Monday, December 28, 2009

Hall of Fame

The UPA announced the latest class for the Ultimate Hall of Fame. Before we get to the main course, I wanted to express disappointment that for the third straight year, less than the maximum number (five) were elected. I think it's time to rethink the logistics of the final vote. Currently, the voters select up to five names from the Slate of Eight and the top five that get at least 60% of the votes are inducted.

Disclaimer: I was on the HoF Committee from 2005-2007, mostly because I was interested in the logistics and there was a vast shortage of people who were willing and available to do the work. I was the liaison for the Open Peer Review group, and cast my vote according to the voice of the reviewers. I have gotten to know some of the voters a little, and my impression is that they care a lot about spirit and character, but none could be characterized as "spirit zealots".

Any issues that arise are due to it being such a difficult process to come up with a Hall of Fame, especially in a sport like ultimate with no stats and no extensive media coverage. Players are spread out over time and geography but are asked to review all prospective candidates. One of the players inducted this year had his peak in around 1975, but 44 year olds are also eligible for the Hall. And in the old days, fewer teams made Nationals or made cross-country trips, so it would be harder to evaluate players from other regions.
There is also an issue, in my mind,
On rsd, jacob tried to bring a discussion to the discussion when he wrote:
"The only issues are:
1) Should the leader of the best team of all time be excluded (even
temporarily) from the hall of fame if he demonstrated poor enough
2) If the answer to question # 1 is "yes," then was Kenny Dobyns' sotg
poor enough to warrant exclusion? "

This, of course, was followed by poorly-spelled diatribes on refereez and dischoops, and one whiny "of course Kenny was great, I knew him myself" supporter.

But these are exactly the questions to ask, and they can really be extended to the second best player on the third best team who was kind of a cheater but an otherwise nice guy, or whatever.

Despite him being a prick and a petty, bitter little man, I would have expected Kenny to sail in the first time he was under consideration. Gewirtz, him I thought would be the poster child for how big of a jerk you could be and not get elected.

(Regarding "jerk", I don't think it's simply a matter of whether someone was an ass. Some of my best friends are jerks, but that shouldn't be held against them here. If a baseball player doesn't speak to the media, that should have zero bearing on his HoF worthiness. If his surliness made him a bad teammate and caused him teams to underperform, maybe you count that. In ultimate, how much did a player's jerkiness affect the fairness of the contest?)

I guess there is a vaguely similar issue with the baseball HoF. Barry Bonds was an inner-circle HoFer before he ever took steroids. Rafael Palmeiro is a bordeline HoFer even with steriods (he has the career value no doubt, but is a little low on peak value). Mark McGwire has a solid HoF career and had some star years before steroids, but would it have been enough without steroids? (I'm assuming that taking steroids is neither automatic grounds for dismissal nor completely irrelevant, but instead is something that should be taken into account.)

I saw one especially good quote from a baseball writer. "Dock them slightly for character issues if you must, but ... if, 20 or 30 years from now we have a Hall of Fame that doesn’t include the undeniably best players of their time, you have a pretty useless and irrelevant Hall of Fame."

Other issues, besides there not being enough inductees each year:
1. "Era". One of the guys elected this year had his peak in about 1980, others under consideration were still building their cases well into the 1990s. The eligibility was based on age, not years after retirement since you can always keep playing, but we are mixing together players from a lot of eras. I know the peer groups might be trying to address this, but it seems to be inconsistent with how it's applied.
2. Women. Only one was put forth on the Slate of Eight this year. The women who were recently elected played significantly later than the guys who have appeared on the ballot or were elected. Again, I don't know what the right answer is, but there is an inconsistency.
3. Public discussion. The UPA did put out a call soliciting comments on the Slate of Eight, and those comments were reviewed by the final voters before making their decision. But there ought to be a public discussion group somewhere, not that it would be required reading for the voters, but so that things can be discussed logically and coolly (as least as much as this is possible on the Internet). Some baseball website created a Hall of Merit akin to the Hall of Fame, and they have discussions on all prospective candidates.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

my neck

Doctor today recommended a laminoplasty on multiple vertebrae. Still gathering opinions.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Year in Jim: Epilogue

"If I wasn't done before, I'm done now."

