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.


  1. Anonymous6:48 pm

    If Blogger had a "like" button, I'd press it.

    Great post Osh. I think there is a new school of thought coming through, which encourages experimentation and exploration. I know my own mindset has changed, from a time when I yelled at team mates for throwing "dumb" throws, to the current belief that pretty much anything can be effective if you know how/when to use it.

    There are a great many things that this school can change, and though I'm not sure that they fall into the "parameters" discussion, there are a lot of ideas/thoughts previously shunned that could become commonplace.

  2. wow i never realised the extra reach that's possible from the 'wrong foot pivot' on the forehand.

    good luck trying to explore those parameters in games though. it's hard enough being a lefty and constantly having to explain that i'm not travelling, i just have a different pivot foot than right-handers.

  3. well, now you have 2 pivot feet Alec :)

  4. Must try that reverse forehand. I guess this works particularly well from a stoppage, where you're already facing in the right direction. If get the disc from a cut upfield, you're pointing in the wrong direction, so you need to establish a pivot to turn around. But off a stoppage, where you'll probably spend a few seconds figuring out what to do anyway, it doesn't seem like all that bad an idea to keep both feet planted until you decide where you want to pivot. And the "escape" backhand from there (if the forehand doesn't come off) doesn't seem all that awkward either.

  5. There is a counter to the issue of catching the disc from an upfield cut - make your last step before you stop a 180 degree jump stop.

    And there is a counter to being on the reverse pivot without a backhand - practise a wide release backhand from the forehand stance.

  6. I forgot about the reverse backhand. Similar deal applies to a backhand in the backhand stance.

    Both reverse throws give you one extra step before you have to throw in a throw and go motion, which is priceless.

  7. Another thing to think about is where you're going with your pivot foot. An ex-superfly handler taught me to step back when coming off a dead disc and a marker is up in your grill, because you a)automatically open space to make a throw, b) give yourself a chance to see both force and break side (assuming a tall, ominous marker), and c) position yourself in a way so your markers only option is to back up and reposition or mount your pivot leg.

    After a few years of experimentation with this, I found that it was a useful trick in loads of situations - moving between a backhand and a breakmark forehand, throwing around a wall/cup, baiting the foul, etc.

    A sockeye friend suggested throwing 'the compass' every time you throw - move your pivot foot from North to North-northeast to Northeast, all the way around, for flick and backhand. If you're ambidextrous, you'll need to do 4 reps (Lefty flick, lefty back, righty flick, righty back). Of course, you might then say "left flick low, lefty flick mid, lefty flick high," but I get bored before then and start working on hucks.

  8. My team got the compass set from Sockeye too. Probably gave me the basis for rethinking different ways to throw. The compass also gives you stances where you are forced to use your wrist to throw.