Thursday, December 8, 2011

Comprehensive Offense Fundamentals - Faking

This is the first part in a series I'm writing about general offensive fundamentals. I'm going to tackle this in several parts and my goal is to release a new section every couple days. Additionally, I'll try and add examples from different offensive stacks but the focus will mainly be from a center stack perspective as that's what I'm currently coaching.

Now before we get into that crazy advanced offensive stuff, (you know, throwing and cutting), let's take a step back and talk about faking. There are many different schools of thought regarding fakes. But I will offer up some principles and fundamentals I've found over the years to be most effective.

1) You have the disc, you have the advantage. Remember that as the thrower you always have the advantage over the marker. Even a mediocre thrower can beat a solid mark. This is similar to the principle that that offensive cutter will always have the advantage over their defender. It's simple, you know what you're going to do and the defense does not.

2) Faking should be a natural process. The best fakes are exactly the same as a throw of the same type. The motion of the hips, shoulders and wrist are all the same; the one difference being that you're not releasing your grip on the disc. If there is no change from your actual throwing motion to a fake, then there is no way for the marker to recognize when you're faking versus when you're actually going to throw, which forces them to respect each fake as a potential throw. To practice this stand in front of a mirror and work on your pivots and fakes. Did it look realistic to you? Did it look like a throw?

3) More is not better. Most of the best throwers you see will rarely fake, if at all. If you're spending the whole stall count frantically faking, then you might be messing up the timing when you actually need to make a throw. When you do fake, it should be to set up a throw you already are planning on making, don't fake for the sake of faking. Remember that the window you have to complete a throw to a cutter, be it deep, underneath or break-side is not large, you can't waste time throwing too many fakes.

4) Faking on the same side as you plan on throwing to is a waste of time. Don't fake a forehand if you want to throw a forehand. Don't fake a backhand if you want to throw a backhand. People have a tendency to fake at the same release point as their strongest throws, so if you fake a forehand to throw a forehand you're drawing the mark to the point where you're going to actually release the disc. Even if you're not faking from the same release point, you're still going to be drawing the marker more to the side (forehand or backhand) you want to release the disc from.

5) Set up a your throw with a fake to the opposite side. Example: I'm being forced forehand and recognize a break look developing downfield. My best option for getting that break throw off against a good marker will be to fake either the inside-forehand or around backhand, then quickly bring the disc around to the other side for the around backhand or inside-forehand respectively.

An added note here, you should spend extra time working on the switch from a backhand grip to a forehand grip. Many players find it natural to switch from the forehand to backhand grip (as it flows more easily into a throw), but the backhand to forehand grip switch is just as important.

Let me wrap this faking section up by saying a couple things. Not every thrower fakes. I believe it was Idris Nolan who claimed that the best throwers don't bother pivoting.. For some throwers varied release points, wingspan or a quick release are all they need to be effective. For me personally, I very rarely pivot, despite being a smaller guy, because I have an extremely quick release. However, for a new player, the best thing you can do to gain confidence with the disc is to set up your throws with a solid fake to the opposite side first to draw your mark away from where you want to release the disc. The key here is faking with PURPOSE!

As always I welcome any comments, questions or points of contention. The plan for tomorrow is to finish up a section on general throwing fundamentals.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Preparing for Your First College Tourney

First, let me apologize for my ~4 month blog entry hiatus. As it turns out, it's difficult to continue to write about something when you're not actively doing it, and this summer was the first year in my Ultimate career that I elected not to play some form of Club, and while I was sad to be to looking at results online rather than playing in the tournaments myself, it gave my body a chance to recover from some nagging injuries and for me to get some other life stuff in order.

However, now that the college season is back, and I'm working with a team that has 16 new faces, I'm going to attempt to make more regular blog entries again.

This entry is directed at those new guys, who, for the most part, will be attending their first college tournament this upcoming weekend. This is going to be very simple and straight forward...

1) What is a tournament?

Instead of playing one game at a time in Ultimate we compete at tournaments. This means that there is a format setup previously, and the teams play out the format over a 2-4 day period, which is usually anywhere from 6-10 games over the course of the tournament.

    Why do we do this?

I couldn't tell you. I assume that back before Ultimate became as popular of a collegiate sport as it is, there were a limited amount of teams, so to save on travel and whatnot a bunch of teams would get together to play a bunch of games. Also, most teams don't have the funds to travel significantly more than 2-3 times a year, so this allows for a reasonable amount of competition for less money.

Here is an example of a tournament format.

2) What do I need to do to prepare?

Take care of your body. Eat a lot of good food and drink a lot of water the week leading up the tournament. Even if you're not playing a lot of points, being out in the sun from 7am until 5pm takes its toll on you.

Make sure you have all your Ultimate essentials, for me these include:

Jerseys (Green AND White)
Shorts/Athletic Pants
Cold weather gear/rain gear
LOTS of Socks
Athletic Tape and Pre-wrap
Snack food (salty things, energy bars, pickle juice, honey etc)
Garbage bag for rain
Nail clippers (bring your own for a change Blue Chip)
Sun screen
Shade umbrella

Basically bring whatever it's going to take to keep you going for two entire days at 100% in whatever conditions we're going to face. The biggest things to watch out for are:

          1) Heat stroke. Even just wearing a baseball cap goes a long way to preventing heat stroke. I need not mention regionals last year where an un-named Cincinnati mascot had to sit out our elimination game because he was puking on the sidelines from the heat.

          2) Cold. We play in rain/snow, whatever.  If you can't catch and throw because you were ill-prepared then you're a worthless bag of bones. Bring gloves for the sideline. Bring long sleeves of some kind. Keep your wrists covered so the circulation to your hands stays good and your fingers don't have trouble clenching and unclenching.

3) Why am I giving up my whole weekend for this?

This is a question that I can't answer for you myself. What I would tell you to do is to ask someone who has attended a tournament in the past to tell you a story; I guarantee you every single person has something compelling to tell you, both on and off the field, here's mine:

In the fall of 2003 I had come to several early Ultimate practices without much of an idea about the sport. I played a lot of disc golf and was working on moving up from amateur to pro status (ahhh young dreams), but I decided (for reasons I can't remember anymore), to attend an optional late season December tournament with the team in Tuscon, Arizona. This was a co-ed tournament with some members of the women's team and I was the only freshman that decided to go.

We rolled out in a single school van, in a group of 10 people that I didn't know, pretty much at all. I'll leave the off-the-field details of the trip for another time, but let me just say that by the time we were headed back I had 10 new best friends.

Saturday morning we warmed up and got ready to play with only four total subs. The fields, which we had scouted the day before, were mostly dirt and dead grass with some deadly rocks studded throughout.

We had 4 women and 7 guys at the start of the tournament. In the second game of Saturday one of our ladies    made an awkward twist around to catch a disc and tore the ACL in both of her knees. The format being 4-3 our women played savage the rest of the weekend.

Despite our low numbers we won all our games on Saturday. Sunday morning we rolled into the quarterfinals with one of our guys lost to a strained quad. In that game on of our captains and another teammate both collided with each other on a huge D and both had to leave the game with injuries. Another teammate began cramping in the Arizona heat so badly that he couldn't stand and was lost for the rest of the day. We were now playing completely savage (our injured captain came back into the game so we wouldn't be playing with 6). Every guy and girl we had left (including me) played every point in the 2nd half of the quarters, which we won; then the first and second half of the semis, which we won.

The finals pitted us against the home team, Barrio. Barrio is an actual co-ed club team, who recently has been perennial club nationals quarter-finalist. At this point the rest of the teams were done so they lined the finals field to watch the savage college team from Fort Collins play against the home-team favorites.

