We have three practices a week this spring, up from our past count of two. We gained the third practice day when, amazingly, the athletic director acknowledged our existence and has granted us the turf field(!) under the lights(!!) one night a week. To take advantage of this, we’re planning to focus on drills and concepts for the first two practices of the week and then work on applying them in games by spending most of the third day scrimmaging.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature has been a fickle one the last few weeks, so there was snow on the ground despite a recent bout of lovely 50+ degree weather. This didn’t affect our scheduled turf session, but it did result in cancellations of our other two practices. Still, the coaches didn’t want to waste the turf on drills (and I doubt the players did, either).
This was our first practice of the spring, and for the first time we had several players completely new to the sport. Obviously, we can’t spend the entire time scrimmaging if not everyone knows how to play. Personally, I think there are three major issues people new to the sport run in to: they underestimate the amount of running, they get lost on the field trying to figure out what a ‘vert stack’ is, and more experienced players don’t get them involved. While we can’t do anything about the fitness levels (at least, not right away), we want to minimize the confusion and maximize the involvement.
After a brief warm up and some throwing lessons, we gave a 10-15 minute crash course on how to run a vert stack and play defense — effectively the bare minimum to get someone playing. It sounds like standard topics for a first practice, but it’s not trivial, and it can feel like a firehose of knowledge with unfamiliar terms like ‘marking’, ‘forcing’, and ‘cutters’.
In the past, I would draw out things like stack position and movement on a clipboard before doing a physical demonstration with players. For the sake of speed, we just went straight to the demonstration. Doing so cuts down a bit on the coaches talking and gives something for the experienced kids to participate in so they don’t talk and distract the newbies. This wasn’t perfect, and I’m still trying to find that ideal spot between the right amount of talking and showing.
Our strategy worked out okay for the most part. The game was ugly, but that was to be expected. To reduce confusion and get everyone involved, the coaches played the occasional point to help steer players and act as a beacon for the vert stack. Because the goal at the moment is more about understanding offensive and defensive systems, it was far more helpful to have the coaches guard the worse players instead of the best.
By being matched up against a player that demands less attention, coaches can focus on helping everyone without the risk of getting taken advantage of. It can be incredibly stressful for new players to not know where you’re supposed to be, all while having at least six other people yelling out advice. Matching up with a coach can help prevent that, and coaches can further suggest opportune times and places to cut to help involvement.
All rookies also had a ‘touch counts’ rule applied. Simply, passes to them count as completions if they can at least manage to touch the disc. This point is to remove the stigma of dropping easy passes when you’re just learning, thereby getting everyone involved and improving.
What didn’t work so well was lines involving three or more rookies. If the rookies have played sports like soccer or lacrosse, they’ll be able to figure out cutting. If not, things get messy very quickly. It may be wise to impose a two rookie limit for lines for the next couple weeks, to prevent things from devolving into chaos.
Overall though, I’m quite excited about our new guys and girls. Here are a few of the standouts.
Notable Players – Rookie Edition
Take 2 – So named because he’s returning to the team after coming to a couple practices last spring. I believe he’s a soccer player with a bunch of friends on the team, and I’m glad he’s playing again because the kid has speed. Even without seeing him play, you can tell he’s quick. He just looks the part. And like the other kids who played sports before ultimate, Take 2 can read the field. He got ample playing time and used it toasting unsuspecting defenders.
Mia Hamm – As she’s never played outdoors with the team, the ‘touch counts’ rule applied to Mia Hamm. This was grossly unfair for her team, and they took full advantage of it, going to her over and over again. The ease with which she gets open against all but our best players is borderline laughable, so she could typically at least get the ‘touch counts’ catch, if not the outright completion. It quickly got to the point where one of our coaches (a Nationals and U-23 worlds winner) decided to check into the game for the sole purpose of guarding her.
The Thinker – One of our players who is both brand new to organized ultimate and also a freshmen. I was able to talk to him for a bit before practice started, and he is just a very nice, thoughtful, grounded kid. He also has the most interesting throwing mechanics.
Everyone I’ve watch learn flick has the initial tendency to have it curve OI. The Thinker’s flick goes IO. Substantially IO. I’ve never seen anything like it. He also likes to look down at the disc while throwing. He brings the disc down by his stomach ready to throw, challenges it to a staring contest, and, once satisfied with victory, rips it downfield with shocking accuracy. He almost took my head off the first time. I can’t wait to see what he can do when starts looking at receivers.
Quotes of the Week
“I can’t wait to guard her. I totally owe her for getting a D on me in indoor” – A coach referring to Mia Hamm.
“In case you haven’t noticed, all your coaches are huge ultimate nerds” – Same coach during the team huddle, after several of us spoke about various places to read about and watch ultimate online.
“There are so many new words, it’s tough” – A sentiment echoed by a pair of new girls. One is a foreign exchange student, and the other only recently moved here from Turkey. Our team is a college admissions department’s dream.
Play of the Week
As mentioned, our offense was a disaster on the level of Mount Vesuvius destroying Pompeii. At one particular point, the disc was in The Tornado’s hands about 5 yards outside of the endzone, near the force sideline. With the stack scattered and the dumps covered, he casually threw a cross field hammer that dropped perfectly into the hands of the one open cutter for the score.