Team Talk

by | February 29, 2012, 6:20am 0

A big thanks to Bill Mill for cutting the video for me.

Let me set the stage.  It is power pools in Sarasota.  Ironside is playing Doublewide to win the pool.  The winner gets the gravy quarter-final against an exhausted 4-seed (eventually Madison) and the loser gets Revolver in the semis.  At 2-2, Ironside’s Seth Reinhardt (#2) gets a huge open field block on Brodie and two passes later, Russell Wallack (#33) hits CUT-alum Christian Foster (#20) for the 3-2 lead and the break.  Celebration ensues!  But wait.  Right in the middle of all the jumping and yelling and high-fiving, there is Wallack engaged in a serious conversation with Jasper Hoitsma (#6) and Misha Sidorsky (#9).  Why?  What are they doing?  Why aren’t they celebrating?

Because they are working.  Like all good club players, they understand that at that level, it is no longer about the big things like can you throw a forehand or how do you run a dump-swing handler set.  Those things are taken care of and it is the little things: the small misunderstandings, a step here or a step there, squeezing a window shut just a bit, a break-throw not seen, that make all the difference.  I don’t know what Wallack, Hoitsma and Sidorsky are talking about.  It might be the goal throw, but I doubt it – that was a no-brainer.  It might be Wallack’s reaction to the odd DW handler defense.  It might be a piece of defense that happened 6, 8, 10 throws ago.  The point isn’t the particulars, it is the talking.

Like many things in ultimate, elite club players are much better at this kind of talk than college or high school players.  They come equipped with a much better skill set; not a technical skill set, but an intellectual skill set.  First, their experience is such that they can cut quickly through all the layers of unimportant stuff to get to the one or two important details.  They have the intensive vocabulary necessary to have this conversation quickly.  Most elite players have a history of team leadership as captains of their college teams and with that history comes a lot of talking about ultimate in casual conversation, team meetings, huddles and practices.  Finally, most elite club teams are much flatter hierarchically than college or high school teams.  The kind of conversation we are looking at is peer-to-peer, not captain-rookie or coach-player.  They are working together to figure out a little problem.

How do you make this happen for your team?  I have two big suggestions.  First, vocabulary.  You want to try to get everyone’s frisbee vocabulary up to speed as quickly as possible.  Personally, I prefer to do this through immersion.  I just use jargon constantly and don’t ‘dumb-down’ what I am talking about.  Later, I may check in with rookies to make sure they got the ideas and knew all the words, but mostly I just go and assume it’ll make sense.  Second, you have to make room for people to disagree and be wrong.  If as a coach or captain, you need it to always be your way and you are always butting into other people’s conversations to ‘correct’ them, you may be getting what you want in that instance, but you are killing the kind of growth that is possible when the entire team is engaged mentally with the strategic and tactical problems.  You can’t oversee everything, so if you can get more and more of your team to be thinking and considering and talking, your team will be that much more powerful.

Photo by Brian Canniff (

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