26 August 2014

Team selections and the Ultimate Results Coaching Academy Conference

The first ever Ultimate Results Coaching Academy Conference has been run.

Melissa Witmer is one of a new breed: an ultipreneur, carving out a career in our little sport. She organised the conference that ran last week, allowing people around the world to watch presentations online delivered by the likes of Tim Morrill, Ben Wiggins and Ren Caldwell.

I was fortunate enough to be asked to deliver a talk.

My presentation was on Team Selections. To give you an idea of what I covered, my topics were:
  • Number of selectors
  • Planning your work
  • Communication with candidates
  • Deposits
  • Pro­active recruiting
  • Gathering information
  • Observing player candidates
  • Managing information
  • Providing feedback
  • Announcing the team
  • Player dismissal
  • Player application form 
If you get in quick, you can purchase access to all these talks, and the handouts, before the price goes up. I personally am keen to watch all the talks that I couldn't this week. If you are a coach or selector for your club, ask them to pay for access. Seems like a good investment for your club. To give you more of a taste, Skyd has a review. And I'll be blogging more about selection this week.

18 July 2014

World Ultimate Club Championships 2014

From 2-9 August, the World Ultimate Club Championships will be held in Lecco, Italy.

"Lecco e il suo lago2" by Bernini Massimo
Ultimate has two regular world championships. 

Every 4 years, nations send their best players on representative teams to compete at the World Ultimate Championships. USA plays France, Japan plays Colombia and so on. This occurs in the Olympic years (2008, 2012, 2016, etc).

However, in the other even years (2006, 2010, 2014, etc), club teams compete for the title of world champions. For example, San Francisco Revolver plays Sydney Colony, London Iceni plays Vancouver Traffic. 

Perennial powerhouse USA is sending 16 teams across the five divisions. Canada, Japan, Australia and GB are not far behind, and this is a fair reflection of how these nations expect to finish: USA near the top, and the others looking to topple them. Ultiworld has profiled how the elite US teams expect to perform

Follow the action via Twitter, Facebook, the tournament website or Skyd.

The tournament by the numbers:

  • 10th World Ultimate Club Championships
  • 40 countries represented
  • 161 teams competing
  • 5 divisions (women, open, mixed, masters and womens masters)
  • 34 fields
  • up to 12 games per team
  • over 3000 competitors
  • 1 team returning from the inaugural WUCC 1989KFUM Örebro from Sweden

Good luck to all the Australian teams!

  • Women: STBAU (Victoria), Rogue (NSW)
  • Open: Colony (NSW), Juggernaut (Victoria), Sublime (WA)
  • Mixed: Batmania (Victoria), Roadkill (ACT), Hippo (Victoria/SA)
  • Masters: Phat Chilly (Victoria), Eastern Greys (NSW)
  • Women Masters: Primal (WA)   

30 June 2014

How to call a line

You are on the line at the start of the point with six teammates. You need to communicate your plan to them for this point.

What do you say?

How do you communicate it?

There are three important aspects to consider.

Being predictable (you want to have a routine that your teammates know).
Being clear (speaking loudly and authoritatively so your teammates know they have to listen)
Being efficient (each sentence is communicating one idea in a few words)

You know you're doing this well if no-one asks questions at the end, and no-one chimes in.

Here is a sample line call:
  1. We have 7. We're on D. (This gets people listening. If you're wrong someone will correct you on either item.)
  2. We're forcing backhand (The plan.)
  3. Fred is on 1, Jimmy is on 2, Tina is on 3, Jane is on 4, etc (Call the match ups from left to right, with their name first so they listen. Assign key defenders to key targets but don't worry about the three or four least important matchups too much)
  4. We're straight up to backhand (Repeat the plan since people may have forgotten the plan. There are good listeners and poor listeners on every team.)
  5. On offence, we're in a vertical stack (The plan for offence.)
  6. Let's really take away the under cuts (Emphasise what we want to focus on. This message can really set the tone so choose how you say it.)
  7. <wait> (This is the time for teammates to communicate - with you, with the sideline, with each other)
  8. We're forcing backhand, vertical on O (Repeat the plans once more)

12 June 2014

Patterns not rules

Many years ago, an outdoor education leader mentioned something to a group of young teenagers (including me): "There are no rules, only consequences".