The game started off intense with each team trading points almost straight up until half. As the crowd realized that we were playing savage and that we were all just college kids they slowly began to sway to our side. By halftime we had the majority of the crowd chanting our team name and throwing out heckles towards Barrio.

Keep in mind here, I'm a brand new freshmen. I've just recently learned about the force, mark, pivoting, and all that jazz. I essentially came on the trip because I'd wanted to take in some Arizona sun in December but I was having the time of my life, the energy of the crowd was just invigorating.

The only real play of note I can still remember, and probably my fondest early ultimate memory came on an offensive point for us. I cut hard underneath with the other teams best player covering me (don't ask me why he was on me, he was big, tall and fast and I wasn't big or tall, and probably not particularly fast either). One of our captains put the underneath throw up to me and (as it was described to me later) my defender got the look in his eyes where he knows he's going to get a D.

The throw was high and I jumped up and forward extending my hands out as my defender put down a huge bid over my left shoulder. I snatched the disc out of the air, and he went flying by, I didn't even notice. Markless, I threw the forehand break for the score. Immediately my semi-injured captain rushed me in the endzone, hoisted me up in his arms yelling out "That's our freshman, our FRESHMAN!" The crowd immediately reacted with a mix of cheers for me (I had no clue what was going on, oblivious to most everything), and heckles for the Barrio player. It was only later as it was put into context that I realized that it was a pretty cool play, but in all reality had I known he was right there bidding, I'd probably have dropped it, I was just too fatigued to care.

We ended up losing the finals 15-12 but the crowd loved us. The TD came over and thanked us for making the trip, and everyone on Barrio gave us props for the weekend's performance. We took home the second place prize, which I believe was a large tub of cheesy popcorn (yay ultimate).

The 15 hour drive back was an adventure in itself. The van smelled awful from 3 days of sitting in the sun with our blood, sweat and cleats. Everyone was unbelievable sore and bloodied from the crappy fields (I still have scars on my hips from laying out there). The culmination of it all was a stop for breakfast at Cracker Barrel just south of Denver.  One of our guys was wandering around the gift shop portion and was walking so stiff-legged that an elderly women assumed he was mentally disabled. The conversation that they had had the rest of us dying in the van after he told us about it.

After this tournament, I was hooked and I have never in the nine years since then missed a single college tournament, nothing compares. For the rest of the off-the-field capers ask me about it in person some time and you'll get a whole other chapter to the story.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


I'm going to go to a very fundamental aspect of Ultimate for this entry, the simple act of catching the disc. There are a lot of different ways that people catch, some good, some bad, but there are a series of basic ideas behind catching that should be universal in Ultimate. I'll start with very basic stuff, if you think you're bad-ass and don't want to read about beginner stuff, skip down. If you're having trouble visualizing what I'm saying then try acting out the motions yourself as you read.


When I'm teaching a person to play who has never played before, one of the very first things we talk about is the pancake or alligator catch. Here's the visual: take both your arms and extend them out in front of you, one on top of the other, with the palm of each hand facing the palm of the other. Now make a big alligator motion, chomp chomp chomp. For a beginner, this is how you should always try to catch the disc, it allows for me disc control, you don't have to worry about the trailing edge and is very simple.

One thing that I teach that a lot of people forget to do is to make a concerted effort to catch the disc at the maximum extension of your arms away from your body. A lot of people pull their elbows to their sides and catch the disc with their chest as kind of a backboard for the disc, which is a bad habit. This is especially true when catching an underneath throw, where the disc and your body are traveling towards each other in a collision course. Even if catching close to your body makes you more comfortable, it's still a very bad habit because playing against an elite defender every inch you have as an offender counts. And being able to catch a disc with another six inches of extension can be the difference between a completion and a D.

Another thing that every person should practice when making a pancake catch is catching with either hand on top of the disc. The majority of the time, this will not come into play when making a catch. However, if a disc is  to the right of you when you're making the catch it's easier to have your right hand on bottom, and a disc far to the left is easier to catch with your left hand on the bottom.

Double Duck

Another way that a lot of more experienced players catch is with both hands on the rim of the disc. Here's the visual: extend both arms in front of you with your hands next to each other, both palms facing downward. Now put your thumbs underneath the fingers on their respective hands and make a little duck quacking motion by moving your fingers up and down.

This method of catching is difficult for some but allows for two advantages. First of all, you are always catching the disc at your arms' full extension because it's the more natural catching motion rather than pushing your elbows down and bringing your hands closer to your body. So by doing this you are always having that extra several inches I spoke about in the alligator portion above.

The second advantage to catching like this is that it is more natural for underneath layouts. If you are cutting underneath with the disc coming straight at you, if you need to layout for whatever reason with two hands, the double duck allows you to get to the disc sooner, since you aren't having to get a hand both above and below the disc, and it is much easier to coordinate your hands and body.

One-Handed Catching

Obviously there are tons of situations when you're going to be forced to catch one-handed. High or low discs, situations where you have to have absolute maximum extension, or where you're laying out. There's a couple of things to keep in mind when you're going after a disc one handed in any situation.

First of all, you have to be comfortable catching both left and right handed at all times. This is important in tons of different situations, but for the sake of this entry we're going to focus on why this applies to avoiding trailing-edge catches.

As a receiver, you want to avoid trailing edge catches at all costs. These are very difficult for any player to make 100% of the time, and the smaller your hands are, the harder a trailing-edge catch is. When I say trailing-edge, I mean catching the disc in the same direction that the disc is spinning. Think of a right-handed flick or lefty-backhand coming in over your right shoulder on an out cut. If you extend your right hand out to the disc and go for a catch on the side of the disc closest to you, the disc can easily mack off your hand since there is nothing but your grip to stop the rotation.

The way that this catch should be made is to extend your left hand out and catch the disc on the back-side (furthest from your body),  Additionally, when you make the catch your thumb should end up on the top side of the disc with the rest of your fingers down below (similar to a backhand grip), since you would have to extend your elbow out at a very-awkward angle, with almost no extension on your arm to keep your fingers on top and thumb on the bottom.

Here's a visual: hold a disc in your left hand out in front of you and imagine it spinning with a flick rotation (counter-clockwise). Extend your right hand and go for a one-handed duck catch on side of the disc closest to you (fingers on top, thumbs on bottom), Picture the rotation and how the disc could easily glance off your hand. Now switch the disc over to your right hand and extend your arm. Picture that same rotation, but now extend your left hand and catch the disc on the backside with your thumb on top so your left forearm  is almost curling all the way around one side of the disc. This is the proper catch since the disc's spin is leading into your grip rather than away from it.

The same situation applies for a righty-backhand or left flick rotation (clock-wise spin on the disc). You want to make these catches with your right hand on the backside of the disc whenever possible.

Obviously, a player can't always avoid making trailing edge catches. Sometimes you aren't close enough to get to the backside of the disc or there isn't enough time. One thing you can do is layout for that extra extension to get the backside of the disc. If you still aren't close enough, then the best thing you can do is to make an attempt to time the catch as precisely as possible so you're getting the full force of your grip on the disc right as you come into contact with the disc.

What can I do to work on catching?

If you're struggling with the absolute basics of catching, meaning that you simply have a lot of pancake drops, then the best thing you can do is to get repetitions that mimic in-game situations. Straight come-to drills where you're catching as you make an in-cut are very helpful here. If you're just throwing with a partner, then one of the best things you can do is to have them wing the disc at you as hard as they can over and over. Once you get used to catching discs coming at you at high velocity, everything else will be much easier.

