Sunday, November 30, 2014

Why bother with a force? Part 2 - The Development

If you haven't checked out Part 1 of this blog series yet,  take a few minutes to catch up on it, as it sets up the origins of my 'force-less' D.

This entry is how the strategy developed more as a college captain and coach.

Please stay tuned for part 3 where I will actually break the strategy down.

Part 2.1 (as a player)

My fourth year of college at Colorado State was a transitional year for the team. The previous year's top 25 team had nine graduating seniors, with six of them being fifth years. We still had a good team, with a lot of great, young athletes, but our overall experience level took quite a hit.

I was fresh off of a club season where I had learned a lot of new strategy and in my second year as captain (we never had a coach) I was eager to impart all of this knowledge on to my team. I guess in my mind our 'advanced' strategy would counteract our personnel losses from the previous year and we would easily be able to maintain a top 25 team.

This did not go quite according to plan. We still had plenty of great athletes but, like I mentioned above, we were lacking in experience. In hindsight, what the team really needed was a good year of core fundamental work to develop our young, athletic guys.

I took the opposite approach. A huge chunk of the year was dedicated to complicated defensive scheme. Not only did we work on several different schemes (including something similar to the 'ragweed' D I learned on Sack Lunch), but I developed an equally complicated play-calling system which nobody on the team ever mastered. (To this day, I bring those play-call sheets to our team leadership meetings as examples of what not to do).

The end of the year finished with a disappointing universe-point, upset loss to Arizona State at Regionals (Ironically, in windy conditions against their stout zone).

I think back on this year as a failure of leadership. I do believe it is very important to fully develop a strategy and a complete game-plan, but in this year specifically I let the fundamentals of the team slip for the sake of strategy.

Before anything else can take place, young players need to be to catch, throw and cut. It was a mistake to believe I could bypass those basic fundamentals and scheme my way to success for the team.

My fifth year, I took a step back from leadership, acknowledging my failures, and turned the team over to Jordan White and Andy Stringer. Stringer was fresh off of a finals appearance at Club Nationals with Bravo and Jordan was widely accepted as either the 2nd or 3rd best deep in the region (depending on whether or not you played for Claremont). Jordan would join Stringer on Bravo for the next several years after he graduated.

They re-emphasized core fundamentals and largely ignored scheme, opting to play almost exclusively man defense.

We played CU Mamabird tight at Sectionals, losing 15-13 (this was before Colorado College's rise to relevance. We finished second to CU at Sectionals all five years I played). At Regionals we lost to Arizona and soon-to-be Callahan-award winner Joe "Loppy" Kershner 15-13, in a game that came down to Loppy making a ridiculous toe-in grab on a deep huck for the game winner. Colorado and Arizona went on to finish 3rd and 5th and nationals that year.

I don't think anybody on the team was disappointed with these losses. Those were two of the best teams in the country and we played them well.

The loss that stung was our elimination game at Regionals against UC San Diego. We weren't the deepest team in the country by any stretch, but we were very tall and fast. Part of the reason we had success with the re-focus on fundamentals and standard man defense is that we had a physical advantage over a good chunk of the teams we went up against.

However, UC San Diego recognized that they were physically outmatched very early in the game and began throwing their infamous four-man cup, despite the lack of wind. (A brief history lesson: They were one of the earliest teams to develop a four-man cup and utilized it with great success in the early 2000s, culminating with a semi-finals appearance at Nationals in 2006).

It wasn't as though we had never seen a zone before. Teams frequently ran disruption defenses against us given our height and speed. We had also spent plenty of practice time developing our zone offense to the point where most teams couldn't disrupt us significantly enough without weather conditions. However, UCSD ran their zone very well. It took away our hucking game. It took us out of our comfort zone. They didn't blow us out, but after we took a three 3-0 lead against their  man defense to start the game, they dictated the pace the rest of the way with their zone, cruising to an 13-11 win.

I don't blame the captains for that loss. We had focused on our strengths that year: developing the fundamentals of our athletic players, a strong-hucking game and hard man defense. It was only disappointing in the sense that I prided myself on being a cerebral player, the "smart" guy on the field, and UCSD schemed their way into a clutch victory, where the year before I had failed at that very same thing.

Part 2.2 (as a coach)

After playing out my five years and graduating in 2008, I became the first Ultimate coach Colorado State had employed since 2001. As a coach, I was determined to find the correct balance between a fundamental base, and a schematic advantage. I wanted to be the tall, fast, fundamentally sound team that also could scheme and react to scheme effectively!

My first year coaching we still had a very athletic team. I made sure to establish and re-emphasize basic fundamentals throughout the year. We still matched up physically against most teams, but I wanted to make sure we had the ability to both play and react to scheme effectively.

We had a fantastic fall, finishing  16-1 with our only loss to Wisconsin . We took that positive energy and big momentum into the spring, but injuries to several of our key players and the lack of depth behind them hurt the team significantly.

After finishing 2nd out of our pool at Regionals behind Mamabird, we crumbled in cross-overs to San Diego State and were eliminated from contention.

Despite a sub-par finishing place at Regionals, I felt good about our team balance. For the level of talent and experience on the team we put together a good season. There weren't any games that we lost that I really felt like the outcome should have been that different, with the exception being if the team had stayed healthier.

The next several years after that, the team took a bit of a nose-dive. We weren't a very talented team. Our athletic advantage was gone and the team was very young and inexperienced. We went from a team that had consistently finished in the top half of the region to a team that was battling to make Regionals.

However, these years are finally when I began developing our 'ragweed' defense from Sack Lunch into a college setting effectively.

I knew we didn't match up well anymore against most decent teams. We had some good players, but across the board we didn't have a lot of athletic depth or experience. We worked diligently on our 'all-man' (again, I will outline the core principles of the strategy in my third entry, but it's what I changed the name to from 'ragweed' since it wasn't quite the same defense as we'd run on Sack) defense to mitigate our disadvantages. The majority of practice stayed dedicated to developing fundamentals, but we spent time each practice to working on our scheming which would allow us to disrupt opposing teams' offensive sets while still playing man-to-man, much like Sack did.

In 2010 we limped into Regionals on a supplemental bid, finishing 14th in the final year before the college restructuring which moved us out of the Southwest into the Southcentral.

In 2011 we faced a Conference Championships scenario where there were only two bids to Regionals. Mamabird was of course going to take one of those bids. The second bid was up for grabs, but the favorite to take it was Wyoming, who was ranked in the top 40 after a very strong regular season. We went into the tournament knowing we'd have to work hard to beat every team but we'd also spent two years refining our atypical base-defense. We weren't a particularly tall or fast as a team but we were confident we could ride our hard-work and scheme to victory.

We steam-rolled every team at Conference Championships (except Bird), with the game against Wyoming for the 2nd bid ending 11-4. Admittedly, the teams were beat were all young teams with less-established programs, but were still happy to earn that bid against a Wyoming team that was ranked over 100 spots higher than us going in to the tournament. Those victories came almost exclusively playing 'all-man.'

At Regionals we struggled against better competition. Our defense was stout and forced a lot of turns, but we weren't able to consistently score either offensive points or breaks and we finished 14th. Defensively, we felt good, but offensively, we just needed some more athletes.

