Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Studs Theory vs Plug N Play

UPDATE: Added graph that showed profile in games DoG won.
REQUEST: If you have subbing sheets for your team at Nationals, please contact me if you'd be willing to share them (after anonymizing).

At Nationals this year, DoG had the flattest playing time profile I’ve ever seen. Only one guy played more than ¾ of the O points, and even he was only at 83% (sitting out about 2 O points per game). In contrast, vintage DoG and practically all the top teams now have several guys who more or less played every O point.

Here’s the graph. Although not necessary for the purposes of this discussion, players are categorized as Handlers, Receivers, or Receivers who played handler if necessary.

Some points:
  1. Lots of guys didn’t play any O; only me and Al didn’t play any D.
  2. The top 7 O played only 2/3 of the time, leaving an average of 2+ guys on the line each point who weren’t considered starters.
  3. D % played is less (7th most is less than 50%).
  4. Only 3 or 4 guys got more than a token amount of points on both sides.
  5. Although this is averaged over all games, and you would suspect that the numbers would be different for tough vs easy games, DoG didn’t have any easy games at Nationals last year, and there was no real difference between relatively easy and relatively tough. There were about an equal number of O and D points.

Some of this is obviously do to a flatter talent level, which unfortunately is probably due to us not having the players who would be selected to an All-Nationals team, rather than having every player be that way. I found it hard to sit out so much and then try to take on an important role when in. The flat profile means that there are only a couple real starters (and even they are barely so) and everyone else is a sub. Ego has to be part of an offensive player's package, and being handled as subs destroys that ego. To belabor the point, starters do not merely play more than subs, but they do more when they are in. By telling each player that he is a sub, the team also tells them that they aren't good enough to be the man when he is in the game. Equally importantly, the player has to draw one of the following conclusions, depending on how the subbing is done: either whatever I do has little effect on my playing time, in which case I don’t have to play smart, or I am going to be benched if I make a mistake, in which case I probably should play so conservatively that I’m not going to help the team.


Anonymous said...

Equally importantly, the player has to draw one of the following conclusions.....

a feeling i have experienced more than once or twice. i play basketball also, and don't experience this feeling when i don't start games.


dagniel said...


can you explain why you think that "a player has to draw" one of those conclusions? how would things be different if the distribution of points were different?

isn't it possible that players on a team where points are distributed evenly could feel comfortable knowing that some days it's his turn to step up, and some days it's not?


parinella said...

Denis, I guess you're right that a player doesn't have to draw one of those conclusions, but it's just damn hard not to. As I said, ego is part of the O player's makeup. And by ego, I mean supreme confidence in his own abilities and knowing that his instictive choices are the right ones even when they don't work out and that he can go out there and simply play like he knows how to play (did I use enough cliches there?). Someone who thinks he is a starter and who thinks he has demonstrated that is not going to treat being a sub as just an opportunity to prove himself but rather as a directive from the leadership that he is in fact not that good and shouldn't think otherwise.

But let's assume that everyone in this situation does in fact accept all this. How is the team going to be use this? How will the team know whose turn it is to step up in a particular day, game, or half? Is it "Make a turnover, get benched"? Is it "Make a big play, play more?" Is it "We're keeping to the same rotation, +/- one point, no matter what happens"? Each of those creates personal incentives not in line with the team goals.

Handy said...

In line with what you're saying, there's a movement in Premier league soccer for some top teams (Liverpool is the primary example) where there is a constant rotation. Even if someone is hot at that time, they will still not start a game if it is time for someone else to take their place in the rotation.

I'm not sure I completely agree with this methodology, but you have to admit it could abate the feeling that you describe.

Also, the basketball 6th man award isn't for nothing, sometimes the most important guy you have is the guy who comes in later and makes the difference. Look at Barbosa on the Suns. He didn't start the past years but his presence in a game can change how they play and add a different element to their game, although he's no all-star. When he puts up those three pointers in the clutch, he knows he isn't "the man" like Stoudamire or Nash, but he fills a substantial roll nonetheless, and as a dominant player on a great team, I'm sure his ego is just fine.