Once you've mastered the hand-eye coordination (or gotten pretty damn good at it), the next thing you want to work on is a variety of catching techniques, like what I talked about above. Get comfortable catching with both your left and right hands, both high above your head and down below your knees. Get comfortable making pancake catches with either your left or right hand on top of the disc. And finally, get comfortable laying out to make a catch, even if it's just so you can ensure a pancake or to avoid getting the trailing-edge.

The final thing you can do to work on good solid catching (this is excellent for throwing as well), is to work on grip strength. All the best catchers I know, guys that rip everything down at all angles, have very strong grips (Jordan will prove it to you in an arm wrestling match I'm sure). These are the guys that can consistently get those out of reach trailing-edge discs because their grip is still strong enough to stop the discs rotation.

One method that works wonders for grip strength (from conditioning expert Tim Larkin), is to set up a pull-up bar anywhere and to just hang with your hands a shoulders width apart for a 200 count. Once you've got that down, trying hanging for a 200 count without your pinkies on the bar, then without your ring fingers. Beyond that, you can do your 200 count with just one hand, and beyond that, one-handed with a dumbbell in the other hand.

While this is by no means a comprehensive guide to making all sorts of catches, these are all good tips and tricks to lower your drop rates and increase the consistency with which you can catch the disc. As always, any comments are welcome.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Spirit of the Game

Probably one of the most fundamentally important issues to Ultimate is the concept of the Spirit of the Game. Taken directly from the USA Ultimate 11th Edition Rules:

"Ultimate relies upon a spirit of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, adherence to the agreed upon rules, or the basic joy of play. Protection of these vital elements serves to eliminate unsportsmanlike conduct from the Ultimate field. Such actions as taunting opposing players, dangerous aggression, belligerent intimidation, intentional infractions, or other win-at-all-costs" behavior are contrary to the spirit of the game and must be avoided by all players."

I'm a super competitive player and coach. Every game I've gone into from random league games to nationals elimination games are games I want to win. I play to compete and to win as much as I can. However, this does not mean that I do not respect and believe in the Spirit of the Game. 

Spirit has nothing to do with cheering the other team after the game, or avoiding big collisions or even not spiking the disc. Spirit is about a respect for the game and a respect for your opponent.

When I say respect for the game, first and foremost I mean knowledge of the rules. I still can't believe how the vast majority of players are so clueless about the actual rules. Personally, I have a very acute knowledge of the rules, and I'd say in about 75% of games I play in or coach, I still have to correct people. My biggest personal peeve is the "it's your call" advice to a player in an in-out or up-down situation. Because as I've explained to dozens of people, it's the best perspective of a player of the field, which is not necessarily the person(s) involved in the play. 

To have a respect for the game, you need to understand how the game is supposed to be played. I don't agree with all the rules in the rulebook for sure, but I know what they are and I make sure that I adhere to those rules as much as I possibly can. As a coach, I always encourage my players to make the proper calls at the right time, even if it is not to my team's benefit.

The second thing that Spirit means is having respect for your opponent. You respect their rights as a player and competitor as much as you respect your own. As corny as it may sound it's very similar to the golden rule. I'm not going to gratuitously bid into someone with no chance at the disc because I don't want that to happen to me. I'm not going to show the disc to my opponent after I score because I don't want the same done to me, etc.

However, I don't believe spiking in itself an un-spirited thing. Spiking is showing that your fired up, that you're pumped to score. The vast majority of spikes aren't meant to be disrespectful to the other team, they're meant to get your  team's blood flowing. As the game has progressed at the college and club level I think that more and more people are realizing this. I can think back to times (especially when playing co-ed), that any spike would get mumbles of "douche" from the other team. But, as long as the spikes aren't directed at the opposing team and don't damage the disc, they're is nothing un-spirited about them. In fact, I'd say that a good spike embodies the "joy of play" as much as anything. 

Another aspect of respect for your opponent that I believe is prevalent is the nature of hard, physical play. I always teach and encourage my players to play a physical game, because that's a cornerstone of good play. It's not about hacking on the mark, or intentionally barreling somebody over, it's about good-natured physical play, like jockeying for position on a deep throw or getting a solid layout-d where you knock the disc away before the contact with the offender. 

Now there's a fine line between physical play and dangerous play, but playing physically does not mean you are playing un-spirited. The two biggest parts of the rules that need to be examined when dealing with physical play are as follows: 

"XVII. Positioning
A. Each player is entitled to occupy any position on the field not occupied by an opposing player, unless specifically overridden elsewhere, provided that no personal contact is caused in taking such a position."


"XVI. Violations and Fouls
4. Reckless disregard for the safety of fellow players or other dangerously aggressive behavior (such as significantly colliding into a stationary opponent), regardless of whether or when the disc arrives or when contact occurs is considered dangerous play and is treated as a foul. This rule is not superseded by any other rule."

The things to keep in mind of when dealing with positioning are that two players going for the same space on the field are both entitled to that space. And while contact may occur if both arrive at the same time it's not a foul on either person because they both went for uncontested space. However, if Jon Fasterthankatfish is covering me on an underneath cut where I begin with the inside position on the disc he cannot go through me with his speed to D the disc. He's can go around me, but "personal contact is caused" if he attempts to just run through me (Corwin getting run over at the Conference Championships, I'm looking at you). 

Now the line between good solid defense and dangerous play can blur. I was at Heavyweights with DTL several years ago and we ran into situation like this: The opposing team set up in a center stack in the endzone, with their primary cutter (a female) setting up in the back of the stack. She made a good cut heading towards the cone and was open force-side on her defender. One of our male players recognized the play and poached off the front of the stack towards the same cone. Our male player got to the cone slightly first, D'd the throw cleanly, then collided with the cutter, knocking both of them down and breaking her collar-bone. The other team was upset, calling it a dangerous play (the gal with the broken collar-bone called a foul which our player did not contest)  

Now I want to step back for a second. This is a special situation unique to co-ed because of the general size difference between guys and girls, but let's look at the play not taking gender into account. The defender and offender both went for open space on the field, both of which they were entitled to occupy. The defender obviously got there first since he got a clean D on the disc. Now, in no way am I saying that the outcome of the play wasn't unfortunate. I've never want to see any player on the field get hurt, but the foul should have never been called. I actually think that the foul being called and not-contested is a decidedly un-spirited outcome. Firstly, it wasn't a rules violation. Should both players have gone for the disc knowing a collision was imminent? Heck yes they should have, it's a competitive game! Secondly, it degraded from respect for the opponent portion I talked about above. Should our defender have given up on the play and allowed the cutter to score? No way, that completely disrespects the cutter as a player. 

If we step back into context, there may be some unspoken rules in co-ed about male-female collisions, and given that, perhaps the call made was correct ( but I'm not going to start in on that topic, another time perhaps)

In the end, Spirit can be made into a fairly simple couple of concepts:

1) Know the rules. Think to yourself anytime a call is made involving you, what rule does that pertain to, what happened, then make the correct call. That is the spirited play. An uncontested stall or conceding that someone was in the endzone is not inherantly good spirit, it's good spirit if it was the CORRECT CALL.

2) Respect your opponents on and off the field. Don't engage in dangerous play. Don't taunt your opponent or spike the disc in their face as they lay on the ground after a good bid. Spike the disc towards your teammates, give a yell at the sky, then give them a hand up. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

South Central Open Finals - CU Mamabird vs CC Wasabi

It was about as pristine as one could hope for an ultimate tournament this weekend in Commerce City, CO for Southcentral Regionals: hovering in the high 70s with hardly a breeze. After both teams going undefeated and relatively uncontested (CC's closest game before the finals 15-9 vs Texas, CU 15-11 vs Texas), both seemed fired up to play each other for the one seed.

