Yo Dude, it Worked!
By Lou Burruss
Structure makes me nervous. Maybe it was all the years playing d-team where the best hope we had was a rambling, grip-it-and-rip-it offense. Maybe it was the four years in college when I thought the right structure guaranteed a championship. (It didn’t.) Maybe it comes from watching mediocre teams emphasize structure over good play or watching my own team get snagged up on structure. For whatever reasons, structure makes me nervous.
I probably ought to back up half a step and explain what I mean by structure. Structure is rules. Horizontal stack, vertical stack, pull plays, 2-3-2 zones, etc, etc…these are structures. People like structure because people like rules. Structure provides control and reason to something that is essentially chaotic. It provides an opportunity for judgement and righteousness. It eases uncertainty and soothes worry.
The danger of structure is similar to the danger of over-valuing retention (which I discussed a bit last week). This is the danger of a misplaced objective. The objective in ultimate is to win. Things like structure or completing passes are dangerous necessities. They are dangerous because they can become an end in themselves and sometimes an end that doesn’t get you closer to winning.
Enough philosophy. Let’s make this at least reasonably practical. There are a lot of different ways to approach this issue, but let’s first look at it from the time standpoint. If you had an infinite amount of time, you could prepare your team exactly for every single circumstance that might come up. You don’t have an infinite amount of time, so you have to ration that to what is going to get you the most bang for your buck. If you are coaching a high school or college team, even one that is contending for a championship, skills are the most important thing you should be working on. Look at the teams that win – their skills are superior.
You have to have some measure of structure. The crucial piece is that whatever structure you have must have flexibility built into it. For a lot of things this kind of flexibility comes naturally. Take handler motion: First handler should try to go up the line. If it is covered, cut for the dump. That’s flexibility. Or take cup work in the zone: Off chase should stop the swing lane unless the handler is crashing. Then cover the handler. That’s flexibility. Both of these examples are ones where the flexibility is explicitly written into the structure. I’d also encourage you to have some mechanism by which to break structure. Anything you do that is too dogmatic is easily readable and beatable. Ever have a teammate who consistently broke the rules and got rewarded with a poach block when they should have been playing man? Or a huck for a goal when they were supposed to swing it? Maybe the problem is not your teammate, but the insistence on following the structure no matter what.
Truthfully, it isn’t the structure itself that scares me, but the reliance on structure and people’s fear of no-structure that scare me.
Anyway, the essential questions: Did it work? Would it work again?
Addendum: This article was not intended to be a complete exposition on the pros and cons of various types of structure or even how you might go about implementing structure in a wise fashion. It was designed to ask a question. The excellent discussion in the comments below furthers the conversation and might be considered an article on its own. – LB
Feature photo of Andrew Walch getting up for the score in the 2012 finals (Photo by Jeff Bell – UltiPhotos.com)