From 2012-2014 the team continued to improve. We regained some size and speed, while continuing to use all-man as a core defense. In 2013 we finally broke back into the top eight of the region for the first time since I graduated.

For this current season (2014-2015) and beyond I'm confident the slew of young athletes we have on the team will have great success running both regular man and all-man and we'll continue our upward trend towards the ranks of the college elite.

Ok, ok, I get it. For those of you that aren't affiliated with CSU this was pretty much just a boring story about the team's ups and downs for the last several years. I know it's not that interesting for people who have no context of the area/teams involved. I promise, the final entry in these series will be out soon and will be dedicated to technical, actual ultimate strategy stuff!

Thanks all for reading!

To be continued...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Why bother with a force? Part 1 - The Origins

As the fall college season wraps up and the young guys all head home for Thanksgiving and Christmas my mind inevitably shifts to churning out a couple of blog entries. What I finally decided on for the next couple weeks (hopefully), is a three-part series on my defensive strategies and how that mindset has developed throughout my playing and coaching career.

Parts 1 and 2 will be the origins and progression of how I approach defensive strategy.

Part 3 will be the analytic entry on why exactly the things I talked about in parts one and two are effective (in my mind at least); an entry more or less breaking down how the strategies actually work.

Part 1

In 2007, for the first time in my Club ultimate career, I left the Mixed scene and made the trip down to Denver to tryout for the men's team, Sack Lunch. Sack had traditionally been the 'next-in-line' team behind Johnny Bravo in Colorado and I wanted to learn more about ultimate both in the Club Open Division and from players I had never met.

To this day, I credit that one year play for Sack with developing my strategic mind more than any other ultimate activity in my career.

For starters, our base defense did not have a traditional force (forehand/backhand etc). The team had some absolutely fantastic players and athletes (the top six or so guys joined Bravo the next year after the team dissolved), but several of the core members of the team weren't necessarily elite athletes; the strength of their game was extremely heady play coupled with solid throws. Rather than have delusions about matching up 1 on 1 across the board against the elite programs, the leadership knew the team's overall strength was smart play and they game-planned around that.

I won't go into all the details of our 'ragweed' defense (trade secrets), but the core principles were a force-middle mark with significant down field switching. The chemistry between teammates, coupled with a high on-the-field IQ, led to a good portion of the close games and victories we had throughout the season.

For our first tournament, we traveled to Solstice in Eugene, Oregon, where they were testing out some experimental rules (at the time), including observer-monitored times between points and games to 21.

While we didn't win a lot of games (2-5 on the weekend), we were the only team, besides Furious George, to limit Sockeye's offense to sub 21 points. Our game against them wasn't pretty by any stretch. The first half remained somewhat close as they ran several points of zone which somewhat mitigated their huge athletic advantage. In the second half, they clamped down with hard man defense and we struggled to score, eventually losing at cap, 18-8 This wasn't unexpected as this Sockeye team went on to finish undefeated at nationals boasting an absolutely star-studded roster.

Even while our offense struggled mightily, our defense was able to disrupt their offensive flow. They adjusted appropriately to our schemes (having arguably the best Ultimate mind in the world in Ben Wiggins), but their deep game was limited, and we held them to short gains mostly isolated in the middle of the field. This was not a fluke of the weather; we played them early in the morning in pristine conditions.

I can't make any assumptions as to how they approached this game offensively, but at the very least, we felt like our defense did a reasonable job of playing to our strength: smart-play.

As far as end of the season results, in the end, we didn't meet team expectations. We ended up fifth in the region and struggled throughout the year to maintain our numbers. We had a (purposely) small roster and when injuries began piling up, both practice and tournament performance didn't end up quite where anyone wanted.

Regardless of the final finish for Sack, the team opened my mind up to ideas and strategies that went a level beyond anything I had conceived before.

It wasn't as though I was some first year rookie or league player getting googly-eyed over some advanced strategy.The previous season I had captained a 38-11, top 25 college team, and the year prior to that I was playing at Club Nationals. It was simply a way of thinking about the game I hadn't yet been exposed to.

I took my new knowledge into the next college season confident these principles, which I had seen to be successful at the club level, would dominate in college.

To be continued...

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Effective leadership is the cornerstone of any quality Ultimate team. Behind every good team and program is a core of solid leadership: coaches, captains and veteran players.

There are many qualities that go into making a good leader, but I'm going to focus this blog entry on college-based Ultimate leadership principles. However, these principles do overlap into the rest of the Ultimate scene and real world.

Lead by Example

This may seem obvious and perhaps even cliche, but this is the most important principle of leadership in any situation. A team takes on the personality of its leadership. Every follow-up principle will inevitably connect back to this point, which I cannot emphasize enough. 

Leading by example is by no means limited to on the field.  As a leader on the team you set the practice tone, the workout tone, the mentality of a classroom session and so on.

On a college team especially, you have to demonstrate the value of the team and the value of the spots on that team to new and returning players (aka Why the heck do I want to pay money and give a significant amount of my time to play this sport?). For more established, consistently elite programs, this is task is easier. The history and infrastructure of success is there. New players to the program can take a look at your nationals appearances, your Callahan winners or just the reputation of the program and the reasons to try-out and play are obvious. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this an easy task for elite-level programs, but through excellent leadership, these programs have established the infrastructure where the value of the team is a foregone conclusion. Newer or less-established programs need to build towards that inherent team-value by cultivating good leadership principles, which in-turn lead to success.

Regardless of the level of your Ultimate program, leadership-by-example is going to make or break your team. For captains (leaders on the field), you need to be the first ones to practice; the first ones with their cleats on and throwing. Your captains need participate fully in warm-ups and work hard in drills; your captains need to be the guys that set the tone for the level of intensity both at practice and in a tournament. 

The first couple years of college are still a hugely impressionable time for young people. If the culture of hard work, punctuality and intensity is what they're first exposed to at a practice or tournament, then they are significantly more likely to adopt those principles into their own personalities and on-the-field play. Even experienced players who are new to a program (grad students for example), will cue the way they approach a team from the leadership. 

Additionally, the value of a team is more effectively communicated through actions rather than words. If, as a new player, I see a someone who has been established as a leader on a team, busting his or her butt on the field, getting to practice early, etc, the value of the team is assumed because of the value implicit in the actions of that person.  

It's been an interesting shift in last several years as high school Ultimate has exploded and more and more players are entering college with significant Ultimate experience and skill. A lot of their Ultimate persona has already been established, versus someone who is entirely new to the sport. However, even those with high-school experience are still impressionable teenagers, and the tone set by leadership early on will still affect them significantly. 

Conversely, if your leadership shows up late, half-asses their warm-ups and runs through drills at 50%, new players are left to discover their own reasons to play. For some people, their competitive spirit or love for the game may override that poor mentality. But for many new players, they will exhibit the same behaviors (not a good formula for success) or decide that something that isn't valued by current players and leaders won't be worth the time/money investment that playing Ultimate entails. 


Like I mentioned above, all of these principles will key back to leading by example and how that relates to the value placed onto a team by members of that team. Organization is a principle more directed towards logistics, which usually is a coach's responsibility. 

