Today I’m going to talk about Something Dirty. The story is fictional and does not depict any actual Mixed team or person.
The plight of the mid-level team is one of varying circumstances. These teams are composed of individuals who run the gamut of every conceivable measure in our sport. Mid-level teams are full of variety — but not the good kind of variety like a Sierra Nevada seasonal 12-pack. I’m talking a fridge full of leftovers: beef lo-mein, half an avocado, stale bread, maybe some wilted lettuce. Put all that in a blender and set to liquify.
Let’s talk about elite teams and low level teams for a moment, just to gain a little perspective.
Some teams suck; they embrace the fact that they suck and just run with it. You know the team I’m talking about: inebriation levels are usually high and someone always ends up naked at some point in the second half. They are having a blast, even if they lose every game. We’ve all been part of one of these teams at some point in our careers.
On the other end we have elite teams: well-trained, hard working, “in it to win it” mentality. These teams have fancy equipment like foam rollers, shade tents and water jugs. Each member does everything he or she can to better themselves for the team. There are clear lines between first and second string players and nobody complains about playing time, at least not out loud. The goal is to win and everyone knows it.
All members of the elite teams are on the same page and accept the reality of the situation. The average mid-level team, however, is a complete disaster.
Mid-level teams are made up of a hodgepodge of players with varying skill, experience and expectations. They often have teamwork issues and individuals in leadership positions who have no clue how monumental of a task they are taking on. Let’s just say that their salads are far from hearty.
A case study of Something Dirty
Something Dirty is from East Canaryville, Missouri. They are a second year Mixed team and placed fifth at Regionals last year.
They practice twice a week and have about a 75% attendance rate. They have a specific offensive and defensive system they worked hard to implement last year but it often breaks down in the middle of a point.
Early in the season they did very well against most of the teams they anticipated being equally matched against. As the season progressed, however, they seemed to lose a step and the teams they used to beat are now kicking the snot out of them.
Sectionals was a little rougher than they thought it would be. They finished below seed but were still awarded a bid to Regionals. At Regionals, they started off slow and lacked focus. They lost two big games on universe point before they turned it around and fought their way through a tough pre-quarters.
They ended up losing in quarterfinals badly (6-15) and finished tied for fifth.
Let’s look at some of the players
Bridget is a librarian. She’s a 28-year-old, gluten intolerant co-captain of Something Dirty. She has played competitively for six years and was the captain of her college team. She gets along with everyone and is a total goofball. Bridget is a strong league player but has not played a lot of competitive club. She loves the social aspect of ultimate and has won multiple league titles in East Canaryville. Her husband Mark does not play ultimate, so her time is split between her marriage and Something Dirty.
Turbo is a 30-year-old baker. He and Bridget are co-captains and good friends. He has played at an elite level and been to Nationals a number of times. He got his nickname in a bar in Cabo but no one can remember what it stands for. Turbo is very quiet. He is by far the most experienced player and therefore, a leader by default, but would prefer to just play. He is a passive authority figure at best. His wife plays on the team and the two of them almost always talk and think about ultimate.
Dick is a single, 26-year-old man-child with a slick personality, an appetite for red meat and a temper. He leads Something Dirty in D’s and turnovers. He is a bona fide grade A rock star. He performs athletic feats that compare with the best players in the country but has trouble falling into a system, or knowing when to just say enough is enough. He was the rock star of his college team and would rather do his hair than be at practice. Dick is a lazy player but routinely comes up big for Something Dirty and is guaranteed a spot on the roster because his goodness outweighs his badness — barely.
Jillian is new to ultimate. She is 23 years old, and really hungry for knowledge. She is as much “woo-girl” as she is athlete. She is learning fast and developing basic throws. The athlete in her is becoming more confident as a player and understands the fundamental skills of cutting and defense. But the “woo-girl” in her has almost no understanding of what the hell is happening on the field at any given time.
