Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How to Cheat to Win (without Cheating): Scrapple

This is the final segment in the Cheat to Win series and will deal with all the odds and ends that didn't have a home, comments and questions.

Calling people out. I always assumed in writing this series, that because of my own history as a player, I was calling myself out. About halfway through, I realized that not everyone who was reading this was there to remember, so I'll make it clear. There is a reason I know all this stuff and it's not because I was an innocent victim. I included people and stories I thought were pertinent to the topic at hand in order to make my point, not to settle old scores. Generally, calling people out is irresponsible and counterproductive. Thanks to Donovan for having a sense of humor - our sport would be better off if more people did.

You can make every call correct and still be a cheater.
There are a million calls to be made in any game, which you choose to call defines you. If you are consistently calling fouls and violations that benefit your team and the timing of those calls is calculated for maximum effect and they are made without regard to your own behavior as a player, then you are a cheater. Well, sort of. It's a weird situation because technically you aren't a cheater. However, you've created an unfair game because two different expectations for rules and enforcement are being used. Typically, a person responsible for making a game unfair is considered a cheater. The more you engage in this sort of gamesmanship, the more your calls and play will be scrutinized and disrespected. Every single call you make will be seen in the most cynical light and you will no longer get the benefit of the doubt in anything you do.

The 'contact' rule

KFC wrote: "Isn't the 11th edition "disc space" call basically your "contact?"
Mortakai wrote: "Now the reset to 0 also comes with a stoppage (stoppage = advantage: defense), whereas play does NOT stop with the "contact"/reset to zero (no stoppage = advantage: offense). I think THAT was Lou's point."

It was.

Fight fire with fire.
Heinous boy wrote: "The problem with drama is there is more of an advantage than just the mental edge you get. You can't expect to win against an equal opponent if they're making more calls."
#28 wrote: "One thing in particular I've considered- that instead of playing your normal game and being the white knight, you should change strategies and play their game harder than they play it. Don't match them call for call, as Carleton did, [but] make their calls look reasonable by making egregious plays to shake them up."

First, I'd like to disagree with Heinous boy's proposition that you can't win against an equal opponent if they are making more calls than you. One of the main points of the Drama article was that you are often better off making fewer calls. The Carleton-Florida game is just another in a long line of games where one team (Carleton) would have benefited from fewer calls and stoppages. Matching call for call is penny-wise, pound-foolish.

Secondly, fighting fire with fire is a sure strategic failure. I've had a front row seat to see it fail on multiple occasions. Sockeye won a game-to-go over Portland in 2003 where a portion of the Portland team attempted to match Sockeye's meanness. Their elan and athleticism was more than we could really handle, but they tried to beat us where we were strong, which was toughness and tenacity. At the end of a long and hateful game, the young fresh talent on Portland wilted under the pressure. I also discussed the 97 Worlds Final (where DoubleHappy tried to match Sockeye's gamesmanship) in the Drama post, but perhaps the granddaddy of them all was Boston's 93 season. After watching NYNY's nastiness win four consecutive National titles (and 5 of 6), Boston inherited a transfer from NYNY, Joey Giampino. With a little nudge from Joey, Boston went down the dark road and tried every mean trick they possibly could. It was a titanic failure and the poison from it is still out there today.

It's a moral failure as well. The only possible way to "win" with this line of thinking is to match or out cheat-and-game the other team. The only way to "win" is to become the very thing you despised in the first place. Gambler's take on marking sums up the strategic decision leading to a moral failure well: "If your team's own marking style is aggressive (code word for cheating), then you get to practice playing against that all season. You'll be prepared for other teams that play that way. But your marks are also going to be illegal, perpetuating the problem and institutionally violating SOTG." Very few players set out to cheat their way to victory. Most just set out to get theirs and make sure that the score is even. The problem is, the gamesmanship skills involved are tough to learn and have to be practiced and then are ingrained and then...

The 4-person cup. Ben Iberle asked how to beat it.
I think the best focus on this one is tactical rather than through calls. Women's teams use the four-person cup a ton and most of the time, it is played legally and effectively. First of all, don't let them catch you and never let them catch you on the sidelines. Move the disc immediately to the first open player. Your wings should stand 5-10 yards clear of the sidelines and when they catch it, they should be getting rid of it immediately. Second, a varied attack makes a huge difference because it keeps the defense from keying in on any one thing. There are four ways to break any zone: inside, around, through and over. You want to set up with the inside (the little hand-off in the cup) because it gets you a couple yards, sets you up for the through and pisses the cup off. As they begin to react to the inside, then your around or through will open up more. It's a bit like establishing the run to set up the play-action pass; you want to get those linebackers (middle-middles) to bite. This is a good illustration of these principles.
From a call-game perspective, there's not a lot you can do without observers. You can sit back for the swing and call double-team after double-team until they back off. I have seen that done and be effective in changing the other team's behavior. It's a way of saying: 'We're not going to play until you play fair.' But again, I don't think you want to do that much. You still have to beat the zone. And if they are really cheating with the big-time double-team, they are creating a huge hole behind the cup. Crash and collapse the cup, then take advantage.

Summing the whole thing up.
1. The more you know, the better.
2. Just because you know how to play the call game, doesn't mean it's the right strategic choice.
3. Just because you know how to play the call game, doesn't mean it's the right moral choice.
4. Your team should discuss and create a plan for the call game.
5. Ignore antics from the other team and stick to your plan.

What's next?
Thanks for reading all this stuff. I hope you found it helpful and interesting. I'm going to work a bit on organizing the Without Limits blog roll and get Fugue up and running for 2011. Then, coming in January, I am going to take a look at referees and why they are a really, really bad idea.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Women's Ultimate Blog

Michelle and I are trying to increase the coverage of college women's ultimate. In the new media world, we are hoping to use player-generated content. If you are interested in helping, great! If you know someone who is or might be, please let them know. My vision is to bring together 10-15 of these...which would be sweet. Here's the official release; pass it on.

In an effort to increase the media coverage of women's ultimate, Without Limits is sponsoring a blog roll to increase coverage of women's ultimate. What we need is you, the writer. Our vision is a group of blogs that will cover the division from regional and national perspectives. We are hoping to recruit an author from each of the ten regions, as well as authors to provide weekly columns for each day of the week. Our hope is to consolidate existing blogs and encourage players to begin new blogs, together expanding the total media for women's ultimate.

We would like writers to be willing to commit to 6-8 stories over the course of the season, with flexibility based on the number of tournaments. We would also welcome team previews and other special features to help round out the coverage.

If you are interested, please contact Michelle Ng ( or Lou Burruss (

Sunday, December 12, 2010

How to Cheat to Win (without Cheating): The Lightning Rod

You know the guy, probably before you ever even play his team. "He's sick," your teammates tell you, "but what a dick!" Then you get in the game and he's not that bad...until it's 12-12. Then all of a sudden, he calls three travels, screams at your best defender to "quit fucking hacking me!" spikes it on your star rookie...and smirks his way to a 12-15 victory as your team melts away.

All of the things I've discussed in the Cheat to Win series: drama, traveling, fouls, marking and all the little gamesmanship moves are actually quite difficult to pull off. Like any other aspect of sport they require a certain level of talent, a certain way of seeing the game and certainly a flexible sense of morality. Not everyone on your team can or should huck. Not everyone on your team is a great receiver. That's as it should be. Just as strategic aspects of a game plan are divided up, so to are the Cheat to Win aspects. On most teams, this burden is carried by the Lightning Rod.