I'm not sure I disagree with you completely Jim, but I'd like to hear you say more about it.


p.s. Nice work at UCPC. Thanks for making the time to go over there.

Krishna said...

I would agree, not being a "starter" can hurt a players pyschologically.

But, I am not sure I understand what you saying with incentives. You seem to assume that everyone is trying to maximize their playing time. That is part of what we are trying to do but certainly not all of it. Everyone could drop down to a lower level team where they play as much as they can handle.

People play to win, and a team agrees upon a structure to get it done. To some degree, in a given point a player is trying to fulfill his role in that structure to the best of his ability, and whether or not he is playing next point doesn't really have a huge impact.

Anonymous said...

Either the sub-callers are responsive to how people are playing, or they aren't responsive and play people a pre-determined amount of time. If I understand you correctly, you seem to be saying that both of these are bad things from the perspective of a player's psyche.

Given the flat structure you indicate, perhaps it provides each player extra motivation, knowing they will get PT - provided that team is constructed of players that have the mental strenght to handle the system.

On my team, I would want the system that gives my team the best chance to win. You haven't provided any evidence that this is a bad system except anecdotal references to your own struggles.

dagniel said...

i agree that not being designated a starter or given stud's minutes can have an affect on a player psychologically. but i think there are two different questions here: (1) what is the optimal team point distribution (i think that likely it's the studs-theory distribution) and (2) what do you do when the talent distribution is flatter?

so consider a hypothetical team where everyone is at or near the same talent level. the studs-theory distribution will artificially elevate some players to 'starter' status and artificially relegate some players to 'reserve' status. is that really optimal?

i suppose my concern is having "studs" designated who are not recognized by the "bench players" as studs - could create unrest?


parinella said...


What I'm getting at is probably also related to ego/confidence. A player (hell, I'll should just use "I") wants to play more not just because he wants to play more but because he thinks (or ought to think) that he is so good that playing him more will help the team. (There is a limit, of course, primarily based on short-term fatigue and tournament-level endurance. For a real stud, that level might be 100% of the O points. For someone who is a starter but not superstar and where there are capable subs, maybe that limit is 90% or so, where a player takes a sub only after an especially taxing stretch. And I'm not saying that every player should think he's the best player on the team.) This player thus faces the following dilemma: in order to help the team more, I have to play more. In order to play more (or avoid playing less), I have to focus on the one or two metrics that are overemphasized and ignore what my excellent frisbee judgment tells me is the right thing to do. Take the "turnover=bench" rule. I have an option to make a pass that I think will help the team, but I also know that if I don't complete it, I will be pulled. Thus, I am more likely to avoid that pass, putting us in a worse situation. Or "big play = more time" leads to overaggressive choices. "Equal rotation" I guess would allow the player to make his own decisions, but it removes the carrot of more PT.

In summary, your decision-making during a point is compromised because you are second-guessing yourself based on the PT carrots that are being dangled in front of you by the team. You end up feeling like you're playing for the subber rather than for the team.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say that last comment was excellent. I was going to write something similar but you explained it better.

parinella said...

9:33 anonymous, yes, this probably is more personally anecdotal than most of my strategy blogs, and I probably haven't made the general case well enough. Some of this is definitely just me crying "wah, wah, I should have played more, I know more than they do." But onward.

Pro teams would deal with a flat profile by trading away some of the logjam for equal talent in an area of weakness, or by trying to sort out the logjam in preseason. They don't go to the playoffs, let each pitcher go for 2 innings, and say that the one with the lowest ERA is the one who will start the next time.

What an ultimate team could do would be to trade some of the talent to an area of weakness within the team rather than giving all of the logjam equal time or arbitrarily anointing some starters. Or by deciding to go with a smaller roster. Most likely this last part would be achieved by not adding new role players rather than by cutting.

