The following are notes from a UCPC 2013 presentation
Leila’s presentation was structured around the dichotomy between improving and having fun. Most, if not all of us play ultimate because we enjoy it. It allows us to get outside, get a good workout in, and socialize with the ultimate community, among numerous other benefits. When you join a team, another variable gets thrown into the mix. All of the previous things mentioned still matter, but you’re there to get better, both individually and as a team.
The best teams have mastered this balance, but there are plenty of teams that haven’t, and that’s where Leila comes in. From her outline:
“Often, practice can become either too casual or too much “work.” If you are too casual and practice in a mediocre way, you will most likely play in a mediocre way. However, if practices are killing your love of the game, then you need to find a way to bring the joy back.”
The first thing brought up – and this was theme throughout every presentation – was to manage your expectations. Throughout the seminar she enforced “expecting greatness, not perfection because if your goal is to be perfect you’ll fall short every time.”
The second thing was suggestions for a quick fix if a practice or game gets too serious or too casual. In the event of the former, play a game, she suggested Monarch (Use a disc instead of a dodge ball, and play with your non-dominate hand to avoid injuries). The key is to remind the players that they are here to have a good time. In the event of the latter, use the opposite. Make the team run some sprints or do push-ups to remind them that they are here to become better at ultimate. While finding a balance may be a bit difficult, a captain or coaches must be able to recognize which end of the spectrum the team is operating on and adjust as required.
The easiest way to hit that sweet spot is to make sure your entire practice, from warm up to cool down, incorporates both of these qualities. Pick drills that are fun and make them a competition so the team keeps focus throughout the entire practice. Running drills without a purpose makes them feel like toil to the players; make sure there are definable goals for every part of practice.
Two other semi-related things Leila brought up were incorporating a Rule of the Day into practice and how to personally adjust when something isn’t working. Anyone who has played in a game where you had to explain a rule mid-point to the other team sees value in this small addition to practice. Even experienced teams can forget about rules or can benefit from being reminded about calls that don’t come up too often.
Her philosophy on how to adjust to an off day is excellent:
“If something isn’t working for you, focus on another way you can make a positive impact (Tired? Cheer more. Feeling negative / throws aren’t on? Run harder.)”
This helps get your mind off something that’s completely out of your control – your past performance – and allows you to refocus on what you can do at that moment to help your team.
So, how do you put the play back in playing? The same way you get a young child to clean their room, you make it a game and challenge them to see how fast they can do it.