How to Build a Championship Ultimate Team – Part 2: Team Makeup

by | January 3, 2011, 11:00am 0

© James McKenzie

League Play

Ahh, league play, the spirit, essence, and the one true manifestation of the game of Ultimate.  Sportsmanship and comradery at its finest.  Don’t you believe it!  It’s been my experience that league play is one of the most difficult levels of any sport when it comes to building and keeping a championship team together.  You wouldn’t think so, but league play has some tricky points.   This difficulty arises because league teams will typically have three type of players on the roster; team players, individualists, and “players who think they know more than you do.”  How you handle the different player types will dictate team success.

First off, be prepared to lose half of your players. Experience has taught me again and again, if you keep the bad players, you will lose the good players.  If you work to keep the good players, you’ll need to replace the bad players.  Now,” bad” is a funny word when it comes to Ultimate, what with spirit of the game and everything.  I don’t mean bad as in the players are evil, don’t deserve to live, and need to be stopped from procreating at all costs.  I mean “bad” as being are disruptive to the team and frustrating to their teammates.  A team can consist of individualists or teammates, but not both.  Since this is an article about building for a championship, we won’t need to discuss teams composed of individualists.

Ultimate is a game where the traits of unselfishness and teamwork are more valuable then skills and athleticism.  Over the course of time, all good players will increase their skill level and become even more valuable.

While friends are allowed to have flaws, teammates aren’t.  Eliminating a flawed player who is also a friend is tough.   Elite level teams sometimes solve this by having a selection committee.  That way responsibility is shared and guilt is reduced.

League play is an open book, there are no secrets.  It is readily apparent to the most casual of observers which teams are good and which teams aren’t so good.  Good players on bad teams will soon move on to a better team.  This isn’t good or bad, it’s just human nature to want to play with likeminded teammates.

The hard part is the first year after the decision to go for the league championship.  Once the new team philosophy is in place and the team is playing well, you’ll be having so fun that players will want to be on the team.

It seems a little abrupt to go from College (which represents the pinnacle of organization, sometimes even more so than club) to League play which lacks organization. My experience has been that the teams that win the League playoffs are the teams full of individualists or groups of individualists that have rapport from playing together on club teams. These teams are full of club and college players who are looking for a less committed way to play Ultimate and they get by primarily based on their higher skill level than the competition. Back when I played league, we consistently lost to these types of teams in the playoff finals. Even for a league team, we didn’t practice or even run much of a strategy; that was saved for the fall series. League was just a way for us to play Ultimate.

Hmm, Ray makes some good points.  I would think that it all goes to show that there is some real talent out there in league play.  If you want to be a league champion, you’ll need to attract them to your team.

Fun Tournament Teams

Fun tourney teams are a great way for a team to experiment with a different team composition.

Same as above, championship fun tournament teams are teams stacked with club players looking to have some fun and survive off of their developed skills. And yes, that can serve as an opportunity for teams to experiment, but it’s just experimentation.

© James McKenzie

Sub-Elite Club

Sub elite teams are the teams who do well enough at sectionals only to end up as a warm up game for an elite team at Regionals.  There are two types of sub-elite teams and each type has a different strategy for getting to the elite level.  The first type of sub-elite team is the isolated team without any local high level competition and the second type is the sub-elite team in the same area as an established elite team.

Let’s talk first about the isolated team and what it needs to move on to the next level.  Simply put, they need to look good.  They need to look so good that top notch players will want to relocate to the area just to be your teammates.   Don’t laugh, it happens all the time.  There are always very good players out there who have realized that their current team is going nowhere and that their clock is running out.   These players will do almost anything to be on a winner before time catches up with them and they have to retire.

Isolated sub-elite teams should start with the 25 best athletes that can be found then replace the bad teammates.  While it would be nice to have an 8-17 split between handlers & cutters and an 11-14 split between O and D lines, if the athleticism isn’t shown, nobody will give a second look.  Teams that don’t look like they have a conditioning program in place won’t attract the top level players who expect one.

The goal is make all these free agent players believe that they are the missing piece and can carry the team to the next level.

Sub-elite teams that must coexist with an elite team have a special set of problems.  Think about it.  The team is made of players who didn’t make the elite team.  So you’ve got a mix of former elites, wannabe elites, and players who have maxed out their potential and are, sad to say, unlikely to advance.

© James McKenzie

These teams seldom last more than about three years.  The differing individual goals manifest themselves and the team falls apart soon after that.  There is also a fair bit of tension in tough games when critical players lack the mental toughness to perform continually at a high level.  These expectations of performance are tough to handle and lesser players revert back to some bad habits.

Not to worry though, there is a way through this.  Perhaps if the captains or coaches are silver tongued devils and leaders with charisma it’s possible to keep the team going.  Without such inspired leaders, it may be worth it to bite the bullet and become a farm team.

Being a farm team isn’t so bad.  You get access to top level instruction, you learn some pretty sophisticated O & D lines, your training program is top notch, and you will attract the best recruits.   Even more importantly, you’ll experience firsthand the intangibles that separate the wheat from the chaff.

I think a lot of elite teams would be reluctant to share their trade secrets, even with a farm team. It is loyalty that keeps the secrets “in house” and I’d imagine there would have to be a very good relationship between the teams for this to happen. Also, at some point the complexity of the teams gets too much for the management, which is typically just 3-4 motivated individuals running the show. The amount of effort and higher organization involved to manage two teams is probably why you don’t see them.

Since there aren’t any elite teams reading this section, I can tell you something else.  I know it won’t feel so good accepting that you’re the second or third best team in the city.  But, think about it.  If you can do a good job of bringing along the next generation of player, pretty soon there won’t be enough room on the parent club for all of them and guess who’s got ’em now?  The most important thing is to give your team a chance to stay together long enough to do something special.  Who knows, maybe in a couple of years they’ll be your farm team.

Next Page: Elite Club, Summary

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