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.