Tuesday, July 26, 2011

D Positioning Off-Man

I want to wrap up my general discussion of defensive positioning with some comments on how to play defense off-man. By off-man, I mean with a large cushion of 4 or more steps. I am not talking about scared or lazy defense where you back your player to avoid being beat deep, but a hungry aggressive defense that is looking to cover one-and-a-half. (One-and-a-half meaning your player and help on others.)

1. The foundation is anticipation and energy. You anticipate the action and use energy to bring yourself to the play. You must constantly watch the run of play looking for openings. You recognize the space when your offensive player does and break into it simultaneously.

2. You need protection to play off. Because you are allowing separation, you are vulnerable to a one-pass shot to your player. That's why playing off of the front player in a vertical stack is usually pretty dumb - the thrower just beats you. There are different kinds of protection but most fit into three categories: traffic, distance and value. The classic off-man position is last back. This works because there is usually a lot of traffic underneath that prevents the thrower from hitting your player with one throw. (Incidentally, this defense was a big motivator for the expansion of the flat stack which moves the traffic out of the way.) Distance is another big help. If your player is far from the thrower, it is easier to play off. The throw is tougher and is in the air longer, giving more time for recovery. An example of this is when you are covering a sideline cutter in a flat stack and the disc swings away from you to the far sideline. That shot, some 50 yards across and up the field, is ridiculously hard and allows you the luxury of dropping off of your player and helping to the middle of the field. The last kind of protection is value. Teams poach off of the swings in horizontal offense all the time because the swing to the sideline has little value to the offense.

3. If you are going to play off, be prepared to switch. You can see the whole field. There will come an situation where you or a teammate is beaten and need to help each other out. The key is to close out the separation immediately after the switch. That is the energy piece. Anticipation sees and makes the switch, energy closes it out so that you don't give up an easy shot.

Done properly, playing off-man is very effective, but it really requires smart play and a lot of mental work. The advantage is less physical work and an increased likelihood of a help d. The disadvantage is that when it doesn't work, it looks really, really bad.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Kung Fu Throwing

Kung Fu throwing or Ninja throwing is a system developed by Mike Caldwell and I in 2005. I wanted to come up with a structured throwing plan to help developing throwers. As the only two Fish who lived on Capitol Hill at the time, Mike and I would meet often to throw. I solicited him to help me with this and to our surprise we found that it was an excellent system for established throwers. (We were in our 7th and 9th years on Sockeye.) We did KFT once a week the entire season and my throws were more consistently on than any other year.

The philosophy of the KFT seeks to improve a thrower in three ways. First and simplest, repetition. The entire program takes about an hour and features ~450 throws. Second, it seeks to challenge the limitations of a thrower by pushing them to throw beyond their comfort. Not so much in terms of distance, but in range of release. Lastly, the central portion of the program tries to articulate the different components of a throw. It separates the wrist from the arm from the shoulder from the hips from the feet. Young throwers are often limited to a single forehand where the handwristarmshouldertorsohipsfeet have to all be doing the same motion every time. What if a defender takes it away? What if you need to get around a marker? Really great throwers make adjustments large and small to their footwork and release points in order to beat defenders.

A warning about KFT: it is very physically rigorous. Mike and I felt taxed by it and we were in incredible shape and our bodies in ultimate frisbee conditioning for years. KFT should be treated like a workout and you should pay attention to your body. Pay attention to the upper hamstring on your step leg (not your pivot leg) because that is where most of the stress of this workout goes. Also consider a partial workout to begin. Cut the 25s down to 15s or even 10s to start.

Here's the workout:

Part I Warm Up w/ 25s
Throw 25 forehands, backhands and hammers at distances of 10, 20 and 30 yards
Throw 25 full lefty forehands, backhands and hammers at comfort distance (usually ~15 yards)
Stretch 5-10 minutes
Be disciplined about distance. The 10 yarder will feel way too short. You may not be able to throw hammers at the full 30. Try. When Mike and I developed it, my shoulders were wrecked and I couldn't throw a 30 yard hammer and so I just threw a mix of weird forehands and backhands. Throw the lefties. It is tempting to leave them out, but this workout really exacerbates the blacksmith syndrome inherent in training for ultimate and the lefty work will help balance you out.

