Wednesday, May 24, 2006

junk throws

Bane, or boon? Bad fundamentals, or a nuanced grasp of advanced concepts?

By junk throw, I mean anything that if a rookie threw away, he’d be immediately benched or cut. Depending on your environment, it could be a push pass, lefty backhand, or a thumber, or possibly a scoober, backhand to the forehand side, or hammer. It’s “If you throw that again, you’ll never play in this town again” throws. It’s “What the hell are you thinking?” throws. You get the picture.

(For that matter, it can also be one-handed catches, claw catches, and gratuitous layouts or failure to lay out.)

We all grew up with conventional wisdom about what works and doesn’t work. Someone recently mentioned to me how a younger player was complaining about why they were playing force middle, and this guy said, “A few years ago, we used to call that ‘defense’.” Things change. Sometimes the old strategy was a sound one but new strategies were built to adapt, other times the old strategy was a bad one that just happened to be the best one available at the time, and occasionally the old strategy was the best one but players just wanted to try something different. The point is that the favored strategy becomes “the right way to play” and is never again critically examined to see whether it makes sense.

So it is with some throws, too. I’m seeing more push passes these days, and we had a discussion last fall about lefty backhands. I’m prepared to say that these are acceptable throws, with the followings caveats:
  • Don’t fall in love with the throw.
  • Don’t use it to show off. I’m still ticked at some CU punk on Bravo who went out of his way to throw a thumber huck against us in the finals of Colorado Cup last year when they were up by 4.
  • Don’t throw it because you don’t want to make the effort to try another throw.
  • Be able to justify why you threw it instead of another throw.

The justification will be different in ultimate than it is in goaltimate, where quick decisions and creative throws are more necessary, and the cost of an incompletion is much less.

So, think of the push pass as a sand wedge or as a rescue club. Most of us should consider these as specialty clubs tailor-built for specific situations where our normal clubs might not work well. Just don't use them off the tee.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

more on hucking practice

Last week, I discussed a hucking practice session I planned to do. I set up stakes at 35 and 45 yards away and tried to land a leading pass at the stake, and measured how far the throws missed the target. First, some observations on my success:
  1. 35 yard throws were gimmes
  2. 45 yard throws had unacceptably wide variation (i.e., I shouldn’t be throwing them, if that day’s results are my true level)
  3. Error was attributable both to initial line and to curve
  4. Forehands and backhands were about the same
  5. Variation in range was less than variation in accuracy

But the main conclusion was that this isn’t the way to structure the practice. A huck isn’t a golf shot that has to end up close to the hole, but a 3-D throw where time is just as big of a factor in the catchability. While for every cut there may be an ideal throw, there are a variety of distance/speed/hang time combinations that result in sure completions. Also, the acceptable margin of error is not symmetrical, with more margin long than short. Finally, it doesn’t really matter where the disc lands, it’s where and how long the disc is at a catchable height. Without sophisticated equipment, I don’t think you’d be able to measure that.

So, I’d propose a slightly different setup. The setup is similar, with the thrower attempting to throw a pass that comes down to, say, 6’ high at a set distance. However, instead of measuring how far away the disc lands (a condition that is exacerbated by differences in disc stability), rank each throw on the following scale of 1 to 5:
5: pretty much as I planned
4: not quite as planned, but a sure completion
3: a throw where the receiver has a reasonable chance to come up with the sky or to chase it down if he’s really fast; a 50/50 throw
2: catchable, but not a throw anyone would be expected to come down with
1: uncatchable

For anything except a 5, make a note of how you missed, and see whether any patterns develop. You can also apply the same scale to your long throws in a game, although you also need to consider not just whether the throw did what you wanted but whether it was the right decision.

Monday, May 15, 2006

New Jersey invite

I was waiting for Alex to post first so that mine would appear at the top of ultimatetalk, but he needs the hits more than I, so I’ll get started.

DoG won the NJ Invite this weekend, besting the hosts 17-16 in the final. Alex and I drove down together, just like the old days, except that his two kids accompanied us as far as his parents’ house in Westchester County, and in addition to ultimate, we discussed potty-training, child sleep patterns, and the like.

On the various fronts:
1. I was reasonably satisfied with my performance. Many deep cuts, some of them thrown to me. Couldn’t get to two of them despite sprawlout bids, caught the others, most of them flat-footed. Melvin pointed out last year that I catch more hucks while on the ground than anyone else, perhaps trying to insult me, but unwittingly complimenting me on my fine reads. No embarrassing moments that might lead me to question whether I should still be playing. Devastating popping/clambusting against Pike. More than held my own against Hoagie Haven. And, most importantly, a devastating payback against one of the Pike guys.
Trey from the sideline: Hey, who's got Parimello?
Me: That's Parinella.
[passage of time]
Me: Nice game, Troy.
2. Best performance from a class of tryouts since ever. Usually at the first spring tournament, half of the tryouts are of such quality that I can comfortably forgo learning their names without fear of later embarrassment. Not so this time.
3. Introduced "Rules Corner" in which I discuss an arcane rule that I do not want to see anyone on my team calling but that we should be prepared to have called against us. (Gotta be ready for Bravo, after all.) Forch preempts me by making such a call himself. Someone directly to the right of the person directly to the left of me screams out, "Pussy call!"
4. Questioned the cult status of Hoagie Haven. Sure, it was good, but didn't appear to be worthy of the "if you’re anywhere near Princeton, you gotta stop here" name. I’m sure the Anchorman crowd is going to respond that I once again do not know what I’m talking about, but I just have to learn to live with their innocence.
5. Very interesting tiebreaker possibilities going into the final games on Sunday. It was a 7 team round robin with 4 games on Saturday. After the first round on Sunday, the top four teams were done with each other so all tie-breakers had been worked out. DoG had lost to Pike, Pike had lost to Twisted Metal, TM had lost to DoG and Potomac, and Potomac had lost to DoG and Pike. Each had one game left (over two rounds) against one of the bottom three teams. The finals would be DoG v Pike, unless DoG won, Pike lost, Twisted won, and Potomac lost, in which case it would be DoG v Twisted. The Potomac game was scheduled for the third round, which is when the finals were also tentatively scheduled for, assuming that Potomac wasn’t going to be in the finals. They couldn’t, as it turned out, but if they lost they wouldn’t have been included in the tiebreaker, which could have changed the way the criteria played out. DoG was in the Bnogo-like position of it being in our best interests to lose our last game, since our big point differential victories against TM and Potomac would have guaranteed their elimination. But we won, and Pike won, setting up the earlier final.
6. We lucked out on the weather. It poured all weekend in New England, but Saturday in NJ was 70 and sunny, and Sunday was in the 60s and overcast but dry. I packed expecting to be miserable in the rain, and so had to settle for being grumpy that it wasn’t the bad weather that I packed for. It’s tough being a curmudgeon.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Major League Ultimate

