Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pool Play

The finals of a tournament is arguably the most important game. But you have to get there first...

Me throwing a dump to Arj at Nationals in Pool Play. Yes it was a turn. Yes Arj called a foul. Yes he took it back.

This past weekend my team, Grand Trunk, played at Canadian Nationals in Winnipeg. For the second year in a row we shit the bed in pool play. As a captain, there is nothing harder than seeing your guys go out there and make mistake after mistake. It's not that I was angry, but knowing that you aren't playing up to your potential is a hard pill to swallow.

There is always going to be an adjustment period in a tournament. There are certain parts of your and your team's game that will need to be tweaked, but it shouldn't be fundamentals. Of course, being on a young team will cause many a wrench to be thrown into your plans. The reality is that it makes your path to the finals considerably harder if you let any opportunities slip by.

Pool play and power pool play are kind of like the opening rounds and the cut at a PGA event. You need not be out in front to advance as long as you take care of business. The difference is that in golf you aren't jockeying for position in anticipation of who you will face. In ultimate, that is precisely what you are doing. Sure you can make power pools based on an OK record, but that OK record follows you and forces a tough quarterfinal matchup.

It is imperative to come out focused and sharp in pool play. Every team will require something different to get them in that space. It is on the leadership to properly prepare the team, but on the actual day I believe it is only the individual who can bring their A game to the fore.

Something I have learned from being priviliged enough to have played in Florida last year is that every single point against every single opponent is sacrosanct. The only way to avoid dwelling on what could have been is to know that not only were you prepared, but that you executed to the best of your abilities in the moment. Admittedly, it will take more than a few failures for this lesson to taken hold. 

You cannot choose your opponents, but you always choose how you play. Perhaps this is just an elaboration of the maxim that perfect practice makes perfect. Regardless, what is important is that you take full control over that which you can.

And that means winning in pool play.


those are some of my thoughts.



PS - For those of you who care to know, GT went 3-0 in power pool play to advance to the quarters. We suffered an 11-9 loss to General Strike and finished 5th in Canada - one of the best finishes in team history. Great season Trunk.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Dump

In ultimate, possession is 10/10ths of the law.

I heard he's good.

You must be able to maintain possession of the disc. The easiest way to do this is by dumping. If your team is unable to consistently:

1) Look for the dump by stall 4, and

2) Successfully execute the proper cut + throw

then you will not win games. Period.

I want to say a word about the different kinds of cuts I have been exposed to.

The Berkley

This is the standard off-the-line cut. There is no secret to it. The defence knows what you are going to run, but can't stop it as the defender is forced to make a decision first (allowing the offensive player to then exploit that decision).

The player running the dump cut starts about 15 yards out from the player with the disc. The cut is run at a 45 degree angle, upfield and towards the sideline. If the defender commits to taking away the up-the-line (which they should as it presents a far more dangerous continuation throw), the cut is reversed. The player goes back on the same plane, but curls away from the disc to the middle of the field.

The thrower hits the up-the-line if the defender allows it, or puts in a hard fake if he sees the cut is going to be reversed. The throw on the back-field cut is a leading throw out to green space. Do not throw it at the receiver. The defender will be behind him, so put the disc out with lots of spin to allow the receiver maximum space and time to get off a continuation throw.

If you want to know how to run a berkley properly watch Boston. They do it with devastating efficiency. In effect, they turn a dump cut into a powerful offensive weapon. The reason why is that the backfield throw is so aggressive. They really lead the receiver out to space and that receiver immediately hits a streaking upfield cutter for a big gainer. It was the combination of the backfield cut curling towards the middle of the field, the throw out to space and the cutter timing things perfectly that allowed them to shred us at Regionals last year in the finals.

Aside: the dump (and the berkley in particular) is one of the rhythms of the offence. It happens so often that everyone on the field should be aware and anticipating. This rhythm is a cue for the other players - a spacing and timing cue. Dumps shift from merely an act to retain possession to a powerful offensive weapon when the continuation throw is more than a simple swing. A dump should provide a solid opportunity to gain yards on the continuation. That is up to well timed cuts. When the disc hits the air, that is when you know where you will have to be in order to set-up a proper continuation cut.

I'm not going to go into detail about how the far-side handler and cutters move in the event the primary cut is shut down. I have my strategy as I'm sure you have yours.

The Jam

My new favorite dump cut. This is used basically anywhere on the field except the sidelines. It can be run from either side of the disc, but you might as well run it for the open-side handler because then you break the mark.

The player running the cut streaks behind the player with the disc. As he does so, the thrower turns, boxes out the mark and flips the disc to the player running the cut. This short pass is very, very effective and, as already mentioned, can result in a mini-break basically whenever you want.

Go find some UPA tape and watch ... JAM. They do this constantly. I love it.

A few points on how to run it properly:

- do not cut too close to the thrower

- the thrower must not be lazy - box out and extend to avoid getting point blocked

- the thrower must lead the receiver to space (this is what makes it a break-throw)

- defensively: if you are marking against a team that resets with the JAM you must adjust the mark so that when the thrower turns to initiate you are marking upfield, taking away the throw.

Ze German

Simple but deadly. A German situation comes up when the defender covering the dump is staring directly at their guy and not paying attention to the thrower. This is a scenario where the dump is thrower-led. All the thrower has to do is make eye contact, then loft the disc out to space. I usually tell my guys to imagine that the defender is standing with their arms fully extended at 45 degree angles - you must throw outside that range.

Often German situations come up only for a second, but that is all you need. They are very easy to exploit.

A similar situation is where the defender is trying to peek at both his man and the thrower. In this scenario the dump is receiver-led. The receiver should be able to lose his man through solid fundamentals.

Having gone through some of the different types of dumps I want to close with a few general comments.

Commit: you cannot bounce between different dump options expecting them to be open immediately and freaking out when they aren't. You must commit to the dump and trust that they will get open. Physically turn, square yourself and let them do their move. Communicate through eye contact and pump-faking. Often you must be patient in these situations (and that is precisely why you must turn and look dump by stall 4).

Spacing: as so often in ultimate, this is the key. Tight dumps (laugh away) are useless. You will turn it, and if you don't you are in the same position on the field as you were before. Remember, good teams do not simply utilize the dump to retain possession; they turn the dump into part of their offensive arsenal. If you think you are spaced out enough, you aren't. The more space, the better. Further, the throws themselves must always be longer than you think. You must lead the receiver out to green space.

Team Habits: every team has conditioned themselves to dump at a certain time (Dante, I know I'm losing you to laughter here, but try and stay with me). If you know when a team turns to dump (be it at stall 2, 5 or 7) you can wreak havoc on them. Know when they want to dump and adjust defensively to take it away. They won't be able to do what they are used to and will give you the disc while they try and re-adjust to your strategy. The dynamism of your marks is never good enough. The spacing and positioning of the mark should be a constant ebb and flow.

Good dumps are one of the fundamental pillars of winning ultimate. From what I have seen, Boston, JAM and Bravo are the best. There is no reason to ever turn it on a dump throw.

Finally, the dump is not a two-man sequence - all seven players should be involved in the cutting, throwing, clearing, filling, continuation ... in a word, the rhythm of the reset.

those are some of my thoughts.