I learnt to appreciate this saying. Some people have the rule "you can't drive through a red light". But actually you can. It is foolish and dangerous to do so in most cases. But it is not impossible. There are just consequences if you choose to do so. If you move away from thinking in terms of rules, there are real benefits.

For instance, I have moved away from thinking in terms of rules for my ultimate teams.

Bob talks about affirmative principles in a similar way.

Here are some examples of phrasing what your team desires as patterns, not rules.

Whereas others might say "Do not ever huck down the sideline" or "Only huck down the middle", say to your teammates "We want to huck down the middle."

So learn, practice and celebrate this pattern. There might on rare occasions be a time when it is good to huck down the sideline. Trust each other to make good decisions, and use your patterns regularly. Examine how they are working for you.

If you have rules, they can be broken. And someone receives blame.

With patterns there is simply a focus on a path to achieving team goals.

10 June 2014

Spirited or unspirited?

Here are some scenarios.

Which show poor spirit? Which are acceptable?

1. A player lays out for a disc and lands well out of bounds but doesn't catch it. Her opponent runs the  disc back to the sideline and puts into to play before she gets up. She's not injured.

2. A player picks up the disc and walks towards the front of the end zone. When his defender has their back turned, he sprints past them and puts it into play on the front of the end zone, before the defender realises.

3. A player competing in the World Club Championships calls travel on the thrower as they pivot, but  doesn't know that travel need not be a stoppage, and insists play be stopped.

4. A team winning 14-4 at a Nationals warm-up tournament plays a point where they only throw hammers.

5. A player catches a goal and throws the disc up in the air.

6. A player throws through the legs of their opponent.

7. A player pretends to throw a hammer, but hides it behind their back while the marker looks to see where it went.

8. A captain calls timeout close to time cap, to ensure time cap will go during this point, and reduce/eliminate the chance of the opposing team winning.

8 June 2014

The Wisdom of Crowds

James Surowiecki wrote a book entitled "The Wisdom of Crowds".

He postulates that a diverse group of independent individuals generally make better decisions than even the smartest individual in the group. Even the less valuable members bring new information to the decision making process, and help create a better decision.

His examples include stock markets, web page ranking, car manufacturing industry, sports betting markets and ant colonies.

This concept has a really strong application in one particular aspect of ultimate.

This aspect often has suboptimal decision making by a group that is too small and not diverse enough.

The aspect is: selecting a team.

At several Australian University Games, I have been a selector of the Green and Gold team, an honorary All-Star team that would theoretically represent Australia in an international university competition. The selections are based solely on performance at this one tournament.

This is a challenging team to select. Most selectors have other roles at the same time: tournament director or coach of a particular team. And they have limited time to watch games.

The most useful piece of input comes from the wisdom of crowds.

Here is one way to do it: near the end of the tournament, ask one or two senior players on each team to write a list of the players they would select for the Green and Gold team. Ask them to consult teammates.

Of the eight teams in Division 1, you now have eight lists. And the cumulative information is very valuable.

Firstly, biases are apparent. Each list nominated by a particular team tends to have several players from that team. Obviously senior players see their teammates play more, and overestimate their performance a little. But these biases are easily spotted, once you look at all the lists: Fred may get a vote from his captain, but potentially none from other teams.

Secondly, you gain information on games the selectors never saw. If no selector saw Team B play Team C, yet Team B says there is a worthy player from Team C, you now have new input.

In summary, this voting system is valuable for gathering the wisdom of the tournament. Input is gathered from more games than any selection committee can watch. It is more time efficient. And it highlights biases that captains or selectors (who may be team coaches) have.

If you have to select a team, consider asking a diverse group of informed players for their teams. The wisdom gained may be very eye-opening.

