Ultimate Results Coaching Academy: Day 1

by | August 20, 2014, 4:53am 0

The Ultimate Results Coaching Academy conference is in full swing, and I’m here to fill you in on what’s been going on.  Basic registration is free, and gets you access to all talks as they happen, but investing in a VIP is like having access to DVR.  You can watch all the talks at a later time (although the Q&A portion of each lecture becomes much less interactive).

I’ll be recapping each talk I watch, and expanding when I’m able.  Keep in mind each segment has been at least an hour so far, so there’s a lot more information being shared than my summaries hit on.

Lou Buruss

Important For:  People with difficult teammates; Captains trying to ensure team continuity post-graduation.

Lou’s tackling a problem that all teams have – how do you manage a group of people that all have lives outside of ultimate?  The classic option, as Lou has pointed out, is a dictatorship.  The coach rules, and the players listen. While this works, it doesn’t acknowledge players as individuals.  And in ultimate, this can be a huge issue.

Ultimate is growing, but is far from a mainstream sport. For the vast majority of players, ultimate simply can’t be the only thing they do, even at the top levels.  This is in stark opposition to situations such as the big four professional leagues and NCAA athletes (especially basketball and football).  Players at all levels have lives outside of their teams, which in turn affects their dedication and responsibility, and this can create friction (especially for those top level teams).

Lou refers to his approach as the Clown Tent.  Within the Clown Tent, people are encouraged to be leaders and have responsibility, but only as much as they desire or can manage.  If nothing else, they are responsible for themselves.  For some people this means being a captain, leading workouts, and calling lines.  For others it might only be picking up cones after practice and making it to practice on time.  In the end, everyone is accepting of everyone (or at least acts that way).

Being a bit of a control freak myself, I was skeptical on my first read-through of Clown Tent’s philosophy.  But since I’m writing about it, I reread it a few times and I can really get behind the core idea, if not his exact execution. Part of the reason so many youth teams fail is a lack of leadership.  Coaches can be hard to come by, and teams driven by one or two individuals typically fall apart once those people graduate.  It’s such a problem that my number one priority this past spring was ensuring I had coaches to take over the program after I left.  In fact, of the dozens of teams I know in the DC area, only one has successfully managed itself through repeated graduations without coaches.

I suspect the reason why is because they act (knowingly or not) in a similar fashion to Lou’s Clown Tent (which, frankly, is very impressive for high schoolers).  By forcing the players to take ownership of themselves and their team, leadership develops, commitment develops, and programs thrive.

Melissa Witmer

Important For: Injury prone players; Youth coaches; Warm up leaders.

I’ll be honest, this sort of stuff is the least interesting aspect of ultimate for me.  Given my injury history, maybe that is obvious.  And I’m definitely guilty of just compiling warm up exercises from past experiences and just throwing them at my teams with minimal thought.

Melissa puts the same amount of thought into her warm ups as she does a practice.  They’re structured into four different sections (hence the title of her talk: 3 Parts Plus 1).  There are specific exercises for each section, and the Plus 1 refers to speed, agility, and quickness – things that don’t get touched much during standard warm ups.

In the Q&A, she talks about things like the usefulness of static stretching and how to delegate warm ups to players. It’s rare for players to get the chance to pick the brains of someone with Melissa’s background, so being able to hear responses to players asking those sort of questions was awesome.

Tiina Booth

Important For: Consistently inconsistent teams; teams with players of varying commitment levels; teams that collapse under pressure.

Tiina has written on Ultiworld about developing mental toughness, and she offhandedly mentioned that she’s working on a book. This woman knows what she’s talking about.  And given that I’ve been on and coached teams that could check off any of those ‘Important For’ boxes (which were outlined by Tiina to kick off the lecture), I found her presentation quite interesting.

Personal highlights include why it’s important to say as few things as possible in a huddle, or that one way to reign in focus is not to try and avoid drifting completely, but to train people to recognize and recover when they do drift. She also talks about good ways to slowly introduce teams to concepts, how to get teams to the right level of nervousness, and fun practice scenarios to help simulate difficult game situations, all in the name of building up mental toughness. (Full disclosure – the more I write the words ‘mentally tough’, the more I picture a brain doing chest presses.)

And like any good teacher, she encouraged us to do some extracurricular reading.  Phil Jackson and Alan Goldberg have written extensively on the subject, and Tiina has borrowed heavily from their work (especially Mr. Goldberg, who is a good friend and Amherst resident).

Really, I just want to know the number of people who saw ‘Tiina Booth’ and immediately bought a VIP pass.

Ben Wiggins

Important For: People who play zone; People who appreciate excellent teachers; people who appreciate Ben Wiggins.

I have a new man crush on Ben Wiggins. The guy not only knows the sport, but he does such a good job expressing it. I haven’t taken notes this fervently since grad school. Seriously, I have 4 pages with more notes in the margins. They’re small pages, but still.

Possibly the best thing about this lecture is that it isn’t structured around any particular zone formation. Instead, Wiggins talks about how zones typically behave, and then details specific behaviors that your team can develop to beat them. The offensive portion of the presentation is more expansive than the defensive side, but that’s more a fault of time restrictions than anything else.

Personal highlights include a breakdown of each offensive position (and the little things those players can do to make the offense run smoothly), a review of several defensive formations and why it’s smart to be able to pull out different types during a game, and a thoughtful response to a question about how to arrange zone positions for mixed teams.


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