1. The Lightning Rod is always one of the best players on their team. Creating drama, making tons of calls, stomping around and yelling - these are all ways of saying, "I am more important than you. I matter. You don't." When those things happen, it isn't just to the opposing team that the Lightning Rod is imposing their importance, it is on their own team as well. A rookie or bencher just doesn't have the cache to pull this kind of stuff off. Their team wouldn't put up with it in practice, so it never develops as a behavior. This can be a little different for a men's club team, particularly one that is heavily split O and D. You have lightning rod players on the D team who aren't huge stars on the entire team, but that's because you are actually looking at two separate teams.
2. The team has to look away. This is where the morality of ultimate gets really slippery, really quickly. It's easy to condemn bad calls and cheaters and all those Lightning Rods out there, but they have teammates who tacitly condone that behavior. They may not even condone it. They may criticize it behind that player's back and fight about it in practice, but it doesn't matter because they take the wins. I'd encourage you to read this piece, by Tully Beatty of Wilmington. Amid all the crap Wilmington ultimate spit out, Tully was always a class act, but he still took the wins. (Sorry to call you out Tully; you got nailed for having the courage to say what others just think.)
3. There can be more than one. It's not the Highlander and often you will find a team where different players are doing different aspects of gamesmanship. This is much more true at the club level than the college level. This isn't surprising. Club teams, because of their greater depth of talent and experience, have a wider division of labor that a college team. Gamesmanship is no exception. There are two recent games that illustrate this perfectly: CUT-Florida and Ironside-Revolver. Notice (or remember) how many of the calls involved Brodie Smith (whether he made them or they were made against him.) In the Club Final, the calls were spread all over and the little bit of drama Crockford tried to start died pretty quickly when he turned it over.
4. It'll go both ways. I alluded to this a second ago, while discussing the College Finals. When you have a Lightning Rod involved, often their mere presence will generate bad behavior from the other team. Of course, since a Lightning Rod is totally comfortable with calls and drama, this only helps him. When Jonny G went up and played with the Monkey after all his bridges were burned in Seattle, we [Sockeye] were relentless about his play, his calls and his behavior - even though they weren't that bad anymore.

So what does this all mean?
1. Get him out of your head. Seriously. Why are you letting someone whose game you don't respect in your head? When you are all torqued up about so-and-so and his calls or spikes or whatever, you're not where you should be, which is focused on your play. The best way is to respect his play, be nice and when he pulls bullshit, stay nice. When you are playing an inferior team and someone on the other team starts pulling drama and making a lot of calls, what do you do? You mostly ignore it. You shake your head dismissively and you beat them. Later you think, "what an idiot." This should be your attitude in all such games, win or lose.
2. Check your own behavior. Before you whine or criticize too much, make sure you aren't part of the problem. Does your team have crappy, drama-filled games once or twice a tournament? Hm. Do you always have a problem with a particular team? Might be them. Might be the two of you together. Remember, it only takes one or two players to make a team be "a bunch of assholes." You personally might be just fine, but if your captain or fifth-year senior is pulling a bunch of bs...that's on you.
3. If you really have a problem with a teammate, vote with your feet. I have seen many players walk off teams because they didn't like the attitude created by one or more players. Usually, it happens in the off-season, but I've seen it happen once or twice midstream. It's bad for the team, but if it's the right decision for you, do it. You can also vote at the ballot box. It's pretty common for the team's biggest criminal to be a captain and captains need to be elected. My on-field behavior was always an issue when we voted for Sockeye captains and ultimately was one of the reasons I quit that job.

I am about ready to wrap this series up, but I am going to run one more post next Wednesday. It'll be a grab bag of responses to comments, some odds-and-ends that couldn't find a home, and answers to questions. If you have some, add them to the comment section or email them to me: louburruss at gmail.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How to Cheat to Win (without Cheating): Marking

In the fall of 1994, I went to Chicago to play the first ever Tune-Up with Buddha (who became Sub-Zero in 1998.) For a period of five to six years, Tune-Up was the premier preseason club tournament and it was my first experience playing the likes of Dog, Rhino, Chain and Ring. I was arrogant and naive, over-confident and inexperienced. In short, I was about to get my ass handed to me.

There are two moments that stand out from that weekend. About four losses into Saturday, we were playing against Huntsville. I had a pretty good step-around backhand and all day I'd been trying to get it off, only to get hammered by the marker. Finally, frustrated and indignant, I went up to tall Donovan and whined, "You guys are such big cheaters. Every time I try to pivot and throw my backhand, you guys foul me. This doesn't happen in college ultimate. Why can't you play spirited like college ultimate?" Donovan looked down at me and said, "Go back to college," and walked off.

The second was in the Dog-Rhino final. Rick Melner (#00) v. Cork (picture not available). Cork catches the comeback about fifteen yards out and leans out into his classic straight-leg forehand. Ricky climbs right up Cork's leg like they're dancing the tango. It's such a brutal straddle that Cork's pivot foot must have been a good foot-and-a-half behind Ricky. But Cork leans out a little more, throws the goal and calls "Foul," just as cool as a cucumber.

The title of this series is How to Cheat to Win (without Cheating), but we need to be honest - these marking tricks are cheating. They all amount to trying to get away with whatever you possibly can. They depend on putting the onus for legal play on the calls of the thrower, not where it belongs, which is on the play of the marker. Here's how it works:

1. Get away with whatever you can. If you can hug them for ten seconds, do it. If you can fast count them, do it. If you can put both of your arms straight out and keep them from pivoting, do it. Straddle? Check. Less than a disc space? Check. In everyone of these scenarios, you put the thrower in a position to enforce fair play. If they don't, because they don't want to or don't know how or haven't realized you're cheating - big advantage. At the college level, the two most effective tactics are the hug-a-mark (arms straight forward to prevent pivoting) and the not-a-disc-space mark. That's because college players don't realize what is happening or have the skill set to take advantage of it. At the club level, it's the backpack, the bump on the catch, rough play early in the count. That's because even if the thrower does something about it (like call a foul), it still helps the defense.
2. Even against good throwers, foul between 0-5 in the stall count. It's during 0-5 that throwers do good things: like throw goals and big gainers. Stopping play here is a big advantage for the defense, so even if the thrower calls the foul, it's a win for the defense.
3. Backpack. Even if they catch it, they still have to stagger ten steps, losing yardage and time the whole way.
4. Fast count. The advantages here are obvious. On a side note, all of these strategies are designed to induce the rush state in the thrower and nothing hits the panic button like a quick trip to stalling 6.
5. Don't foul between 7 - 10. This is when turnovers happen. Really, it should be rephrased, don't get called for a foul between 7 and 10. See rule #1 for details.