At the beginning of a season, a team's season-long goals need to be set. These are going to vary from team to team, but the overall goal(s) of the season needs to be clear to every member of the team from the get-go. Is our goal winning nationals? Making nationals? Top 5 at regionals? Etc. These goals don't have to necessarily just be tangible results-based goals either, they could also be related to team attitude and mentality throughout the season. 

Once these goals are clear and established, how these goals are going to be achieved is the next step. You can't simply tell your team "We're going to make nationals" in August and expect them to stay motivated and work hard until May. Goals need to further broken down into manageable time-frames to keep players motivated for an entire season. 

For many teams this will start with a tryout process. Players see that end-all goal and the first step for them is making the team. For several weeks they will be working hard for a spot on the team; motivation is easy, they have a clear tangible goal right in front of them. 

After tryouts conclude and roster is established, fall versus spring season goals should be made. Maybe the plan is a couple split-squad tournaments in the fall to get everyone lots of reps and then all-in at a big late season tournament like MLC. This will then prepare the team for a high level of competition heading into the first regular season tournament in the spring and onward.

Once those goals are set break it down even further. What are we doing week to week? How do we get players the reps they need at practice to prepare for those tournaments?  What are we going to work on this week specifically, marking? Defensive footwork? Fitness?

Once your week to week goals are set break it down further. What are we doing at this specific practice? What is the goal to have achieved by the end of practice? 

And finally, one last breakdown: drill to drill and into scrimmages, what are we trying to achieve with this drill? What is the focus for our scrimmage today?

It might seem nit-picky to break things down this extensively, but players need constant  reminders as to what they're working for and how they're going to get there. A drill is more effective when they participants know why they're doing it. A practice is more effective when players know what that practice is building towards. A fall-season makes more sense to a player who knows the purpose of all the hard-work is try and win a big tournament at the end. Organization like this keeps the team motivated to work hard day in and out. Everything should be building towards those final end of the season goal(s) starting with the first warm-up at the first practice. 

While it might seem daunting to keep a team motivated for an entire season, it's a fairly simple process. Organization starts at practice. Coaches need to plan their practices beforehand. Everyone does this a bit differently and nothing has to be 100% set in stone, but there must be obvious organization and thought put into what's happening on the practice field. 

Does the warm-up flow into drills? Are drills set up in advance so the downtime is minimized? Do the drills effectively run together and unify a common practice theme? Good clear organization of practice is a cornerstone of a good team. With established, focused, goal-driven practices in place, expanding to week to week goals beyond is simple because it's following the same simple organizational structure: What are we trying to achieve, and how are going about that? 

Again, I do have to emphasize that these goals do not have to be results-based. Heck, they could be as simple still having 14 at practice by April, but regardless of what goals are set the process in achieving those goals should clear and organized.  

Talk Less

Yes, I realize I just spend several paragraphs on goals and how all of these goals need to be frequently communicated, but keeping those talks short and succinct is very important. 

Droning on at players on the practice field or in the huddle at a tournament is not beneficial for improvement, as most of what you say will be lost. Make your point, make it clear and let that be the end of it. 

Here is an example of how I approach teaching a new drill.

1) Explain how the drill works: "You cut here, you line up here, you rotate here, etc." 
2) Explain the focus: "The goal is to work on around-breakmark throws. With an emphasis on stepping through your mark."
3) Run the drill.

Keep things simple. If there is confusion on rotations or something then clarify, but leave that one singular focus (in the example above, around-breaks), for players to key-in on. Once you start saturating that focus with more talk, they're less likely to keep it in the forefront of their minds and the value of the drill lessens.

The time for lengthy talk is classroom and chalk-talk specific practices. That's when you outline more elaborate concepts. Not when it's following or going to be followed by hard running. Use these practices wisely, so that when players do get to the practice field or tournament field they can focus on their play. 

Another situation where leaders need to say less is during in-game huddles. So many new coaches and captains (myself included) get into those huddles and just have 10 different things to say about what's going on. This is NOT helpful. Make either one specific point or none at all. People have just been running hard, their hearts are pounding, they can't process five different things. Too much talk will saturate the message. 

Make sure who is speaking in a huddle is also clearly defined. Four people chiming in with something is just as bad as one person saying four things. It doesn't mean people don't have good observations or comments, it simply is that people cannot effectively process that many different things in that situation. If someone wants to bring up a point have them talk to leadership individually and then the captains can bring it up in the next huddle.

Also, give your players a benefit of the doubt. They're not dumb, they know what's going on, they don't need you or five other people pointing out every single thing that's happening; keep the message simple. 

The time to have longer talks is at the end of the game, where players are able to mentally and physically cool down. A time when they won't be immediately following the huddle with more intense physical activity. Then they will actually be more able to process and think about things being said.

It's Not All On Your Shoulders

This idea is a concept I've struggled with the most in my leadership career, and it's very straightforward: When things go bad it's not all on your shoulders. There is only so much you can do from a leadership standpoint. You have to trust that work you've put in and the things you've done are pushing your team in the right direction. When you endure a tough loss or a stretch of bad play it's not purely a reflection on you as a leader. Bob didn't drop the disc because you taught him poorly, Bob dropped the disc because sometimes people drop the disc. Frank didn't get beat force-side for the game winner because you failed to drill the proper footwork, he got beat because he was covering a good cutter.

Certainly, leadership can be improved, but every little thing can not weigh you down. Maintain your confidence on the field (for captains) and off the field (for coaches). Don't dwell on bad things that have happened and what you could or should have done prior, focus on what's going to help your team out the most at the moment and what can be done in the future. Accountability is very good quality to have, but a leader is not 100% accountable for everything his team does. 

This is especially important for captains, because you cannot allow other's mistakes to affect your play. Staying mentally tough is one of the most challenging things in Ultimate, and approaching mistakes and improvement with a "What can be done?" rather than "What should have been done?" attitude will help you stay strong when things aren't going your way. 

Leadership, on the whole is not a simple matter. Everyone will approach it differently, but having worked in a leadership role in Ultimate for 10+ years and as a leader in my full-time job (business management), I've found a lot of the things I've outlined above to be extremely good tactics for getting positive results. 

As always I love comments, questions or differing opinions. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Triple Crown Tour Article - Ultiworld

Hey Folks,

I actually finally finished up an article that I've been working on for Ultiworld about the Triple Crown Tour and its affect on mid-tier men's teams.

That can be read here:

Triple Crown Tour

Beyond that, I hope to get a couple strategic entries done over the summer.

Thanks to all my readers!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Advanced Handler Cutting: Part 2

In part 1, I discussed resetting the disc to a handler when the disc is near the middle of the field. Part 2 will focus on resetting the disc from the more difficult position of the sideline.

In general, most offenses try and stay near the middle of the field. The sideline acts as an extra defender, which makes both the disc-marker and rest of the defense's job easier, knowing the horizontal space the offense has is more limited.

