Sunday, June 24, 2007

Boston Invite

Well, didn't add another tournament victory to the list, but had fun, nonetheless, plus I'm sporting 7 stitches in my forehead thanks to a collision.

Here are the results.

After a little to-do about format, we were seeded 10th in the lower half of the Elite division, which says something about us (we rock!) and the tournament (less rocking). This meant we had to finish in the top two of our pool in order to have a shot at the A quarters where we were hoping to take a crack at Boston Ultimate (or, as I referred to them this weekend, our farm club, although I think they are all a few years of seasoning away from being ready to play with us).

As compared to our previous Open tournament where we had 11 on Sat and 9 on Sun, this time we had 18 on the roster for Saturday and 14 for Sunday. Except that I forgot that one of them wasn't going to show up for either day (and I had just golfed with him a few days prior), one cancelled for Sunday, and two just didn't show up on Saturday, putting a crimp into my plans to make money on entry fees. And the usual assortment was late, so once again at start time on Saturday we had about 7 or 8. Our first game was against Chuck Wagon, whom we had beaten at WMO. Rough game for me, throwing away a goal on the first point on a dumb throw that had been working for me, got partially point blocked, dropped two less-than-perfect dumps, and almost certainly did something else bad. I had made a comment on George's blog about how anything more than 10 warmup throws was inefficient, so I felt compelled not to do any warmup throws at all. I learned my lesson and threw a handful of throws before our first game Sunday while waiting for my teammates on the line for the first point. Nonetheless, my mastery as a motivator must have been worth a few points as we won 15-12. By now we were up to our full squad for the day (but still missing a bunch of guys who were great players in the '90s).

Our next game was against Phoenix, whom we had played as DoG at this tournament not two years ago in a tight game. We had a tight first half, but then pulled away for a 15-8 win. This, we thought, guaranteed our spot in the pre-quarters (we were mistaken, as HOV was losing to Chuck Wagon, meaning that we were in as long as we lost by no more than 5). However, our hopes for a quarters matchup against Boston Ultimate took a hit as they lost to PoNY. There was still a chance if we lost our last game and BU beat Pike (and of course we won our pre-quarters), but it looked a lot less likely.

Our final pool play game was old-fashioned DoG. We knew we were in and we just cruised. HOV kept getting mad at themselves while we looked past our mistakes since they didn't matter, and found ourselves up and expanding the lead. (I will admit to being confused by other teams discussing point differential but it didn't dawn on me.) I sat out all but a few points in this game in order to have some legs left for the pre-quarters. Final score 15-10 and first place, giving us a matchup against Zebra Muscles.

ZM played a lot better than a team that got shellacked 15-6, 15-4, and 15-2 already (or maybe they were fresh). They didn't make the drops or simple mistakes that some of these other teams had done. Our best chance at winning this game was early, as we went up 4-2 while still squandering a few opportunities. They got a run to take half 8-6 and expanded it to 12-9. At 13-10, we got a turn near their goal line but failed to put in the upwinder, they scored the downwinder and then closed us out 15-11. We tried hard but we weren't that disappointed since it meant we did not have to play at 8:30 in a game we knew we would lose (especially so given that we probably would have had 4 players there on time).

So, we had a 10:30 game against the winner of Colt .45, who had gone winless on Saturday in lower Elite, and the Gunslingers, who had won all their games in the non-Elite section. We still struggled to get a full team there on time. The Gunslingers are a young Boston team, possibly none of whom were born when I started playing (1983). I had a good game, making several blocks (at least three, maybe more) and some good offensive plays while playing every point. We took half 8-6 but couldn't put them away, and found ourselves pulling upwind at double game point. They had a simple throwaway (either a miscommunication or a disc that stuck to the thrower's hand) in their own end. After a disputed line call on a second chance catch, we forced up a stall 9.9 pass into the end zone that found its way into our of our hands for the game-winner.

I have to admit, it's been awhile since I felt so involved with the team's successes, even if it was the B pool quarters. Even in those recent years with DoG where I was still playing almost every O point, I still felt a little bit outside the team. I expressed it once that it almost felt like there were two alternating games going, one when we received and another when we pulled, and they somehow combined the scores of those two games to determine a winner. It really is a different perspective that I had mostly forgotten, to go into a tournament with your normal team thinking that making the quarters would be a good showing, but I guess that's the reality for an awful lot of players out there.

