Re-framing of the energy demands of ultimate
Taking the average point (not play segment) duration rounded up to 40 seconds, and with a conservative estimate pegging every game at 15-15 for 30 points/game we get an estimated 40 sec/pt x 30 pt/game = 1200 seconds, or 20 minutes, of “active” play per game. And we’re not even factoring in stoppages or “standing time” for your pulls, stack-setting players or non-active handlers, etc.
In a conservative estimate1. Football seems to be in a similar timeframe for active play with all its stoppages…in terms of a single game’s demands, ultimate doesn’t strike one as particularly taxing endurance-wise, at a glance.
Set the notion of “taxing on endurance” aside for a minute. We have 20 minutes of action a game as a baseline figure. How spread out are those 20 minutes (In other words, what’s the work-to-rest ratio)?
You have to figure your typical ultimate tourney has rounds of at least an hour, some closer to 1:40-2:00 rounds. This pegs your work:rest ratio at anywhere between 1:3 and 1:6.
NOW, factor in that a given player likely only plays one way2–let’s assume again our 15-15 game, which presupposes even O/D loads (give or take a point depending on how the breaks lay at halftime). We can halve the effective workload, so now we’re talking about activity in the 1:6 to 1:12 work:rest range! You don’t have to be a sport physio to know that those kinds of rest intervals put activity squarely in the sprint/explosive range. Granted, it’s not just work:rest interval but the duration of effort that determines aerobic vs. anaerobic, but XX has established pretty well that typical play segment durations are not extending significantly beyond stressing your glycolytic (in other words, you’re still operating primarily in your anaerobic range).
All of this suggests that preparation should first and foremost be sprint work–exactly what XX advocates in the article.
But there’s more to it than just one game.
Parinella brings up a good point that we should perhaps be training for those points at the long end of the tail. Those can be more important than the quick, “easy” points–think of the morale swing that comes with winning/losing hell points3. The last thing you want is to lose for lack of conditioning on a drawn-out universe point.
More relevant in my mind, though, is the issue of ultimate as a Tournament. We almost never play just One Game of Ultimate–summer league, perhaps, but at any serious level of commitment you’ve got 3,4,5 games a day for 2-3 days (your extended 2-a-day Nationals formats are the exception, rather than the rule). That’s your 20 (10) minutes of action multiplied a few times and spread out. Regardless of how you’re training at home–whether it’s sprint-focused, or more aerobically inclined–you’re not putting your body under that kind of prolonged yet intermittent and intense demand, so your body invariably hates you by the time you’re piling in cars and vans Sunday afternoon (if not on Saturday night at the hotel).
The issue I’ve always had with training for tournaments revolves around this dichotomy between the intensity of a game–start, stop, change direction, sprint, break–and the extended timeframe of it all. Sure, you can get up for a single game, but can you get up for two? three? four? The third game the day after you’ve played four?
What impacts day-of performance?
For one, recovery.
While not directly relating to training itself, tournament nutrition is crucial for effective recovery of energy (primarily glycogen and electrolyte) stores over the course of a day and weekend. (To say nothing of pre-tournament nutrition). Even the best-conditioned athletes will run out of gas and cramp up if they don’t eat/hydrate properly.
For two, work capacity.
How do you train work capacity for ultimate? (Ross’ workouts are geared more toward the fighter’s short rounds–definitely some carryover there too). Seigs posed this question on his blog back when it still existed, and conventional wisdom seemed to be “play in more tournaments,” and let the principle of SAID (more here) take over, but I’m convinced there are better strategies than that, or at least alternatives.
I figure enough sufficiently strong training stresses in sequence–the equivalent of your football double sessions or the like–might do a good job of training work capacity; generally, I’m thinking in terms of stressors you can apply to ultimate athletes and then force them to perform at a high level in relatively short (but no too short) interval afterwards. For Dartmouth, where winter practice times tend to fall at late-night indoor locations or early-morning outdoor turf, perhaps having an intense track workout in the afternoon before an intense scrimmage/workout that evening, or a really hard conditioning session the evening before a morning hard scrimmage might do something to simulate that late-Sunday soreness that can be all too common–and, importantly, learn to work through it.