How do you beat it?
1. Poise. The best weapon you have against a hack is the same calm composure Cork showed while throwing that goal. The effectiveness of the fouling mark is partly because of what it prevents you from doing, but even more so because of what it makes you think you can't do. Recognition of the problem is the first step to solving it. Once you realized you are being hacked, you have a number of excellent options.
2. Take the free throw. If the marker is continuously fouling you, step through and throw the backhand. Call foul. Make sure your move maintains contact with the marker the whole way, so when they try to argue the foul was before the throw, they'll be wrong.
3. Play through. Generally, stoppages benefit the defense. They can rest, assess the situation and stop the rhythm of the offense. The one time a stoppage benefits the offense is if you are about to get stalled. If you are being fouled, then this previous post applies.
4. Play fast. If you are throwing quickly and playing in an uptempo offense, there are far fewer static marking situations. It is the static situations that really allow the marker to clamp down. If you are releasing on stalling 1, before the marker can even get to you, they can't foul you.
5. Observers aren't that helpful for dealing with marking. Well, they are if your team really doesn't know how to deal with physical marks. But for everyone else, the more effective solution is to deal with it yourself in the ways described here. Club Nationals is the proof of this: tons of observed games and physical marking remains endemic.
6. Advocate for the "contact" call.
This new call, where a fouled thrower can call "contact," thereby resetting the stall count without stopping play, is a good cure for this problem. It removes the two biggest advantages the defense has in this situation: the opportunity to stop a throw and stop the rhythm of the offense. I talked to USAU Observer Scoops about it over the summer and I know it was in a trial phase then, but I haven't heard much since then. It remains to be seen how the game will evolve around such a big rule change, but I think it will be largely positive. (Although likely requiring another adjustment that will benefit the defense, like stalling 7.)

There are two posts remaining in this series: the Lightning Rod and a final wrap-up/comment discussion.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

How to Cheat to Win (without Cheating): The Ticky-Tack Foul Call

Hey defenders? Ever have that frustrating experience of completely sewing a team up, only to get to stalling 8 and having the thrower call a foul because you brushed their shoulder? Then, when the disc comes back in (at stalling 5), the thrower has had a chance to breathe and reassess the situation and they get off the easy dump? You've just been jobbed by the ticky-tack foul call.

Throwers, here's how you make it happen:
1. Don't call a foul before 6. Ever. If you do, you are doing the defense a huge favor. You are stopping play during the most fruitful period of the stall count when you are most likely to throw a pass for advantage, as opposed to a pass to reset.
2. When you know you are in trouble, pivot. There has been a lot of blog-blather about useless pivoting and it is all true, but this is useful pivoting (even though you aren't going to throw it. Make sure you step forward on your pivot and bring the disc across your stomach as you do so. Both these things will help insure contact, which you need to call the foul. (Bonus: drop the disc when it hits the marker's stomach. Call strip. Watch marker apologetically pick up the disc.) If you get any contact, call the foul.
3. Don't forget the "fast-count" call. If by some miracle (see below) the marker manages to avoid the contact, you can always call a fast count. Everyone breaks this rule (put a clock on it, if you're curious) with most stall counts running about 7 seconds. Typically, people don't call fast count until the count gets down into the 5 second range. This will buy you at least a couple of seconds and if the defender botches the go-back-two rule, call it again and get a full reset to zero. A warning though: this is a weak-ass move and will make you no friends.

How do you stop it?
1. Don't foul. It is the rule after all. It is a huge disadvantage if you mark to ensure that you will never commit a marking foul, though. The only way to do that is to never pressure the thrower, which is an obvious recipe for disaster. A good distinction is between trying to make a play and trying to make a foul. If you get someone on the arm after going for the block, oh well, it happens. If you get someone on the arm because you're beat and you hold them...well, you're a cheater and you deserve all the ticky-tack foul calls against you.
2. Definitely don't foul after 6 in the stall count. Really, you don't even want to touch the thrower after stalling 6. Smart markers play tight early and loose late. There is some really nice footage of this technique from the Worlds Final. Here is the entire game piece-by-piece, but look at this aerial footage first. Notice Sockeye's (white) hand-checking on the mark early in the count and their dropping off after a count or two. (Interestingly, Revolver plays fairly soft on the mark, instead relying on their down-field footspeed.)
3. Be ready for the jump-back. Most ticky-tack foul calls come from the pivot from forehand to backhand. It is much easier to draw a foul on the backhand side because you can lead with your shoulder and elbow; on the flick-side, you have to hold your shoulder back making it harder to create contact. As you lean in to pressure the flick, be prepared to leap back like crazy when the thrower pivots to the backhand side. I've actually seen throwers fall over when they didn't get the expected contact.
4. Understand that it's all the game. More than any other aspect of ultimate, marking and throwing has challenged the gray area in the rules. Markers press, throwers react, markers react back and on and on and on...I can't tell you how many times I've screamed in frustration at a stalling 7 foul call; not frustration at the thrower, but frustration with myself for giving the thrower the opportunity to call the foul. If you are going to mark aggressively (and you should, it makes for good, physical, athletic ultimate) you have to live with the foul calls.

Addendum: My editor tells me that the tone and moral of these posts are contradictory. Am I for these moves or against them? Hm. I tried to lay out my opinion and approach in the introduction to this series and it partially addresses this issue.

Up next: the marking side of this battle

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How to Cheat to Win (without Cheating): The Travel Call

I was fortunate enough this summer to have an opportunity to work at Roger and Mike's summer camp in Seattle, SYUC. Cree and I were teaching a section on playing quick and we were working on the throw-and-go and the catch-and-release when a kid asks, "When can I call a travel?" I wanted to cry.

Calling travels will help your d team in a couple of ways. First, it is a free chance for a turnover. When you call a travel on a throw, play is stopped for the offense. Their best case scenario is to merely maintain possession. Play is not stopped for the defense and their best case scenario is a turnover. Even if you don't get the turnover, you get the stoppage. Good offense is about rhythm and timing. Stoppages break that rhythm. Stoppages give the defense a chance to look around and assess the situation. They give the defenders a chance to take that extra step closer that separates open from not-open. A stoppage gives a beaten mark a chance to get that necessary opportunity to set up in the right place. If you defense is gassed, the stoppage gives an opportunity to rest. Oh, did I mention you can take a goal off of the board? Free turnover? Chance to mark up again? Break the O's rhythm? Rest? Hell, yeah, that sounds great! "Travel!"

Implementation of the "travel" game plan is easy. The first thing to know is that everyone travels, regardless of how conscientious about their footwork they are. The basketball travel is the accepted standard travel. Problem is, ultimate isn't basketball. You can dribble in basketball and picking up your dribble is a quick trip to Turnoverville. In ultimate, you have to pick up your dribble every time you catch the disc. We've set an unachievable standard for ourselves, but since we've set it, you might as well use it. Know that any thrower you guard travels enough to call, pretty much every throw. Secondly, call enough travels to establish your call game, but save some room for when you really need a travel call - like when the other team scores on a big huck.