3 May 2014

Always call match ups on defence

So imagine you're playing a low stakes game of ultimate. A regular team training or a weekly league game.

Here are two scenarios:

1. You call match ups, assigning a teammate to defend a particular opponent

2. You say "match up across".

Always do scenario 1.

Call match ups.

If you simply just guard the person across, it means the line caller has invested almost no focus into this point. It means who you guard doesn't matter. It means how you play this point doesn't matter. It means throwaways are fine and jogging on defence is fine.

And that leads to sucky ultimate.

So always call match ups, even if the game is low stakes. It will make the ultimate better.

29 April 2014

Australian Ultimate Championships 2014: the wrap up

The finals have been played. Champions have been crowned.

In the women's division, Kaos brought a strong game to the final. They were clearly the best women's team we have seen come out of Western Australia. They looked like they were on a mission: no fear in the spotlight of their first final, coaches co-ordinating their tactics, warm-up drills using lots of short forehands, and and unending line-ups of athletes.

But the talent of Team Box was too much. Cat and Mich Phillips caught and threw what they wanted. Hussey and Joy controlled the tempo. Q laid out, including the winning goal.

Team Box won 14-12.

Team Box with smiles
In the Open division, Colony Pillage came out strong against Fyshwick. Gav Moore got an early block on a huck, which set the tone. The Pillage defence was piling on the pressure, and Fyshwick were not in the groove they had shown for most of the tournament.

Pillage won 15-10.

Pillage and Plunder
In other results, Hot Chilly and French pushed up to 9th and 10th respectively, demonstrating how they beat some top 8 teams earlier in the tournament. DUFF narrowly avoided the wooden spoon.

Champion: Sporting Team Box Athletico United
Silver Medallists: Kaos
Bronze Medallists: Rogue Traders
Spirit: Honey
MVP: Katie Bradstock (Sugar Magnolias)
Champions: Colony Pillage
Silver Medallists: Fyshwick United
Bronze Medallists: Colony Plunder
Spirit: I-Beam
MVP: Aaron Neal (Wildcats)

26 April 2014

Australian Ultimate Championships 2014: the pointy end

Here's a recap of the action from Day 3 of the Australian Ultimate Championships.

In the women's division, Rabble toppled Sugar Magnolias to make the quarterfinals, as did Sand Dunes by defeating Artemis.

The quarterfinals went to seed. Team Box, Honey, Rogue Traders and Kaos all prevailed. The closest one was Rogue Traders (one point over Factory) but the others were comfortable wins.

The outcomes of the semis matched the pool finished. Kaos topped their pool today and also topped Rogue Traders 15-7. Meanwhile STBAU remained undefeated by defeating Honey 15-8 in a Victorian derby.

The final tomorrow is STBAU (Melbourne) vs Kaos (Perth) at 1pm. This is the first finals appearance for Kaos, but STBAU are veterans of the process. Ulti.tv are aiming to offer live streaming, so stay tuned.

In the Open division, the game of the day may have been a pre quarter. Sublime battled Wildcats for a spot in the quarters, and Wildcats were down a few points throughout, but held on til the end, surviving a massive Peeley layout (that macked it up), a stall that was contested and a Twig bid on the winning goal. Wildcats just hucked better (not well, just better) than Sublime to get three consecutive breaks to win 13-12.

Sublime vs Wildcats
Magon outlasted Outbreak in a calmer game next door, 13-8.

The quarters saw Magon take down the erratic Phat Chilly, 12-10.

Colony Pillage found their defensive mojo from BCI and played strongly against a hard-working HoS, winning 13-8.

Then the semi saw Magon play Pillage. Magon had 13 players, lost another to an ankle roll, and were struggling to play a third big game of the day. Pillage were too energetic, with young 'uns like Rob and Nate scoring some double happiness. 15-7 to Pillage.

Fyshwick narrowly toppled Wildcats 12-11, which was Fyshwick's third one-point win of the tournament.

Plunder put away Firestorm 15-11, before meeting Fyshwick.