What are your thoughts? In college the two-a-day (two-a-<24 hour) seems to be fairly few and far between, but I'd love to hear your thoughts or experiences with that sort of thing, as well as any other thoughts on training/preparing to perform in the tournament setting.
1 Admittedly for elite men’s play; I’d love to see somebody do similar analysis for other levels (bring a stopwatch to a tournament!) and compare–factoring in the fact that not all games make it to 15-15 and myriad other conditions (weather forcing a relatively less physically demanding zone, etc), I don’t know that 20 minutes is too far off base for other levels too.
3 There’s another topic worth exploring: how often does winning the hell point correspond with winning the game, or at least exceeding expectations? I’m thinking you take games and compare actual results to RRI predictions–of course, you’d need to time points and/or have some objective criterion to define a “hell point.” Time out use? Turnover count?
You could also frame it in terms of looking at “momentum”–does the hell point winner then go on to break the next point(s)? With relatively higher frequency than at other points in the game?
Spirit is an elusive concept.
Ask one player what it is, and the reply might be “knowing the rules and playing by them.”
Another might tell you it entails flair wearing, tournament parties, random hangouts with people you just met on the field earlier, and a general (and genuine) sense of hospitality and humor–in sum total, that which makes up the Ultimate Culture that draws so many and tranishes the sport in the eyes of school administrators and hippie-hating employers.
The notion of “Spirit” stirs up some controversy–RSD is filled with cries against so-called “Spirit Zealotry,” as though a desire for mutual respect and decency is the sole limiting factor to ultimate “making it big.” Perhaps they’re right.
What the hell should I care about my opponent for? If I play my ass off, and win, isn’t that enough? That douche might try and keep me down with hacks and calls, but if that’s what it comes to I’m not afraid to play that game too (or better yet, to empower a referee to control it for me). They’re just another stepping stone on my path to glory.
The simple truth, that ultimately (in my mind) outweighs that attitude? Nobody cares who wins.
Really. If I asked you who the UPA (pick your level/division) champions were 10 years ago would you remember? 5 years ago? Year before last? Maybe if it was YOUR team or your rival’s team, or maybe your truly exceptional performers, repeat champs and the like. But in the big picture, the result doesn’t count for all that much. There is no prize money or big contract. There are no physical incentives short of one line on the UPA site and a footnote in the ultimate history books–not even an ultimate media that will preserve the legends and remind us when we’ve forgotten. Glory goes quickly; fame is fleeting.
Where you end matters little. What’s truly of worth–what lasts, what you keep–is how you get there.
Ultimate is, at it’s best, one of the most athletically demanding in sport. Good ultimate players are some of THE best capital-A Athletes in sport. This game presents myriad challenges, both mental and physical, and is an optimal vehicle to test oneself. When your back is against the wall and all there is to push you is you–with your motivations and your insecurities, your strengths and weakness–what surfaces?
If you want to get to know a person, be their teammate. Even as your own resolve is tested, so is theirs, and the person that materializes through this is hard to hide. You’ll learn things about them they don’t even know about themselves.
If you want to learn to respect a person, be their opponent. How they–and you–deal with adversity on the field, two wills struggling against each other when the emotional stakes are high but the results are ultimately meaningless, reveals a lot about their character. If one gets worked up about a poor play or a single call, what of dealing with the challenges in life that really matter? If you can’t learn to work with an opponent to compromise, if you can’t bring yourself to back down or forgive, if you value a win in a meaningless game more than the people you’re playing against, what does that say about you?
Ultimate is, in many ways, a microcosm of our lives.
We can prepare for life’s challenges by dealing with smaller ones on the frisbee field. This is why you see a program like Ultimate Peace. This is the beauty and power of a team’s struggle, point after point, game after game, year after year. This is what creates the culture around our sport, what enables and sustains our community.
This is Spirit: to respect and be respected.
Through this shared experience, with this Spirit, we connect with one another; we learn and grow as people.
Meeting your emotions and mastering them when the stakes are high is a means (though there are others) to this end. The set of rules we play by–the fact that the onus is on us to respect and apply them–is a wonderful enabler of this process; it forces you to cooperate and work together, often with people you’ve never met before.