For dump cuts, the sideline makes resets more difficult for a couple of reasons. First off, where you setup as a dump (force vs break) is no longer up to you. Whatever the defensive force is, will obviously dictate what side of the thrower you will set up on. Even if you are on the force-side, which as discussed in part 1 is the ideal setup for a mid-field reset, the equivalent throwing angles no longer apply because the sideline will be cutting off the space throw to one side and any defender worth their salt will shade towards the wide-side of the field.

Let's take a step back and talk briefly about disc movement. The biggest difference on offense between a good team and a mediocre team is disc movement. You've probably heard your coaches or captains say "keep the disc moving," and while it seems obvious any maybe even a little cliche, this is probably the most important principle of any offense. As the disc movement slows down or stagnates with any one player, the defense is allowed to settle onto the offense, take a breath and assess their biggest threats.

Think of the difference between playing defense in a specific defensive drill versus an in-game situation. Defensive drills tend to be somewhat scripted defensive scenarios. It's a simulated game-time instance for a player to work on footwork, triangulation or whatever. When the movement of the disc slows down or stops in a game, the defense is allowed to settle into this "drill" setup. They know where the disc is, where their offense threats are, and can adjust accordingly. If the disc stays moving, the defense stays on their heels and will usually stay a step behind the offense.

So, below I'm going to discuss getting the disc off the sideline from a stationary standpoint, when the defense is set up as intelligently as possible (in my opinion). The actual best "technique" to get the disc off the sideline is to keep the disc moving, avoid a stopped disc anywhere near the sideline and never allow the defense to settle onto your cutters, either down-field or backfield.

Resetting From a Trapped Disc

Anyone who knows me as a coach and player, knows that I'm not a fan of trapping the disc. This means that I rarely will switch a force, given the opportunity, to force a disc towards the sideline as it approaches that sideline. The reason for that, is that it gives ample deep (horizontal) space down-field and makes covering the dump more difficult.

Regardless of my defensive preferences, teams will still end up on that sideline with a trapped disc frequently, and just like with a mid-field reset, where the primary dump sets up their cut is paramount to the success of that reset.

Horizontal Spacing

As far as setting up horizontally from the disc (distance relative to the width of the field), that is dependent on your own person speed, skill-set and most importantly where the defense is setting up on you.

If you have an explosive first set up, you want to be closer (5-7 yards) as you're more likely to gain early separation in your cut. If you're strength is top-speed rather than quickness, then giving yourself a little more space (7-10+ yards) will allow you play to that strength.

Another determining factor is how your team runs their offense. If your team runs a stack with more than one handler back, you have limited horizontal space because it's occupied by another handler. If your team looks to get disc off a sideline by default at an early stall count, then you can utilize more space as you have a bigger timing window to get open. Your team may clear the 'primary' dump position into the down-field and fill in a secondary look from elsewhere.

The one default rule to follow as far as horizontal space is concerned, is to make sure you have enough space to actually get around your defender and make a line (oven) cut. If you set up too close to disc, there simply isn't enough room to get to the line space. (see figure 1.1 below)

Vertical Spacing

This is where things start to get interesting. I learned and ran for years that setting up slightly backfield from the disc (3-5 yards) is the best way to start. This gave you more space to drive your defender up the line allowing for both easy backfield resets and plenty of line space for the oven cut. However, these past couple of years I have been changing my stance on this backfield set up. There are simply too many disadvantages against a smart dump defender.

Simply put, a smart defender will oftentimes play just far enough off of you towards the line that in the time it takes the thrower to break the mark to you, the defender has closed the gap to cover you, or they're close enough to potentially make a play on the disc, causing the thrower to hesitate or not make the throw at all. Basically, you're giving the dump defender a lot of the tools they need to either shut you down or make it so the only space available is straight behind the disc, where you're gaining nothing but a new stall count (Which shouldn't be your only goal when resetting the disc!)

Let's break this down in a somewhat routine offensive sequence from the sideline:

1.2) Frank picks up the disc on the sideline. Jules is trapping him. Bob, his primary dump, sets up about 7 yards horizontally away from the disc (good), and five yards backfield from Frank (not so good). Ernesto, Bob's defender, plays about 3 yards off of him towards down-field, containing the line space slightly opening his left hip to bait the line cut.

1.3) Frank turns to Bob at stall 4. Bob attempts to force his way into the line space, but Ernesto takes a straight line to that space gives him a bump and forces Bob into the backfield.

1.4) The sideline yells "hard no-around" to Jules knowing that with Bob's poor positioning he has no where to clear and is stuck backfield now. Jules then shifts his mark to contain the around throw and Frank is unable to get to the disc to Bob and is stalled, turnover.

Now I know there are a ton of variables here, different fills, getting a reset straight behind the thrower, etc. But the most important point here is that Bob's options are limited. He doesn't have enough backfield space to draw his defender out of position for a line cut and with some verbal help to the mark his options as to where he can get a reset are limited.

However, if the dump (Bob) sets up parallel (1.5) to the thrower horizontally or even slightly down-field he has many more options than with the backfield setup. It's a similar idea to the equivalent throwing angles piece from part 1: If you give yourself somewhat equal space to either side of the disc you retain a greater cutting advantage because the defender can't overplay the side on which you have more space.

With a parallel setup, if the defender overplays the line, there is enough backfield space for a good reset (meaning one that isn't straight behind the disc). If the defender overplays the backfield there is still plenty of space to get the disc up the line. If the dump defender and mark coordinate a "no-line" defense with a "no-around" mark, the dump is in a much better position to clear their defender out of that line space to open up the inside break for the thrower.

Even a setup where you're slightly down-field is fine because you're giving yourself even more backfield space. If the defense overplays the backfield where you technically have more space, you can go be active down-field from the disc (essentially taking on a down-field role). With the backfield setup, you can't go be active in the backfield in the same way because no defender will care if you decide to make a cut 20+ yards behind the disc.

Wait what does this all mean? That was a lot of words. Simply put:

If you are setting up a dump on the break side of a sidelined disc (a trapped disc), you're better off being parallel to the thrower or slightly down-field.

Resetting From a Non-Trapped Disc

In this situation both horizontal and vertical spacing are almost completely dependent on how the defense sets up on you.

If the defender is going to play off of you in the throwing lane, then you want to be backfield and as far to the middle of the field as possible to still get the free reset. If the defense tries to play just far enough off up the line that they're shutting down your backfield space you want to move farther into the backfield because the "no-around" mark is a non-threat and again you'll get a mostly free reset.

However, what a good, shut-down dump defender will do in this situation, is swing around to your back hip and push you up the line, staying between you and the disc, knowing that the line throw should be covered by the mark. This is the defensive set-up we're going to focus on for this next section.

Horizontal Spacing

When you're attempting to reset the disc from a disc that is forced to the wide-side of the field rather than trapped, horizontal spacing is similar to resetting from a trapped disc: it's going to depend on your own skill-set and how exactly your team sets up to get out of these situations.

Much like the trapped disc, ideally, you want to drive your defender up the line, get his hips turned then move out into open space for the reset. However, in this situation the defender is forcing you into that line space (remember we're assuming the "shut-down" defensive setup from above) rather than taking it away.

There are two opportunities you're going to have to get the disc in this situation (assuming a mark that won't get broken around):

1) There is a small window where the thrower can get make an inside out break throw, bending the disc around the defender and leading you into down-field space.