In the finals of the Grand Masters tournament in July, Alex caught a swing pass near the sideline. I was about 10 yards in front of him, being fronted, so I faked a step in and bolted long as he hucked the backhand. Because of the thin air or his poor touch, I had to keep chasing after it and laid out for it. I caught it a split-second after it hit the ground and put it down*. But as I got to my feet, I noticed that both of my arms were tingling.

* - I knew it was down and never considered calling it up, but I somehow had time to turn around and notice my defender pointing down before I did anything with the disc. Maybe I was paying attention to my hands. I later asked the observer whether he would have called it up, just to see what he said. He said it was down, but maybe he was just covering for himself.

At Regionals, down 6-4, we had turned it and I noticed DJ of GLUM was looking to throw it into the endzone, so I dropped off my guy. He threw it, and I had to take an awkward angle to the disc to try to block it. I missed and ended up hitting the ground. Once again, my arms were tingling, and I headed to the sideline for a break.

Around the same time, a similar feeling happened when I landed funny playing basketball. In all these cases, there was a sharp hit and an immediate sensation which began dissipating immediately and within about a minute I was back to normal.

Then at Nationals, it happened at least three times, but this time I didn't have the sharp hit. Once, I simply reached out suddenly to try to block a throw, and twice, I was simply running hard. The last time, my last point, I was sprinting to make a jumping bid at a block, but as I swing my arm down to jump up, my arm isn't responding right, and I am unable to jump. By this time even _I_ have become a little suspicious of what's going on (unless it's debilitating, I generally don't seek medical advice; even for nagging injuries, I don't do a whole lot except for occasional ice and ibuprofen and maybe rest; I considered it a major step this year when I bought several pairs of new shoes to combat nascent plantar fasciitis). I mention this to a few people over the next few hours, and tentatively make plans to see a doctor when I get back, when I get around to it.

That night, I end up at the beach after the bars close, and I'm standing next to Alex, no doubt spewing about something. Two of our friends see us and decide it'd be funny to tackle us (and I have to agree with that), so they rocham to see who gets whom and charge us. I see tje charge at the last second but can't prevent it and end up flat on my back. However, my legs immediately feel very heavy, and I realize that I can't get up. As soon as I am aware of it, I try to wiggle my toes and find that I can, and then I begin the struggle to get up. I can finally move my arms and legs after maybe a minute but it's like pins and needles, times 100. I can sit up a little bit, and can sorta flop my arm over. It takes me probably five minutes before I am able to stand under my own power. Never in this time range did I have any change in mental faculties, no shortness of breath or seeing stars (well, I guess I could see stars since we were outside and it was a clear night). Eventually I'm ok, and fortunately someone finds a doctor in the group and he interviews me and determines that I'm not in any imminent danger of paralysis or death, but that I really need to see someone as soon as I get back.

Over the next day and a half, I'm sore, though not appreciably sorer than I would be any other year, and my arms and legs feel a little weak. Additionally, my arms feel a little weird. I have a little trouble sleeping so take some ibuprofen.

I go to my PCP on Monday afternoon and describe my symptoms, she calls a specialist to discuss, and they set me up with X-Rays and an MRI. Within an hour of the MRI, I get a call at my house suggesting that I should probably go to the ER this evening instead of waiting until the morning, since the doctor would "hate to see a young guy like me paralyzed." (He quickly added that he'd hate to see any age person paralyzed.) We arrange for the boy to have a sleepover, and get to the ER at about 8. Now, I didn't really think there was any imminent danger, and they didn't whisk me to the front of the line, but they put me in an uncomfortable neck brace and make me lie down, where I stay for the next 8 hours or so. I tell them I had an MRI at another hospital, but when they finally see me four or five hours later, they ask me if I have the MRI. My wife has to then drive to the other hospital to get a CD of it (they don't share information electronically) so they can look at it. The resident on call is somewhat apologetic but otherwise the staff isn't all that attentive or sensitive to the fears of this patient. I eventually see a neurologist at about 2 or 3 in the morning (or was it 1?), and he's half-asleep. (The reason I was directed to this hospital was that the other one didn't have a neuro staff working.) After looking at the MRI, he tells me I can go home but they'll give me some steroids or other anti-inflammatory to reduce the swelling in my spinal cord. He goes off to ask his "spine guy", and comes back and says in a monotone, "Our spine guy got kinda excited when I said I was sending you home." "Is that excited happy or excited agitated?" I reply. "Yeah, he wants you to stay here tonight. How are you with that?" What do you think, bucko? Oh, after he leaves, the nurse comes back and says, "So, you'll be having surgery in a day or two, is that right?" Huh, how about that.