Something Dirty is the quintessential mid-level team. They have the athleticism, talent and skill to win a bid to Nationals in a year or two. But they won’t, unless they can clear the biggest hurdle facing every mid-level team in the country. They will have to build cohesion and bridge the gaps in their varying lifestyles, commitment levels, skills, talent and experiences.
This is easier said than done. I’ve never seen it happen, that’s why I can write this with confidence that others will find humor in Dick’s turnover stats and relish in Turbo’s amazing throws.
It’s not possible to appease everyone with the same practice schedule, drills and playing time. A good mid-level team needs to create a schedule and format that will fulfill Bridget’s time requirements, bring out Turbo’s experiences, temper Dick’s well…temper, and feed Jillian as much ultimate as she can without making her puke.
Building a team takes time, energy and patience. Some players need grooming and fundamental skills, while others need to be benched every now and then. If I was to be a leader of Something Dirty next year, this is how I would approach it.
I’d build a leadership brain trust. The brain trust would be a group of people that are better at the few things I’m not good at like: scheduling, designing a system, running drills and practice, organizing logistics, providing constructive criticism and calling lines.
The brain trust would allow me to focus on what I’m good at. I would always handle The Flip because I can’t stand pulling upwind (idiots). I would also be in charge of benching people and counting down before the team cheer. That’s pretty much all I’m good for — except if a designated arguer for foul calls existed, I think I would be good at that too. Maybe I should be an Observer?
Anyway, the leadership would meet about six weeks before tryouts and establish some general goals for the season. “Be better” would be what I would start with. Then I would develop a “Dirty Mission Statement” and set some specific goals that would take us up through the first tournament.
Sample Dirty Mission Statement
Through commitment to fundamental dirty skills and systems, we will develop our dirty selves and our dirty teammates through dirty competition and dirty practices by giving nothing less than one hundred and ten filthy percent ensuring something dirty will emerge better than last year.
- Set leadership roles and provide individual goals for each leader to improve.
- Make a list of last years mediocre players on the cusp. Identify what they need to change to keep their roster spot and select a leader to address those issues with that individual personally.
- Evaluate current offensive and defensive systems, identify gaps in personnel and adjust system as needed.
- Recruit individuals that can fill gaps in the system.
Before First Tournament
- Every team member must understand the offensive and defensive system.
- Every team member has personal goals and understands his or her role on the team.
- Every team member understands the team’s mission statement and is committed to the goals the leadership has developed for the team.
After putting all of that together, I would poll members and schedule one mandatory practice, and one or two “highly encouraged” practices a week. The goal would be to get everyone out twice a week.
The leader in charge of running practices, in conjunction with the other leaders, would develop a progression of drills and practices to get everyone up to speed. The gaps are the widest early in the season. This is the time period where the attention span of high level players is stretched thin.
It’s important to be aware that you cannot feed everyone the same drill and expect them to love it. This is where a brain trust of leaders is good. Each leader can be a champion for a smaller group of individuals. I can keep an eye on Dick and others like him. I can also judge moral and keep the practice coordinator in the loop of when they are starting to lose it. Not that you should cater to any specific group, but be able to tweak the specific things they are doing to help keep them engaged. The same goes for when rookies like Jillian are full to the brim; when that glassy look washes over her face and looks like she’s gonna pop.
Something Dirty has been working hard for six weeks and has finished their first tournament. Some things worked and some things didn’t. Early in the week after the tournament, the leadership brain trust will meet to review where they are.
Dirty Meeting Agenda:
- Did we achieve our first tournament goals?
- What did we do well?
- What did we do poorly?
- Are there any issues with leadership roles?
- Establish specific goals for the next 4-6 weeks.
This cycle should be repeated every four to six weeks all the way through the season. The leadership should review everything about the team, from concerns of individual players to overall season objectives and everything in between. Building cohesion is a step by step process that takes a team of people willing to work together and put aside their egos.
But what the hell do I know.