Now to the important stuff. We've all been in games with a team that wants to call a million travels and it is really frustrating, so how do you stop it? How do you limit its effectiveness?
1. Don't travel. It's your responsibility as a player to follow the rules and not traveling is a rule so...don't.
2. Actually, you don't even want to look like you're traveling. When new players landed on the Sockeye D team (a D team which lived on the fast break) we often had to teach them how to look like they weren't traveling. As an example, consider the throw-and-go. If you are running a throw-and-go, you are always right on the edge of traveling. (That's the point of the move, after all) It isn't enough to learn that move so you can do it without traveling, you also have to learn it so it also looks like you aren't traveling. An exaggerated knee-lift with your step leg or a stop-hitch on your release communicates to all watching: "I am aware traveling is a problem on this move and I'm not doing it!"
3. Don't call travels yourself. A few years ago at Stanford Invite, we (Oregon) had an opponent call 5 goals back on travels. It made for an incredibly antagonistic, ugly game. But who called the first travel of the game? We did. There is a temptation when playing a call-happy team to try to get yours as soon and often as possible, but all you're really doing is getting the ball rolling on something you don't want - a call fest.
4. Get observers. During that same Stanford Invite mentioned above, I ran over to the observer tent and told them, "We need observers or we're gonna have a fight." To their credit, the observers (on their much needed bye) stood up and came over. Stanford Invite that year was an active-travel tournament, meaning that in an observed game, only the observers were making travel calls. Once they got to our game, they called only more travel the rest of the game (and on the other team.)
5. The harangue. It's a bit risky and makes you look like an asshole, but letting the player who called the travel have a piece of your mind can be effective in the medium run. In the short run, they'll never take their call back once you start telling them off. In the long run, you are creating an antagonistic relationship which hurts you if you are trying to minimize a call fest. In the context of a single game, though, you can prevent calls by telling off your opponent when they make a marginal one. In that same Stanford Invite game, I went off on the coaches of the other team, both of whom were friends of mine. Did it make a difference? I don't know. We never had another game like that with that team, but the whole game made our already frosty relationship with that team even frostier. And my friendships definitely took a little hit because of it. Of all my suggestions here, this is the riskiest and carries the biggest cost. Like a lot of call game maneuvers (which this most certainly is) it can be quite penny wise, pound foolish and really should be considered in the larger context of your overall strategy as a team. I certainly wouldn't have yelled at those two coaches this past year after Oregon consciously switched our approach to SotG.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Club Natties: View from the Scoreboard

I absorbed the majority of the media released by USAU. In their slow, steady way the coverage has gotten better and better but still fails to wow.

1. Revolver got what they wanted and I don't mean the ugliest trophy of all time, although they desperately wanted that. Unlike last year, when Chain tricked them into playing a loose, open shoot-out, Ironside let them play how they wanted: measured, controlled, possession ultimate.

It is impossible to win if you let a very good team do exactly what they want. As Jonny G told me, "You take away their strength and you make them beat you with their weakness. If they do, you make them do it again because it's their fucking weakness!" Not once did I see Ironside make any attempt to throw Revolver off of their possession game. I know Revolver is good at it - that's why they're a great team, but Ironside never tried anything remotely interesting. I suspect the hype surrounding their d team got into their heads and they thought they'd win this Ironside D- Revolver O easily. There was a point at the end of the first half when the Revolver D quit playing. Ironside scored three quick, easy goals and with this opportunity the Ironside D did exactly...nothing.

2. Fury won again. So boring I can't even talk about. But I can say congrats to Matty, Arlie, Cree, Jodi and all the rest. Pretty soon we're gonna be having the greatest of all time, Godiva or Fury argument.

3. Rating the rest.
Up: Sockeye, Doublewide, Southpaw (although it's the second time this team has taken a losing record into quarters, last time they were called Pike)
Down: Chain, Ring, Furious (not so long ago they met in the Finals!), Bravo, Truck

I'll get back to Cheat to Win next week or later this week.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fish in the Yard

This is more appropriately a 97430 post, but given my love for the Sockeyes and their successful season (World's silver and Nationals Semis) I thought I'd mention that there are fish in the front yard again.

A week ago, summer grudgingly and then suddenly gave way to winter and it rained six inches in three days. As I walked around yesterday, I must have seen twenty or thirty fish in Deadwood and West Fork Creeks. They're a mix of chinook and coho, not sockeye, but it has always struck me as appropriate that there are salmon swimming in my yard the same time the Fish are swimming in Sarasota.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How to Cheat to Win (without Cheating): Drama

The 2010 CUT-Florida final featured a lot of huge throws, huge ds, a million calls and a boatload of drama. I don't mean the drama of a thrilling finish (98 Syzygy-Stanford) or a star playing through incredible injury to try to lead his team to victory (92 Cornell-Oregon.) I mean the squalid, petty little drama of 8th graders. Foolishly, CUT tried to use drama against Florida by ratcheting up the physical play on the mark, calling a zillion travels and arguing, arguing, arguing. Foolishly, because if there is one thing Florida has truly dominated the last few years of college ultimate, it's been the drama department. Why was drama effective for Florida? Why did it help them more than CUT? How do teams use and implement drama?

A Little History
The first team I ever witnessed win with drama was the three-headed troglodyte of the Seamen, the Irates and Seaweed. In 92, I traveled to Wilmington to play Easterns with CUT and the scene was ridiculous. A bunch of old guys pulled their rusty old trucks up to the fields and stood around smoking cigarettes and laying on the horn for every UNCW score. A pack of ugly, mangy dogs swirled around the trucks and the sidelines snarling, fighting, stealing food and barking, barking, barking. By the time other teams got on the field, they didn't know what to think. Then the Seamen began their brutal fouling on the mark regimen: pushing, bumping and arm-wrapping. If you had the presence of mind to call a foul, it was contested with a sneer - every time. Clueless little college kids were turning over passes left and right only to get their asses skied on the fast break huck. Every goal was followed up by rushing the field, spiking, showing and shit-talking. And this was when any spike was considered unspirited and no one had seen rushing the field except maybe on a game winner.

UNCW lost that year, but they won in 93 and then Gerics exported the game plan to win again with the Irates in 94 (which featured the classic chant "foul-travel-pick...suck my dick" from the disgruntled LPC and UCSB men and ECU's Nat shaking his junk at the crowd after the game) and 95 (which featured Gerics head butting Karlinsky) and in 96 as coach of Seaweed (which featured a lot of verbal abuse and Andre getting chucked in a drainage ditch by the UNCW men.)

But lest you think Toad and Mike made this show up, you have to back up to the granddaddy of all drama creators, NYNY. This mess (and particularly the Hall of Fame aftermath) has been pretty well documented on Kenny's blog and Jim's blog, so I won't go into it too much.

Even before NYNY, there were the originators of bad-boy ultimate, Windy City. There is an (apocryphal) story about their dominating 1986 championship. After they won, destroying all comers, they were reveling and partying with the beautiful, all-glass UPA Championship trophy. Some woman came up and began hectoring them about being unspirited cheaters who didn't deserve to win. What did Windy do? Spiked the trophy, shattering it into a thousand pieces.

Part of what has amused and exasperated me about Florida's antics over the last few years is the histrionic Chicken-Little approach people have taken to this team when their tactics are as old as ultimate. What is different about ultimate and what makes drama especially effective in an ultimate setting is the naivete and innocence that comes with SotG. SotG explicitly states that players will hold respect for opponents above all else and so people are unprepared, offended, angered and intimidated by drama.

