15 October 2011

Specific feedback for your D game

Following on from a List of Offence Skills in ultimate, here is a...

List of Defence Skills

Players create defensive pressure by
  1. guarding cutters wherever they go (tightly guard deep cuts; guard in cuts; guard dump cuts; guard throw and go cuts)
  2. marking the thrower (stop early throws by getting a force on early; hold a force to limit break throws; mark with agility and energy)
  3. pulling the disc (throw into the alpha zone regularly; not give up bricks; pull strongly against the wind) 
  4. adjusting to where other defenders are (switch; push cutters into crowded places like the stack or someone clearing)
  5. moving to defend other cutters (poach effectively when their cutter does not draw them away; clog the open side, break side, deep and under as needed)
  6. moving at the right time (run down the field when the cutter watches a huck; defend the dump position early; adjust guarding position early so the cutter doesn't blow past)
  7. being athletic (guard quality players for long periods of a game; block swill that is high or wide; outrun cutters; outaccelerate cutters)
  8. working within the team D structure (know and use the team's patterns; don't require teammates to change their mark or guarding unnecessarily)
Most of these correlate with stopping the eight things the offensive player wants to do.

With eight categories listed, it is now easy to choose, say, two strengths and two aspects to work on. This keeps feedback concise, but more specific than "work on your throws and cutting".


30 August 2011

Playing styles at ECC 2011

The Australian Open and Women's teams competed at the Emerald City Classic in Seattle recently.

In the Open division, Revolver and Ironside were the cream of the crop, with Ring of Fire coming back from losses to Maliki and Buzz Bullets to win the games that mattered, getting to the final, before falling to a dominant Revolver team.

Revolver play Ring of Fire in the Open final
The US teams regularly isolated a cutter of choice out in the strong side, while stacking other players right on the sideline. This usually gave them their first choice cutter and hucker combination.

In contrast, the Buzz Bullets played handler isolation against us for the first 20 points, until we switched to forehand (instead of backhand) force. They immediately looked for a few hucks from horizontal play. They were happy to grind it through handler play, as they were generally more nimble, and had real talent at that position. A couple of players on Buzz Bullets are there for their height on defence and are not as skilled at cutting or throwing (true for many teams, I guess).

Several teams also attacked through break throws, deliberately designing cutting angles to provide this option and looking for open side throws, inside breaks and outside breaks as the cutter moved laterally. Only an active and balanced mark would regularly hold up against this tactic.

The US teams were not overly physical, as a couple of teams have been in the past. All fair play. Except one Ring of Fire player who defends like a TSA security agent on speed, patting down his opponent with lovetaps, instead of working on his footwork.

It was a valuable tournament experience for the Aussie teams, playing against opponents for the first time in the lead up to Worlds 2012 in Sakai, Japan. With a chance to reflect on tactics and systems, and an opportunity to strengthen the rosters and our fitness, we'll be ready to match it with the top teams next year - several of whom we got to play in ECC.

6 August 2011

Australia at ECC

The Australian Dingoes (our representative team in the open division) are preparing for Worlds 2012 in Japan. As part of our plan, we are sending a squad to compete at ECC next week, as are the Australian Women. Watch out North America.

Here's a brief update.

Coach Hemphill has done a great job bringing everyone together, motivating us and keeping us accountable. We have a website, team goals, fitness program, nutrition resources, psychology resources, uniforms and a clearly articulated set of organisational and leadership roles.

Lots of people have volunteered their time to train us, transport us and feed us. They are awesome.

This is perhaps one of the most unified representative teams Australia has produced (and we've had some good ones). Everyone is pulling in the same direction.

We've drawn on tactics from numerous elite mens clubs around Australia and forged our own playing style out of it. 

There are pleasant surprises we've noticed too: how far Mark Evans can huck, that there is a separate room for Denyer to snore in, Matty is off the injured list and on the field, and Woodley is on the D line.

Our training venue has been Canberra, where it is a little cool this time of year.

