high level. Have lost Waz and Matty to Fyshwick, but have young guns Calan and Mark on board while Tex has taken it to the next level in the wake of Worlds 2008.

The next tier down could look like:

7 of them made it out to the BC Invitational, but as usual we won't see the full picture until Nationals. I want to see the Eleys and Twiggy dominate on their home turf. If JD isn't marked up right, he will rip out some big hucks (Attention all - in 15+ years of disc golf, he has thrown more pinpoint backhands than any human in this country. Take away his backhand!). 

If you believe Joel, their A team is so stacked that they will deserve better than 1st, and get platinum, not gold, medals. Hmmm. Need to see them at Regionals and find out if they can finally topple Heads of State or Chilly.

Winless at the BC Invitational? One win at the BC Invitational. A young team that will need others to step up and help J-Mac and Mike. Jules - I am looking at you :)

There will be a number of B teams and others filling out the spots at Nationals.

All in all, the open club scene continues to get deeper.

8 February 2009

Grabbing clouds

You may have seen Beau jumping over a guy for a catch.

It got me thinking. Who are the players with the best vertical leap?

Post your link to the best photo/video of a player getting up.

I'll get you started with a photo of Matty catching one high at Seeds of Doom one year. For reference, his defender, Tim, is about 6'3" and in the air too.

Any photos or anecdotes of Dom Ventura back in the day?

2 February 2009

The road to Kaohsiung

AFDA held its selection camp for the 2009 Australian World Games team in Sydney this weekend. The Australian team will be announced in a couple of weeks, and will compete at the 2009 World Games in Kaohsiung, Taiwan in July.

Here are a collection of thoughts from the weekend:
  • Crikey, I'm sore
  • The Aussie elite scene looks young. At 29, I was the second oldest male at the camp.
  • I believe the Australian scene is due for reinvention of offences. The offensive structures players use by default are not ideal: we don't gain enough yards per cut, and don't scare the defenders with numerous threats. Currently, making space relies on serendipity and the presence of those rare "space-thinking" players.
  • The wristy backhand is king. It is quick release, it can be thrown at a range of release points, it's ideal for using in a throw and go, and if you don't have one you can't hit as many cutters.
  • I liked the way our coaches started the camp with benchmarking of throwing, agility and sprinting. It revealed a few positive surprises to them, provided variety amidst the scrimmages, fostered competition, and set the tone for a focussed, accountable weekend.
  • Australian ultimate has really benefited from the value put on support staff. The players could focus purely on playing, when we had four selectors, two coaches, two managers and two assistants working to organise the fields, activities, food, rehydration, education and uniforms. Thank you Support Staff! We have made huge gains since my first Worlds campaign in 2000.

28 January 2009

Elements of a ready stance

Following on from the previous post on the ready stance, I want to look at how to hold the disc.

There are many folks who have commented, discussed and taught grips. I have spouted my 2 cents: use the power grips.

But there is very little understanding of how to hold the disc, relative to the ground or the thrower's body.

In a forehand stance (i.e. facing towards your likely targets, usually with a forehand mark on), you could hold it a number of ways.

In a wide, blade stance like Dan (or Jeff). The disc face is roughly vertical.

Or in a wide, flat stance like Liz. This disc face is horizontal.

Or in front of your body, with two hands like Kristy.

Generally, I think the wide, blade stance is best (the first photo). It is ready to throw in an instant. It is easy to hold with one hand since the thumb and webbing support most of the weight (a horizontal disc needs to be held level by fingers working sideways - this flops around for many players). And it encourages throwing with a short, quick snap of the wrist rather than a big body and arm wind-up, which is preferable for any pass under 20 metres.

For a backhand, the grip is stronger, so the "flop" is less of an issue. Holding it wide is still key, whether it is one hand or two hands.

Let's get the new players ready to throw the first time they are taught ultimate. 

26 January 2009

Ready stance

Last weekend, the AFDA hosted a Coaching Development Course.

Idaho, from Sockeye, was the presenter for the weekend, and shared a range of concepts that he uses when coaching in Seattle.

One of them was the ready stance for a thrower - always having the disc ready to be released as soon as needed. This is useful if a cutter suddenly gets open, or the stall count reaches 9, or the marker starts bumping you. You can throw immediately.

Holding the disc with two hands by your waist - generally not good.

Having the disc out from your body in one hand - good.