It isn't just ultimate where athletes use drama. A few years ago, I went to the opening day of the US Open in New York. Cooter, Carrie and I wandered through the crowds and watched bits and pieces of lots of '[matches, but the one that stands out was between then #10 Tommy Haas, a power-serving giant and an unseeded little Swedish water bug. The Swedish kid was giving Tommy everything he could handle. He was running and scrapping and clawing and exhorting himself and just on sheer energy overwhelming the slow and sluggish looking Haas. He took the first set and was up in the second when Haas threw a fit. It started on the pretext of a botched line call and then carried over into a general rant about the tournament, the organizers and best of all, the music. The match was on one of the smaller courts and classical music was spilling over from a food-court plaza next door. At the height of his fit, Tommy roared, "What is this? The Titanic? I'm not here to listen to music!" About thirty minutes later, it was game-set-match, Haas easily.

The Effect of Drama
The biggest advantage drama confers is mental. Drama has no effect on how fast you are or how well you can throw. It doesn't help you jump higher or mark better. However, it can have a huge effect on the mental preparation and focus of each team.

First of all, when a team uses drama, it gets their opponent thinking about something other than the game at hand. Any time your opponent is focusing on something other than play, they are at a disadvantage. In the 97 Worlds Final, Sockeye was preparing to play Double Happiness. They wanted observers because they were afraid of our call game. (With some justification.) Because it was WFDF, observers were not mandated and had to be agreed upon. Jonny G refused to have observers, not because he thought it'd make a big difference, but because he knew that Double would get all torqued up about us refusing them. The thirty minutes prior to the game featured Jonny in a screaming match with the Double guys while we prepared. We were ready. They were thinking about observers.

Secondly, it puts teams and players in or out of their comfort zone. If you have a high-drama team, I can guarantee they are high-drama all the time: games and practice. They become comfortable playing in a high-drama environment. When they pull their drama hi-jinks in a game, they are unfazed by it, but their opponent is thrown. When Carleton tried to use drama on Florida, they were just chucking the rabbit into the brier-patch.

Drama confers a strategic advantage to teams that want to play slow. Carleton was playing 19 guys and Florida was playing 9. Every stoppage gave Brodie and his boys a chance to rest and catch their breath. The longer the stoppage and the more drama - the more rest. This, too, is an old trick. Schwa 2.0 (winners of 3 silvers: 2 Natties and a Worlds) was masterful at this technique, interspersing exasperatingly long breaks between points with Satterfield-led arguments and tantrums. The effect was to help a Schwa team that ran 10-12 players hang with the much deeper Riot/Verge, Fury and Godiva.

Lastly, if a team has a rep as high-drama, they don't have to do much to be effective at it. Florida, the old North Carolina teams, Sockeye 1.0, Lawn Party didn't have to do much on the field because their prior on- and off-field antics had already done their work for them. People came into those games intimidated and rattled in anticipation of drama that might happen.

How to Make Drama
The best and easiest way is to be an asshole. It's not whether you call foul, but how you call it. Let every infraction of the other team be the worst thing you've ever seen and stoically ignore any complaints about your own behavior. If you can manage to lace your words and actions with disrespect and superiority, all the better.

Cheat. Nothing creates drama like some bad calls. Make them, particularly at crucial points in the game. Not only will this help in the short term, but in the long term it will establish your reputation and people will be thinking about your calls instead of your play.

Make lots and lots of one-sided calls. They don't have to be bad calls (I'll talk about this more next post,) but use them to consistently help your side.

How To Beat Drama
The best strategy is not to participate. When a team wants to play that drama game, let them. By themselves. It's hard to stir up really big drama without a reaction from the other team. Part of the reason it is so much harder to stir up drama at the Club level is that teams and players just shrug it off. At 96 Nationals, Gerics (then with Port City) spit on two Sockeye guys in separate incidents. The second almost initiated a brawl and a timeout followed quickly. Amazingly, wisdom came out of the huddle and we said, "Let's beat 'em and leave 'em." We did, 15-13, and that was the end of their season (and team.)

Don't start it. If you are playing a high-drama team, don't get them rolling. It is tempting as hell, when a high-drama, high-call team starts pulling their same-old-shit to lay into them and let them know what you think. Don't give in. If you do, you are putting them right into their Happy Place.

Know and understand your team's philosophy and stick to it, no matter what the other team does. Although drama isn't really an issue in college women's ultimate right now, this is the strategy we used at U of O this year and I talked about it extensively in this post.

Get observers if you can, but don't make a big deal about it. Don't depend on the observers to do your job for you and don't let them change your team philosophy. (By the way, if you find that teams are always requesting observers against you, you might want to look closely at your actions.)

Channel your anger. You will react to drama. It's human nature to get amped up in those situations, so take that visceral, brain-stem reaction and bring it out in your play.

Laugh at it. Drama lives on being taken seriously and can't handle being laughed at and made fun of. It's hard to do this in a game, but easy to do outside of a game. Peer pressure and respect are huge motivators in our little game, so use them when you can to help push positive change. Be careful, though. It's a fine line between humor and hate. Should you fall on the wrong side of that line, you are making drama yourself.

Up next: The travel call

Friday, October 15, 2010

How to Cheat to Win (without Cheating): An Introduction

There is sportsmanship, which in our little sport is embodied in Spirit of the Game and then there is gamesmanship. Sportsmanship is the ideal of playing within the rules (and the customary understanding of them) because it is the right thing to do. It is concern and respect for your opponent. Gamesmanship is looking at the rules in a lawyerly way, analyzing them and finding opportunities to exploit them. It is looking at the customary ways rules are enforced and tweaking them to advantage. It is always looking to see rules enforced to one's own advantage, rather than impartially, evenly and fairly.

Ultimate's system of self-officiating opens huge doors to gamesmanship that are not open in other sports. It also creates a moral dilemma for teams and individuals. In the NFL, when a coach calls a last minute timeout to ice a kicker it is considered good strategy. In ultimate, if you call a double time-out to throw off another team's rhythm, you're an asshole.

After the debacle of the CUT-Florida final last spring, I had a long conversation with Scoops (Greg Connelly) about SofG. One of his observations (which I agreed with) was that SotG was stronger in Club ultimate that college. (Note: this is only true of Men's. Women's ultimate has a strong and thriving sense of SotG at all levels.) This is odd, because the level of gamesmanship is so much higher in Club than College. Those crafty vets know all the moves - shouldn't that make their SotG worse? SotG is an agreement between the players and the teams; an agreement of what is and isn't accepted. (This is why behavior that is perfectly acceptable at the college Nationals is taboo at city league.) At the Club level, there is widespread agreement that gamesmanship is part of ultimate and therefore, ok. If I was dumb enough to be marking tight on stalling 7, I knew I had to accept the bullshit pivot-foul-call from the thrower. I knew if I tried to go up line on a Monkey, they'd try to knock me down. But as they say, "If it's in the game..." Contrastingly, in College ultimate, there's no consensus on what should and shouldn't be ok and everyone takes it way too seriously.

This series of articles is my attempt to help with that problem a little bit. My hope is that by understanding the particular techniques of gamesmanship, they will be less effective and that people will have a bit more perspective about them.

Up next: Drama

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

College Redraw: What Went Wrong

I have one complaint about the redraw, but it's a big one: it doesn't do anything to bolster competitive ultimate for the top teams. In a lot of cases, it makes the situation worse by diluting already thin regions into multiple regions. (It's a bit like a Florida congressional district: only the incumbent can win.) More than that, this redraw was an opportunity to push the sport forward and to change the way the season is structured to make it more exciting and meaningful. It fails utterly in this, instead reworking everything just to maintain the status quo of Sectionals-Regionals-Nationals.

