Wondering if you have any thoughts on how much early season losses. Saw a discussion on Twitter late tonight [Sat the 25th] between Hector Valdivia, Michael Aguilar, and Kyle Weisbroad [sic]. How much do early season losses, perhaps even to those not considered championship contenders like LSU, matter to teams like UCF?
How much those games matter depends on how teams are managing expectations. From the scoreboard, Pittsburgh had a pretty rough weekend, but Nick Kaczmarek has demonstrated an ability to manage his team through the difficulties that surround short term and long term goals. What came through in his 2013 work with Pitt was the extent to which he motivated that team to work for the long term goal. By focusing on internal goals like improvement or working out a particular strategic or tactical piece, teams are able to minimize the damage from short term frustrations and losses.
Central Florida is in a more difficult spot. They don’t have the reserve of two titles or a coach with a track record of leading them through similar tough spots. They also came into this season as a trendy selection to pick up where they left off and win the whole thing. Now they’ve suffered through two tournaments with unexpectedly poor results and lost their best player. Even without Freystaetter, they remain on par with Pitt talent-wise, but find themselves in the difficult spot of reorganizing their expectations for the season.
Correctly balancing expectations is key to growth and success. Holding the team together, maintaining high intensity and commitment at practice, getting individuals to work hard outside of practice – these things are so much easier after a successful weekend than they are after a wheels-fall-off mess. The trick is defining success beyond what the scoreboard says.
A couple of disclaimers: I’m not inside Pitt or UCF, so there’s plenty of opportunity for me to be wrong because of unique circumstances. Regardless, the general principles here stand. I’m also not downplaying the value of winning and losing. Losing hurts your team more than winning, even when it’s well managed. Winning is a huge lift, particularly for developing teams like LSU, Virginia or NC State.
Heading towards tryouts this year, I’d like to focus on an area of my game that I think could use a lot of improvement: defense. At the Sockeye combine last year, they said that the list of players that have made the team who don’t have strong defense is very short. Of course the reasons for this are obvious – what I want to know is, what can I do to help significantly elevate my defensive mindset and skill set? I don’t have delusions of making Sockeye, but I’d at least like to take a step or two up from where I am.
Let’s set aside athleticism and intensity for a minute. If you want to play good defense, these are non-negotiable. While there are ways to improve each, I’d like to focus on some of the ‘soft’ defensive skills that are often overlooked.
The first is what I’ve always called the Rolodex. As you develop as a defender, you come to know other players better and better. Once you know what someone’s strengths and tendencies are you can leverage your play to deny them their strengths and force them into their weaknesses. Everyone does this to some extent; the current classic example is forcing Beau under and making him a thrower. This is a really, really obvious example but there are subtle ways of affecting any player’s game. You can develop the ability to quickly analyze another player. Begin with your own teammates. You see them a lot, so you know them well. Then move on to opponents you play often. As you expand the number of players you’ve Rolodexed, you’ll find it easier to Rolodex new people.
The second piece is developing the awareness to control offensive players. Most cuts are won well before the cut starts – the cutting is just the finishing off what was already established during the set-up. Situational awareness is essential here because it allows you to play your opponent to maximum effect. To use Beau again as an example, you can actually afford to front him when certain Revolver players have the disc, because they never, never huck it. But if Ashlin is getting it, you’d better respect the deep. Circumstances extend beyond players as well – wind, the mark, how the thrower is receiving the disc – all have major impact on what will happen next and how you want to set up.
The actual application of these soft skills is mostly footwork with a dash of looking-around added in. I’d recommend a lot of agility work: cone drills and serpentines. (There are so many free on-line resources for this sort of thing, but I don’t have one that I like enough to recommend. Readers, if you’ve got suggestions, add them into the comments below. Thanks! Also, here is a more expansive discussion of technique.) When you are scrimmaging, mark up on players who are going to be a slight, but not impossible, challenge. Focus on denying them what they want; use your footwork to drive them into their weakness.
I’ve recently been enthralled by Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. There is so much going on in this book and I enthusiastically recommend it just because it is wonderful and thought-provoking. There are some applications to playing and coaching which I’d like to revisit once I’m finished, but today I want to touch on a small thing: predicting the likely success of the MLU and AUDL. One of the central ideas of Kahneman’s book is that we are really, really bad at accurate prediction because we are so susceptible to various kinds of noise: personal preference, the halo effect (looks good = successful) and all sorts of other errors. His point is that the best way to predict something is to look at the baseline population: how have other, similar ventures fared in the past? There are a lot of different numbers out there for small business survival, but using a 10-year survival rate of 30% isn’t unreasonable.
Of course, this is all small businesses; a more accurate number would be to look at similar business, which brings me to Kahneman’s next point. You start with the baseline probability and then adjust it up and down based on the particular circumstances of the business. That semi-pro ultimate is a finite-resource industry (only so much talent) and that there is no existing market for the product are both detriments. That both leagues have been able to recruit deep-pocketed investors is a plus. (At this point, you and I are both irritated that I’m only going to rough draft this idea. Part of why I’m floating this is with the hope that someone will pick it up and flesh it out.) But to wrap up, some basic probability. Using the unadjusted 30%, the chance that both leagues survive ten years: 9%. That one, but not the other, survives: 42%. That both fail: 49%. I’m not surprised by the both-survive odds and I don’t think you are either, but I am very surprised that the one-or-both-survive number is above 50%. I was (am) deeply skeptical about the long-term success of the two leagues because I couldn’t (can’t) see how their financial model was (is) going to hold up. I still have those doubts, but I’ll need to reevaluate my overall view. I think that’s Kahneman’s point.
Feature photo by Nick Lindeke (Ultiphotos.com)