This ties in with Idris' earlier point about not pivoting, unless there is a specific need to. Always be ready to throw.

23 January 2009


I've played ultimate in 10 countries, and I realised I have 5 more lined up to play in this year. So how many countries is it possible to play ultimate in?

WFDF has a list of member countries: basically a shortlist of where you can play ultimate on Earth.

Skimming through it, ultimate is more global than you realise...
Find out what turnyrai are on in Latvia Lithuania.
See photos of beach ultimate in Busan, South Korea.

Watch a video of Canada winning the World Championships - in a magazine.

Learn whether Gujarat defeated Tamilnadu in the final of India's 6th Senior National Flying Disc Championship. 

 Croatia's first ultimate team back in 2005 (including some Slovenians, Aussie Anita and me).

21 January 2009

Wanted: Defenders

Playing and watching games at Worlds, I saw a need for Australian senior teams to improve their defence. While the Junior Women were a defensive machine, due to well-thought out tactics and utilisation of players,  getting stops in the Open division, for instance, depends more heavily on winning one-on-one matchups.

You need to be able to put players on the field who can really pressure a thrower or cutter, or are are really effective at getting blocks. As an example, when the Dingos played their pool game vs USA, we scored regularly thanks to an athletic offence. But we only produce two turnovers from the opposition. That won't win you the game.

This is a call for us to develop the next generation of shutdown defenders and blockgetters.

What does the Australian landscape of defence look like? 

We have a culture of playing sport in this country.

We have good tactics. Many elite teams have a wide repertoire of man-on-man and junk defences.

We have athletes. We continue to recruit some very athletic people, either 6'4" aerial monsters or very speedy runners.

But there are some basic skills that don't appear often enough. Reading the cut of an offensive player. Guarding the dump. Running to the mark to prevent a huck. Not biting on a throwing fake. Spotting both where your man and the disc is, and where other players are. Not being deceived by a simple jab-step fake. Knowing how much or how little to turn your hips.

This is a call for existing coaches to develop these skills. And a call for more coaches.

19 January 2009

Get famous online

Have you got video footage of a tournament but aren't sure how to share it with a wider audience?

Shane at Asia Ultimate TV might be able to help. Asia Ultimate TV is online video, in regular episodes (similar to what Josh Seamon has done with audio podcasts at The Ultiverse). The episodes include game footage, interviews and reviews of ultimate from Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, the Phillipines and Singapore.

You can see highlights of the Hong Kong Pan Asian Tournament in Episode 3.

And Episode 5 includes a look at the venue for ultimate at the 2009 World Games in Kaohsiung, Taiwan: the newly built National Stadium.

Asia Ultimate TV is a part-time, one-man effort, but you can see a lot of potential there, and it is handy to get an insight into current Asian Ultimate from a central source.

13 January 2009

100 strong

I'd like to celebrate a little milestone.

This blog is 100 posts old.

(Cue streamers and fireworks.)

What has been your favourite idea, issue or post raised on Thinkulti?

Photo by plindberg

11 January 2009

The history of your sport

The AFDA held a Gala Dinner back in July.

It was a fantastic event, where past Australian representative teams were celebrated and the current ones were introduced. As an amateur sport, recording the history of the ultimate community in Australia has been sporadic.

The speakers at the Gala Dinner were videotaped, so hopefully members of our community who weren't present will be able to learn about our sport. Where is that footage?

As someone who has worked in public institutions like museums, I am aware these days of how you need to consider not just having a record of history, but sharing it with the wider community, and have them contribute, comment and evaluate it.

With the world, and especially ultimate players, moving online for more and more of their life, sharing history has got easier.

AFDA.com has a list of Australian representative teams and a history page. We acknowledge contributors through the AFDA awards and the Rob Hancock award.

UPA.org has a Hall of Fame.

But the most valuable things are the stories - humans are storytellers, and story-listeners.

The book Ultimate: The First Four Decades is an example of a great collection of stories and characters.

More collections like this would be awesome. And if the Americans barely mention the existence of non-North American ultimate, it is up to those countries to share their history.

One project I have on my Someday/Maybe list is to interview and record the veterans of our sport about ultimate when they were younger. These chats could be published as podcasts. Give Greenie and Garvey a couple of beers and you'd get some great stories coming out.

The 1988 Australian Open team. Notice Michelle in the front row, right.