What to do to fix it?
1. Go to 24 teams. There needs to be some flexibility and twenty four teams creates that room to maneuver. One size fits all doesn't work for an ultimate community that contains the dense northeast open divisions and the sparse but talented women's west.
2. Qualify for Nationals from Conference play. Keep all Regionals as one bid. Allocate all strength bids by conference and let conference play and finish decide who is going to Nationals. Instead of a single, elimination style conference tournament teams could play a round-robin or double round robin series to determine conference finish much like college basketball. Geographically large conferences would need to do tournaments, but small ones could do classic home-and-away match-ups and play one game at a time.
3. Let teams form their own conferences. Once strength bids go to conferences, you free teams from their regional boundaries and they can make conferences that work for them disregarding regional boundaries. CUT-Madison could happen. PAC-10 women could happen.
4. Run two conferences as a trial balloon. On the open side, run a conference that is CUT-Madison-Iowa-Minnesota and two to four more teams. On the women's side, run a west coast conference that runs from San Diego to Vancouver.

Here are the problems
1. It makes things messier and decentralized for USAU. Get over it.
2. The math gets weirder, particularly if you run trial conferences first. Patching two systems together makes the strength allocations a bit odd, but in the end it's just a math problem and solvable.
3. Teams get left out. Using the NW as an example, if the three dominant programs (Oregon, Washington and UBC) join another conference what will happen to OSU and Western and Victoria? I'm not sure, but is being in their own conference necessarily worse than being in a conference with the big three? It certainly is if, like Western the past three years, you are trying to step up to the big time. If, like OSU, you are just trying to establish a program with some continuity, it might be a good thing.

My fear is that USAU is too busy cleaning up and consolidating (necessary work) to risk a big bold change, but why not give it a try?

Friday, September 24, 2010

College Redraw: What went okay

As with any plan, some things work and somethings don't and some things fall in the middle. Since I'd like to be more than just a whiner, I'll append solutions to each.

1. Travel time. They helped resolve some of the problems, but left some BIG ones, particularly in the west. In the NW, we no longer have two contenders, UBC (2008 champs) and Stanford (2007 champs) in the same region even though they are separated by an 18 hour drive. Likewise, in the SW, they don't have Colorado anymore which means the teams can probably all drive to Regionals, which is a big savings.

The solution? Twelve regions, the two new regions being formed out of the interior West (ID, MT, SD ND and the four corner.) This of course means creating something out of nothing: two regions that have traditionally had only one team (Colorado) with any national standing. But look at the Metro East. When it came into existence with the last redraw, it was the laughing stock of ultimate, routinely getting multiple bids based on size and then those teams playing in the shit box for 14th, 15th and 16th. This year? Pitt and Cornell made semis. If the USAU is committed to growth, we need a little help out here in the West and having a conference that includes teams 17 hours apart isn't very helpful.

2. Tournament size. The 20 team nationals is a great tournament. The format is a wonderful one and the four days makes for a really lovely event. That said, it's not big enough.

The solution? 24 teams. That allows for the twelve regions described above and also give the tournament a bit more flexibility. I have always been one for the tough cut, the quick cut off into bracket play (should be 40% to 50% of teams), but two recent teams have made me change my mind on this and look for a larger and more inclusive nationals. Western Washington (under Alyssa) and UW- Eau Claire (under Robyn) are teams that went from nothing to contenders in a few short years and really deserved a trip to the show. In Westerns case they had to beat teams like Cal, Oregon and UBC to make nationals. In Eau Claire's case, they had to beat Syzygy. A larger field makes it more likely that these teams will get their trip to the show - a just reward.

3. Someone had to get the shaft. There is no way to rearrange the regions without someone, somewhere getting screwed and this time, it's the California women's division. With five of last year's national qualifiers (Cal, Stanford, UCSB, UCLA and USC), four of whom where quarterfinalists, someone is going to get heartbroken. Oh yeah. Did I mention 2002 National champs San Diego? Or up-and-coming Sonoma State or Arizona? What a mess.

The solution? Practice hard and cross your fingers.

4. Awkward region shapes. There are some weird region shapes out west and a lot of it derives from the USAU's decision to stick to state lines. Makes things a bit easier, but at the same time, splitting huge states like we have out west would have given some flexibility to the design of the regions. It also would have made some regions a bit more manageable travel-wise.

The solution? Ditch the state-line-region-line requirement.

5. Regular season. First of all, let's all quit pretending it's a regular season. When Oregon plays Syzygy in February, that's the preseason, regardless of what you call it and regardless of what it counts for. Second, I don't think we really have a sense of what this is going to do to team's decisions about what tournies they are going to play. Take UNCW for example. They came out west to play Stanford Invite last March and got pounded. It definitely helped them as a team and they were much better prepared at Nationals. It hurt their region by probably costing them a bid. It's unclear to me exactly how the math work, but having the best team in your region get beat by the fourth and fifth teams from the west is not helpful. Had UNCW not come, they would have probably posted a gaudy 25-0 record going into Nationals and that number would have floated their ranking and the ranking of the entire east. The computer ranking system is very dependent on inter-region play and if teams begin to neglect travel in order to boost their rankings....

The solution? Wait and see. I'm not sure it's going to be a problem yet. We are still getting pretty robust rankings, although I think we'd benefit from more tournies like Prez Day and Mardi Gras, particularly in the east.

Next: what went wrong.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

College Redraw: What went right

Despite the huge roll out and years in preparation, the redraw isn't really a very big change. Essentially, the USAU has managed to maintain the sectionals-regionals-nationals format in a way that is flexible enough to support the long-term growth of the sport. (Which is the real focus of the USAU.) With not much changing, I've got to say that not much went right. The system isn't broken, but why go to so much trouble to not change a damn thing?

1. DIII. This is a great idea whose time has come. As a Carleton grad, I never saw the troubles of the DIII schools with a very clear eye. There is a reason that except for Carleton and the New England region (which has only DIII schools) the small schools aren't making it to Nationals; they simply can't compete with the big boys. The players I talked to and the blogs I read conveyed a new excitement and a new commitment to competition. I expect that in the next few years DIII will grow and become its own big deal.

2. Managing growth and maintaining consistency. I'm not sure that this should have been the USAU's biggest priority, but they did a good job with it. The structure is in place to maintain and manage growth without creating huge problems.

In the next few days I'll cover what went okay and what went bad.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

College Redraw: USAU's Goals

I've read and re-read and re-re-read the redraw now and I am starting to piece together what the USAU was after. Their stated goals are

To promote growth in the division and reduce travel times for all teams by
adding regions. Densely populated regions would be broken up so that there
are more available bids to Regionals. Historically large geographic regions
would be broken up to reduce travel times.

There are two goals in here that they did address well: handling the too-big sections and reducing travel time in the West. Whether this will promote growth or not remains to be seen, but it will certainly help manage growth. The travel situation in the west is better (certainly for the SW losing Colorado,) but not that great for the Pacific NW. (Do you know how far it is from Vancouver to Salt Lake City?

There is a hidden goal here as well: consistency and conformity. The USAU wants to have everything controlled and standardized; they want to end the Wild West era of ultimate development. Not really a bad idea from an organizational standpoint, but it does make creative developments more difficult. The six-month introduction to enactment of the Callahan rules couldn't happen today; it would have to go through committees and process and approval and maybe, finally, enactment.