2) On your "cut" (directional change). Notice the different cutting angle initially being made. You're really driving into your defender here so as to get as much separation on the cut-back as possible.

The problem that people run in to with #2 is they try and make their cut back into the space they cut from (the backfield), much like they would if the disc was trapped. However, the defense knows a backfield throw has no help from the marker on the disc, whereas the line throw does, so they will body up the dump to keep them out of the backfield. That defense being the case, rather than cut into the backfield you want to drive your defender hard up the line then turn and cut horizontally (or even slightly down-field) into space. Technically, the dump is set up on the wrong side of you in this situation, so once you've gotten into space past the thrower, cutting back into the horizontal space out towards the wide-side of the field should leave you open for an easy force-side throw.

You do have to be careful in this situation as a floaty throw too far out into space could potentially lead into down-field poaches from your stack defenders.

For your horizontal spacing for this cut, you need to decide whether you're going to attempt to get the disc in the #1 situation above or in the #2 situation above.

If you're assuming the thrower will get the slight inside-out break off (#1) then you want to set up further away from the disc because it will make that throw easier. Think of throwing a 3-4 yard inside-out throw versus throwing a 10-12 yard throw. Both throws are doable, but the margin of error on the longer throw is much greater because you have much more space to lead your receiver.

If you think you're best chance for a reset is getting the disc on your cut (#2), then you want to be closer horizontally, because you know you have to make a cut all the way to the disc, then back out and away, which takes some time to develop.

Vertical Spacing

Where you set up vertically from the disc is again going to be dependent on where you're planning on getting your reset.

If you're assuming the slight break throw for a down-field gain, the farther back-field you start, the larger the "window" will be for the break(1.10) . However, if you set up too far backfield the defense will stop pushing you up line because you're either going to lose a ton of yards on the reset backfield, or they can shut you down anyway because of awkward throwing angles (1.11).

Obviously you can't perfectly predict where you'll get the disc or assume one specific thing in this situation, so leaving yourself some middle ground, (setting up just far enough back to open up the break-throw window up, but not so far that your cut will take too long to develop if you need to cut out into space) can oftentimes be the best option.

Even with all of these fancy diagrams and longwindedness, this is a difficult situation to get out of against a team that is defending smartly. There are a lot of "ifs" and "plannings" in my descriptions above and subtle defensive shifts or good communication can shut down a lot of these options. However, if your team is trusting that primary dump look to get the disc off the sideline here, applying some of these techniques should give you a decent shot.

(I'll go ahead and note that in this situation my team specifically clears the "primary" dump out of the dump space and fills from elsewhere.)

As always I'm happy to have any of my points refuted, or good ideas brought to light. Please comment below and good luck to all the college teams in the middle of their series these next several weeks.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Advanced Handler Cutting: Part 1

Almost two years ago, I put up my initial Handler Cutting blog post. The purpose of this second entry is to take some of the handler cutting ideas initially outlined and take them a step further. This entry is going to be diagram heavy and I'm hoping to make my diagrams more clear than in the past, so please post comments if the diagrams are confusing in any way.

To start, let's break down man-defense to the absolute basics: the marker is forcing the disc to one side of the field. The defender is taking away the cutter's space to that same side: voila, defense! Where the core concept starts to become complicated is when we start dealing with dump defense; because unlike down-field D, the dump defender has to cover both down-field and backfield space to shut his man down.

I'm not going to get too much into dump defense; I could write a ton on that subject alone (hey, another blog entry!), but the idea I'm trying to get forth here is that getting open on a dump is easy because there is far too much space for a defender to reasonably cover. However, so many handlers eliminate this advantage by simply setting up their initial spacing incorrectly. So, a large portion of what I outline below will be where to setup and why.

Before we actually begin talking about setup and execution of dump cuts, I have to reiterate what I've said in so many entries before: take what the defense is giving you! Don't feel like any kind of default positioning or preset cut supersedes how the defender is actually playing you. If someone is playing five yards off, don't cut into them, take the free pass.

Also, think about what you're trying to gain from a reset of the disc: you want an advantage on the field, just like with any other pass. It's not just about a new stall count, it's about putting yourself into a position with the disc that benefits your offense more than the previous position.

Ok, all of that aside, let's talk about some actual handler cuts. I'm going to default to a vert stack two-handler set for my examples, as it's what I've run most consistently for the teams I'm coached/captained in the past several years. That being said, there isn't really any big difference between what I'm going to outline here and a three-back setup, except with three you are slightly more limited in your horizontal space.

Part 1: The Disc is in the Middle of the Field


Let's start with the disc in or near the middle of the field. Given the opportunity to set up ideally, you want to be on the FORCE side of the disc as a dump (three handler sets will obviously have handlers flanking either side of a centered disc). One reason to set up force-side, is if the handler-defender poaches off into the lane, you would rather have them poaching the force-side than the break side lane. But Katfish, why would I want a poach cutting off my force-side cuts? That's my first look!

There are two reason's you'd rather have a force-side poach than a break-side poach. First of all, with a break-side poach, to actually get the disc to the poached handler either your dump has to move, or you have to break the mark, both of which take time. Additionally, you don't gain a whole lot, and the poach has effectively disrupted your offensive flow.

Second, with a force-side poach you can immediately hit that poach without interference from your mark and take off up the line for an easy give-and-go, securing yourself power-position (catching the disc with your body moving in the direction of your next throw).

Note: In all of my diagrams the lines are defenders, the circle X is the disc, the X is the dump, and arrows indicate potential disc or player movement. 

The diagrams above are assuming that the handler-defender is poaching into the lane with a home (righty-forehand) force. This should always be an advantage for the offense because you're getting free power position. In the left example, you can see that the thrower started with the disc in the middle of the field, immediately hit the dump (red arrow), took off up line (blue arrow), and got the disc back (red arrow), gaining yards and power position. This is great because it's a no-hesitation play. There are no fakes that need to made or adjustments by the poached dump; it's something the defense is giving you by making the decision to sag into the lane.

In the right diagram, the defense is sagging into the break lane. To take advantage of this poach, the thrower has to turn away from the down-field and either the dump has to run horizontally across the field (blue arrow) to get the disc behind the thrower, or the thrower has to break the mark slightly (red arrow) to get the disc out to the dump in space. Even if the disc does get to the poached dump in this scenario, very little has been gained. The continuation break is easily stopped and you don't gain power position. Your best bet here is to ignore the poach. However, doing that eliminates a portion of your break throwing lane, which isn't good for any offense, horizontal or vertical.

In a three handler-set, simply prioritize looking to the force-side to beat the poach rather than the break side to keep in line with what I've talked about so far.

Bad teams run into problems with a force-side poach (and thus argue that you should set up break-side for your dumps) when they stare down-field into that poach or hit the poached dump without making the continuation cut up the line. In these cases you're either throwing into a poaching defender, or moving closer to the sideline without gaining yards or power-position, aka it's bad. Don't be the bad team, throw and go!

Learn the Angles

The second reason you want to set up your dumps on the force-side, is that it makes for the simplest and quickest reset. The key principle here is understanding the dump's positioning relative to the disc-marker's positioning and how that affects throwing angles.