This was a rematch, which had gone to double game point previously.

The goal celebrations could be heard three fields away as the teams competed. Presumably Joel, Ant, Calan, Jonno, AJ and Mike did big things and everyone worked hard. There are no known written accounts of this event, so we may never know.

Fyshwick won 15-12.

Your Open final tomorrow at 11am will be Colony Pillage vs Fyshwick United. Fyshwick United make their second third appearance in an Open Nationals final and Pillage make their third. Or fourth. Or second. It's hard to tell with the two Colony teams. Anyway it's the team with Gav, Pete and Cupcake as captains.

Tin Tin (right) will be in the final. Ewan (left) sera regardait son ami jouer.

25 April 2014

Australian Ultimate Championships 2014: upsets abound

We are halfway through the Australian Ultimate Championships 2014.

The current standings are here, but let me break it down for you.

The women's division is mostly going according to seed.

In the first pool, STBAU are undefeated, followed by Rogue 1, Factory, Sugar Mags and Rabble.

There have been a number of one or two point wins in that group of four. The Rabble - Sugar Mags game will put one of them into the quarterfinals and the other down to the bottom group.

The next tier is Zig Theory, Smokestack and Cherry Bomb.

The second pool has Rogue Traders, Honey and KAOS in a three way tie. Sand Dunes and Artemis (NZ) battle each other tomorrow morning for the last quarterfinals spot.

STBAU look like the form team at the moment. Their for-and-against is clearly the best at +49.

Over in the men's division, it is an unholy mess. No-one knows who will win any given game.

Before this tournament, we had some patterns: Colony Pillage and Colony Plunder had won every game against non-Colony teams, except a Plunder loss at BCI. HoS were looking to be in third place, with a strong Regionals win over Phat Chilly, and a strong showing at BCI. Fyshwick and Firestorm were close but not getting wins on the aforementioned teams.

That's all out the window here at Nationals. Phat Chilly beat Pillage. Who beat Wildcats. Who beat Phat Chilly. And Firestorm beat both Pillage and Wildcats by a point each time.

On the other side, Plunder have lost to HoS and Fyshwick. Fyshwick is undefeated and the strongest team so far. Adelaide's Outbreak upset Sublime.

Footage of Plunder vs Fyshwick. Watch ulti.tv online!
Did I forget to mention that two of the top four teams (Phat Chilly and Firestorm) have suffered embarrassing losses to teams that likely will finish in the bottom 6?

The quarterfinals will be Fyshwick vs (winner of Wildcats - Sublime) and Firestorm vs Plunder.

The other side will be Phat Chilly vs (winner of Outbreak - Magon) and HoS vs Pillage.

This looks like the most even field at Nationals for many years. Stay tuned.

11 February 2014

The RISE UP World Tour

Right now RISE UP is on its world tour, visiting these five countries.

Mario O'Brien is the RISE UP founder. He is joined on certain legs of this tour by Alex Snyder and Ryan Purcell.

RISE UP is all about teaching ultimate communities the skills and drills used by the best teams in the world - through videos and in person.

But there is a second goal in the pipeline: build coaching and leadership skills. Both of these aspects were in play at the Australian clinics.

In their Melbourne clinic, Mario and Alex spent Saturday coaching around 40 female players.

Also, ten coaches attended. They weren't playing. They were observing the coaching practices of Mario and Alex, reflecting on them, and identifying the important features of team culture, drill progressions, focussed scrimmages and providing feedback.

This development of coaches is critical. More and more teams recognise the value of coaches, and have appointed them. Mario writes about this from the American perspective, while in Australia, the Dingoes, STBAU, Heads of State, Chilly Masters and Rabble have all recently appointed head coaches after not having one.

Appointing coaches is only the first step.

There is a need in ultimate to explicitly train those coaches into expert coaches, by giving them communities of coaches. These coaches need to peer observe, and reflect and plan together.

