Meet Jackson Dolan, the high school coach behind 175 Grams! In his series about building a high school team, Jackson will explore the challenges and triumphs of being a new coach.
I’m the head coach of a high school ultimate team that I helped start last spring. I don’t teach at the school — I just play pick up at the same game as one of the kids. His dad was talking about how his son needed some sort of adult supervision for a team he was starting, and I jumped at the chance. We didn’t have any seniors, none of the players were over six feet, and at the ripe old age of 24, I was the oldest of our three coaches. The whole thing was some of the most fun I’ve had.
I live in a city with a pretty big ultimate community, and there are over a dozen schools in the area with teams. Several of those schools have well-established teams that have existed for years, and a few even have JV programs. The rest are relative upstarts like us. During the spring season, there is a lower league and upper league schools can sign up for.
Our first season, our roster size was 15 on a good day, and we spent April beating up on most of the lower league teams. During the fall, our numbers were closer to 23, and we aggressively joined the bottom tier of an adult league and played many of the powerhouse schools. We spent a lot of time losing, but the team consensus was that we were moving in the right direction. Spring tryouts started this week, and the hope is to have at least enough for open and mixed teams, if not a pure girls team, with Varsity and JV squads for the boys. There’s a lot of talent, the coaching staff has swelled in size and skill, and I think this will be a breakout year for us.
To get ready for spring, I set up an indoor game once a week for the last four weeks. Overtly, it was just to get the kids amped to play again. The hope, though, was to use the more frenetic style of play to get people in shape and work on offense while minimizing the amount of coaching. We played 4 v 4, make it take it, and started at stall six. It’s a rule set that forces quick decisions and involvement from everyone on the court. The result was better than anticipated.
Kids who lacked confidence in their throws began making the continuation throw instead of immediately looking for the backfield dump. Handlers who were used to standing watching their throws started making quick, upfield cuts as soon as the disc was released (one coach told them that if we didn’t call them for traveling, they weren’t moving fast enough). Everyone developed patience in the face of a permanently high stall count.
These skills all translate well into outdoor, and the team picked them up without any drills. For teams looking to develop skills over the winter but are concerned with burning out kids on drills and workouts during the off-season, indoor is fantastic option. We limited coaching to small suggestions made during water breaks, and just let the kids play.
Of course, as every coach would agree, the best thing about the job is the players. In the last year we’ve accumulated a talented and entertaining crew, and since this column is going to be regular, I’d like to give you a better feel for our group’s personality. Here are some of the standouts from indoor:
The Tornado – A sophomore that plays almost as much with club level players as he does with kids his age. One of the coaches was invariably guarding him all winter because the other kids don’t really stand a chance. I can’t count the number of times his play has left coaches shaking their heads in amazement.
The Cog – Another sophomore, he lacks of the elan of The Tornado but replaces it with consistency. He fluctuates between cutting and handling depending on the lineup, and our offense functions about as well as a wet toaster when he’s not on the field. The Cog was also often matched up against one of the coaches for indoor. I don’t think he noticed. He just kept playing his game and embarrassing anyone silly enough to underestimate him. He’s the Obi-Wan Kenobi of high school ultimate.
The Wrecking Ball – I still don’t have anyone over six feet, and most of the guys that are close aren’t comfortable using their size. The Wrecking Ball is the exception. A senior handler and our defensive anchor, his mere presence backfield was enough to make teams think twice about any deep shots. Oh, and every time he goes for a huge D, the team starts singing “He came in like a wrecking ball,” at the top of their lungs. It’s the best.
Master Chief – He’s one those players coaches dream about. Chief is the nicest kid off the field, but turns into a intense, relentless force the minute he laces up his cleats. He pursues discs like the Terminator pursues John Connor. I believe he got himself around 6,000 Ds over four games. He played like a maniac every week, and still had enough left after each night to outrun everyone during suicides.
Mia Hamm – A Varsity soccer player in the fall, indoor was Ms. Hamm’s first time playing ultimate in any organized fashion. If we don’t have a girl’s team, she’s already made a strong case for a spot on the Open Varsity. She just moves so well. It’s wonderful watching her continually get open on all kinds of cuts, regardless of who’s guarding her. The coaching staff is currently encouraging her to bring the rest of the girl’s soccer team out to play.
Play of Indoor
One night the hoops were accidentally left down on the court. The Wrecking Ball and The Tornado scored three points in five seconds on a push pass and a pair of full-court hammers. The Wrecking Ball went for Point Four with another hammer. Everyone stopped to watch.
Swish. Chaos ensued.
It was easily a 75 foot shot and it fell right into the basket. We weren’t keeping score, but I internally chalked it up as a three. The Wrecking Ball’s glory will live forever.
Runner Up: The Tornado threw a behind-the-back pass for a score. I think he gets bored and tries to make the game more difficult on purpose.
“You got that on video, right? I need to tweet that to Brodie Smith. I’m going to be in his next trick shot video.” – The Wrecking Ball after his full court basket.