I think what the flat profile does is put all of those guys on the upslope of the efficiency curve, where none of them are playing enough to be at maximum effectiveness. And what with the small sample sizes, a subber "being responsive to how people are playing" might actually be responsive to noise or to good (bad) decisions with a bad (good) outcome.

Another point is that I find it hard to believe that a competitive ultimate team would have such a flat profile. Maybe they are misreading the value of some of the players.

RE: Barbosa. Never heard of him, but I see at 82games.com that he is logging starter minutes (he's 6th on the team, but his 61% would be about 3rd on a lot of other teams). Bball is a bit different because short-term fatigue limits most starters to only 75% of minutes (and there is little O/D platooning).

Anyway, I'd like to put out a request to other teams, preferably elite ones, to give me their profiles, semi-anonymously if you want. parinell at yahoo dot com.

Anonymous said...

"Bball is a bit different because short-term fatigue limits most starters to only 75% of minutes."

Jim, I am not following you here. How does short-term fatigue not play the same role in ultimate? Especially for an O-line that can't get the job done (see DoG 2006).

parinella said...

Boy, you anonymice can be harsh. Unless (especially if?) you're a member of DoG.

It doesn't play the same role because there is usually a built-in rest for an O team even when they can't get the job done. There can't be more than 1 point a game on average where a stud is tired enough that his replacement will be better that point. There is the break between points, for one, and usually a single point isn't so tiring that an immediate rest is needed. Back when I was an official stud, I never sat out an O point other than garbage time or extreme sucking, and even as a 41 year old, there have been very few times (easily less than 1 per game) where I've _needed_ to sit out when we're on O (although I'm already sitting out points so it's less likely that it would come out, but based on how I felt when I came out and wasn't going to play). For long-term endurance, in my upper 30s, I could see that it would be to my and the team's benefit for me to pace myself over a tournament by playing less often than every point that I could. (And this is ignoring whether I was good enough to merit that. Just addressing fatigue here.)

That said, it could be why D players don't play as much. Conventional wisdom is that D is more tiring than O, so short-term rest is usually needed.

Anonymous said...

Just for fun, I'll take a guess...

1 - Vandenberg (?)
2 - Fortch
5 - you
8 - Al
12 - Zip
15 - Kevin
24 - Colin

Anonymous said...

disagree with minor point about All-Nationals type players. Zip and Fortch would be shoo-ins. Several others could be in there.

Am I wrong?
If I'm not wrong, how many all-world type players do you want?

sometallskinnykid said...

I am one year removed from this, but the most effective offense I played with in my career was in 05. I think the best thing for the O was the amount they played with each other. We had 7 definite starters. We were lucky enough to stay relatively healthy, so there were not that many issues throughout the year. My first question about your graph was what was the most common line? And how often was this line out there? Not just at natties, but all year.

So back to 05, we had those 7 guys always in at least half the time, if not more. We had one guy who was a sub for the "receivers". His main role was an O sub. We had 2 other main subs, a handler sub and a handler/receiver sub. Both of these guys mainly played defense, but would get worked in on depending on the situation.

We had this rotation the last 2 tourneys, but the core 8 guys on offense were that all year. I personally would have liked a 9 man rotation, but that is nitpicking. So I guess I would say the "big stud" theory or maybe more appropriate theory of "best offense".

I think ego is not the most important idea. Rather the team chemistry, it is ok to have an ego, but if in the end you are trying to get more pt. Well, I am not sure that is the correct way to go about it. It does take a special type of mindset to embrace a "8th man" role, but you got to have guys to do it. Some games that may not be big, but others they may have to be. If the players are worried about the sub caller, then there are bigger issue. If you can't take it not playing the next point, maybe it is time to consider Master's...

Along these lines, it is the responsiblity of the leadership to let those who will be in the "bench" role to know that ahead time. People have to know their roles ahead of time so hopefully they can embrace them.

parinella said...

Funny you should mention Masters, Tim. Alex just asked me if you were old enough to play for our team this year.

I can take not playing the next point. I can't take not playing the next point on a quarters-level team that gets broken half the time on offense. I would love to have played half the O points on a team that won Nationals last year.