26 July 2011

Specific feedback for your O game

Giving quality feedback in ultimate can be challenging.

Here is a draft of a list that can help selectors, coaches and team leaders give more meaningful feedback to players than "work on your throws and cutting".

Each dotpoint has some specific examples after it.

List of Offence Skills

Players create easy offence by
  1. throwing to teammates wherever they are (throw hucks; throw hammers)
  2. throwing to make teammates open (throw break or open-side to favour teammates, not defenders)
  3. throwing quickly (throw as soon as an opportunity appears; prevent the defence from getting a mark on)
  4. throwing safely (keep throwing completion rate high; seeing where defenders and help-defenders are)
  5. moving to make teammates open (clear the break side, open side, deep and under as needed; regularly draw their defender with them)
  6. moving at the right time (run downfield while their defender watches a huck; get to dump position early; cut one way then another at the right time for the next pass)
  7. being athletic (catch swill that is high or wide; outrun defenders; outaccelerate defenders)
  8. working within the team O structure (talk to teammates on field; know and use the team's patterns; don't ask teammates to make hard throws or cuts with your cuts or throws)
With eight categories listed, it is now easy to choose, say, two strengths and two aspects to work on. This keeps feedback concise, but specific.

Try them out on yourself now!

Any skills to add or change?

23 July 2011

Positions on offence ain't positions on defence

Just because you are a handler on offence, doesn't mean you will always serve your team best by defending handlers.

Just because you are a receiver on offence, doesn't mean you will always serve your team best by defending receivers.

Those were the main messages I got from this article on basketball matchups.

In fact, the traditional convention of 3 handlers, 2 mids/cutters and 2 longs/receivers might have served a purpose for assigning pull reception roles for a few plays in the past, but it doesn't describe what most players are doing in most systems these days.

I know that the 2008 Dingoes had a variety of roles.

Player A: on offence, a handler who didn't huck and was a semi-regular deep threat; on defence he defended handlers
Player B: on offence, a handler and in-cutter; on defence he defended handlers and under cutters, but got blocks when he could afford to poach off his man
Player C: on offence, an in-cutter; on defence he defended handlers
Player D: on offence, a long; on defence he defended handlers or cutters

So a different system might be needed to describe roles, particularly for defence. Being called a "handler" doesn't tell you what your role is on defence.

12 June 2011


"You can motivate by fear, and you can motivate by reward. But both those methods are only temporary. The only lasting thing is self motivation."
-- Homer Rice, football coach

2 June 2011

Fitness for ultimate athletes

There is so much valuable information on ultimate fitness now online.

I have discovered lots of new ideas through Skyd.

Tim Morrill and Melissa Witmer make use of videos to explain how to build fitness for ultimate. They are both professional fitness trainers and ultimate players, who have investigated how to improve your conditioning specifically for ultimate. I haven't seen many others who can claim all three of these things, and are sharing their stuff with the world.

Here's a taste.

24 May 2011

Signs of not using the elbow

Here are some signs of a player not using their elbow when throwing a forehand
  • The disc turns over in flight (too much outside in)
  • The player thrusts their hips forward and shoulders back as they throw a forehand.
  • The elbow remains close to the waist before or after the throw.
  • The player cannot throw a wide forehand. 
  • The player is using a split finger grip (so they can hold the disc out horizontally, without it flopping down). Holding the disc vertically removes this need.
Any others?

To correct this, the player can hold the disc vertically, with their elbow out from their body and back.

Practise a forehand throwing motion several times and then throw, emphasising two things:
  1. Rolling your wrist under, not over, so it finishes palm up
  2. Moving your elbow through

14 May 2011

Practice your action

Tiger Woods, maybe the best golfer ever, practises his golf swing action just before every shot.

Steve Nash, maybe the best shooter in basketball ever, practises his free throw action just before every free throw.

Here's the idea behind it.

What do you do before each pull?

Video analysis

After 10 years of pondering why some people struggle to throw forehands, watching video gave me numerous new insights.