My boys had been eliminated from contention earlier in the tournament by Kansas State and after playing out some consolation bracket games, the majority of the team settled into the north end zone to watch what we expected to be a very hotly contested game.

Having played or coached against Mambird and Wasabi every year for the last eight years I have to say this year these teams were fairly evenly matched. Mamabird had an extreme depth advantage (CU is a college ultimate factory), but Wasabi's top 5 or so players this were at least as talented if not better than CU's top 5. Let me note that I'm not positive I'm correct on exactly all the names and numbers, so anyone more involved can feel free to correct me. Additionally, I may not be totally accurate in the order of the scores

The game started with Wasabi pulling to Mama, the disc was centered on the first throw after the pull, Nick Spiva handblocked the next throw and Wasabi punched in a quick break. CU then reeled off an O point followed by three breaks to go up 4-1. #13 handler on Wasabi looked shaky early on in those breaks, with a very bad huck turnover and a lost disc on a fake, giving CU the opportunities it needed to take a big lead. Wasabi took a timeout to regroup.

From here the game became a bit less sloppy for CC. Both teams offenses really started to click more at this point with both teams running very deep oriented offense out of their respective center stacks, with Mamabird taking half 8-5.

Some notable plays from the first half, #15 on Wasabi (name?) is an absolute monster, with both his speed and huge ups. Had a big sky for one score over #23 on Bird. #21 on Wasabi (green hat) being covered by Jack McShane gets separation deep, huge space huck goes up and and McShane makes up ground and actually goes slightly past #21. #21 lays out and grabs the disc for the score right as McShane  moves to D the disc.

In the second half, it was much the same as the second part of the first half. CC runs what looks to be a junky poach/zone the first few throws of each D while CU flat marks for the first several throws then transitions to a straight force. Both teams are looking to huck and it's a great game to watch. Wasabi actually gets a couple breaks back and brings it to within one, but the teams trade the last four or so points with CU taking the game 15-13.

Some notable second half plays: At a high stall count Spiva puts out a beautiful backhand which is caught outside the goal-line then thrown for a score. The marker called a stall but the observer overruled the stall due to a fast count and the point was thrown again. Later, a deep huck goes up to #5 on Mamabird and #15 on CC makes up ground and runs past him in the endzone for the D (although #5 immediately cramps up after the turn, which may have been a factor on the deep run, but didn't look to be). Wasabi actually had a chance at one point to tie the game with a break, but the receiver going up big for the deep had the dusc just glance off his hand.

On the whole this was a stellar game to watch. Respect to both teams who play a very similar, very entertaining style of game. My all-region nods for CC would go to Nick Spiva (amazing all-around player), #15 (looked like the best athlete on the field all game) and Ezra (monster mark for someone his size). For Mamabird, Matty, #23 (Jimmie?), and #11 (Evan?) all seemed pretty clutch for their team, but they have so many talented players it's hard to single out only a few.

I'm very curious to see how CC does at nationals, because while they are a very talented team, they don't seem super deep (I counted 11 different players that played total in the finals). Can they maintain a high level of play with that tight of lines for 3 days at nationals? Based on what I saw, I'd say yes, they could beat any team in the country, but if any of their top 4 gets hurt, they didn't seem to have a lot of throwing depth behind them.

Congrats to everybody who played hard this weekend, it was a quality tournament.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Mental Game Before A Big Tourney

A shorter entry for tonight.  So what should a young player do when preparing for a big tournament mentally, such as college regionals this weekend? I thought I'd throw up a few thoughts and things I've found work for me. However, I believe that some things are good for everyone to work on, a lot of mental preparation is a personal process.

1) Take care of your body. I realize this is a physical thing, but it helps your mental game immensely. Don't do silly things like drink alcohol the night before or eat a crappy dinner. Drink lots of water in the week leading up to a big tournament. Carbo-load throughout the week to give your body the energy it needs. I'm sure the people that know me are like "TK!!! Come on! I've seen you drink the night before a tournament!!!" That's true, but in college I gave up drinking for 4 weeks leading up to sectionals and throughout the series. The reason this helps the mental game, is that it takes away as many physical distractions as  possible for the tournament. There's nothing holding your body back that your mind has to think about, even if it's something as small as a tiny bit of dehydration.

2) Have both team goals and personal goals set. This one is fairly simple. Your team should be discussing goals as a team for the weekend and game by game. As far as personal goals, have your captains or coaches help you with some personal goals (not getting beat deep early, containing 100% of breaks in zone, etc). But I also think it's important to set some of your OWN personal goals. You know yourself as a player better than anyone else. Is there something that terrifies you to throw? Can you handle marking someone taller/faster? Those kind of things are great questions to ask yourself when setting personal goals for a tournament.

3) Get fired up. I think this is especially important in college, where so much of the game is about effort and energy. Think about the kinds of plays that fire you up. Watch some highlight videos on youtube, or some old team videos. Think about what it is about Ultimate that gets you out of bed at 6:30 in the morning ready to run for eight hours at a time. Think about what you're going to do out on the field that will fire you and your teammates up. And most importantly, think about what you're going to do on and off the field to maintain that intensity level.

4) Be realistic. A big problem I had as a younger player, is the night before a tournament I'd get super excited that I was going to absolutely destroy the other team. I was gonna be unstoppable on the field and push the team to the next level by myself. Confidence is a good thing, but setting goals and personal expectations too high is going to set you up for disappointments. I'm not saying you shouldn't expect to get a game changer, everybody can be that person, but going into every tournament expecting the performance of a lifetime isn't realistic, and you want tangible goals. There were games where I felt I had played amazing, but I never had that transcendent performance I had expected, and as such, learned that it was better to have goals that challenged me, but I wasn't out there winning the game single-handedly.

Good luck to all the college teams playing their hearts out this weekend across the country.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Zone, Man? When? Why?

As per a suggestion from one of my players I'm going to make a post about zone versus man and when I think each should be played. Now, this is a very difficult question to answer because I think the answer is different depending on the level of ultimate. I would probably say completely different things for league play, versus club, versus college, and I'm not even going to speculate on women's (no experience there), but given that it's just about college regionals, I'm going to focus this blog on my opinion for college teams.

For starters, anyone who's played on teams that I've coached or captained knows that I am a big fan of zone in college. In general college throwers are less experienced, don't necessarily have a complete range of throws (all the breaks, over-the-tops, etc), and have a greater tendency to make poor decisions given that lack of experience.

However, I have a very different perspective as to when to play zone versus man, given the conditions. So I'm going to through several different conditions that people tend to see and why I'd play zone or man in that situations. Before I do that however I'm gonna go over some basic zone stuff.

A zone can do a handful of different  things. First and foremost it disrupts the opposing team's offense. Playing zone forces a team out of their base offense into something that usually resembles a horizontal stack, with horizontal poppers and deeps spread out with 3-4 handlers behind the disc.  

Secondly, a zone should be forcing the offense to make a greater number of throws. In general, there won't be a deep option because of the nature of zone, so the offense is forced to make many more throws than one-two huck.

Thirdly, a zone can be a simple disruption play. If the opposing team has a successful pull-play they like to run  or whatnot, like a center stack or Boston, zone can force them out of that pull offense, then settle back into man after a handful of throws, similar to the disruption I talked about in my first point.