"Ego" is an overloaded word, as there are usually negative associations with it. I was thinking more of the positive side of ego, which is why I added the "/supreme confidence". That's the ego that knows you can get open against their best defender and be someone through whom the offense goes, not a guy who can fill in when the main cutter is double-teamed or who continues the flow. The 6th man in basketball can be an "instant offense" kind of guy, but there is no equivalent with how ultimate is played today, other than a guy who normally plays on the D and is brought over to O when the O struggles.

aj said...

My initial reaction to your graph is that it can't be anything near optimal (particularly on offense). But I wonder to what extent the more equal distribution of offensive PT is a function of the fact that you were getting broken. Teams tend to open up their rotations more when things aren't going well. It kind of makes sense--things aren't working, so let's mix it up. Also non-starters become particularly disgruntled when the starters aren't getting the job done ("if he was just going to turn it over, they should have put me in"). I'd be interested to see a graph of a game where the offense was successful. Was play time less evenly distributed in those games?

The unfortunate side of the decision to change things up following a break, is that it typically results in a less than optimal line which is more likely to get broken than your starting line.

parinella said...


There wasn't a whole lot of difference in good games and bad games. I updated the blog entry to show a graph with wins.

Alex de Frondeville said...

AJ, more importantly, it was made abundantly clear going into Nationals that the O subbing rotation was going to be flat. It's not like it was a surprise to us, but that doesn't make it any easier to accept. Yes, we did get broken, but even in the early games, like the first two that we won against Florida and Machine, the profile was very flat, and neither of those were gimme games. Probably the only gimme game (by half-time) was the Metal pre-quarter, and that is the game that makes my win line look bad because I only played 3 points in that game.

Anonymous said...

Tim makes some solid points. Most important would be leadership telling players their roles before hand.
During a game, intensity and competitive spirit make it difficult to accept less PT.

I've had past issues with getting benched bc our more celebrated players were turning the disc over too much.. I wasn't much of a D player and when our"studs" kept turning the disc over, i became the logical choice for watching from the sidelines. My ego/supreme confidence was convinced I should be playing and we should just take what the D gives us... But young, superstar types love their 15 minutes on ultivillage..

cash27 said...

"Celebrated players were turning the disc over too much.. I wasn't much of a D player and when our"studs" kept turning the disc over, i became the logical choice for watching from the sidelines."

Reminded me of a theory (and subbing plilosophy) we had a few years back...especially when using O and D squads. They may be the studs on O, but I can turn it over just as well as they can.

Anonymous said...

to add some further anecdotal evidence, and to build on tim's team analysis: the best o i've ever run with was pike '04. that year we ran an 8 person o line basically from mid-august on. six people played every o point and two guys took turns in the last spot (interestingly they filled slightly different roles, one being more of a cutter, the other more of a handler forcing a few of the remaining players to shift accordingly). On occasion, due to being broken or tiredness or injuries, one or two of the main defensive studs was brought over to help. but at most three slots in an entire game.
the next year, with basically the exact same team we didn't get to play as much together over the year (people missing practices and tournaments), we opened up the o to more of a 9 or 10 person rotation, and we sucked.
there were many other factors in there, but the above had something to do with it.
I agree with what someone above seemed to say: cohesiveness of a unit has as much to do with an o's success as the massive ego's it supports. but the ego's are still important.


Mauricio Moore said...

sorry mr james, im not part of the discussion, im just trying to contact you. My name is Mauricio Moore, one of the couch of the Colombian Team, I saw you playing at junior worlds the last year.. I’m writing you, because Linda Sidorsky brought me your e-mail parinell@tiac.net, but never works. and I’m so interested to invite you to our country (COLOMBIA).

I’m part of a group called G5 who is one of the strongest organization sin Colombia around the Ultimate, actually we made a National tournament in my city (Medellín) “Pasion x Ultimate” April 6 to 8 (holly week), and there’s gonna be the highest level of our country.