However, the rules, and self-officiation, are neither necessary nor sufficient for “Spirit.” And it’s not simply a switch that can be flipped, either; it’s not something that is decided by the presence (or lack) of an official.
It’s something you cultivate, and carry with you, on and off the field. Call me a spirit zealot if you will, but the reason people have such strong feelings about this “Spirit” thing is because it is what makes ultimate players great people.
Now, as seasons ratchet up and competition gets fierce…Struggle. Battle. Do your best–but recognize and respect the fact that your counterparts just 70 yards away are the same as you. Revel in the joy, the pain, the shared intensity of the moment, and thank your opponents for bringing out out the best in you.
I’ve written about the importance of balance before, but it’s a very broad concept, its applications diverse, and bears revisiting.
In the context of throwing, balance comes in to play a few ways–generally speaking, you want to keep your torso balanced by using your core. A good example of this is throwing with your non-pivot foot picked up off the ground. Can you still throw a forehand and backhand on target? How dependent are you on your legs for not just power, but the general trajectory of your throw? Can you balance without your legs? Work this from standing at first, and then mid-pivot–don’t wait for your foot to set down, but throw midway.
You should be able to make passes at 10 yards with touch, without using your legs. This is a pretty essential skill to grasp, as throwing without your legs leads to throwing with touch from any position your body is in. It will vastly improve your dumping efficiency (and resets are the most important thing in ultimate).
Balance comes in to play from your legs, too. One of the best nuggets of wisdom I received when working on my hucking (I was trying too hard, muscling up, and hooking my attempts to throw 60+ yards outside-in instead of the nice float I was looking for): “try to hold your body position at the end of your throwing motion.” I was stepping out to huck, but continuously moving through the whole step and throw–by forcing myself to wait at the end, to find balance in that final, extended position, my throws improved immediately.
Part of it was still that core balance to gain touch, but a lot of it was finding a balance point through my legs–a lunge position I could hold (incidentally, lunging is an underrated component of ultimate training–more on that later).
Find your balance points to master your throwing.
Man D is hard. There’s more than one way to dictate, and the utility of each depends on the situation and your opponent. A good defender needs to be conscious of when it is appropriate to use which kind of style–here, I’ve phrased it in terms of spacing (and I’ve mused on spacing a bit before), but there’s certainly a lot more depth to it.
My views on the utility of various spacings (please chime in with your own): Be wary of biting too hard and really hold your ground here–the real trick to success at this distance is learning when to gear up for the D going the other way and when to hold your position and keep dictating instead. Incidentally, this is the sort of man D I think you see a lot of high-level teams preach–good, intense body D. Playing mid-range (2-3 steps off):
This can work pretty well in the context of an intelligent team defense, especially if it uses switches with a last back to maintain pressure on both long and short throws. The main duty in ensuring a setup like that works, however, falls on the mark and handler D to keep the disc from moving to the break side. It’s also worth noting that this style of D is probably your best bet in muddy/slippery conditions, as a smaller margin tends to force quick responses and slips. In such conditions intelligence and good team D tends to win out over athleticism. Playing long-range (more than 3ish steps off):
This is really only advisable either when your opponent is so far out of the play as to be generally irrelevant to scoring, enough of a liability with the disc as to be a better potential D for your side, or when your opponent is so dominating in one way (generally deep) that you’re willing to completely concede anything else to stop it. Incidentally, if you wind up at this range during a point chasing your man, it’s worth looking around to see if you can help elsewhere for a second, instead of blindly following (alternatively, beeline to where you can stop them next). Assessing where the real threats are and responding to them is the essence of good team D. Short-mid range (~1-2 steps):
For success here, it’s essential to a) know your goal, as far as where you want to dictate and b) be constantly moving under control, remaining conscious of your body position, so you can continue to work towards a). Typically this is a margin you take when you know your woman is a primary cut and she’s moving to set up, potentially relaxing into a larger margin when she’s out of harm’s way (or attempting to establish a more stagnant close-up body). As a defender, you want to be capable of playing D at all of these ranges as the situation varies within a given point, between points, between games. Learn when you need to ratchet up the intensity, when you can back off to conserve, when you can look to help. Learn how your cutter responds to different spacing in different situations, and don’t let him get comfortable. I know there are readers with more to say about this, so please leave comments!