Lastly, a zone can be an equalizing factor. If your team struggles matching up physically with another team, then a zone can be something that puts things on more even ground as it allows your best deep always to be last back and limits the advantages the opposing team if they are more athletic.

Upwind Situations:

I absolutely detest teams that play zone going upwind. I realize that throws are difficult, deep throws and over the tops are limited, but what it boils down to, is those things are all true for man as well. When you're playing a zone, you're allowing their best throwers to consistently get the disc and be able consistently make their throw of choice (for me personally, I love always having a backhand option as an offensive handler, and against a zone defense I probably throw close to 85% backhands). If you're read my thread on flat marking, then you know that I think a solid flat mark with good fronting underneath is the defense of choice for upwind situations. If you're doing this well then you're taking away both the inside-out forehand and backhand and are not allowing the thrower to step forward into their throw, making every throw except something that goes straight behind very challenging.

Downwind Situations:

When there is a significant downwind I think that zone is the oftentimes the best option. In college, most (not all, but most) teams are looking for a quick deep strike on downfield points, so as to win the field position game and not give the defense a break opportunity in the offense's upwind half of the field. Playing a zone gives you several advantages if the game has turned into more of a punt/field position scenario. First of all, you're putting your best deep defender (at least I hope you are), back to stop the look that they are mostly actively going for. Secondly, depending on the zone you're playing (I like a 3 or 4 man force middle contain in this situation), you're forcing them to make at least a handful of swings before they put a deep or over the top throw out there. The swings themselves are either going straight behind, which is an upwind throw, or they're moving across the field horizontally, making them a bit more difficult crosswind throw.

Additionally, if you do force a turn on those swings, you have a numbers advantage, as your entire cup is theoretically somewhere near the disc. So the fast break opportunity is easy, and as my teams have heard me say a million times, wind games are won in transition.

Some people argue that over the tops are too easy going downwind, and the offense can simply throw over your cup. This is true, but whatever that throw is, it is, at the very least, a slightly lower percentage throw than a classic backhand or forehand, and assuming you play a decent zone, you're going to be forcing an over-the-top throw somewhat far downfield where you deep has a good chance to get a D.


This is a tough answer. Running a trap to the wind side of the field can often result in a turnover if you're able to get the disc fully trapped. Also flat-marking isn't as effective as the crosswind allows for looser inside out breaks and hucks.

I more often than not end up playing man in this situation, because a smart team is not easily trapped, and even from that trap-side of the field the deep punt from there is not super difficult. So in general I'd say play  man in this situation, forcing with the wind, meaning the open-side throw is the direction the wind is blowing. This does two things. First, it makes an around break a fairly upwind throw, allowing your marks a bit more leniency in shifting flatter to take away the inside-out break. Because the break threat is less, your downfield defenders are given more leeway to play harder on the open side, forcing the disc inevitably to the side of the field where the wind can keep a thrower/offense somewhat trapped on it's own.    


Zone, zone zone! The disc is wet, catching is harder, throwing is harder. The more throws you can force an offense to make, the more chances you have for forcing a turnover. Obviously, that logic is true in any conditions, but given an average college players' general ability to catch and throw, the percentage increase from the wet disc and cold conditions make this an ideal time to play zone and force the opposing team to throw more throws than they'd prefer. Additionally, upside-down throws are significantly more difficult to catch when the disc is wet, making a zone that forces the offense to make over-the-top throws (like a 4 man cup) ideal. At the very least start in zone to disrupt the huck play, then as the field length shortens transition to man.

But what about that annoying metro east team that always plays zone in any conditions and we can't figure it out and we're sad and we just lost to a bunch of short fat guys:

I've played against several teams that play zone close to 100% of the time (mostly east coast teams for some reason), and while I'm not going to say it's awful,  I will say that in general I think that is very poor strategy. If you're teaching your team to play zone even a majority of the time then you're using up time that can be spent learning good solid man (especially for young players).

Even if you spend all year on your zone and it's very successful and you run it to perfection, ONE THROWER can beat it. And if that's the case, that one elite thrower, just took out your whole team strategy.

Three years ago at regionals we played CU in pool play. There were minimal conditions, but our defensive game plan was to play our 4 man cup-contain (which we had practiced diligently all year), to limit their hucking game and force them to beat us with over the top throws, since they were the more athletic team. We executed the zone very well, they were able to swing, but not able to gain yards, and we were able to limit their deeps and keep them in the middle of the field. After about 5 throws they put the disc in Mac Taylor's hands and he threw a 50 yard line-drive hammer down field to the space we were leaving open, zone broken. He threw exactly what we were trying to force, a challenging over the top throw, that was the whole point of our zone. The next point he did it again, and the point after. At that point I looked at my defensive captain and we both agreed, ok, they can consistently make that throw, gotta try something else. My overall point here was this, they had one extraordinary thrower, and he alone broke our entire defense. If you're team is a team based entirely on zone, you may beat some teams, sure, but every pretty good college team has at least that one big thrower, that can put the disc anywhere on the field, so if there aren't enough conditions backing your scheme, you're screwed.

In the end, a lot of zone/man options are based on what the other team is doing or their strengths and weaknesses, but in general as you get to higher and higher levels of the sport from elite college up to elite club and whatnot, you see less and less zone because the better the throwers the less functional any zone gets.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Discussion of Different Offensive Stacks

This is an interesting topic to me, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because I think a lot of offensive choices are influenced by region. I think teams in Colorado tend to run different offensive schemes than a lot of other places due to the influence of CU-Boulder and Bravo, whereas places like the West Coast definitely have a different "meta-game" for their offensive stacks, as I'd call it. Secondly, because after the conference championships this past weekend, it seems that our Colorado "meta" may be shifting away from the Horizontal/Split stack, that has been a pretty big part of Colorado college and club ultimate for many years.

Let me preface this by saying, I can't for certain say what different teams are specifically running, when and why. What I can tell you, is what I've observed, having been to club and college nationals, and having participated in tournaments in every corner of the country.

The first stack I learned as a college player in 2003 was a center stack. It wasn't our offense at CSU, but it was used as teaching tool, for people to learn how to make a good solid cut, to learn timing, and because we ran a center stack as an endzone offense. In Colorado, for a number of years it was generally regarded as an inferior stack, because it was easy to poach and went very stagnant from the sideline (I'm not calling it inferior now, wait for me section on that below).

Our actual offense my first two years at CSU was a horizontal stack. The standard three handlers back, four downfield, using all the horizontal space, working the complete field width with handler swings etc. In my mind as a young player I regarded this as a top notch offense, mostly because it was most of what I had learned, and our team ran it well. It wasn't until Potlatch in 2005 that I began to realize that the Ho-stack is much more of a beginners stack and that it was cycling out of the competitive college scene and club scene quite quickly.

At Potlatch my club team, DTL, had won the services of the Team USA coach Ted Munter in an Ebay auction (fundraiser for Team USA), for one game. After dressing him up in a sweet red jumpsuit with lots of bling, he coached us for a game, then gave us some great advice on how we looked. The thing I remember most is that he told us that Ho-Stack was really a basic offense; easy for a smart team to shut down, and the advantages were almost non-existent versus a split stack or a spread stack.

After that year, at CSU, we moved on to a CU/Bravo-esque split stack, and have not since returned to horizontal. What sparked my interest in this topic, as a mentioned above, is that this past weekend at the Rocky Mountain Conference championships both CU and CU-B were both running exclusively a center-stack, and while they've used it on occasion in the past, I don't believe it has ever been their exclusive offense prior to this year. This got me to thinking about the different advantages and disadvantages of the 4 stacks I'm spent the majority of my ultimate career playing, and why more and more teams seem to be changing to center stack.