We moved fields, again (we did not play two consecutive rounds on the same field all weekend, George), for our B pool semi against New Noise, who had barely lost to Pike in the pre-quarters the day before (but had also barely made the pre-quarters, winning a one-pointer in their last game). They were similar to Gunslingers but a couple years older and possibly having some ties to Amherst instead of/in addition to Boston. I hadn't done anything other than walk or sit from the end of the previous game until the first point had started and I found myself setting up for a cut to a long backhand from Alex off the walkup. But then I realized that even though the cut was open, there was no way that I was actually going to run that much right then, so I yelled something about how I wasn't going to cut there and instead cut back to the disc. On the next upwind point, they again pulled it out and this time I told one of the other players to get in the same place I had been and to cut deep for Alex's backhand. He tried, but his defender was backing him so much that it was impossible. After a few seconds more, I found myself at the back of the stack so I just cut deep. I saw the throw hooking so I angled toward the cone, only to find that it hadn't hooked nearly as much as I thought. Fortunately for me, the defender (mis)played the disc, not me, and it went over his head to me for the goal.

They took half, but we broke twice to start the second half. I believe that we kept trading after that. At 12-12, again going upwind, they turned it about 20 yards outside the endzone. Alex walked it up, and I cut for his hammer after making sure that the stack got away from that space. He had overthrown me in almost the identical situation the previous game, so maybe he overcompensated by hanging this one a bit. It hung long enough for a poacher to come over and clobber me in the head sometime after the disc had been tipped away. I yelled "Jesus Christ" at his carelessness and started to play defense only to see blood spurting from my head. I rotated my body to try to avoid getting blood on my shirt and lay down. I popped up again to yell at the sideline, "I'm bleeding here! Pretty bad. Someone get me something. Call for help." Someone got a towel, and the trainer came fairly quickly, so I realized I wasn't going to bleed to death. But I still needed immediate treatment and got taken away in a cart so he could clean me up a little. He drove me back to frisbee central, cleaned the wound and put some bandaids on, and told me I really needed to get stitches in the next hour or so to reduce the risk of an ugly scar. So I got them to call for a cart so I could talk to my wife. I waited, we drove over, I tried interrupting their game by calling "Injury time out" (strictly speaking, it would have been) after yet another turnover (I said, "I hope this isn't a hell point," and got the reply "It already is"), but yet they continued. After another turnover, I caught my wife's attention and yelled, "My head is cut, I'm ok, I'm going to Emerson Hospital to get it stitched", at which point the girl she was defending cut. It was incomplete, and by now several people on the field knew they might want to stop play, so they motioned to the thrower to call timeout (someone on the side even said, "yeah, we haven't used any yet"), so of course the thrower decided to keep playing. This time, however, the pass was caught for a goal and I got to repeat the information, adding that my head didn't hurt and it definitely wasn't a concussion and of course I was fine to drive. So, back into the cart to be driven across the grounds to my field, expecting the game to be over but finding that it was only 13-13. As I later found out, we traded yet again, but then turned it over twice on double-game point to lose 15-14. Once again, it was a bittersweet defeat, as the team was already pretty spent and another game might have started to see my teammates dropping like the elderly during a heat wave.

So, off to the hospital for the first time ever in 25 years of ultimate (one other time at practice I got hurt, stopped playing, and went to the doctor the next day). I gave my name at the desk, sat in the waiting room for a bit, talked to someone at the desk finally, got shunted off to another room, waited, talked to another person, and then was told to wait some more. At some point I debated acting delirious in order to be seen more quickly. I was disappointed in the wait because I had chosen the hospital in the more affluent area, figuring there would be fewer Sunday afternoon trauma cases to delay me, but it still took me about 2:30 before I finally got out of there. Anyway, at this point I decided to go clean myself up a little and finally looked in the mirror to see dried blood all over my face and even in my ear. Sweet. My wife and the boy finally show up as I'm being shown to my room (where I waited another 30 minutes). Finally, more cleaning, some anesthetic, and I get stitched up and released.

Overall, we ended up where we were seeded, just about. I think we would have had a better chance in the games we lost had they been earlier in the day, but that's part of the nature of ultimate tournaments. I don't really know what to make of our team's chances this year. I would really like them if only everyone were 38 again.

Anyway, I had a good time, and am surprisingly not sore right now. I need a couple more tournaments like this between now and September to go along with the other things I'm doing and I'll be raring to go.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Field sense

Here is a cool article on teaching field sense. Here's one really good quote:
Farrow has found that players who make poor decisions tend to glance at targets, rather than pausing on them. They're also more drawn to motion. "In a lot of team sports, you're attracted to the area of greatest movement," Farrow says. "But just be-cause there's a person running fast and waving his arms doesn't mean he's the best person to kick to."