Playing close (>I’m talking one step away at most–more like a half-step or right up on your man):
Be wary of biting too hard and really hold your ground here–the real trick to success at this distance is learning when to gear up for the D going the other way and when to hold your position and keep dictating instead. Incidentally, this is the sort of man D I think you see a lot of high-level teams preach–good, intense body D.
Playing mid-range (2-3 steps off):
This can work pretty well in the context of an intelligent team defense, especially if it uses switches with a last back to maintain pressure on both long and short throws. The main duty in ensuring a setup like that works, however, falls on the mark and handler D to keep the disc from moving to the break side.
It’s also worth noting that this style of D is probably your best bet in muddy/slippery conditions, as a smaller margin tends to force quick responses and slips. In such conditions intelligence and good team D tends to win out over athleticism.
Playing long-range (more than 3ish steps off):
This is really only advisable either when your opponent is so far out of the play as to be generally irrelevant to scoring, enough of a liability with the disc as to be a better potential D for your side, or when your opponent is so dominating in one way (generally deep) that you’re willing to completely concede anything else to stop it.
Incidentally, if you wind up at this range during a point chasing your man, it’s worth looking around to see if you can help elsewhere for a second, instead of blindly following (alternatively, beeline to where you can stop them next). Assessing where the real threats are and responding to them is the essence of good team D.
Short-mid range (~1-2 steps):
For success here, it’s essential to a) know your goal, as far as where you want to dictate and b) be constantly moving under control, remaining conscious of your body position, so you can continue to work towards a). Typically this is a margin you take when you know your woman is a primary cut and she’s moving to set up, potentially relaxing into a larger margin when she’s out of harm’s way (or attempting to establish a more stagnant close-up body).
As a defender, you want to be capable of playing D at all of these ranges as the situation varies within a given point, between points, between games. Learn when you need to ratchet up the intensity, when you can back off to conserve, when you can look to help. Learn how your cutter responds to different spacing in different situations, and don’t let him get comfortable.
I know there are readers with more to say about this, so please leave comments!
You hear about it plenty with regards to ultimate, usually something like “if you can consistently complete a forehand/backhand to an open cutter, throwing ability will not keep you from playing elite-level ultimate.”
How do you get it? You know where I’m going because you’ve already read the title.
This is something I’ve mentioned offhandedly before–honing your skills to a point where they become unconscious–but this cannot be restated enough. It’s only when you get to a point where you don’t have to think about what you’re doing that you can really thrive. When throwing a forehand is as natural to you as walking (ok, perhaps nothing is quite THAT natural, but you get the idea*), you’re in a good place. How often do you stumble when you walk?
You really need to develop a mental state for performance. Part of that is avoiding distraction, and “distraction” includes what you do with your body. If you HAVE to think about your throwing technique while you’re doing it, can you really expect it to hold up under game-time pressure? If you need to think about your footwork mid-cut, are you really going as fast as you possibly could?
Levels of Competence
I believe it was in a book about Bruce Lee (if I had anyone who I’d say was a personal role model for me, he’d be the one) that I read the following about skills progression–specifically for martial arts, but the parallels with any physical activity are evident:
- As a beginner, your instincts are bad, unwieldy, inefficient at best.
- As an intermediate, your instincts are still bad, but you know what’s proper and can correct. (There are multiple intermediate stages, with “knowing you’re wrong” and “knowing what’s proper” and “being able to correct” each their own, discrete stage).
- At an advanced level, you again return to your instinct, but the old, inefficient ones have been replaced with the precise and the honed**.
Many people reach a high level of intermediate proficiency–able to consciously will themselves to perfection of a sort–and get complacent, missing the pinnacle: true unconscious competence.
That’s where you want to get. Every time you step on the field, you want to operate unconsciously. You don’t want to have to think about your footwork. You don’t want to have to think about your grip. Your thoughts and energies should be focused purely on recognizing your situations and responding appropriately–no logistics of how to get there, merely intended destinations. Many a D set has been thrown that succeeds simply by taking players out of their unconscious selves and forcing them to think. Don’t help out your opponent by doing it to yourself unprompted!
