Watching Ultimate in the Video Age

by | January 11, 2012, 11:18am 0

I am swimming in video right now.  USA Ultimate is releasing the footage from Club Nationals and friend-of-Fugue Luke Johnson sent me all the footage from Oregon’s trip to Boulder last May.  (You won’t be getting the link to that one.)  Video study is really a new thing in ultimate; prior to the digital age we live in today, the expense and difficulty of filming and producing meant that there was almost nothing to watch.  Each year a single video of the Finals might come out, but it wasn’t realistic for teams to film their own games on a regular basis – now it is standard practice.  This newness means that we are all still learning how to go about watching videos.  Here’s what I’ve figured out, but I am also very interested in ideas that other folks have.

1.  Watch whole game footage.  Highlights are awesome and cool and…awesome…and cool.  They’re not very useful.  You can cut and paste a highlight reel together that makes one team look fantastic and the other terrible, regardless of the actual outcome.  Beyond narrative fidelity though, you really need the whole game footage to understand what is going on.  The plays where everything breaks down are just as important as the ones that go bang-bang-bang-goal.

2.  Watch it once for narrative.  We are all human.  We want to know what happens.  We want to be wowed.  We want to hear and see the story.  It is very difficult to do any meaningful analysis while distracted by the story.  I always begin by watching a video straight through without writing anything down.  Just watch.

3.  Chart the game.  This one is tricky, because what you choose to chart will go a long way toward determining your conclusions.  Tross’ (sorry, can’t call him Mike) charting in his Ultimate Project videos is done at the possession level and segregates things out by long, medium and short.  This choice of charting will then drive him to an analysis that focuses on field position and conversion rates, particularly on crucial short yardage situations.  This is deliberate on Tross’ part, because these are the things he is interested in as an analyst.  Another example from the same game is Kyle Weisbrod’s.  His initial statistics are all based on an O-line, D-line divide.  This is a good choice for an elite club team because their O- and D- function as separate units.  It is a bad choice for women’s, college or HS teams who aren’t as clearly segregated.  The piece I really like here is at the bottom: huck and reset comparisons.  I like it because it is much more focused at the pass level.  When I am charting, I prefer to go below the possession level and chart at the pass level.  To do this, I take a team roster and chart each pass.  In the system I use, I don’t break the passes down by type (yet), I am just counting them.  When I am done, I have generated what is essentially a box score: passes, turns, goals and assists.

4.  The chart is the beginning.  Once the charting is finished, I will look at it for anomalies or curiosities or patterns.  Then I go back to the video and watch those plays in question.  As an example, look at Kyle’s chart from the DW-Truck game.  Down at the bottom, Kyle breaks down the hucking percentage for each team.  Truck went 1 for 10!  As a coach for either team, I want to know why.  Was it just poor execution?  Was it something DW did defensively?  Once I’ve identified the anomaly, I will go back and watch all the plays in question.  (Kyle has obviously done this.  His analysis is in the text above the stats.)

5.  Strategic pieces.  Not everything you want and need to see comes out of charting.  Often, there is a piece or two that I remember from a game and I will watch film for that in particular.  Last season, UNC Pleiades ran a zone that was causing us (Fugue) some trouble.  I had footage from our game at Centex so I watched it frame by frame, each time drawing a field shot of the defense.  The season before that, when we battled again and again with UW Element and really struggled to contain the Wilson-O’Malley connection, I spent a lot of time examining the structure of their resets to see if we couldn’t get more pressure on that part of their game.  (I know it might seem odd to look away from what was giving us trouble.  The theory behind that idea is here.)

6.  Implementation.  The video work is really just the beginning.  The next challenge is devising ways to implement the change that you have discovered you need, but that’s a post for another day.

Feature photo by Craig Stephen (

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