And here is another interesting link, though interesting in a different sense.

Monday, June 04, 2007


In baseball, the term leverage is used to quantify the importance of the next event in determining the outcome of that game. Events in close games have higher leverage than those in blowouts, and during a close game, events near the end of the game have higher leverage than those earlier in the game, since there is less time to recover. (You can also factor in how much a particular outcome will change the probability of winning, instead of just considering the state prior to the at-bat; google "Win Probability Added" for more detail.) One application of this is that teams should use their best relievers during the higher leverage moments where possible. Now, there is some debate as to what extent clutch hitting exists (i.e., the ability to perform better during high leverage situations), but

There are two applications to ultimate that I can think of (well, three if you count using fire in rocham). One is that I strongly prefer playing high leverage points, if such points are available that day. I think I realize that I'm not going to be able to play every point at any high level of output, so I'd rather those points be important to the outcome of the game. Thus, points when we're winning 5-2, or whole games where the outcome isn't in doubt, I don't have much desire to participate in. (For summer league or pickup where I don't much care about the outcome, even when it's in doubt, this doesn't factor in except maybe at double game point if I'm in or if there is someone on the other team I want to have lose.)

The other is in foul calls and contests. There are four calls I've been involved in these past two tournaments that come to mind. I held my ground on the two highest leverage calls and gave up on the other two (even though on one of those I was at least 100% in the right; in fairness, though, not only was this one not at an important part in the game, but it also didn't make a lot of difference in the expectation that we would score the point). I don't engage in gamesmanship in stuff like this, so it wasn't a matter of giving up a call now expecting to get one or more back later. Rather, I don't want to be a guy who is involved in a lot of calls or a guy who makes bad calls. I guess I'm willing to risk the latter a little bit in some circumstances because I also don't want to be a guy who helps his team lose by not making a (good) call.

I don't doubt that in each case, I was probably correct (and not just loophole/ticky tack correct, but spirit of the rule correct), although I'm not sure what an Observer would have ruled on them (or even what I as an Observer would have ruled).

Anyway, what really triggered this trip down angst lane was seeing a comment on the UPA Strategic Planning blog (and remembering similar comments elsewhere) about how unspirited it is to pull out calls when the game is on the line. The paradox is that the commenter would think it more unspirited to make those earlier calls, too, even though that would make the amount of rule-breaking required to call a foul more consistent. (I also tend to factor in how respectfully the other player plays and how he makes the call; given a certain level of how sure I am about a call, I find myself more likely to contest a call if the other player is belligerent about it.)

I can think of examples from other sports that back up this point of view. In pro football, the coach will throw the challenge flag only if either he's absolutely certain or if the difference in the outcome is huge (score/no score or possession). Years ago in pro hockey, many players had sticks with illegal curvature on the blade, but they were only challenged on it in the last minutes of tight games. And in the George Brett pine tar incident, the Yankees knew about it for a long time but waited until Brett had hit a 3 run homer to ask for a measurement.

For the record, the calls (the first two were detailed in the WMO post):
1. 12-11 us, game to 13, I'm chasing a hammer on defense, as I'm about to jump, the receiver shifts his position and jumps back toward me. The disc goes over his head, but my momentum carries me into him. I ask him twice if he's sure he doesn't want to take the call back, then don't contest.
2. 12-12, game to 13 (next point), 30 yard pass in the end zone for the game winner, I jump up and make the block, then have some (incidental?) contact on the receiver's body (nothing on the arm). I am more certain that an Observer would rule in my favor than I am that I did not commit a foul. I send it back without trying to convince the receiver to retract his call.
3. 0-1, we receive the pull, quick swing, defense is still not down yet, I cut (pretty much laterally) before I get to where the D is and catch the second pass (this is generally what I do as the Man (3rd person in the play, first downfield cutter) on a low pull, take the free yards rather than actually having to cut and possibly gain more). Pick is called. I pace off 6 steps to my man who called the pick and explain the 3m rule. I add that I was never within 5 yards of the spot where he was standing. Argument ensues. Dumbfounded and angry, I sent the disc back.
4. 13-12 us, game to 15, they throw a long pass. I am looking back at the disc as I run downfield. I feel there is an excellent chance (more than 50/50) that I will cause this pass to be incomplete. About 30 yards from where the disc ends up, while the disc is still high in the air and upfield (toward the thrower) from us, I run into the receiver, who has stopped so as to have me run into him. There is no possible way that he has simply misread the disc. I raise my arm immediately and stop running. He catches it in the end zone. I state "didn't play the disc! Sending it back!" I send it back. He doesn't argue much, but whether that is because he knows I'm right or if he just thinks it won't make a difference, I don't know. Of course I am aware that an offensive foul in this circumstance is a turnover, but I wouldn't want a turnover in that circumstance. I made a similar call in the game to go in 1986 Regionals.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Purposeful walking

At the White Mountain Open, I was given a backhanded compliment along the lines of "you're old and slow(er) but you still get way open. How?" After kicking him in the groin, I explained to him that it was all about positioning and knowing when to just run.

