Loving Your Rookies With Xs and Os

by | January 3, 2013, 2:32pm 0

After some time being a veteran on various teams, I can comfortably say I do not envy the plight of being an inexperienced rookie.

The physical and mental demands of ultimate can be a tall order for developing players, especially for those newcomers with little to no experience in organized sports. Unfortunately the pace at which such rookies comprehend details of the game can lag behind their teammates. A lot of information is being thrown their way, and meanwhile they very well may still be stressing over throwing a decent flick, let alone anything bothering them in college or otherwise.

The road to College Series is now being paved. Accordingly, teams must increasing their focus on offensive and defensive strategies. Still, there are certainly teams with rookies who are, gently put, still wet behind the ears. It’s time for that vertical stack and zone D to start coming together and you’ve still got players on the field with that deer-in-headlights look about them. For team leadership, the preseason has served as a time for assessing ability and potential. But if said leadership is doing their job fully, they are also reflecting on their approach to player development– simply calling the process “teaching” just doesn’t do it justice. We as captains, coaches and veterans must ask ourselves, “have we given our rookies every opportunity available to understand and excel in the game of ultimate?”

Teams that intend to succeed and grow their organization must develop their bench. As the game of ultimate expands and more and more players become better versed in the sport, success for a team is going to be as much about superstars as it is supporting cast. Weak links are exposed like a sore thumb and can be exploited. Further having young players who can be used in situations where you’d rest top talent can greatly benefit a team as a whole.

In a game of speed, efficiency and decisiveness, a lot of a player’s success hinges on their ability to slow the game down. In-game experience and repetition is largely a part of the remedy. But along the way teams would be wise to also utilize off-field methods. One of which is the use of the Chalk Talk. A few team sessions studying Xs and Os on a dry erase board can easily translate to improving a player’s on-field performance. As obvious as this may sound, I’m willing to wager that Chalk Talks aren’t used to their full potential by many teams. For some teams, they aren’t used at all.

Making sense of field positioning at times can be difficult on the ground level at real-time. Simply telling a player to cut from Point A to Point B and then clear out to Point C is rather abstract instruction for the inexperienced. The use of a Chalk Talk gives rookies an alternative angle to study team formations – essentially a 2-dimensional bird eye’s view. When a player has a chance to sit down and process how the movements of different pieces affect one another – without elevated adrenaline levels to muck up their thought process – they gain a greater sense of the system as opposed to mere individual movement.

Every player has a unique personality and a unique way of processing information. Xs and Os are beneficial to all players young and old, but they especially caters to more academic and cerebral players. If nothing else, it’s gives the inexperienced more opportunity to succeed. When a player is able to think in terms of a system, a complete body of work, they supplement action with purpose and logic. They not only understand where to go on the field, but why it is they do so. They are thus more likely to comprehend the rewards for proper execution and the repercussions for lack thereof.

This does not always have to come at the expense of on-field practice time. Distributing playbooks allows players to study on their own time, at their own pace. When they’re blowing off that Math 101 assignment they can do their ultimate homework. Team leaders can also bring a mini coaching board to practice. When on-field instruction just isn’t getting the point across, go to the board, draw it up and make sense of it.

Any time an idea is being introduced or revised, teams should make it a point to occasionally meet indoors to analyze strategy. Utilize the fields and the boards. After all, there’s bound to be someone dealing with an injury they refuse to rest unless team functions take them away from the field.

Feature photo by Andrew Davis

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