When setting up for your thrower as a dump, you want the line between your shoulders to stay parallel to the the disc-marker's shoulders. Assuming you are on the force-side of the disc, this positioning keeps an equivalent throwing angle to either down-field or backfield space for the thrower to make for an easy reset. Obviously, the mark will not be completely stationary, but you still want to maintain the parallel setup as best you can as they shift.

As you can see in the above diagrams, the specific force is not important. What's important is that the dump stays parallel to the disc-marker, so that there is always equal space to either side to make an easy throw. In all three examples you can see that the thrower can throw to equivalent space on either side of the dump, without interference from their marker, as long as the parallel positioning is maintained.

In the above diagrams, the dump has failed to maintain  proper position relative to the disc-marker, and has made the throwing angles nonequivalent. A smart dump-defender in this case will shade their defense toward the side where the marker has more throwing space, which opens up the potential for the dump to be shut down, or at the very least, makes for a more difficult throw.

While it's reasonable to expect a thrower to be able to make slight break throws, we're trying to simplify the reset process as much as possible. Just like with our force-side poach, if the thrower can just turn and hit the dump (because the disc-marker is a non-factor on a force-side throw), it makes the reset a no-hesitation play; fakes don't need to be made, the dump doesn't have to do anything but wait for the space throw to the appropriate side. This has the added benefit of avoiding miscommunication turnovers where the dump effectively out jukes their own thrower.

Space Throwing

Ok, we've established proper positioning and why we're doing it. Let's now talk about this "easy space throw." When you've set your dump up correctly on the force-side, the defense will play you one of three ways (assuming they're not poaching):

1) The defender has conceded the down-field space by opening their left hip. Here, the thrower leads the dump out into that down-field space, a few yards are gained and the new thrower will have slight power-position.

2) The defender has conceded the backfield space by opening their right hip. Here, the thrower leads the dump out into the backfield space. This is now a great opportunity for a continuation break throw, and the disc is kept near the middle of the field.

3) The defender is keeping their hips parallel to the dump's hips or "faceguarding" the dump. Here, the thrower has the option to lead the dump into either down-field or backfield space, as they will have the reaction advantage since their defender has no vision of the disc. (To gain vision of the disc the defender HAS to turn one hip or the other away from the dump.)

To make this kind of reset work, the dump needs to stay close to the disc. The farther away from the disc you are, you the longer the throw will be in the air and the longer the dump-defender will have to find it and block it. The initial separation advantage won't be huge, whether it's from the defense's initial setup (the first two examples above), or from the delay in knowing the disc is in the air (the third example). But with a decent throw, even a less athletic handler should have plenty of time for an easy reset, as long as they aren't off 10+ yards away from the disc, allowing the faster defender time to react and overtake them on the throw.

Some throwers aren't completely comfortable making a space throw to a stationary receiver, but with the proper positioning and a little practice, this type of reset is easy and automatic. Resets in general shouldn't take long to develop and should always be an easy throw because they are gaining you little relative to a down-field completion. With this setup and assuming your throwers are comfortable with an easy, space throw, resets from the middle of the field rarely will result in a turnover and will usually gain your team more than just a new stall count.

In part two, I'll discuss resetting the disc from the sideline.

Disclaimer: Everything I write is my own opinion about Ultimate tactics. Many teams run different setups than what's outlined in my blog with great success. If you disagree with anything written, please post in the comments as I always love to learn about new or different concepts. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Trouble In Vegas - 2014

Trouble in Vegas is a tournament that started in 2006. In its early years, it was easily the biggest and most competitive college tournament of the spring season, and Colorado State attended every year from 2006-2011. After a couple of big rain outs and some internal issues within the organization that put the tournament together, it came to end. It was quickly resurrected as a much smaller, far less competitive tournament that went under the radar for a lot of schools (We didn't even know it was still going on for a couple of years).

Anyway, given the turbulent weather in the Midwest, we decided to make our triumphant return to Vegas after a three year hiatus. We rolled in around 8pm on Friday night and after picking up a couple stragglers from the airport, settled in to our hotel to get some sleep for the 8:30 start time Saturday morning. 

For anyone who hasn't been to Vegas, the field complex is enormous, but the fields tend to be dry, hard and dusty. This year, a rainstorm the day before had softened the fields up nicely. The only issue we ran into was a broken bottle on our field, which I spent the first 30 minutes cleaning up, then placed a broken down cardboard box over. Not the best solution, but better than nothing. 

We were the one seed in our pool, which included George Washington as the two, Santa Clara as the three and Arizona-B as the four. The top two seeds from each pool would advance to championship pre-quarters, while the bottom seeds would battle it out in placement brackets. 

Our first game of the tournament pitted us against Santa Clara. They won the flip and elected to take defense. Our offense came storming out of the game with a crisp, flawless point that concluded with an easy score to Hollywood. Our starting D-line for this tournament consisted of fourth year lefty handler Oliver Feind, second year Easton Archibald and five freshmen. Despite the lack of experience, they played stifling defense, forcing turns on every single offensive point for Santa Clara. However, that lack of experience made completing the break difficult, and while we did force a lot of turns, we only were able to secure two breaks by half, leaving us with only a 7-4 lead. 

In the second half, our offense, which didn't have a turn in the first half, got a little bit sloppier and a couple of miscommunications on deep looks and a drop led to a Santa Clara break. The defense continued to force turns on practically every point, but continued to struggle offensively. We finished the game out 13-11. Despite the close final, I never felt pressured to sub O players in on D, rather electing to allow the young guys to work out their offensive issues.

The second game of the day was against a young, small Arizona-B squad. Their A-team had trounced us pretty badly at the Santa Barbara Invite several weeks before, so we had motivation to come out with a lot of intensity even against their younger guys. The game itself wasn't very exciting. We were able to practice our 3-3-1 contain zone a bit, as well as shore up the man defense and work on completing the breaks. The highlights of the game were Hollywood taking half with a Callahan and Wheels finishing the game with a Callahan. The final was 13-3. 

Our final game of pool play was against George Washington. Both teams entered the game 2-0. I can't confirm completely, but GW had one stud who I guessed to be Chris Kocher from NexGen. However, I don't know faces well enough, and I had thought he'd graduated. The game was contested early on with a quick break from us to open things up, but a break back from GW before half would put everyone back on serve with us leading 7-6. The downfield defense on our end was stifling and GW often had to reset the disc 3-4 times before getting a breakmark look downfield. But behind Kocher's (?) extremely patient play, they were eventually able to find open men and punch in scores.

The second half their defense ramped up and our defense struggled offensively as we had against Santa Clara. They broke our offense three times, and we weren't able to break them in the second half, allowing them to run away with the game 13-10.

This was a disheartening loss, but still left us in the championship bracket. After a bye round we traveled across the field complex to play Cal State - Fullerton with a quarter-finals berth on the line. They ran an H-stack with a lot of people very close to the disc. This allowed our tight man defense to smother them most of the first half, but the offensive struggles continued for the D-line and we only took half 7-4.

In the second half, their spacing improved and they managed to break our O-line a couple of times to make it a better game. But we closed the game out with some experienced D lines to score the final three after being down 11-12; winning 14-12.