This year we are planning to invite people to teach some in clinics for couches, and players, even it’s a grate place for your book. I know it’s estrange this kind of invitation, but I want to contact you and explain you better. Let me know if you receive this message, I will try to let you know how the things work.

Sorry if my English is confuse, and for the interruption of the converation.

High spirit

Mauricio Mooore

Niklas Jälevik, Sweden said...

Interesting topic.

But how can anyone argue against the fact that any team, elite or not, would benefit from having their best players (O or D) play as much as possible (fatigue is of course a factor).

I also agree with Jim that the self confidence of a "stud" is vital for the team and himself (and his play).

There will never be a case where you have 21 or more players equally skilled. And even if you had a team that could use this "flat playing time strategy" and still win, it would be an even better team with some dominant studs.

You can call it what you want, ego, confidence or team chemistry. The art of creating the perfect team with the perfect leadership will never be exactly the same for any two teams.

But it most certainly does not include any flat playing time.

Best regards Niklas

Swedish former elite player who has met all the studs including mr Parinella.

Anonymous said...

I agree Jälevik that this is an interesting topic. I guees because different sports have different rules makes every sport has its ownstyle of team formation. In soccer you have very few posibillities to change. There the problem is to know when and which players should change. There are players like Manchester Uniteds Ole Gunna Solskjaer which is a very good sub, he has low pt but scores a lot of goals. But that doesnt automaticly mean that he would score more goals with more pt.

In ultimate there are some typical things.

Good players have more disc contact than worse players. Good players can make more mistakes than worse players without being benched. How many mistakes is a good respective player aloud to do before getting benched? I dont think that they exist any flat teams on elite level, so only reason to do a democratic sub system would be in matches where you belive you will win easily. You would do that to save energy for the stars and let the others get som experience with pt.

A very important factor in ultimate is knowing each others moves, throws and so on, as noted earlier. Even if many top teams play with set pieces that is not enough. With good D the set pieces can be destroyed by good d, and then improvisation is needed on high stall count. Then knowledge of your team players strong and weak points are even more important. That is an argument for playing with a rather few people on O. And as Parinella says, if the O:s are doing their job they can regain energy between points. But when playing bad, there is probably needed more players.

Playing D is a little bit different. Specially when playing man to man defence. There it can be easier to have a wider group of players when starting the game and maybe narrowing downthe line during the game. Seeing whos hot and making blocks. But when playing zone D its more organization and experience with who each other play and communication is very important, then a smaller line could be better. The counter argument then is obiously, teams play both man man and zone in a game, maybe even in a point. Another dilemma problem is that D:s main job is to turn over the disc. But when done that, they should score, otherwise the team will never win. Then you really need O players on the field. So there is negative side by dividing the team in to a O and D group. In one way in ultimate a good player should excel in both defence and offence. You can have some players of a D or O line to only excel on D or O but prefably you would need all 7 seven to be equally good, and that is not so common. Another argument that flat teams on elite level doesnt exist.

Something Mr. Parinella points out in the beginning of the thread, is every players thought and personality. Players are different. Some can only play good with much pt, some can excel with less pt. Some players believe they should play all the time but shouldnt. Some lose confidence by doing a mistake, others get angry on them selves and go out next point and make a better job. There are many different possible charachter issues that the coach has to deal with and that is very difficult.

I must stop now, not really sure where Im coming in my monologue. :)


Also from Sweden

zaz said...

I like this thread, though I haven't followed (or read)
all the details.

Competition is a meritocracy. The best are rewarded more than the mediocre. Better players should play more.

Within this context, a team must be united in purpose, and this means that players at lower levels shouldn't feel too much like second-class citizens. The coach/captain must be aware of this and make every effort to reward all contributions, not just on-field ones.

On the field, the first priority should be winning, and this will often mean a narrow rotation. Whenever a wider rotation is possible, it should be employed, as this keeps starters fresh and keeps subs engaged and happy.

Being overly sensitive to players' emotional states is 1) an impossible shell game with moving targets, and 2) deleterious to a competitive team's objective.