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I am fascinated by the subject of team growth, and how you can take the team to the next level. Example: both Chicago squads have seen annual improvement for the past several years, and essentially equaled their performances at nationals in 2012. 5th and 6th respectively would be a stellar performance for 90% of the clubs at nationals, but I would guess that most of the rostered players would feel that they worked very hard and had a great season , only to come up a little bit short when it mattered. Boston in men’s, and Seattle in women’s could be asking similar questions…within the new TCT and nationals format, how can a team elevate their results and take the team to the next level? Ultimate obviously doesn’t have the benefit of large free agent contracts, and increasing training etc can likely only get you so far over the hump. Or to ask the question another way– how can other teams translate the success of Scandal to their own clubs?
If you don’t have the fortune to live in Seattle, San Francisco or Boston you will have to manage a talent deficit. Two recent champions, Scandal and Doublewide, provide an excellent example of how to work around this challenge. The first step is to build an excellent base; lots of teams are in this situation and many of them languish there for years. These are the proverbial ‘perpetual quarterfinalists.’ They have a number of good players, good systems, they are competitive with the top teams…but can’t seem to break through. PoNY, Nemesis, Machine, Traffic, Molly Brown, Ring, Chain….are all teams currently in this position. The step to the next level is to add big top-end talent. In the last two years Scandal added Mercier, White and Ghesqueire. That’s talent. To their homegrown base, Doublewide added Smith, Gibson, Sullivan, Thorne and Degirolamo. That’s talent. Look back a few years….where is Revolver without Beau and Mac Taylor?
In an inconsistent way, recruiting has always been a part of elite ultimate, but there are factors in play currently that will help drive the coming arms race. The advent of a media presence means that it is much easier to identify and assess talent. The explosion of youth ultimate means there is a lot more young, unattached and itinerant talent. Additionally, NexGen built strong relationships among much of that young talent and lacking the lure of money, relationships are crucial to recruiting. Finally, the tiering of competitive ultimate creates a huge incentive for talent to jump teams. Why would you play for Rhino if you could play for Sockeye or Revolver, be ProFlight and go to the Open? Why would you play for Heist if you could play for Nemesis?
To back up a step and talk about building that base, I’d like to refer you to someone else’s work – if you haven’t read Rio’s account of Sockeye’s season, you should. It is an excellent look at the big picture of a team’s season and how the big picture stuff can have a profound impact. I don’t want to repeat what Rio said, but there is one statement that jumped out at me that I do not agree with: “Let’s assume for a second that the top elite club teams get similar amounts of meaningful time on task during the season.” I agree that all the elite teams get similar amounts of work on paper (they practice similar amounts, they do track workouts, lift, etc…) but what happens within and without the confines of that work can be very different. Take scrimmaging as an example. Everyone loves to scrimmage and for many teams it is the heart of a practice. Scrimmaging is incredibly inefficient. In a typical game to 5, your offensive cutters might get as few as 4 or 5 touches in 25 minutes! That is a lot of wasted time. Beyond the choices of what you are doing, add in the gaps between activities. Is the team hitting the water and the sideline between every drill? Every time the team disperses to the sideline, you lose five minutes. Are the captains/leaders arguing or discussing the schedule or adjustments to the drills? Wasted time. The final piece is the passion and intensity that goes into practice. As a player, you can run through practice at a tempo that is breathtaking and you can run it at a snail’s pace. It is a real challenge to get the team to bring a level of intensity to practice that matches game play, but if you can, you’ve gone a long way toward winning. Outside the confines of practice, the great teams have great players who are doing the work they need to do to improve individually. Are your defenders running extra track workouts on their own? Are your main handlers throwing every day? Identifying this work for each player and motivating them to do it is the work of leadership and all of this year’s finalists were the beneficiaries of excellent coaching.
I play for a competitive D-III team in the Northeast. We just had our player-captain meetings and they told me that my mark needed to get better. I really want to make the starting d-line this year (I’m a sophomore). What can I do to improve my mark?
There are lots of ways to approach marking, but I have always advocated the two-position mark. This is a pretty aggressive marking scheme that tries to put pressure on every throw, but exposes you to getting broken for an around. The basic idea is that when the thrower is standing in a forehand stance, mark them there. When they pivot to the backhand, mark them there. In between is a no-man’s-land of doing nothing, so don’t get caught there. So while your placement against the forehand is tight, you are physically committed to moving to the backhand on the pivot. The physical skills required are balance and quickness – both can be greatly improved by any number of simple agility routines. Scandal does a great job with this style; I’d recommend the Riot game on ESPN3 or the Brute Squad game through Ultiworld.
The other thing I’d advocate is the three-person marking drill. This is the single best drill in ultimate. It benefits everyone from the newest rook to the savviest veteran. Beyond the obvious time-on-task benefits, this is a great opportunity to work on a hidden defensive skill – the ability to read and adapt. One of the things really great markers do is quickly analyze the throwing styles and preferences of their opponent and then take them away. Nothing will endear you to your captains like consistently denying them the one throw they love. Good luck!
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Feature photo by Christina Schmidt – UltiPhotos.com