Part II The Kung Fu
At comfort distance, throw 10 forehands and backhands...
1. As low as you can release
2. As far as you can release from your body
3. As high as you can release
4. Compass throwing. Imagine a compass with your pivot foot at the center. Pivot N and throw. Pivot NE and throw. Pivot E and throw and so on around the compass. Go four times around, twice throwing forehands and twice throwing backhands.
5. Rinky-dink. Throw 100 throws at a distance of 2-yards. The goal is rapid catch and release. Aim your throws to be easily catchable, but placed in such a way as to allow your partner to practice a variety of catches. Don't regrip! However you catch, you should throw. If pancake, throw hamburger. If you claw-catch over your head, upside-down backhand.
6. Optional Throw 10s at comfort outside in and inside out.
Completion rates should drop in this section. Mike and I had a focus goal of no turnovers the entire workout, but we never counted this section. The point is to challenge your technical and physical limitations, not to be perfect. Your throws in this section should feel awkward. The optional piece is there if you want. It makes the entire workout a bit long, but it is a nice extra piece of work.

Part III Hucking
Huck for 10 minutes.
Skip this part if you and your throwing partner are very unbalanced in power.

Part IV Pivoting and Focus
25s with pivot at comfort
Fake, pivot, throw. You are working on a snap fake and quick grip transition. Forehand to backhand should be one handed. Backhand to forehand should be a small off hand check. If you are working on a particular move, now is the time to practice it.

Part V Stretch again.
Do it. All the recent press about in ineffectiveness of stretching has to do with the effects of stretching before working out. The science on stretching after is still solidly pro-stretching.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Your Hard Work is not My Hard Work

I went to Eugene yesterday hoping to play some mini, even though I'd been told it wasn't going to happen. Thinking it would start at 530, I got to Roosevelt around 545 only to find out it wasn't due to start until 630. I threw with a couple of guys for twenty or thirty minutes and no one else had shown up yet. Irritated and bored, I went over to South to run repeat 800s on the track. For fun. Because I was bored. Your hard work is not my hard work.

A few years ago, a friend of mine asked me if I'd offer some advice to a young, up-and-coming team she'd been doing work with. I said sure and began an email correspondence. I found out their leaders were very gung-ho and motivated, but the rank-and-file of the team less so. They had a big meeting at the beginning of the fall laying out team goals and everyone said they were in. Yet attendance at track practice was woeful. It turned out their captain (like me) had run track in high school and liked running track workouts. He was both more motivated and enjoyed running.

My advice to him fell into three parts. First, recognize the situation and the difficulties it entailed. Second, structure opportunities for people to do hard work that they enjoy. Does half the team hate running? Set up a mini game instead. Schedule a structured throwing program like Kung-Fu Throwing. Lastly, expect to build buy-in slowly over the course of the year. The advantage that a program like Carleton or Stanford Superfly enjoys is that when you sign up, you are signing up for a ton of hard work. A developing team will struggle with this because many of the players didn't sign up for a ton of work. They signed up to run around, throw the frisbee and drink beer. Sprints? Uh-uh. AM throwing sessions? Nope. Weight room? Not interested. It takes time to convert individuals and teams to a new mindset. Often, this process extends across seasons as the personnel on the team change over. The less motivated graduate or retire and are replaced by the more motivated.

Leaders, it is important that you understand what it is you are asking of your team. Make sure that you have built the motivational foundation that will support the work you are asking to be done.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dip D

This is part 2 in a series on defensive positioning, part 1 is here.

The essential difference between classic (fronting) positioning and dip d positioning is that instead of standing between your player and the disc, you stand behind them. Over the years, I have known a number of teams to use this defense successfully. The first I encountered was the 96 Pie Queens led by Arlie Stern (of Fury.) She called the defense 'contain' and they played it as their standard man-to-man. Sockeye 1.0 (95-98) played this defense in conjunction with a straight up mark, typically for the first 2-4 passes. The goal was to prevent a quick score off of the pull play by overloading the deep throw with both the defender (Dip) and the mark (straight up.) Just as with a zone transition, the defense reverted to classic positioning after the first few passes. The short CUT teams (05-08) played it as a way avoid getting hucked on.

Dip D is a more conservative defense than classic fronting. In classic fronting you are taking the under (the easier throw) and giving the out (the harder throw.) You are more likely to get a turnover on any particular pass, but you are also more likely to get scored on. The decision of which defense to use hinges on percentages. The more skilled a team, the less effective Dip D will be. Playing Dip will force a team to throw ~10 passes to go 70 yards. Playing classic will force a team to throw ~5, but at least one of them will be low percentage. A skilled team (like an elite club team) will have no trouble hitting the half-step-open cuts that Dip yields. A college team? Depends on the team. A high school team? Unlikely. A city league team? Probably not.