Note: I'm not going to describe in detail what each stack does, if you aren't familiar with it, check some online resources.



It's a great beginner offense. Everyone has a position on the field that is essentially theirs. You stick to your cutting lane for the most part, are looking for big handler swings, and the emphasis for the downfield is mostly "run your ass off, and don't stop." There's obviously an element of timing, like any stack, but foremost you're getting your downfield to truck it around.

Another big advantage is that you always have an opposite side of the field from the thrower deep look. No matter where you are on the field, there's a cutter downfield in the far lane that has the potential to be cutting deep for a big, space deep throw (the best kind of deep).


It is easy to bracket the downfield; posting one defender as a deep and one defender on the under and just switching as the two cutters go under and deep. It's also very easy to clog the downfield with poaches from the handlers, as there are three handlers back at all times. Additionally, as the disc moves to one side of the field, the opposite side defenders can recognize that their cutters aren't primary looks, and interfere with both swings and deep looks.

Regardless of the ability to switch or poach against this offense, the biggest disadvantage that it has is that none of your cutters are given significant isolated space. At most you have 1/4 of the horizontal field to make your move as a downfield cutter, and even then, your deep is easy covered by other cutters' defenders who are not in a primary cutting position. In my opinion every good offense should give a primary look to a cutter with a majority of field space over any other cutter. As the overall athleticism in the game increases (and I believe in the last 8 years, it has increased RIDICULOUSLY in college), cutters need more space on the field to get open.

Overall, I think it is still a great offense to teach in High School or to use with newer players in a summer-league type situation.

Boston/Side Stack/V-Stack


This is a stack that I've run on every single team I've played on as a pull-play. It's very simple, it gives every cutter the entire field to get open, and it makes it easy to learn timing as you have a set cutting order and you know exactly when you're planning on cutting.

As a thrower in a V-Stack you can easily break the mark because there is almost 40 yards of horizontal empty space, even upside throws are viable because the cutter is always isolated in a 1on1 situation.


You have to start in the middle of the field for it to work. The reason it's run as a pull play, is because it's takes advantage of the fact that a defense is not completely settled in on their men after a pull. You almost always have an opportunity to center the disc off the pull. If you start the disc on the side of the field either you're behind the stack, giving you very few options, or you're on the far side of the field from the stack, where you aren't give the liberty of a throw wherever you want on the field.

Additionally, teams can oftentimes poach the underneath and deep with smart switches. One of the most effective ways of interfering with a V-stack is simply getting down on the pull very slowly, and thus clogging the cutting space for the initial look.

Overall, I still a Boston is one of the best pull plays around. The defense has to do something to interfere or the chances are good you will end up with a quick score for your team.

Split Stack


You are giving two cutters (the hot side) 2/3+ of the horizontal space on the field to make their cuts. As the disc advances downfield the cold side is cycling in  from the far side of the field from the disc, essentially, turning it into a V-stack, which as I discussed above is extremely difficult to cover man-to-man.

You aren't completely crippled setting up on a side of the field, rather than in the middle, because you have two options as a primary look, so you are always given a break option downfield in addition to a primary deep or underneath cut. Really what this boils down to, is it's V-stacks little brother, set up so it develops into a Boston, but so you are able to start without the disc in the middle of the field.


The cold-side defenders can easily poach and interfere with the hot-side cutters as they recognize that their cutters will not be initially active.

You are allowing for handler poaching as well given that you have three handlers consistently behind the disc, making force-middle poaches and whatnot viable defensive looks.

If the disc ends up behind the cold side of your stack the downfield is very clogged.

Overall, I think split is still a very strong offense. All of the poaching issues can be managed with good handler movement and good cycling from cold to hot, and it allows plenty of space for your cutters to be isolated.

Center Stack


You are leaving either side of the field open for a break regardless of the force. You are giving your primary cutter the leeway to make any cut they want, deep, underneath, break. You are allowing for a reset (the front of the stack) that will always gain yards, rather than other offenses relying on a backfield handler cut. The person who is your traditional dump reset (assuming you run only two handlers back as a default), also has the entire backfield to set themselves up for a continuation break throw.


This is an offense the needs to start in the middle of the field, however the are plenty of easy options for the middle reset.

You are susceptible to poaches underneath from the non-active stack members.

You need a lot of speed in your cutters. While most teams that run center stack can call any number of set plays (Santa Barabara comes to mind) a good chunk of the time the first cut will be coming from the back of the stack, so they need to be able to cover a lot of ground quickly, to give you a viable option from the get-go.

You also need handlers with BIG arms. Since the back of your stack is set up fairly deep compared to a horizontal or split, the people you have picking up the disc need to be able to put the disc 70+ yards from a stationary position. Additionally, your throwers need to be able to break the mark liberally. You have the entire break side of the field open for floaty breaks, so your throwers consistently need to be able to make that break throw. Much of the success of a center stack depends on getting the disc around to the break side of the field then continuing breaks down the field.

Overall, I think center is becoming (I realize a lot of college teams, especially west coast, have always run center, I'm taking this from my Colorado perspective) the stack of choice for elite college and club teams. You are simply given too many devastating options when you have the speed and throws to take advantage of the strengths of a center stack. A lot of the most athletic teams I can think of in both college and club (Doublewide, Mamabird, etc) now seem to run center, and it  is obviously successful. It's a hucking  and break-mark offense, and if you have the throwers and big downfield cutters to pull it off, it's next to impossible to defend. A far cry from the "noob" offense I was taught it was eight years ago.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The New College Ultimate Series - Worth It?

When talking to a lot of Alumni and people around the Fort Collins community they've ask me about how the college team is doing, and every conversation turns into an explanation of the how the new college series is working, and what I think of the system. So I've decided to do a blog entry that explains all that stuff so hopefully I can save us all some conversational time or have an easy resource for curious people to reference that's a bit easier than wading through the pain in the butt USA Ultimate site or going through RSD.  Section 1 will be how the system used to be. Section 2 will be how it is currently. Section 3 will be my opinion on the changes. (note: these changes have been in the works for a couple years starting with the expansion of nationals to 20 from 16 two years ago).

Section 1 - The Old System:

So previous to this year, Colorado was in the Southwest region. This region consisted of Southern California, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming. Every year the first tournament in the college series would be the Sectionals tournament, which consisted of a tournament with all the teams from the Front Range and Wyoming, usually some combination of CSU, CU, CC, UNC, DU, Wyoming, Mines, CU-B, Air Force etc. In previous years the number of bids each section received to the regional tournament would be based on the number of on-time rosters the section submitted. It was slightly more convoluted than that, but essentially, the more rosters from your section that got in on time, the more bids your section got to regionals.

After sectionals the qualifying teams from each section travel to regionals for the regional tournament. Each region got a certain number of bids to nationals based on the region's previous year's performance at nationals and the overall size of the region; then the top teams from the regionals tournament moved on to nationals. It was a fairly simple system, it rewarded strength from the previous year, size and expansion and being timely with your paperwork.

Section 2 - The New System (VERY confusing, bear with me):

The most sweeping of the changes to the College Series began by the changing of regional boundaries. Colorado is now a member of the South-Central region, which is Colorado, Wyoming, Texas, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma.

