Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Mixed strategy

So, a question for the Mixed players out there.

A lot of Mixed teams, some of them good ones, just seem to throw it to their guys. Let's call this the Hang Time strategy. Meanwhile, other teams go out of their way to design plays and offenses to focus on the women. Let's call this the Red Fish Blue Fish strategy.

The Hang Time strategy seems to be used by teams that have exceptionally athletic men or exceptionally unathletic women, while the RFBF strategy is used by teams without exceptionally athletic men or with exceptionally good women frisbee players.

The question is: What strategy would you expect a team with good men and good women or mediocre men and mediocre women to be most successful with?

(There are other questions like: why is the RFBF Strategy considered more strategic, and could each team improve by using a bit more of the other Strategy.)

What did the fantasy stats for the US WG team at Potlatch show? In 2001, the guys had 42 goals thrown, 34 goals scored, and 37 turnovers, versus 10, 19, and 10, respectively, for the ladies. At the 2001 WG, it was 102, 74, 75, vs 12, 38, 28.

George Cooke said that he thought that the women on the 2005 team were going to be the throwers.

And how about a more typical situation where you don't have any dominant players or athletes, just your run-of-the-mill semi-serious Mixed team. What should they do, and what is it that they actually do?


Anonymous said...

For a team with good men a good women, they should work on both Hang Time and Red Fish Blue Fish strategy. Game by game matchups should determine what is played more each game.

nudecybot said...

Agreed you need to be able to take advantage of mismatches in your favour with your opponent, and it is a nice idea to practice both but being able to actually implement both will depend on the relative strengths of your men and women.

That said, Men's play develops faster, the men cover more ground and on a potentially related note men statistically have fewer unforced errors. In the end the men have a more dominant influence on any given game but since at high levels there is much less variance in the abilities of males vs. females, all things being moderately equal with the men the women can and will make the difference if the team properly incorporates them into their strategy.

I captained such a team which was on par with the bottom finishers at UPAs which had A calibre women and mostly B calibre men. We played 4 women whenever we could and reasonably successful playing man O isolating our women who were stellar. Strong opposing teams would isolate their men on offense (more successfully in general than we were able to convert with our superstar women) and would inevitably slap a zone D on us which mostly negated effect of our women, something which I had not anticipated.

Despite the numbers you put forward on men scoring the overwhelming number of points, my feeling is that to win at the top level of the game in mixed ulti means that you need the top women available as long as your men are good enough.

I've been playing open for the last few years so things may have changed and my memory is likely highly biased. Would love to hear from others on this.

doc said...

My team is an upper-mid tier mixed team (finished 5th at regionals). Having started playing club ulti late in my life cycle (started playing seriously when i was 35, i'm turning 40 this year) i've played only mixed and masters, ironically going to nationals in both my first year.

My observations about mixed:

In the middle tier there are many specialized players that are good in one area, but are lacking in others... e.g. devastating cutters with no throws, slow cutters with great throws, ultra speedy D players that cant catch... you get the idea. The stud "all arounder" (the guy/girl you leave on the field in any situation) is pretty rare... most of them having moved on to open/womens.

In this arena having a "go to" big man, 3 guys that can handle and cut, and athletic women that can catch and play strong D is a pretty good combo. I dont know that you need "top" women in terms of disc skills. Obviously that would be nice. Most importantly, you need women that can shut down or slow down the occasional "top" woman and physically dominate lesser women.

Overall i think the seperation between exceptional men and women vs. merely good men and women is far more pronounced on the men's side. If you dropped the guys from Team USA onto my team (for instance) you'd have a pretty safe shot at taking a title. If we took the women from Team USA we'd still be a lot better, but i think other teams could match up. Obviously, we'd be willing to add any/all members of Team USA to test out my hypothesis. :)


Anonymous said...

Most Mixed teams have women who can't or won't poach (Donner Party was a notable exception). Under those circumstances, isolating your men and keeping your women mostly out of the way boils the game down to a kind of 3-on-3 or 4-on-4. My sense is that this (or any reduction from the standard 7-on-7) favors offense, all other things being equal. As a practical matter, however, most Mixed teams can't do this; it makes the women unhappy, and that unhappiness eventually prevents long-term success.

Marshall said...

No one's ever been able to determine the strategies of your average Mixed team just by watching.

I've been reluctant to wade in here because I can't find a way to avoid running really long, but a couple thoughts and then maybe I'll expand in my own space to avoid taking up Jim's.

People definitely consider women-oriented strategies more strategic than male-oriented ones for some reason. Good teams play to their strengths; smart teams play to their advantages. If your greatest strength is also a competitive advantage over your opponent, you should win. For Hang Time, that often meant going repeatedly to the well with a couple people throwing to one big target. Is that less strategic? Chauvinist? I can't argue for or against the idea that relying more on their women would have won them those two finals.

[Tangent: I still don't think that Hang Time would have been as successful if their women sucked and were *completely* ignored. Has the athleticism of the Mixed game caught up enough to force them out of their one-receiver-centric set now? Maybe. Is the general depth of Mixed ultimate a major difference now from only two-three years ago? I don't know that much, because I wasn't playing Mixed then.]

Teams whose women are stronger than their opponents' often try to switch to 3-4 to emphasize chick play. This can work, but it isn't the only way to emphasize your women. Simply clearing men out of the downfield areas effectively opens up more space for women to work with less poaching by the men to shut them down. Truthfully, for most Mixed teams, playing more women limits your ability to score fast on big plays, because a lower percentage of the people on the field will be throwing deep shots. Even at Nationals, fewer of the Mixed teams are deep with hucking women. Either way, if you position to avoid poaching guys, yardage-gaining away passes are viable to any receiver.