As an individual defender, you may want to play Dip from time to time. Are you on an island? Against a more athletic receiver? Great thrower with the disc? Offense going downwind? All these question pertain to the likelihood of getting beat deep. As that likelihood increases, you should consider playing Dip for a portion of the stall count. As those things change, your positioning changes.

Finally, a little technique. This defense can be played more or less aggressively. The bad-defense technique is to give a full step (or more) under, wait for the cutter to move and then follow them to put on the mark. I would only recommend this in two circumstances: you are way over-matched athletically or the cutter can't throw at all and you are baiting the throwaway.
Better is to play closer to your player. This will require you to be alert, to anticipate and to reposition a lot more as your player moves and sets up for their cut. In the version of Dip D I learned with Sockeye, you were close enough to touch your player's back with your chest. If they tried to go deep on you, you held your position and forced them underneath. This method requires a fair bit of technical footwork to be effective (it's easy to get turned) and legal (its easy to commit a foul) and I would not recommend it for non-competitive situations like city league.
There is a middle ground between totally passive and totally aggressive. The cushion will be a half step. The trick is anticipation and tenacity. Know when your player is going to cut; if you pay attention, they'll tell you. Begin moving with them. Once they commit to their cut (usually ~4-6 steps in), commit to defending it and fly to the point of the catch. If it is a bad throw, recognize and block it. If it is a good throw, recognize and get the mark on.

To recap: This is a good team d if you are playing in a situation that is pretty low percentage. This is a good individual d if you think you are going to get beat deep. Like any defense, it is best if executed with anticipation and energy.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


I've always been ambivalent about Potlatch. It's fun, sure, and silly and ridiculous but all too often the ultimate is frustrating and unpleasant. So it was with great dread that I traveled up to Seattle with the family to hang out while Mizu played Muck-a-muck. (If there is one thing that is certainly true - Potlatch is awful if you're not playing. Don't do it.) Here's what I learned:

Potlatch is a great tournament for kids.
Unlike a college tournament or Regionals or ECC, there are a zillion adults looking to tap into their inner kid. I can't count the number of people my daughters suckered into playing one ridiculous game after another. Add in costumes, props and giant blow-up toys and you have Disney-land without the $250 a day price tag. I spent two days supervising, but not entertaining. Big thanks especially to Trish, Nij and Captain Crunch.

Until Tom Crawford goes to Potlatch and Poultry Days, he won't understand ultimate.
Ultimate has always had two faces: absurd and serious. This contradiction is built into the very fabric of the sport. Don't believe it? Take a half step back and watch a man spend all his disposable income to scream like a blood-encrusted Viking beserker about touching a round little piece of plastic.
Crawford and Deaver are working as hard as they can to move ultimate away from its ridiculous, silly, hippie roots. I don't always agree with what they are doing, but at least in Deaver's case I know he understands what he is doing. Crawford? No. Until he has tried to throw a forehand while wearing a cardboard box decorated like a box of Wheaties or catch a breath on the Smoke Field, I won't trust him.

People need to step up.
An ongoing complaint of mine is that people don't bring it like they should. A potlatch is about over-the-top and wasteful extravagance. A trip to Value Village and Archie McFee's doesn't cut it. Get real costumes. Get some sweet props. Build a giant structure. Here are some unused themes:
Cars. Build a couple (or more) wheeled cars to push around the field. I'm not really sure how this would work, but imagine a having vehicles to race or joust on or throw water balloons from and all it takes is a couple sets of knobby wheels and plywood.
Tricycle velodrome. The name says it all. Just keep Damien Scott and Mike Grant away from it.
The Duelists. Wrestling. Foam swords. Paint ball guns. You don't like my foul call? I want satisfaction.

Success in Muckamuck depended on your shirts.
CUT had spray-painted tees. Texas had ugly tie-dyes. UW and Oregon had mismatched old jerseys. Ho-dangs and the Tweeties? Full uniforms. On the women's side, the robotically identical Stanford beat Carleton in the final. While Mizu Kinney and Kate Clark played valiantly for Syzygy, their plain white t-shirts didn't match and ruined the Northfielders' chances.

Congrats to Frankus.
Frankus Flores of Downtown Brown made it 20 straight Potlatches this year. That's all but the first two. Nice work!