In another hour or two, I get some more X-rays and then get ushered upstairs to a room, where they finally remove that cursed neck brace and I can get to sleep for a bunch of hours. I get woken up at about 9:30 and am told that they are scheduling a CT scan as soon as they can. Around 2 they come in and tell me that it will be at 4. At 4 I am picked up and taken to the CT area, where I am propped up without a word for about 40 minutes. Finally I get taken in, the tech apologizes and says an emergency had to get screened, I jokingly say "but I was here first", and we get the CT scan done. Unfortunately, the "team" doesn't have time to look at it before their shift is over, and I have to hang out until "first thing in the morning" to get the results.

At about 10, I'm told by a nurse practitioner who is trying to make me think she's a doctor that they'll be letting me out that afternoon but that I'll need surgery and that the attending neuro will talk to me after he's out of surgery at 1 or so. At around 3, after hearing nothing, I'm a little upset at the lack of attention. In 36 hours of an expensive hospital stay, I've had 10 minutes of diagnostics, 5 minutes of an NP, a bunch of vital signs readings (I made a control chart of my pulse rate), and a whole lot of waiting. Luckily I have my laptop and there is wi-fi, so I am able to keep in touch with the team and let them know what is going on, and my wife has spent a lot of time at the hospital with me, though she was also trying to do work. It's just annoying that they tell me so little and leave me waiting for long periods of time past when they said they would do something. I called the patients advocate line to pre-complain about my bill and the lack of attention, and I almost never bring my complaints to the authorities, generally just keeping them to those within earshot.

Finally, sometime after 4, the team (attending, sleepy doc, and NP) comes in, and I learn that I have two of my neck vertebrae compressed against each other and there are spurs and there is some impingment on my narrow spinal column. The fluid that I thought I heard the MRI guy say was there is not there, but there is swelling, which will have to subside over the next few weeks prior to doing anything. I'm lucky that I'm not paralyzed, I'm told. I ask whether that's "lucky like there was a chance that I could have been paralyzed, or lucky like 'I'm surprised you're NOT paralyzed'", but the attending doesn't seem to understand my question, as he apparently has not been briefed on how to handle levity. (The nurses who frequently came in were personable.) There is no fracture, I'm stable, I'm in no immediate danger, but I'll need a laminectomy. I'm confused about a lot of it but he is staring so sullenly I don't know what to ask. They write nothing down and discharge me with instructions to wear a (more comfortable but still not fun) neck brace and take the OTC medicine of my choice for pain and schedule a surgery consult for the next week or two, which apparently gets scheduled for December 8 without telling us.

There is a wide enough range of outcomes per teh Interwebs that I can't tell what to expect from post-surgery without more detailed knowledge of my specifics. I have the MRI and CT Scan and have sent out copies to a neuroradiologist friend who will share it with his colleagues, and I'm going to get a second opinion. I think there's a good chance I've played my last competitive ultimate game, and I can live with that, but I'll be really disappointed if I can't golf or play softball (not to mention what would happen if I get another traumatic hit prior to surgery and end up paralyzed).

Ooh, I get shivers just typing that sentence.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Year in Jim: Masters

So, back to DoG and Masters. I had already missed two tournaments. I quietly put my name on the roster, and eventually word got around. I got sincere "Sorry, it would have been cool, but we're glad to have you back." Both were true. The idea of a 44 year old playing a cutter role on a Nationals contender would have been cool, but it was also nice being back in my comfort zone, both as a player and as a teammate. I was actually relishing the idea of being a bit player who could focus on going all out every point, but I also enjoy the challenges of being The Man.

