It’s About The Team

by | January 22, 2014, 7:00am 0

Q: You may have read the article on Ultiworld recently about the best traits in a captain. Maybe you could address this in your next Win the Fields? What traits do you look for as a coach and what traits did you look for as a player? Any resources for captains in ultimate or from other sports?

A: Kummer pretty much hits the nail on the head with this article, so I don’t want to try to replicate his work.  Rather, I’d like to look forward to how you can avoid some of these difficulties and create a sin-free captaincy.  I would also expand the scope of this article to include coaches.  One of the things we really try for at Oregon is equality of leadership – the captains and I work in partnership.

No one person can do all of this stuff; all captains and coaches have flaws.  For years, organization and logistics was my Achilles heel.  I’ve gotten better, but I always delegated all that stuff – tourney fees, vans, hotels.  Not out of laziness, but a recognition that I was too inconsistent for a task that requires daily attention to detail.  The best way for a team to manage the inevitable gaps in leadership is to select a range of personality and skills into the captaincy.  So you may end up with one player who is great with logistics, another who is great on the field and in the huddle and a third who really understands people.  Individually, they’d have major flaws, but collectively they are complete.  You can even delegate some of this stuff outside of the captaincy.  There’s no reason your sub caller has to be a captain or that a captain has to design the offense.  Use the skills the team has – the captains’ job is to make sure things are getting done – it doesn’t matter by who.  There is one job that must be done by a captain – it’s one that I (in homage to Elvis) call the TCB, Taking Care of Business.  Every day, every week, every practice, every drill there are things that have to be done.  A meeting needs to be arranged, the team needs a kick in the pants to start warming up, someone needs a one-on-one about attitude…it is endless.  You need someone on the team to pay attention to these things, see them and then make sure they are dealt with.

The essential idea of this article is that it’s not about you, it’s about the team.  I couldn’t agree more.  The easy part is giving away time, energy and effort. Harder, but more important, is giving away being right.  As an example, one of your best defenders won’t run the offense after the turn.  (Which is a bad thing.)  As a non-captain, you can complain and grumble as much as you want.  This kind of grumbling is not good, but it happens on a lot of teams and the people who are grumble are right – she should run the offense and not free-lance.  As a captain, though, you don’t have the luxury of complaining; you need to get her to run the offense.  Everyone is motivated differently and you will often have to be flexible on the means you use to change her behavior because it is the ends that matter.

As for resources, outside of Rise Up, there aren’t a lot out there that are ultimate specific.  I certainly hope this blog is helpful in some capacity; that’s a big piece of why I write.  (Shameless plug: send in your questions!) Despite the dearth of frisbee resources, there are an enormous amount of non-frisbee resources: books, videos, blogs…it’s endless really.  This is probably a good problem to crowd source; if you’ve got recommendations of coaching resources, throw them in the comments.


Bellingham Invite

The feel of this tournament has really changed in the last few years as teams have reacted to the bid situation changing.  Back in the old days, when your Regional rivals were your biggest enemies for the few spots to Nationals, this tournament had a real grudge-match vibe to it.  Now that teams have adopted a we’re-all-in-this-together approach to earning bids the tournament has really mellowed out.  It’s also nice to have an early season tournament that’s not on the official rankings schedule.  It lets you experiment, get lots of people playing time and generally get ready for the main events coming later in the spring.  It’s a true pre-season event.

The five teams in attendance (Oregon, UBC, Western, Washington, Whitman) are all in the running to earn Nationals bids so the talent level was quite high for January.  Everyone played wide open lines to give their rookies and younger players lots of opportunities.  Here’s a snapshot of each team’s weekend (alphabetical):

  • British Columbia (3-1) will be a contender…if Mira Donaldson plays the entire season.  She is arguably the best player in the country, but last year, she vanished mysteriously after a fantastic opening at Prez Day.  When we played them this weekend, she pretty much did what she wanted.  People should be worried about how good this team will be as the rest of this very inexperienced Thunderbird squad improves around her.
  • Oregon (4-0) didn’t show much.  We used almost dead even playing time and a very vanilla game plan.  Darch and Kaylor were out, so the offensive weight (not that we really play offense) got spread around a lot, including to some of the freshmen.
  • Washington (1-3) had a very rough weekend.  They played three personnel grouping and split their stars across the three lines.  When they got their split stack going, as they did early in the Oregon game, they looked good.  However, they really struggled against Western’s FSU which lead to a disappointing blow-out loss.
  • In contrast, Western (2-2) had a really positive weekend.  They played solidly in their UBC and Whitman games and great in their Washington game.  Coming off the UW victory, they didn’t really show up against us (UO) so I didn’t take too much away from that game.  Coach Weatherford continues to get amazing production out of new-to-ultimate players and Callie Mah (Riot) is really smooth and composed as the on-field leader.
  • Whitman (0-4) isn’t back in school yet and brought a skeleton crew of eight (?) including only two (Ari Lozano and Julia Bladin) of their five top players.  They will be just fine with a full roster, but they don’t have the depth to compete without it.


The Shermanator

Richard Sherman’s antics are going to help the Seahawks win the Superbowl.  The two week run up to the Superbowl is an absurd media explosion, an intense public pressure that blows away anything any of these professional athletes has ever experienced.  Every player will respond to this in different ways: some will revel in it, some will be destroyed by it, some will both revel and get destroyed.  The advantage the Seahawks have is a lightning rod known as Richard Sherman.  He loves the attention, loves the talking and plays better the more attention and talking there is.  In a world of boring ‘one game at a time’ and ‘I followed coach’s game plan’ interviews, Sherman’s interviews stand out for their honesty, both entertaining and ugly.  The national media loves it.  A quick look at SI Tuesday morning showed 5 of the first 6 headlines are about Sherman.  Facebook and Twitter were blowing up.  He just gets stronger.  At the same time, he is insulating the rest of his team from the scrutiny.  Every reporter standing around waiting for him to say something is one who isn’t bugging Michael Coleman or KJ Wright.

What’s this got to do with ultimate?  The Richard Shermans of ultimate, the guys (and it’s usually guys) who spike and talk trash and argue calls and argue other people’s calls are doing their team a service.  Like Richard Sherman, they’re catching all the flack and static, thus shielding their team.

While we’re on the Seahawks, let me quote Pete Carroll:

“I told them this weekend, we don’t let them be themselves, we celebrate them being themselves, and we cheerlead for them to be themselves.  And we try to bring out the best that they have to offer.  Sometimes we go overboard, sometimes the individual gets out of bounds, and you have to step back and get back in bounds.  I understand that.  That’s kind of how we operate.  It may sound different to you, but that’s how we do it.  I’m trying to help our team be great and play great football and do this game the way we’re supposed to do it.  I don’t want to miss out on somebody because maybe they’re not like me.  I’m OK with that.”

I’ve spent years trying to explain Clown Tent and along comes smarmy So-Cal Pete Carroll to do it for me.  What a strange, unexpected world.


As always, questions to

Feature photo by William Brotman (

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