Saturday night I battled horrible tech support people for the hotel wifi (100% useless for half the team), and Sunday morning we got the fields for our quarterfinals game against Claremont. We opened the game with a break, and took the early lead, but our offense sputtered and we gave the break back midway through the half. Senior handler Oliver Feind went out with a bad ankle sprain midway through the first half as well and 5th year captain Matt Marrapode had knee locking issues from the previous day. We ended up finishing the half on serve, 7-6. In the second half their defense really started ramping up, and coupling that with our tendency to stare downfield and ignore our resets (especially in the red-zone) they took the game 10-13.

This bumped us down in to the 5th place bracket game against Occidental, who had been eliminated by San Diego State in their quarterfinals matchup. They were a very huck-oriented team, with good disc movement and bumps. Their one big athlete downfield scored 4-5 of their first six goals deep fairly easily before our defense clamped down on him. Offensively we struggled a bit as our handler depth had dipped due to the previous injuries and fatigue from the weekend left our remaining throwers making a lot of poor decisions.

We were down at half 5-7 and we had lost our top defender when Scott Wheeler went down with a hamstring strain on a big defensive bid. We shook off the mistakes and injuries in our half-time huddle and rallied around high energy play from our first and second years and a commitment to our resets from the older players. Our defense clamped down on their hucking game (first year Noah Budd absolutely shut down their main deep threat), and we did much better in the second half, taking the game 14-13 at hard cap.

The game for 5th place was against a well-rested Utah State team who had gotten to the game via a forfeit from an exhausted, injured Montana squad. Utah State had some big-play guys down field, but our first years stepped up to the challenge and the game was hotly contested game from the start. I was proud of the guys for not losing any intensity after the close win against Occidental, and we ended the first half on serve 6-7. However, we lost both Jordan Trepp to a left shoulder injury and Noah Brown to a knee issue after a big collision on a poach D. This left us with senior Stephen Gross (callahan nominee) as our only significantly experienced thrower.

Despite that, the young guys played absolutely fantastic throughout the entire game battling hard with Utah State. The game ended up with USU on top 13-12 in a hard fought, spirited game. A loss was tough to stomach, but I was very proud of our young players, especially the guys that stepped up into a handler role, never having done so in a tournament setting.

This left us with a final 6th place finish out of 33 open teams there. We did our tournament wrap up and props circle and hurried into the vans to stay ahead of the weather, which we miraculously did. Next tournament: The Rocky Mountain Invitational March 29th and 30th.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Zone Offense - What do I do?!

It seems most of my entries are based on whatever the weather is doing in Colorado. The last two days it's been 35 mph winds up here in Fort Collins, so this post is going to be about zone offense.

I actually think zone offense is one of the harder things to teach young players. There isn't some defined set of rules to follow. Most of the best zone offense players I know have gotten that way simply from experience. However, there are several core principles that I teach that tend to give people a good understanding of the intricacies of the offense.

Before we get into those principles I think it's important to briefly touch on the most important part of any kind of zone play: winning the transition game. The most important part of a zone-oriented game is the ability to win the transition battle. This can mean defense to offense, zone to man or any combination therein. I've seen so many teams (especially ones I've coached, *sigh*) destroy a zone defense, only to turn the disc on the first or second throw after the transition to man.  I've also seen many games where one good fast-break transition on a turnover completely breaks a game wide-open because it ends the upwind stalemate that can take place in heavy wind conditions.

How you transition well is something that's more mental that physical. You have to recognize the differences in play from zone offense to man offense and zone defense to man defense, and be able flip the inner switch accordingly. Drilling transition heavily is very beneficial in allowing your team to win the transition battle, and come out on top of the games that take place in crappy conditions.

Anyway, let me get back to zone offense specifically. Teams tend to break zones in a couple of ways:

The first is having one absolutely dominant thrower. Florida of years past comes to mind, when their zone strategy was to keep the disc in the hands of guys like Tim Gehret, Cole Sullivan or Brodie Smith and allow them to find the holes in the zone with their ridiculous arsenal of throws. Their resets tended to be very short 2-3 yard passes that they used to get the disc into their main thrower's hands.

The second way teams break zones is with good overall team movement and flow. This isn't to say these two things are mutually exclusive. You still need strong throwers for movement and flow, and oftentimes that dominant thrower's zone breaker needs to be followed up by his teammates' continuation. But the second concept here is definitely more general and team oriented, so that's where I'll focus for the specific zone principles I'm eventually going to discuss (I promise!). Ok, ok, here we go.

Core Concept One - Touching the disc is not important in zone offense.

This is probably the biggest mistake young players make when first playing zone offense. They think that if they don't touch the disc they haven't contributed to the point. This idea is completely untrue (for man offense as well). Spacing is incredibly important for zone offense. Young players all want to be directly involved in the play, so they tend to crowd towards the disc when they lose the 'structure' of their normal man-based offense. When they crowd the disc they allow the defense to collapse more and more onto the thrower, which tends to cause turnovers.

Spacing is the key word here. Oftentimes poppers need to make themselves a threat, not by being near the disc, but by being elsewhere on the field. This, in turn, draws defenders out and opens both throwing and popping lanes for teammates.

Since every zone tends to be a bit different I usually talk about zones in terms of levels. Level one is where the teams cup, whatever it may be, is. Level two is the wall, or wings or whatever your team calls it. Level three is the deep cover.

The basic spacing idea I try and get my players to understand is, the farther you can stretch one level from the next (both horizontally and vertically), the more likely you are to open up easy throws for your team. This could mean forcing their deep farther down the field to open up a shorter hammer behind their second level, or placing yourself in a a threatening shallow position to pull their short-deep away from the flow of the disc for a big swing or whatever. The basic idea is make their defense cover the entire field. If they don't, you're going to be open; if they do, you've made your teammates' jobs easier by drawing defenders away from the disc.

Core Concept Two - Swing for the fences.

Now this concept may be titled a bit deceptively. The goal of many zones is to bait big, over-the-top throws. I'm not saying every team should try and jack up big hammers or blades. What I'm saying, is that IF you're going to put up a lower-percentage throw, it should be a zone-breaker, something the defense won't be able to recover from. A hammer 40 yards across the field that gains 0 yards downfield, with continuation easily contained is not worth the higher risk of the throw itself. If you're going to take a chance on a throw like that, make it worth the risk-reward, in that, if completed, it will force the other team to transition to man or gain significant field position (even if it's incomplete). It's similar to the idea of the long two in basketball being a terrible shot to take. It's horribly inefficient because it has around the completion percentage of a three, but for less points.

Low-percentage also has to be qualified here. In different conditions and for different throwers different things are low percentage. In 35 mph wind, any throw is low percentage. In pristine conditions, with a stronger thrower, over-the-top throws like hammers or blades can be as high-percentage as a backhand or forehand.

Core Concept Three -  Attack the disc

This is a pretty simple idea that most players learn early on. Attack the disc, run through the disc etc. However, in zone, offensive players often end up a stationary position where they only appear open. This is where the majority of Ds happen in a zone: the defender comes flying in and gets a block on a non-moving receiver. This is why attacking the disc is so important. You have to be aware of the players around you and aggressively go get the disc, even if you were initially stationary.