The sections were reorganized into conferences, but these conferences are not the same as the sections were previously. The first thing they did was separate developmental (any B or lower squads from a school) and Divison III (enrollment of less than 7500), teams from the Division I teams (enrollment > 7500). So what was the Rocky Mountain Section was changed to the Rocky Mountain Division I Conference (CU, CSU, UNC, WY, DU and Metro State), the Rocky Mountain Developmental Developmental Conference (CU-B, Air Force-B) and the Rocky Mountain Division III Conference (CC, Air Force, Colorado School of Mines). For other sections, like what previously was the Texas section, they did the above separations, but also separated them geographically to be separate conference areas: South Texas and North Texas. So South Texas has a DI, Dev, and DIII conference, as does North Texas. (note: Division III schools that have attended nationals in the past 4 years, eg Carleton, are allowed to play in the DI conference)

The sectionals tournament was replaced by the Conference Championships for each separate conference, however since neither DIII nor the Developmental conference in the Rocky Mountains had enough teams for their own Conference Championships they were combined with the other DIII and Dev Conferences from the entire region. So instead of a Rocky Mountain DIII and Rocky Mountain Dev conference there was a South-Central Div III conference and a South-Central Developmental conference, which included all the DIII teams and Dev teams from the entire region. These conferences had no conference championship tournaments (due to the lack of numbers that led to the combining each division into once conference), and went straight to DIII regionals and Developmental regionals. (developmental regionals ended up being cancelled due to lack of interest and the dev teams all joined the respective DI conferences, aka CU-B is participating in the DI conference championships).

So now, theoretically, there are 3 different regionals for each region. Division I (schools with enrollment greater than 7500), Division III (schools with less than 7500) and Developmental (B-teams, this ended up being cancelled in the South-Central). There are also two different nationals: Division I and Division III (developmental regionals is the highest tournament for the developmental conferences, however, they are able to advance to division I regionals AFTER developmental regionals given certain criteria). Additionally, after DIII regionals, DIII teams are allowed to advance to DI regionals (similar to Developmental regionals' criteria) if they'd like a shot at DI nationals rather than DIII nationals (confused yet?). The bid allocation process for all the different conferences will be explained below.

The other sweeping change (this began last year), that came about this year was the bid allocation process. Now all regionals/nationals bids are based on the official USA Ultimate Regular Season Rankings. To be ranked a team is required to compete in 10 or more regular season games at a USA Ultimate Sanctioned Event against other sanctioned teams. So essentially, tournaments that are not sanctioned will not count towards your ranking.

After the final rankings are released, (the final weekend of sanctioned tournaments was April 2nd and 3rd this year) the bids to regionals and nationals are allocated. To start, all conferences except Developmental in a region receive one automatic bid to Division I regionals. So Rocky Mountain DI, Ozarks DI, South Texas DI, and North Texas DI and the South Central DIII (remember all the DIII teams combined into one conference) all received one automatic bid. Then based solely on the final USA Ultimate rankings the rest of the bids were allocated on overall conference strength, and individual team strength (these calculations include any Dev conference team rankings). I'm not going to explain in detail how the conference strength and team strength bids work but if you're curious you can check it out here:

Nationals bids are allocated in the same way; overall region strength then team strength within the region based on the rankings.

Now where things start getting tricky is at Division III regionals. Bids to DIII nationals are allocated the same as DI nationals, except only DIII teams' rankings are taken into account. So, for example, the South-Central Division III conference ended up with three bids to DIII nationals and six bids to DI regionals. So first, the top three teams are going to decide whether they're going to DIII nationals or DI regionals. Based on what they decide to do, the bids for nationals and DI regionals will be trickling down into the rest conference and in the rest of the region. Also,  there are guaranteed to be several unaccepted bids given both the desire to attend either DI regionals versus DIII nationals and the simple question as to whether the lower DIII schools want to even bother traveling to Colorado for DI regionals, given that they probably won't be competitive enough for a DI nationals bid.

So for all the unaccepted bids to DI regionals there is a "wait-list" in place, for which conferences are next in line, based on team strength in the USA Ultimate Rankings. But how exactly this will play out given the DIII conferences # of bids to both nationals and regionals is VERY convoluted.

Additionally, if a team's roster changes at all from their early season tournament rankings, to their final USA Ultimate approved roster. then their results are voided (as far as the rankings are concerned), for any tournaments where there were roster inconsistencies.

Section Three - My Take On It All

Please keep in mind, this is my perspective as a coach in one of the least dense regions, and my opinions are based on what happened and is happening in the South Central region.

On the whole, I think these changes are terrible. In the Rocky Mountain area the talent differential between the DI and DIII schools is non-existent. There was no reason to separate schools like Colorado College, Air Force and Mines from the rest of the schools, it has limited competition within the area. This is especially difficult for CC since they finished the regular season ranked 13th in the country overall, and are obviously a serious DI nationals contender, yet they are forced to first go to DIII regionals, putting more strain on them financially. They went to DIII regionals this past weekend in Tulsa, OK, beat everyone up as expected and now have to travel to DI regionals and potentially DI nationals. They're fortunate that DI men's regionals is in Denver and nationals is in Boulder (go Colorado conspiracy!)

I like the effort that USA ultimate is making efforts to increase competition for the younger teams and smaller schools, but the simple fact is that DIII schools are not necessarily disadvantaged from the bigger schools, and developmental teams of established programs are often better than young developing teams of schools that haven't consistently had a program (Texas B and C both finished in the top 5 at the South Texas conference championships).

The final big complaint I have is with the regular season guidelines. This was a response to people wanting to the regular season to be more meaningful and not to reward teams (strength from the previous year) that may have been undeserving. I find no fault in the IDEA of the system, however, there are currently way too many ways to manipulate the system (teams purposely getting bad regular season results voided by changing their rosters), or teams getting their results wiped due to unintentional circumstances.

The best example I have of a team getting it's results wiped is our women's team losing their ranking due to have a player play with them who ended up being enrolled with one less credit than was the minimum for a graduate student to be eligible to play. You can argue that they should have known that, and that their games with her playing shouldn't count, because she's not playing with the team for the series, blah blah blah, yes that's all true, but what it boils down to is that that the Conference lost a bid to regionals because of them losing their results. At their conference tournament the final standings were 1) Colorado College 2) CSU 3)CU. So Kali, who I believe has made nationals in all of but maybe one year in the last 10 years or will not be receiving a bid to regionals, because one player was one credit short at a tournament in February. I don't necessarily have a solution to this problem but I still think there are situations that have arisen like this one that have led to very quality teams not even making regionals.

Overall, I like the regular season meaning more. I like that there's a reason to do well in every game at every tournament. But, I don't think DIII and Dev teams should have been separated (there simply aren't enough teams to support each conference) and there has to be some other way to avoid teams rankings not counting when by all accounts they should.

I hope this answered some questions for people if they managed to make it all the way through.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Flat Marking - When? Why?

Let me preface this entry with the following: this is not HOW to flat mark. This is when and why you should flat mark. If you want tips on how to flat mark, or what you need to do to have an effective flat mark then you'll have to find them elsewhere, or wait for a later entry, because tonight we're talking flat mark strategy.

A lot of people think that a flat mark is only useful against hucking, which it certainly is, but strategically the flat mark is one of the strongest all-around ways for a team to mark, regardless of what the opposing team is trying to do.

For starters, I want to be clear about terminology and the absolute basics. With a flat mark, instead of forcing to one side of the field, the marker is standing directly in front of the thrower, effectively eliminating the inside area of the field behind them in about a 45 degree arc. On top of that, there are two types of flat marks: the traditional flat mark (no-huck) and what I call the strike mark.