It’s about time, and I hope it works out. It sure sounds like a fun event to play in.

DoG is disrespected once again. The other three semifinalists averaged 7 players on these squads, DoG gets 1, and an over-the-hill one, at that.

Here’s an interesting take on why the Northeast will do better than expected. Pundits are already preaching that NW and SW will benefit from having so many regular teammates together. But it could be that there won’t be as much cooperation on those teams. Maybe Sockeye won’t be willing to install “their” offense because it will give away too many secrets, or they’ll install a limited version of it, neglecting some important aspects. Meanwhile, the NE will be forced to come up with a mix of offenses, no sub-group except possibly the defunct Pike will try to dominate, and everyone will just get along.

Where the hell is Tim Murray? I thought he had a post a few months ago about this event, but I don’t see his name anywhere. I should have had the foresight to blog about it too so that people would think that I had been invited but that I had to turn it down due to “commitments.” Which, of course, I did, as far as anyone knows or can prove.

(In fairness wrt the dissing, the NE is represented by 8 teams and 2.75 regions, while the NW is 3 teams and part of 1 region, so each team should have fewer representatives. Otoh, I suspect that if this had happened 10-15 years ago, the NE team would have looked much like the NW team this year, and the MA and C players would have found themselves on another team.)

hucking practice

So, I have a few frisbees of varying quality lying around my back yard, and sometimes I'll huck a few of them. Usually I'll only get to throw two of them before the boy insists on taking the next. On Friday, weather permitting, I'll try to do a mini-workout with about 10 of them.

I'm wondering how constructive this practice is. Experts get better by deliberate practice, implementing immediate feedback. But because these frisbees are all different, some of them drastically so, I might uncork identical throws back-to-back but get significantly different results. Probably I can limit this by getting rid of the worst discs, but there will still be some effect.

Anyway, what I'm going to do is similar to my wedge workout reported on previously. I have stakes set up at 10 yard intervals, and I'm going to try to huck to the stakes. While I won't have a calibrated swing for each distance, this should help me statistically assess my throws. What I'm expecting is that as distance increases, the error will increase linearly while I'm within my range, then explode when I try to force it (probably enough that I won't be able to measure it because the throws are going into the trees).

PS. Plyo workout last night, I hope I didn't hurt myself. Nothing is too sore today, so that's good.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Opening days

This weekend saw three opening days of sorts for me, in golf, softball, and hard ultimate-related workouts.

Golf: Mediocre round of 92 (handicap differential of 18.2). Poor distance control on nearly all shots. Horrible distance control on long putts (three-putted four out of four times that I had 50 feet or more on my first putt). Got one birdie on a chip-in, although even that one was a little bit lucky as it landed it three feet past where I wanted. On the plus side, I hit a few very nice drives, and most of the shots were respectable, and after all I hadn’t played since last year. But equally disconcerting was a little practice session I did on Sunday. I was trying to hit controlled ½ and ¾ shots with my wedges, but was all over the place with them, and was nowhere close to how far I thought I was hitting them. The theory behind the “3 x 4” wedge system is that you use 4 wedges with 3 swing lengths (called 7:30, 9:00, and 10:30, to reflect how far your backswing goes) and know exactly how far each of those goes, so you in effect have up to 12 different clubs that you can pick the one combination to match your exact distance from the pin, without having to rely on feel to dial in the distance. But if I have an 8 yard standard deviation on my 9:00 gap wedge, the system is useless.

Softball: We lost 20-19. Bad day at the plate for me, error-free but a little clunky in the field. Took six pitches, swung three times and put each into play, two of them lazy fly balls and one a medium-hard grounder right to the third baseman. The team did exceptionally badly in the field, with countless errors of all varieties. Our pitchers actually did pretty well despite the 20 runs, considering how many outs they had to get in most of the innings, and our other hitters did well. The real downside is that it was so cold that no one stuck around after the game for beer.

Workout: Ran 16 stadiums (sets of 2 big, 1 small, plus an extra one all-out at the end) on Saturday. I did some light workouts over the winter, plus of course goaltimate and soccer and a full-of-running Fools, but this is the first “normal” one, where both my legs and my lungs were taxed throughout. I ran these ones at about a 2.5 on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being sprinting each one and 5 being walking up. Gone are the days where I could run hard (say, at a 1.8 on this scale) and do a full set of 37 (there are 37 sections at Harvard Stadium, each with about 30 steps about 18” high), with pushups and situps thrown in, like we did back in 1992. Now there was a stadium workout.