Many aspects of ultimate have lots of time and effort put into them: intercity and international competition, fitness, videos, news/blogs. But what programs or resources exist for turning adequate coaches into fantastic ones?

Well, not much. So Mario is stepping up to that opening. And he has the leadership training and ultimate experience to build something great.

Who else will step up?

7 February 2014

How Alex Snyder throws

The captain of San Francisco's Fury and the 2013 USA World Games team, Alex Snyder, has a pretty good bio in ultimate. I don't know who is a more accomplished athlete in our sport.

So how does a top level player throw a forehand? If you watch a video or in person, it's all over in 1 second.

This gif will let you see the actual mechanics.

What is happening when Alex throws?

Alex steps forward. A lot. She said that she does this even if the mark is there, throwing past the plane of the marker. Most markers will step back, foul her, or allow her to throw through the gap.

For a lot of players, a big step forward will swing their throw to their left or give it too much outside in - their hips will rotate during the throw. Alex doesn't. She winds up her torso before the throw, and this brings her right shoulder a long way back. It then drives forward in the throwing action, but her hips don't rotate relative to her feet.

Her left arm is out from her body, to counterbalance her throw, and create space from the marker.

Alex has a good range of motion - her right elbow is leading her right hand as she starts her throw. She can lunge forward a good distance. She can twist her torso.

Alex is a good example to learn from.

If you come along to a RiseUp clinic in Australia this week, you'll learn many other things from Alex too. She knows how to coach, and is here to share her knowledge of training for ultimate.

30 January 2014

Why should people play sport?

When it comes to sport, we have to think about a powerful influence: most athletes love winning. Love it. Winning is sometimes the only thing on the radar.

There is an organisation in the US which has a goal to make youth sport a positive experience, that builds strong character. It says there is more than one thing you need on your radar.

Jim Thompson from the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) talks about how youth sport needs to talk about its goals: competition and personal development. It can't be only about winning.

Participating in sport is different from watching sports entertainment. Entertainment can have good moral choices or poor moral choices - either type of drama will bring in the ratings and sponsor dollars.

But when everyday people participate in sport, especially youth, we want them to learn to make admirable decisions. Win or lose.

Ultimate obviously has some of this culture built into our sport already. While the PCA talks about Honoring the Game, ultimate talks about Spirit of the Game.

Can we take a leadership role among sports? Is ultimate's approach to sportsmanship robust enough to handle internal and external changes? Do ultimate players view their sport as an activity that develops personal skills such as humility, resilience and respect? Or is it viewed just as a fun community that helps you stay fit?

22 January 2014

We're now understanding how to create athletes

The last few years have seen athletic development really take off.

Coaches of strength and conditioning are learning about their athlete's and how to improve their athleticism, in ways that really advance on old ideas.

Here is a great example: read about Shannon Turley and how he turned Stanford's conditioning program around for the football team. 

I am confident there were other factors that improve Stanford's win total, but I am also confident that Turley's approaches were significant.

Keeping players injury free is being recognised as critical for athletic coaches. It is most important way they can help their athletes.

Lastly, it is great to see the arrival of better assessment tools, so athleticism (and not just power or speed) can be measured. Here is the Function Movement Screen which Turley uses.

9 January 2014

What the elbow does in a forehand throw

The elbow of an expert thrower does two things during a forehand throw.

1. The elbow moves forward.

2. The elbow straightens.

And it happens in that order. Poor throwers generally struggle because they are leaving one of these steps out.

Why does the elbow have to do these two things?

Firstly, the elbow moves forward to give momentum to the arm, by rotation at the shoulder joint. So the elbow has to start behind the body. This is easier if the disc is upside down.

Once the elbow has moved as far forward as it can, the hand needs to move forward. This is done by straightening the elbow.

The last steps are wrist snap and finger snap.

The momentum is transferred to the disc late in the motion. It is at the end of the chain.

Another way of thinking of the motion is: shoulder, then elbow, then wrist, then finger. The snap of a good forehand involves the whole arm chain, with all joints used in a particular order.

Matt Dowle is a good example to watch.