Core Concept Four - Keep the disc moving

This is a fairly simple concept that most teams understand. Unless you've got that one player with the ridiculous zone-breaking throws and your offense is just trying to feed him or her the disc, then you want to keep the disc moving.

Defensive players in a zone will be farther out of position the more the disc moves around. If the disc stops for any significant amount of time, every single defensive player gets to assess where the disc and offensive players are, and position themselves accordingly, essentially allowing their defense to settle into it's ideal setup for the scheme.

If the disc doesn't stay at any one player long enough then the defense will always be on its heels trying to catch up to the offense and will never reach the 'ideal setup.'

Core Concept Five - Avoid throwing through a set cup

This concept directly relates back to core concept four. If a cup has settled onto you as a thrower, then you have allowed them to reach their "ideal" setup for their defense, more specifically for whatever they are doing close to the disc. Sure, throwing through that set cup is possible, but you're essentially taking their best defensive setup and saying you'll beat it. Five throws through a stationary cup aren't worth more than the one that gets blocked.

If you're going to try and break through a cup, do it before they've settled. Two or three or four players in a cup simply can't run 100% as a unit, so as they're moving the holes will be bigger, that's when you want to go for the kill. Swing the disc around, get them on their heels, tire them out a bit, THEN strike it through.

Let me clarify also that through a cup and over a cup are different things. If you're going to break a cup with an over-the-top throw it really doesn't matter if they've settled or not. The focal point here is threading the needle between their cup members.

Obviously, there's more to zone offense than these five things, but these principles are a great starting point for players to begin to understand what goes into playing zone offense.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Ultimate in Colorado - Travel Times and Unpredictable Weather

As per usual, let me apologize for my writing hiatus. Since my last entry I've purchased a new home, captained a burgeoning club mens team, joined the FC Ultimate board of directors, and worked through the fall season of my 6th year as the coach of the Colorado State Men's Ultimate team. I've had several ideas as to what I wanted this first post of 2014 to be about (hopefully this translates to more entries soon!), but as a huge winter storm hit Colorado last night I think mother nature has decided for me.

I  first thought about the subject matter for this entry when I saw this map linked from the USA Ultimate Facebook page:

Membership Statistics

It's an interesting picture of the density of competitive ultimate players. Obviously, the high population west and east coast hubs make up a huge concentration of players but what jumped out to me most notably was the "island" that is the 1500+ members that live in Colorado.

While it's a blessing to live and play in a state with a large concentration of players, it still presents a unique competitive challenge for college teams in the area: travel distance.

My freshmen year of college (2003) this was just our spring tournament schedule(the team has always driven to every tournament we attend):

Masochist - Colorado Springs, CO - 2 hours (one way, Sunday ended up being cancelled because of 6 inches of snow Saturday night)
Mardi Gras - Baton Rouge, LA - 19 hours (one way)
Southerns/High Tide - Statesboro/Tybee Island, GA   - 29 hours (one way)
Fools Fest - Lawrence, KA - 8.5 hours (one way)
Sectionals - Golden, CO - 1.25 hours (one way)
Regionals - Santa Barbara, CA - 19 hours (one way)

The moral of the story: to be a competitive college team in Colorado you must travel, and you must travel far. When the college restructuring moved Colorado State from the Southwest region to the Southcentral, travel times went down for us slightly. Instead of 18 hours to San Diego or Santa Barbara we'd go 14 hours to St. Louis or 15 hours to Austin. Now our tournament totals have tapered off since my first year, we travel less than in the past and set up more local scrimmages, but the raw travel numbers from that first year are still pretty daunting.

Now I know there are other college teams that deal with similar situations or worse (sorry Montana teams), but the simple fact is, to play the sport we love competitively, it's a very large time travel commitment on top of all the other (physical) commitments there are.

So what does mother nature have to do with any of this? Well, not only does Colorado State get to drive hundreds of hours every season we also deal with wonderful Colorado weather. Our IM fields on campus close from November 1st until the end of the end of March. We are very lucky to have an awesome sports club staff who negotiates with our athletics department for time on the outdoor and indoor turf fields that our football program use for this down-time, but our late fall and early spring practices are oftentimes completely limited to track workouts.

All these factors came together in a brutal reminder when the team traveled to the Santa Barbara Invite this past weekend. After the debacle of weather delays and cancellations from our spring tournament schedule in the mid west last season, the team leadership decided we'd forgo regular season games versus regional competition, swallow the longer travel times and travel to tournaments with somewhat guaranteed good weather.

So, this past weekend (January 25th and 26th, the first weekend after our semester started) we rolled into Santa Barbara with a small squad of 17/29 of the players on our roster (travelling during the first week of school proved difficult for a number of our players). I had hoped some veteran experience would mitigate some of the rustiness since we hadn't played "real" Ultimate since MLC back in November, but with our 5th year captain tearing his MCL skiing over break, and losing one of our other main handlers to a bad ankle sprain, the team was woefully thin at the handler position.

This video of our game against Arizona Sunburn (awesome editing by the way Sunburn, thank you!) sums our problems pretty effectively, sloppy play from the handler spots and inexperience on rotations and swings:

Colorado State vs Arizona SBI 2014

In addition, many of the California teams are from schools on the quarter system, so they'd had several weeks of practice leading up to the tournament whereas we had only one practice in 2 inches of snow the Wednesday before the tournament. (The point of this is not to provide a myriad of excuses for our poor performance. When we scheduled the tournament at the beginning of the fall, we knew the difficult situation we'd be putting ourselves in.)

We got steamrolled, simple and true. We finished 17th out of 18 teams with both our wins coming against a spirited, but very small UC Irvine squad. As we did our team wrap-up after our last game Sunday I strove to drive this key point home point home: a lot of sloppiness and team mistakes we made over the weekend were correctable (drops, throwaways etc), and that the experience our young players got from playing against solid west coast teams would be hugely beneficial for the rest of the season.

We got back to town just ahead of a big storm front Monday and Wednesday night's practice  was cancelled due to 2+ inches of snow still caked on the field. Thursday, a new storm rolled in and we moved our practice time two hours earlier to try and beat it.

This is where this whole rambling piece comes to fruition; as the snow began to fall harder and harder during our Thursday practice, the intensity level picked up. Partly due to the soft landing surface the snow provided and partly due to just being fired up from getting our butts kicked at the tournament five days prior, the amount of bids and defensive intensity went through the roof. As it got colder and the snow got deeper the team just kept working harder (the more you run, the warmer you stay). We wrapped practice up with a series of sprints and as I watched the team running through the falling snow I could help but marvel at how incredible the whole scene was: 20+ young men, soaked from the snow, running their hearts out through what would turn into a full-blown blizzard in an hours time.

As much of a bummer as it was not to do better at the Invite, that practice, with that energy, and the way the scene played-out as the snow fell was a perfect reminder as to what makes Ultimate such a wondrous sport. Practices like that make all the 19 hour van rides 100% worth it. I can't imagine a better place to call my Ultimate home than Colorado and everything that comes with it.