A traditional flat mark is designed to make it difficult for the thrower to throw the disc deep. To flat mark effectively there are two things that come into play.

First and foremost, you're eliminating both the inside flick and backhand. The best hucks are inside-out throws that travel flat and allow for an easy read and catch for the reciever. As a flat marker you are attempting to eliminate these. If they get any kind of throw off, deep or otherwise, you're forcing them to throw it around the outside of your mark, resulting in an outside-in throw.

The second part of an effective no-huck flat mark is being aggressive as a marker and making it very difficult for the thrower to step forward into their throw. As they pivot from forehand to backhand you should be shuffling laterally and your body should be impeding their ability to step into a throw. There are few throwers (although they do exist) that can step back and around a mark and still put off a 60+ yard huck. And for you rules zealots out there, I'm not saying you should be violating disc space or intentionally fouling them as they pivot. Your job as a marker is to anticipate and move with them, they can't step into a space already occupied by you (that's a foul on them). Force them to step backwards or straight out, off-balance throws are hard.

The second breed of flat mark is what I call the no-strike mark. This is a mark that is completely designed to eliminate the inside-out throws (essentially shutting down a strike cut, a cut coming into the inside throwing lanes). The setup for a no-strike mark is the same, but you're playing off on the mark several feet. The farther you back off, the more you  eliminate both the forehand and backhand inside-out angles. You're allowing them to stop into their throw and pivot uncontested, but you're making the inside-out throw impossible.  The only choices for them at this point to get a disc into the strike zone is to either throw a high release over the top of you (which is easy to handblock the farther off you are), or to throw something VERY outside-in that will bend around the outside of your mark, which is a low percentage throw or should be shut down by your downfield defender.

As for when and why you should flat mark there are three rules of thumb that I use.

1) When the opposing team is going upwind. I absolutely hate playing zone in an upwind situation (you're allowing their best throwers to throw their strongest throw the majority of the time), but if you flat mark effectively, you're going to severely limit what their offense can do. To throw in a stiff breeze the disc needs to be thrown inside-out to get any range, and if you can eliminate that with your mark then their offense will be severely limited, because the areas that the disc can be successfully thrown to (close range underneath throws) are easily coverable by your downfield defense.

2) They are beating you with a lot of line (oven) cuts from their handlers. If you're facing a team with a lot of quickness in their handler core, and you are consistently beat up the line, a flat mark can be very helpful. Essentially, you're making the line throw a break throw (albeit very slight) regardless of where the disc is on the field. While a 4-5 yard inside out flick or backhand isn't the most difficult throw, it is still more difficult then an open-side uncontested throw. With some communication on strike calls and line calls from your sidelines, you can have the mark be shifting the shade of their flat mark (from forehand to backhand) and you can make that break even more difficult.

3) They have one or two dominant huckers. This one is simple. Take someone with a good mark and try and shut down their deep game. I think back to a game we played against Pitt at Terminus in 2005. They beat us on Saturday mostly through a deep game that revolved around one lanky thrower. Sunday we faced them again and put our longest athlete on him flat marking the whole game, victory.

Obviously there are downsides to flat marking. The downfield defense can't cover both sides of the field so you're conceding a certain amount of underneath game. Flat-marking is most effective against offenses that are trying to work the disc through the middle of the field (split, spread, etc). Center stack, while a very huck oriented offense, is difficult to flat mark against, because the outsides of the field are always left very open.

The end all moral of the story is this: flat marking has its place in a lot of different scenarios, not just against the huck, try it out.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What makes a great Ultimate player?

I get asked this question a lot. Especially by new college players; guys that have a background in a different sport and are just learning the fundamentals of Ultimate. "Yo Coach, what can I do to become a great Ultimate player?" 

I'm sure a lot of people would argue that speed is the number one physical trait in Ultimate. The fastest people dominate the game. By now everyone's seen the Greatest Catch Ever, by Andrew Flemming. Next, one could maybe make an argument for size and ups, those monster players that dominate the air; pretty easy to see a great player when Beau can jump over a guy. Or maybe being great means you're a great thrower; the guy that can put the disc wherever he wants in the wind, regardless of the defense (insert any number of amazing highlight clips of sick throws here). However, in my playing and coaching experience there is one thing that comes to mind that supersedes any of these characteristics, and that is drive. 

I came into college like many young 18 somethings do, without a whole lot of direction. I hadn't played Ultimate in high school (Hockey was my sport of choice), and beyond an mild obsession with disc golf and a few pickup jungle-disc games, I had no Ultimate background. It wasn't but an off-chance that I saw a flyer for Club Ultimate tryouts on our campus disc golf course and decided to give it a whirl. 

I was very fortunate that the captains of the CSU team back then embodied everything that was essential in shaping young players in a way that encouraged them to have this drive I'm talking about. The captains were all fully and completely dedicated to the sport. They were committed to making themselves and the team better and to maximizing the potential they had as individual players. These captains set the tone for my five years of college play that saw the team climb from relative obscurity in the competitive scene to being a consistently competitive team with the best in the southwest region (by no means because of my individual play, but because we had a core of people with that similar mentality). 

After nine years of playing Ultimate and three of coaching, the philosophy that I have adopted is that ANY player can be a great player; the core building blocks of that philosophy being: the desire to get better, the will to push yourself hard at all times and the ability to learn and develop all aspects of your game.

This does not mean that you're a great player just because you run hard when you're on the field. It means you're committed to improving yourself. This means maximizing your physical potential with lifting and track workouts. This means dedicating yourself to working out kinks in your throwing form and never being complacent with what you can or can't do as a thrower. This means that you don't have a practice speed and an in-game speed. You only know one way to play, and that is balls-out, no matter what you're doing. 

Obviously, everyone has different physical plateaus. There's only so fast you will ever be able to run or how high you'll be able to jump (at least until Ultimate enters into the steroid era, but that's another blog). But never being complacent with any aspect of your game, and pushing yourself to be the best player you can be with the tools you have, is a never ending process. You cannot reach a point where you say, I'm as good as my body will let me be, I've done it, I have achieved maximum Ultimate potential! Think about some of the best basketball players in the world. Kobe Bryant can make an argument for being a top 10 player all-time, and yet his practice regiment and work ethic are as strict as any player in the league.

Beyond the desire to improve is something that I think is best described as a competitive spirit. Do you take it personally when someone gets the disc on you? Do you look back at a point thinking on what you did wrong and how you can improve that? Are you the kind of person that has an incomplete throw and thinks, well if the receiver had bid for it then it would have been complete, or are you a person that thinks if I had put it just a little less O-I there, it would have been complete. The second person in this scenario is the one that improves, there is no such thing as good enough. 

I've seen so many players that come into the sport as phenomenal athletes, but they let their athleticism carry them at the expense of the rest of their game. Their throws improve very little and their defense is shoddy except for an occasional highlight play. The biggest asset they bring to the team is the ease they can get open with on offense (a great thing no doubt, but when matched up against a similar athlete who is a better fundamental player they are rendered obsolete). I'll take a less athletic kid that improves drastically over the course of a season over someone like this every time. When you get a truly phenomenal player, is when they have an athletic gift, but they don't allow it to carry their game. They improve their ultimate fundamentals to match their athleticism and then, bam, a truly dominant player. The reason that the great athletes are the players that teams like Sockeye take, are because they are confident that they can improve the rest of their game around the athleticism because teams like that cultivate the right mentality (improvement driven) for elite ultimate. 

The overall point of this entry is really fairly simple. To be a great player, you have to want to be great and then follow through on that with your actions on and off the field.