Developing Unconscious Competence
How do you develop this kind of unconscious competence? Well, it ain’t easy, but there is some transferal between tasks (usually you regard it as “talent” or something similar when a player seems “naturally good;” natural is a good word indeed, for these individuals are almost always allowing their body to take over, getting out of their own way–and I can guarantee you they went through the process of learning to let go at some point. Whether they realize it or not). Again, I’ll mention driving (esp. stick) as a nice example of an opportunity to learn to let go. I’m currently learning how to play guitar–instruments are another great analog.
“Let’s say you’re trying to play the piano. If you were relying on your motor memory”—just letting it fly—“your motor command would automatically read out the next note in about 50 milliseconds.” But consciously monitoring your performance brings this superfast sequence of motor commands to a screeching halt, resulting in a choking incident of epic proportions. “The feedback from the first note takes 100 milliseconds just to move from your cochlea up to your brain. So if you’re saying to yourself, ‘Okay, I just finished the C, now I have to go on to the D,’ you’re going to have problems.”
This sums it up perfectly. In order to become a good musician, athlete, public speaker, you have to learn to let go, to let your body simply DO. You have to hone your body’s skills to a point where you can let go with confidence.
If you can develop a regimen or strategy to learning this skill, you can continue to apply it elsewhere, too.
The foundational building block of all unconscious competence is deliberate practice. I don’t mean deliberate, as in, you have the intent to practice, but rather in the sense that you do everything you do with purpose. You should always be working towards a goal, honing a skill, refining, testing, repeating. repeating. You sure as hell can’t expect to make all your passes in a game if you can’t do it when you’re simply out tossing, right?
The deliberateness comes into play when you’re not content to just toss, but instead choose to toss with preconditions–you only throw from a full-extension pivot, you only throw after a fake, etc. And then, being deliberate at those things is another layer on top of that–is your full-extension as far as you can make it? Can you get to that point and also keep your balance, throw convincing, effective fakes, not pull a hamstring? When you throw fakes, are you working mechanically on the fake itself, or are you moving beyond that, visualizing a game situation and a covered defender (poor conditions, an aggresive mark) causing you to make that fake? Seeing the ensuing change in conditions that enable the one you do throw?
Visualization is the bridge between deliberate practice and effortless performance. You work on your throws deliberately, get the hang of throwing a forehand with touch…then, you stop thinking about how you’re throwing and instead start thinking about where you’re throwing. You picture a cutter. Does the throw still go where you want it, how you want it? What if you picture a mark up against you, defender tight your receiver’s hip? Can you place a pass where it won’t be D’d? If yes…can you do it again? And again? And again? Get to that point, and you might be ready for primetime.
Developing the mindset for mental toughness and applying it in-game is another component of being successful, particularly when the going gets tough, but you can go a long ways towards getting there if you can learn to simply
*to be completely honest, your best comparisons for throwing a frisbee would be with other activities which involve a high degree of coordinated movement of the arms combined with stabilization through the core and a significant transfer of power from the lower limbs, as well as involving a dynamic component to projecting an implement–which make things like basketball shooting, baseball pitching/throwing, tennis ball hitting, or football throwing your truer comparisons. (Adding in the extra factor of a rotational component trims the list farther). Looking for some cross-disciplinary reading to do for ultimate? Look in that direction. Looking for some off season cross-training? You could do a lot worse than the same (I especially recommend a sport like squash, which incorporates a lot of the same sorts of lunging and one-handed motion that throwing does).
**this is otherwise known as the point in which you become a killing machine. Lee worried about some joker challenging him on the street (or one of the stunt men during a film shoot), because his instincts were honed such that in a real fight he might not be able to stop himself from, at the very least, seriously injuring his opponent.
***as I exclaimed to a friend on first discovery: “it’s like somebody made a magazine just for me!” I eat this stuff up. Highly recommended for anyone who cares to understand humanity better.