Every ultimate player who wants to play at an elite level needs to watch some basic footage of themselves. Start with throwing. Then you can move onto game footage, and footage of other skills like marking, guarding, positioning for high discs, cutting and laying out.

Even better: organise a videographer for your team for a training or tournament.

Replay and slow-motion give you a chance to see what you only glimpse in real time.

There's a reason dozens of people around the world get paid to edit footage of sports for coaches: video helps you learn how you and your opponents play. And feedback is critical to improvement.

1 May 2011

Fixing that forehand

There are 5 fundamental points to throwing a disc: grip, stance, snapping your wrist, angling the disc and pointing on the follow-through.

You can remember it as GSWAP.

Rob and Brodie have demonstrated these points or similar ones.

But have you seen players whose forehands curve over with too much outside in? Despite you mentioning these points? Do they look like this?

GSWAP needs an update.

Number 1: rolling your wrist under, not over

Number 2: moving your elbow through.

These two ideas are linked.

You can practice the first point now: hold a disc (or an imaginary one) in forehand grip, but hold it vertically so your palm faces down. Pretend to throw, and finish with your palm up. This counteracts the outside-in curve that is a regular problem.

To assist this correct rotation, you need to use your elbow. If your elbow is locked in next to your waist, rolling your wrist under is awkward - your wrist prefers to roll over from palm up to palm down.

So free your elbow!

Get into forehand stance again. Hold a disc in forehand grip with your palm down. But this time start with your elbow out, back and bent at 90°.

As you swing your elbow forward, you have more power. Your wrist will more naturally rotate under, from palm down to palm up. Follow through with your palm up.

It looks more like this.

Or you can watch Rob and Brodie

Here are the 5 updated fundamental points to throwing a forehand: grip, stance, rolling your wrist under with snap, swing the elbow, and pointing palm up on the follow-through. You can remember it as GSWEP.

Thanks to Mama for demonstrating the throws.

19 March 2011

What Xs and Os miss

Consider a coach diagramming a play on paper.

For a 20 metre pass, whether the thrower has a backhand or forehand stance is usually irrelevant. The thrower is a small dot on a diagram and that is that.

But when the throw is 3 metres or even 1 metre, how the thrower is standing, or how wide apart their feet are, or exactly what angle the marker is taking away, are critical points. The Xs and Os of a written diagram don't point out where the thrower's left foot, right foot are, or where they are holding the disc.

Footwork becomes more critical when the throws are smaller. And where to land your feet. And where to hold the disc. And the reduced reaction time of defenders.

This is really apparent in the short range passing of popping against a zone. I've never used a diagram to illustrate tactics for popping. You cannot show the smaller scale, for instance, how footwork can move the disc 8 metres, even when the disc is only passed 1 metre.

22 February 2011

Learning patterns

My approach to team tactics has changed over the years.

I am now thinking in terms of patterns instead of rules.

In our club trainings, we train certain cuts for the dump for instance. But it is a pattern of behaviour that we encourage and repeatedly practise - not a rule.

We have patterns for scoring in the redzone, starting a defence point, playing in a zone, cutting to set up power position and cutting long. But these aren't phrased as rules or set plays. Big advantage - just about any one-off behaviour/cut/action is fine. What is focussed on is building habits we desire. We talk about and praise players using the patterns effectively, but we can improvise if needed. Our feedback conversations sound like "You can cut long using diamond cuts more. It was so easy when you did it that first point last game."

In contrast, a set play can set up teammates for criticism: "You were meant to cut break, then long." "But John cut to the wrong place first." Built into the feedback are ideas of what is right, and that one person did the wrong thing.

So many players accept entering a major tournament when a set play is barely mastered by half the team, and only sometimes successful. I want every completed pass to be viewed as a positive, and the best connections viewed as big wins for our team.

Only recently have I been able to recognise and articulate what this philosophy is: patterns instead of rules.

It works because we have an established group of players who have experience together. We can now predict where each other will go on the field, and we have made conscious decisions in planning sessions about the best positions to encourage players to go to.