Good defensive positioning is a dynamic process. What might be good position at one point is suddenly way out of position a few seconds later as the disc is swung or the players move a few yards. The defender basically decides what cut is not a threat to the team and so doesn't have to respect that cut. Examples: player 50 yards away, a deep pass is not a threat, defender plays in front. Cutter at the back of the endzone, only cut is back to the disc, defender plays in front. Marker takes away dump pass, handler defender doesn't overcommit on a cut to the dump. The defender will follow if the cutter goes to those places, but the defender won't try to beat the cutter there.

So, what you do on offense is to try to change the position so that the defender either continues in their relative positioning (thus opening up what was previously not a threatening cut) or alters their positioning (thus opening up the cut they were trying to prevent at first). For instance, you are handling, standing about 10 yards directly in front of the thrower, being forced one direction, say, forehand. The inside-out is a very tough throw here, and the around break will take long enough to deliver that the continuation isn't that much of a threat, so a good defender will position himself to allow you to cut inside-out. What you do, then, is to take several steps to the open side. If the defender keeps the same relative position, the inside-out cut is now wide open and is an easy throw straight up the field, and a threat to deliver a continuation pass. If the defender adjusts to be more in front of you instead of to the side, you may be able to cut back to the disc for a swing or laterally for a leading "away" pass.

Downfield, you are more likely to work in/out positioning rather than side-to-side. Say the disc is being walked in, and you are planning on cutting first. Put yourself somewhere near the middle or middle-back of the stack. Prior to check in, you reposition yourself further back in the stack, slightly on the open side. By starting out in the middle, the defender will usually adopt a position that at a minimum respects the deep cut (and sometimes even takes it away and concedes the in-cut). As you get deeper, they will usually maintain the same relative position to you, but suddenly the deep cut is not an option, and the in-cut is that much more open. A smart defender will adjust at this point, but amazingly, there aren't that many smart defenders out there [insert general disparaging comment about the intelligence of defensive players versus offensive players]. In the last couple steps before you actually cut, you can also drift more out into the open, making it more of a straight shot clear of poachers. Then simply plant and run hard to the disc. You may also throw in a step away or right at the defender before cutting in, but it's just one step, and you are not waiting for a reaction from the defender before going.

(This is what I have previously called a "quick fake", where you do a fake and continue on to your real cut or throw without waiting for a response. A quick fake is a diversion. A "slow fake" involves making a motion and then reacting to the defender's response. A bunch of back-and-forth jukes from a handler is a slow fake (even if those jukes are quick), because the handler is waiting for a sign that a defender has overcommitted or not reacted before deciding where to go. Sometimes a quick fake becomes a slow fake. A thrower might lift the disc suddenly to set up a low breakmark forehand (the quick fake), but if the defender anticipates correctly and shuts off that forehand, the thrower pivots to the backhand break (the slow fake). A cutter is on the open side and has both short and long open. Do a quick fake out to set up the in cut, go hard in for two or three steps and then read the defender's reaction. If the defender has anticipated the in-cut and has maybe even overcommitted to that, you immediately stop and cut deep as hard as you can.)

Sometimes, through no effort on your part, an "opportunity cut" will present itself. Maybe you're in the stack a little on the open side, your defender is fronting you and not watching the disc at all. At that moment, you're not a deep threat because the disc is not in a position to be hucked. However, you see a swing pass go off to the open side and the receiver is someone who can huck it. Suddenly, you're in great position to cut deep, provided that your defender keeps his focus on you. Allow him to do that by pretending to prepare for your own in-cut. Then, you make a hard step in and immediately reverse and cut deep. The defender will be backing up and even if he is faster than you, you will have enough of a head start that it shouldn't matter.

So, the basic idea is that you need to identify an area that you would like to cut to, then purposefully walk (or shuffle, or run if you must, I suppose) in the opposite direction, giving the defender the opportunity to make a mistake in positioning.