Just Watching

by | June 25, 2014, 8:34am 0

I’ve been wrestling with a problem for a month or so and Saturday I had a breakthrough in insight. Since Nationals, I’ve been thinking about resets. This is uncomfortable ground for me; my philosophy and style is to attack. I’ve always wondered, “Why would you throw it backwards when you can throw it forwards?” “Why would you throw two passes when you can throw one?” And yet it is clear that consistent, high-quality resets are the essential component to maintaining possession and it is also clear that women’s ultimate is moving in the direction of higher efficiency play.

Both of this year’s college champions, Ohio State and Colorado, had excellent reset games and both held up remarkably well against intense defensive pressure in their respective finals against Oregon and North Carolina. So I started there, watching those games first. There was nothing I could pinpoint; I could see the quality, but I wasn’t able to put my finger on what it was that they were doing. Was it structural? Were they doing something through their shape and progressions? Was it technical? Were they just that good at throwing swings and dumps? I moved on to the Stanford women; like the Colorado men they utilize a vertical stack, but they incorporate more modern ideas around the disc by using a lot of dishies and ladders to wrongside the downfield defenders. In a lot of ways, very similar to how Central Florida’s offense was built around Sunny Harris’ slithery little dump cuts. Again, I could see the quality, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

In the meantime, I finally bought Josh Waitzin’s book, The Art of Learning. (Thanks, Tross! Great recommendation.) From the first page I was captivated by what he had to say, how similar it was to my own philosophies of teaching, learning and performing and in some subtle ways, how different. He is farther along the introspective journey than I am and he has built a clear and concise language for himself to explain his thinking to other people. I found myself walking around downtown Eugene reading my way from errand to errand. I am still only halfway through and still only beginning to process many of the ideas in the book, but this quote from the introduction grabbed me right away.

As I cultivated openness to these connections, my life became flooded with intense learning experiences. I remember sitting on a Bermuda cliff one stormy afternoon, watching waves pound into the rocks. I was focused on the water trickling back out to sea and suddenly I knew the answer to a chess problem I had been wrestling with for weeks. Another time, after completely immersing myself in the analysis of a chess position for hours, I had a breakthrough in my Tai Chis and successfully tested it in class that night.

The same day I bought The Art of Learning, I swung by Solstice to watch a bit. I mostly wanted to catch the Schwa-Nightlock game since there were eleven Fuguers on the the field, but I also wanted a chance to say hello to ex-Fuguers and old friends on Riot and Fury and Further. I arrived right at half, chatted with a couple of folks and the settled down in the end zone to watch. It’s so pleasant to watch ultimate when you don’t care about the outcome at all. I was bemused by the 90s ultimate of it all – costumes, spray painted t-shirts, mismatched shorts, the generally casual attitude of an early season tournament – so different from the overly serious college Nationals. (If you are wondering, Riot’s American BBQ won with Further’s ice-dancing coming in a close second.* And then, a tickling in the back of my mind. These teams were doing something with their resets! Something that was the same as what I’d been watching! But what was it? I could see that it was there, but I still didn’t know what it was. Then I tucked it away and went back to watching and visiting and chatting and so forth. I knew I had it on the line and I could pursue it later. I went to the farmer’s market, ate lunch, went grocery shopping, bought the book…then, on the drive home, I pulled it out of the water – it was the length of the passes. The teams that were very successful were throwing resets that were 10+ yards. (Excuse the Stanford and Central Florida women from this discussion for a moment, because what they are doing is a really different kind of grammar. **

So it is structural because the spacing and the cutting have to allow that throw and it is technical because the throwers have to have the ability to deliver that disc consistently. That length of throw is allowing the team access to the entirety of the field. In a horizontal, that 10 -15 yards makes the weakside reachable, obviously the center of the field becomes wide open. In a vertical, it gives you access to both sides of the stack.

There are still lots and lots of questions to be answered. I’m not 100% sure this is the answer I was looking for – there is a chance I mis-diagnosed. So the next step is to go back to the film and reconfirm. If I’m right, I’ll start looking at the details. How teams are setting themselves up? Where are they beginning their positioning? What kind of cuts are they running? What are the technical skills involved and how do you drill them? Maybe most importantly, how do these ideas integrate into what we are already doing? We want to improve and move forward, but we want to remain ourselves; ourselves is already pretty great.

The ability to solve problems in this way is something that I love about the human mind. After weeks of hard work and puzzling and trying to brute-force my way to a solution, it was only when I wasn’t actually trying, when I’d let go, when I wasn’t really ‘thinking’ about it, that the answer came to me. Puzzle on that phrasing for a moment: the answer came to me. The answer did the work? Where did it come from? Why now? Was I really not thinking about it? Strange and wonderful.

* They won the best 90s ultimate team award….or something.

** The Stanford and UCF women are running a completely different kind of offense in that it is vertical stack (although CU is vert) and that it is much more about small shifts generating angles and possibilities in contrast to the idea of using bigger swings to shift the spacing on the field.

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