Notice that despite the supposed flexibility (4-14 teams, geographic hardship) the USAU has already put every team in a conference. Notice that the USAU has continued its recent policy of dictating Regional formats and structures.

A final note, which I'll discuss more in the next post: the biggest change in here is the leveling of competition. While the structure of competition: Sectionals, Regionals, Nationals is essentially maintained in Conference, Regionals, Nationals, who is in your conference is very different from who was in your section. At Oregon, we traded Lewis and Clark and Portland for UW and UBC.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


New regions.

Carleton and Madison split. This is a tragedy. It was bad enough to split them out of the same section in 99, but to take them out of the same region is brutal. CUT-Hodags have met in the Regional final all but 2 years since 1991. It makes me sick. Not my-daughter-marries-a-Hodag-sick, but still pretty sick.

SW women get the shaft. You're going to add Stanford and Cal to a region that already features UCSB, UCLA, USC and UCSD?! And cap total bids at four?! The silver lining is that they ditch Colorado, which will make travel a lot easier.

TX and CO together. This makes sense. These teams have to travel forever no matter what region they're in so there's no point in making too many other people suffer.

More later...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Labor Day

I went to Labor Day and hung out with the kids while Mizu played. Her team went 2-4, which was respectable for a team that never really practices and certainly better than I had thought was likely. Hanging with the kids at the tourney was easier than I thought it was going to be, but a lot of that was the function of a tourney format that had Mizu's team done at 1 Saturday and 3 Sunday. It also helped that the Eugene women were relaxed about the whole tournament and didn't really mind (I hope) being tackled, hugged and wet-willied relentlessly. The kids were cooked by 3 Sunday so we left before the Finals and I saw only a smidge of the semis, but here's what I learned.

NW women's division is clear going into Regionals. 1. Fury, 2. Riot, 3. Zeitgeist, 4. Traffic 5. Underground 6T. Slackjaw 6T. Further 6T. Schwa. Fury continues to distinguish herself from the rest of the teams in the country and it is depth that is making the difference. They are able to play 20 deep to a talent level that most teams can play 10 or 12. What that means is that the Fury players can play harder and faster than their counterparts because they are playing far fewer points. I still think they are turning it over more than they need to, but they are winning because their defense (particularly in the lanes) is so darn tough. Zeitgeist is inching closer and closer to the top and further away from the second tier of women's ultimate. I don't think they are going to challenge Fury (too mental) but they will make Nationals and very likely make semis. Traffic and Underground will likely be playing for fourth again at Regionals, while Schwa, Further and Slackjaw are all hoping to beat each other and pull off an upset over one of the higher ranked teams.

Men's division is still wide open...sort of. Revolver and Sockeye have established themselves as the clear 1-2. Rhino, Furious and ECU are too young in too many places to be consistent and anyone of them could beat the other on any day. More generally, youth and turnover is the story in the West this year. With the wholesale collapse of the Jam, widespread retirements from the Fish, the continued rebuilding of the Monkey (Lugs told me it was his last year) and the ongoing attempt to resurrect Rhino you have a West that on the surface looks the same (SF, Seattle, Vancouver) but actually is anything but - all the players are different.

Sockeye: high risk, high reward. In this age of boring ultimate, it is nice to see someone still playing with a little verve. The take chance after chance after chance strategy (on O and D) has worked great for the Fish. Two silvers this year (Worlds! and Labor Day) is much better than anyone (including the Sockeyes) expected going in to the season.

College Gossip. Cal will return everyone but Cree, UW will return everyone but Shannon. Weird to have two teams in the same region lose their best player and no one else in the same year. Still, I'd expect both those teams to be better than last year as everyone gets another year under their belt and younger players begin to fill into the void left by the superstars. UW will be getting its fourth head coach in four years; Cyle will not be coaching again. Carolyn Finney will be back for the Skirts, but I don't know anything about the rest of the team. In typical Clown Tent fashion, Oregon has no idea who is returning - it could be a mere 6 players or it could be 13. This time last year Molly, Tina and Shannon were all going to move on and all three came back...

Friday, August 27, 2010


I had the privilege of working at the Seattle Youth Ultimate Camp last week. Roger and Mike have built a really amazing thing up there in the Emerald City. Two one-week sessions, each one featuring 250 kids ages 8-16.

Unlike a lot of ultimate camps, which promise to make you a super-duper superstar, SYUC is a unique animal. It is a regular summer camp, like soccer camp or art camp or physical science camp, but it's for ultimate. The curriculum is an interesting mix of ultimate and reindeer games. At the high school level, we played a lot of mini (more touches) and did a lot of ultimate work in the mornings, but mixed throughout was Ninja, Boot, Schtick, Galaxy Wars, Mack-Line-Elimination, DDC and the vogue game of the week: You're-Out-In-And-Out.

The staff of the camp is ridiculous. A new middle school coach came down from BC to watch and his comment was that SYUC was like hockey camp taught by a bunch of NHLers. At the high school level we had 5 worlds titles, 12 national titles and who knows how many college and club national appearances.

This experience made teaching individual skills easy, but teaching team level skills tricky. It is great for the kids to get instruction in a new way of thinking about marking (since some have been to camp 10+ times,) but difficult to figure out how to instruct on playing offense. Who's offense are we learning? Riot's? Fury's? Sockeye's? Fugue's? Each of those offenses carries with it an assumption of spacing, timing and reads that is subtly and not-so-subtly different. When all of us are coming from different places, instructing kids on those things is impossible.

My last thought is that high school ultimate players need to get in the weight room. Recently, I had a conversation about lifting with the coach of the high school football team where I work. They have a summer lifting program and I asked him how he ensured attendance and what he did about the kids who no-show. He doesn't worry about it, he said, he just writes them off because if they aren't in the weight room, they are going to get injured. Ultimate is the same. I look at the injury problems players like Matt Reyder and Sam K-S are having at 19 and 21 and I say: WEIGHT ROOM!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

ECC Notes

1. Pray for anyone but Revolver and Ironside. I've never watched such a boring final. So boring, in fact, that I got up to go to the river to swim before it was over (but then I lost my flips and spent the last five points trying to find them instead.) With Revolver and Ironside, you have two teams who want to possess the disc and throw little shrimpy passes. I thought I was going to choke on comeback cuts.

2. Defensive handling won for Ironside. The trio of Crockford, Goldstein and Muffin were well balanced and powerful. When Ironside got the turn, their offensive abilities allowed them to take shots when they were there and grind it out when they weren't.

3. Fury over Riot again. This final was almost as boring as the men's, but for a different reason. Both teams played an with an incredibly flat, calm demenor throughout. It was as if they had come to an agreement before the game that Riot was going to let Fury win. In a way, they had. I've been puzzling about what I'd do if I was in charge of Riot. Ignore the elephant? Face it head on?

4. Mamas don't let your babies grow up to play coed. Please.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Things I Hate About Ultimate: Vol 1

Of all the throws in the world, the open-side swing has to be the most brain-crippling, vision-destroying pass of all time.