****fast forward to the last 5-8 minutes for the good stuff.
Use it before, during, and after you throw. Build an awareness of it.
Torso includes, but is not limited to: your core and your shoulder. Optional: include the hips.
That is all.
This is certainly not unique to coaches, but perhaps the most important thing for any coach to determine is thus: What’s your vision? For the team, and for yourself.
There are myriad ways to go about developing this vision (and I’m sure that many people with the desire to coach already have some ideas), but I think that perhaps the best way to go about it (or at least the way I’d think of going about it) entails the same kind of goal-setting any committed athlete can and should do, though perhaps extended to a broader scale.
It starts with some end goal–as a coach, it may be best to keep this information close to the vest, as a personal desire that exceeds or under-reaches your athletes’ goals (for example, having a goal of making Nationals for a team that’s only made it to Sunday of regionals once) can psych players out if made explicit. Let the players set their own goals and find their own motivations (with or without guidance). But take the time and decide–what’s your definition of “success,” given this team and these players?
From there, (or perhaps before you get to determining an end goal–a realistic assessment can take time) you simply have to evaluate the process you desire. What kind of a role do you envision for yourself? What kind of role do you think is necessary for the team to achieve your (their) goals? If there’s a discrepancy between these two versions of you, some effort in fixing the imbalance there (or changing your perspective) is in order.
What sort of work is necessary for the team to succeed (again, “success” being relative to your goals)? This takes a lot of on-field evaluation, determining skill progressions and training necessities. A lack of experience can make this determination tough (as far as “what is sufficient” or “how much is too much”), but a rough idea is better than no idea.
Then comes the softer side. The nuts and bolts of a team’s success are the on-field skills and the off-field effort, but the grease in the gears is everything else about a team–how’s the social dynamic? What sort of team culture are you encouraging? What kind of feeling or impression do you (want to) leave your athletes with as a coach? How do you motivate when times get tough?
This is going purely off of my anecdotal experience in high school and before more than anything else, but the most effective coaches I’ve had had a clear vision and progression in place. They have a PLAN, and the nitty-gritty of a plan cannot fall into place cleanly unless you have a similarly clear vision to accompany it. That’s not to say the plan is rigid, unmalleable–rather, the plan is the framework from which everything else follows.
If I do wind up coaching eventually, you can be damn sure I’ll be spending a lot of time thinking and planning. Advisors and mentors don’t necessarily need to have a plan, but when you accept the responsibility of a coach I think you have to invest more fully than that.
I think a fundamental question for any coach is simply, “how involved can (or should) I be?
Obviously this varies a bit with circumstance. But certainly you see this at all levels of sport–you have your more laissez-faire “player’s coaches” and your more authoritarian types as well.
Ultimate at a club and college level, at least, seems to lend itself more to the former, simply by virtue of the sport being largely opt-in and the fact that coaches are still relatively new at these levels. Team meeting frequency can be infrequent enough that an authoritarian approach is hard to establish and maintain. I’m pretty positive that this is not the case in high school, where I get the (anecdotal) impression that your Tiina Booths have a much larger degree of control.
I find myself by and large to be a hands-off sort, who thrives more on individual interaction with big-picture guidance than being a strict or micromanaging sort. I’ve been told by at least one person that I have the right sort of laid-back disposition to be a successful coach in women’s ultimate, but I don’t exactly have a ton of experience to corroborate that (and I fear most of the readers here are similarly lacking in experience on that side of the gender spectrum).
That said, what are your own experiences with different coaching styles? Dartmouth’s men has always sort of by necessity had a more hands-off coaching style simply because we’ve never had a coach in Hanover who can regularly make practices–sometimes we have a coach or two for a scrimmage or practice on weekends, and certainly at tournaments, but in many ways the tone is set by the captains rather than any coaches.
What kind of things do you find that you need as a player to thrive that you can get from your coaches (or captains)? What sorts of things really hinder your progress? Do you prefer being left to do your own thing, or do you need somebody to really push you?
Addendum: see a post from the ’06 UCPC on Nathan Wicks’ talk about coaching Brown in their glory days of the early ’00s for more fodder for thought on coaching. I’ll address it specifically at some point soon.