Poaching in Mixed is a whole topic to itself. Suffice it to say (to Anonymous, I guess) that I think there are ways to use women poaching to one's advantage.

The real question (which I haven't answered), is about what strategies people should use based on the spread of talents across genders. Hard question, since it's usually not all one-sided for a decent Mixed team. The more evenly spread your quality is, the more strategic options you'll be able to employ. Most importantly, the deeper you go on the field - 1 through 7 instead of 1 through 4 - the harder it is for your opponent to force to a team's weaker players, which has traditionally been a valuable strategy in Mixed.

Rambling post, sorry. But an interesting question which may demand more thorough answers...

Tarr said...

A few responses to what others wrote before I jump in with my own comments.

Marshall wrote:

I still don't think that Hang Time would have been as successful if their women sucked and were *completely* ignored.

Anecdotally, this is true. I know at least one team that went into a game at nationals against Hang Time thinking "these guys ignore their women, so we'll just have our women poach the lanes on D". HT then proceeeded to suck in the male defenders and score on several hucks to poached women. As soon as their opponents started playing more honest D, they went back to the huck-to-Tom approach.

doc wrote:

I dont know that you need "top" women in terms of disc skills. Obviously that would be nice. Most importantly, you need women that can shut down or slow down the occasional "top" woman and physically dominate lesser women.

Probably true. The fact is that a merely good club level male handler can provide a bigger target area for dumps and swings, and can throw longer hucks, than all but the very very best female handlers. As such, there is pressure to use male handlers almost exclusively, which means your women basically only need to be good receivers and defenders.

The most notable exception to this is zone offense (or any non-man offense, really), where having a female handler often gives you a mismatch to exploit downfield.

Tarr said...

The pressure to use the "HT" strategy versus the "RFBF" strategy is high for a few reasons:

1) With rare exception, the top players of both genders are taken up by open and women's teams. But since there are many fewer women players overall (especially experienced ones), the average experience level of a male mixed player is higher than a female mixed player. This is true at both the club level and the league level. Obviously there are exceptions to this (doc apparently has experienced one of them) but that is the rule.

2) As "nudecybot" implied, women do make statistically more turnovers than men. Some of this is due to drops, but mostly it is due to the fact that men can jump higher and cover more ground, and can therefore adjust to a less-than-perfect throw to a much greater degree. If you have very accurate throwers (of either gender), or if your offense favors passes that are easy to throw very accurately (which is sort of the same thing), this gap becomes less of an issue.

3) Because men are generally bigger and faster, it is dramatically easier for a man to poach on a woman's cut than any other poach. This makes throwing any longish pass to a woman inherently risky, unless you design your offense cleverly to eliminate the opportunities for this poach.

4) It's very easy for a male teammate to steal a woman's cut by simply running past her, but the opposite is very rare. As such, if you don't plan out your offense (and if people are itching to cut, as they generally are), men will take a disproportionate share of the cuts. This is especially common in summer league.

I think that the third and fourth reasons I cite are why the HT strategy is considered less "strategic" than the RFBF strategy. A team that hasn't thought about mixed-specific stragegy at all (e.g. most summer league teams) will disproportionately rely on their men as a matter of course. In order to use your women a lot, even if they are very good, you need to actually plan out your strategy a bit.

So the RFBF approach implies strategic thought. People mistakenly assume the inverse, which is that the HT approach implies little or no mixed-specific strategic thought. This is true in some cases, but in others (like Hang Time's) is is a logical decision borne out of an honest assesment of the relative talent on the team.

I haven't reached any conclusions yet in this post (and despite the implication of my above comments, my conclusion would not be to ignore one's women), but I've written enough for now.

heacox said...

Doc and Adam both touch on something I have noticed, which is that the difference between a top male player and a second-tier male (the latter being those most often found on a mixed team) is usually disc skills and not athleticism. The dfference between a top female and a second-tier female is often disc skills [i]and[/i] athleticism.

My point is that there is a greater disparity in ability between an A-level woman playing in the mixed division and her average opponent than there is for an A-level man playing in the mixed division. Consequently, the strong woman is often in a favorable mismatch on offense.

GridLock, the Altanta mixed team I played with in 2001-2002, would sometimes play four women on offense in a horizontal stack with three male handlers and four female receivers. Our thought was that our fourth O woman was likely much better than the opposing team's fourth D woman.

We had mixed results with the play. The biggest issue was that the disc would sometimes get stuck when the women received it downfield, as they were not our most expereinced throwers.

As someone who played against Hang Time a few times from 2001 to 2003, they had athletic women with solid skills. Not only that, but as Tarr notes it is impressive that as a team they were able to implement a different offensive plan on the National level and be successful using their women as receivers. Not every team can make a strategic shift like this and be successful, espically when its opponent is one of the best teams in the country.

The thread made me post some thoughts about what Crunch!, the mixed team I played with in 1999, did to be successful that season. They're over at the Ultimate strategy blog (http://ultfris.blogspot.com/2005/07/crunch-1999.html#comments).

Oh, and one last thing. Not being able th throw in the wind killed my teams (GridLock and Rival, respectively) at Sarasota in 2001 and 2003. Just thought I would mention that.