I went to play mini with the Ego boys last night (first time playing ultimate in two years) and came away thinking what an awesome game mini is. Great for conditioning, great for reps on o and d and great for seeing space. The combination of the tiny little field, make-it-take-it and stall-from-anywhere means that the funny space abounds and is used frequently. In fact, if you never use the funny space, you probably won't score in mini.

For so many ultimate players, learning to throw an open-side swing was their first or second throwing skill. It was an essential skill before their team would even let them on the field. But in learning the open-side swing pass first, they immediately put on mental shackles. All that funny space, which is so easy to throw into and so easy to cut into, disappears because it's a break-mark throw (which is a "tough" throw, so how could a rookie make it?) or it's counter-flow (which is a "bad decision") or it's just unconventional and unexpected ("that's not what we do.") Learning to throw that open-side swing pass takes a 4800 square foot field and makes it 10x10 box.

When you learn what a force is and a swing is and what the 'right' way to play is, you are excising a whole host of options and possibilities from your game. The really great throwers and cutters spend years unlearning what is and isn't possible. My advice: don't throw swing passes in the first place.

Friday, July 16, 2010

World Cup Ultimate

I recently had the opportunity to work for Roger Crafts and Mike Mullen at Seattle Youth Ultimate Camps. It was an awesome experience, I learned a ton and I am going to return in August to teach a new leadership in ultimate section of the camp. One of the really cool things they do at SYUC is to make ultimate culture fun and exciting by playing a lot of reindeer games. Using reindeer games is a really nice way to alleviate the hard work and intensity associated with playing six hours of ultimate for five straight days. (Remember, these kids are 8-16.) This year the big games were Galaxy Wars (Super-Boot), Schtick and Ninja Warrior.

Late in the week we decided to play a small-team (fours) ultimate tournament after lunch. Because of all the reindeer games, I felt authorized to organize it into World Cup format. Four pools of 4 teams with games 20 minutes long. Games ended on the whistle, with only pass-in-the-air continuation. Wins were worth 3 and ties 1. There were a lot of ties. Two teams from each pool advance to quarters. Once we got to bracket play, ties were resolved via shoot out. The Gorillas won quarters and semis in shootouts.

The shootout involved five shots, each of which involved three players: a thrower, a cutter and a defender. (Because most of the teams had five players, each one filled each role once.) The disc was placed at mid-field (which was about 15 yds from the goal line) and the thrower had five seconds to throw a goal to the cutter who could set up anywhere they wanted. The defender could also set up wherever they wanted, although all chose to mark the cutter, not the thrower. The Gorillas big semifinal win over the Jackalopes came when back-to-back Jackalope receivers botched their footwork and came down just shy of the endzone. Congrats to the Mice who handled the scrappy Gorillas in the final.

It is a bit hard to see where the shootout would fit into current ultimate practices, but there is a definite application for the hardest-of-hard-cap whistles. Because of the very tight time constraints, when the whistle blew, the game was over, unless it was tied. Didn't matter if it was between points or during points or who had possession; when the whistle blew it was done. The only difficulty for a real ultimate tournament is the problems associated with hearing the horn. We used the cap system again for the end-of-camp tournament and it worked well and created some awesome, exciting finishes particularly the Dog-Riot semifinal. (Teams were named after UPA Champions.)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Questions from 97430

When I switched over from 97430, I left unanswered questions. Here they are:

1a. I don't like yoga because it is too static. Pilates is more dynamic. It really came home to me in a yoga class once when the instructor said to me, "Get your knee back and lock it." I thought, "Are you crazy? I like my ACL right where it is." Any physical training you do creates muscle memory and I don't like creating bad and potentially dangerous habits.

1b. "Always wear pants" means just that: wear long pants no matter what the weather is. You want to keep that hamstring and leg uncomfortably warm, so wear pants.

2. "Spirit" is hippie-dippy, but that's the birth of our sport. It was born in 1968, after all. If it is the woo-woo nature of the name that bugs someone, I'd encourage them to lighten up and laugh about it. "Sportsmanship" or "Respect for your Opponent" are ideas that can exist within any sport, reffed or not. What we have in ultimate goes beyond these because it places responsibility for these and correct officiating on the players themselves. Because it is more expansive, it nice for it to have a unique name.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Worlds: Musings from the Score Page

I have seen or heard little beyond the scores and the game reports, (never could get the video to work) but based on that I've a few observations.

Revolver back to #1. After a shattering loss to Chain in the Finals last fall, when they were woefully out-coached, Revolver has reasserted its status as the best team in the world. Congrats! Now can they win Nationals?

Fish back in the race. With a disappointing 2009 following a devastating 2008 quarterfinals exit, people were claiming the death of Sockeye. With only one player (MC) remaining from the Carleton-Moho juggernaut (Rog, Chase, Nord, Jimmy, Cram, CK, Lou, Burkhart, Dufort...) that powered them three titles, I even heard someone claim the Dark Years (1999-2001) were on the Fish again. Put all that shit to rest. By knocking off short-listers Ironside and Chain in back-to-back games, the Fish have powerfully reinserted themselves into the National title race.

Fury over Riot (and everyone else) again. It'll end eventually, but it continues to be amazing that the story line is always Riot-Fury and that it is always Fury coming out on top.

CUPA get it together. Only two Canadian teams placed in the quarters (Invictus and Lotus) and neither challenged their opponent at all. A huge part of the problem was that two of the top Canadian teams, Furious and Traffic, opted out of Canadian Nationals instead going to ECC. So CUPA disallowed them. As an organization, CUPA is responsible to send its best teams to Worlds and is responsible to make a national tournament that its team care about. It did neither and now ranks a distant third behind the Japanese in national strength.

I'll be at ECC a bit next month and do a little reportage there.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What's winning the fields?

Winning the fields means being the last carload of people on the fields after a tournament. Since the cag is one of my three favorite things about ultimate and since winning the field often involves several hours of cagging, I love winning the fields.

I talked a little bit about Fugue winning the fields on 97430, but my all time favorite win has to be at Flowerbowl 2002. Mizu and I were freshly and madly in love. Riot beat Schwa in the first final. At that time some of Schwa's players were a bit less than friendly and not particularly well-liked in Vancouver, so the entire crowd was behind Riot the whole way. Then we (the Fish) played Furious in the second final and the crowd was against us the whole way. It didn't matter; the Vancouver crowd is one of the best in ultimate: knowledgeable, enthusiastic and partisan so it's great to have them cheer against you. We beat the Monkey. At home.

After about twenty minutes of slapping hands and visiting, I turned to Mizu and said, "What do you think about winning the fields?" She said, "Great." How can you not love someone who wants to win the fields after they've already been sitting around watching ultimate for two-and-a-half hours? We cagged around and visited with the Canadians (mostly Al Bob.) We tried to hit the storage box two fields away with oranges (Giora hit it.) We hacked, played reindeer games (Muck Around) and threw. Finally, even the tournament director was left and the sun was going down, so we decided to roll out.

Rather than go home, we went down into Vancouver and got slabs for dinner. We sat outside on the street and watched the world walk by. Then we got gelato. Then cupcakes. Then we went down to the water and watched the last of the light fade out of the day (which June 10th in Vancouver is about 10:30 PM.) When darkness had fallen and the sunset watchers had given way to bonfires and drunken dancers, we strolled back to our car and started the drive home to Seattle.

That's winning the fields.