I had been doing some training already. Besides the Ironside practices, I did the weekly team workout, and was doing a lot of microexercises. I did a set of 50 no-weight squats every day, would do various reps of other exercises when I had a minute to spare, would hold up my computer bag while walking to build up arm strength, little stuff like that. Those all stopped. Later, I would return to doing some workouts, but not right away.
I played in the championship of the Ultimate Showcase a couple weeks later. It was really odd being on the same field with some of the Ironside guys. Only one of them said anything at all to me at all related to my having been with them just before, but hey, what do you say to Jim Parinella after you just cut him? I played poorly, or at least caught poorly, though it was windy. I must have had three drops, maybe even four, in the first half-dozen points, plus a throwaway, a block, a goal thrown and a goal caught. I think I was turnover-free the rest of the way, adding two blocks and some goals, but didn't do anything of real note.
My first tournament back was Boston Invite. We lost a couple winnable games on Saturday and had to win a game to stay in the 9-16 bracket. I was a little down and played uninspired that day, happy and sad to be back. On Sunday I felt good, though, and helped beat Open Nationals qualifier Pike in our B quarters. That was definitely fun, and I felt like if I had played like that in tryouts maybe things would have been different. We then had Pony next, and started off in a similar vein with me getting open at will against the best defenders on a team that thought it could be at Nationals, but then age 44 kicked in and Pony played better and took control of the game. But it was a fun morning, with the team's best game in some time.
Next up was Grand Masters in Denver, which was like Masters, but without even that level of defensive pressure. It was hot and at altitude. We had two games in a row on Saturday where I felt every day of my age and then some, but otherwise I had another very good two days of running. I did get lazy at times with setting up cuts because I knew either that they were going to screw up the coverage or I could just outrun them if they didn't. This actually might be a key point in assessing my real ability to play at a Nationals Open level. It is often said how smart of a cutter I am. It has become more often the case that I punish defensive mistakes rather than just being able to shred regardless, so if a defender plays solid positioning on me and continues to adjust based on the changing flow, I might never make a real cut. But let him suddenly find himself on the wrong side of me because he didn't adjust, and I'll make a devastating cut and catch the goal flat-footed. So if you're young and fast AND you know what you're doing, I might have some real difficulties. That wasn't the case at GM. There were times I found myself thinking, "ok, I need to set this guy up, drive him out a little, act like I'm coming in and make him bite, and then go deep....nah, I'll just sprint deep." After all, those were old guys I was playing against. Some of them were even 44 years old!

So our O had a great time out there, not just me but Coop, Simon and Will all played well. It was basically our starting O line from the regular Masters team.

Next up were two coed tournaments, Hingham and Summer League. Most of Hingham was against bad teams. One team (hardly fair to call it a team, just some counselors from some camp) threw more Callahans than goals and gave up more points than points played (there was a two-point cross-gender huck rule). We had a decent game in the semis, and a good game in the finals against a mid-Regionals-level coed team. I felt very mobile again this game. I mused later that perhaps I am beginning cold-blooded in my old age, in that as long as the sun is out and it's warm, I am lively, but if it's only 60 or less, I am pretty lethargic. (The first day of Nationals disproved that, though.)

Summer League was pretty good, as far as I can remember now. We played in the semis against the Andover High recent grads. Jackie had coached the girls' team there last year and I met some of the parents (who are probably my age). One of them said to me, "It must feel good to be able to keep up with these young kids." Never one to take a compliment well, I responded, "Keep up with? I'm blowing by them." She looked at me strangely, as she should have, nodded, and walked away. But that's how I felt. None of those kids knew enough about how to play, even if they are serious players, so even though sometimes when I had to cover them I was often just trailing them, offense was still pretty easy.

These were all great training experiences for me, much better than an Open tournament with Ironside or 2000s DoG. The sheer number of points played and the increased role in each dwarfed any increased level of opposition. That's partly why I've recommended that aspiring players slum around some. (Probably the bigger reason is to get time playing a bigger role and expand their repertoire and to get more experience in points where they have to play well or the team will lose. I feel this outweighs the possible bad habits they might pick up.)

At Sectionals, the hard fields contributed to my lackluster performance. I had really wanted to play well against Ironside but it was the fourth game of the day and I just didn't have it. I beat one of them deep but I couldn't catch the crappy trailing throw. Breaking the tradition of bad Saturday/good Sunday, I didn't feel better on Sunday, and thus the team didn't do any better.

Clambake did manage to have a couple games in it. This was a harder to classify performance. Typically, I either have it or don't have it on a given day, but there were moments of both here. We had some real struggles moving the disc when I was out there trying hard but just not getting any separation, and times when things went well.

At Regionals, Saturday was one of those days again, another day when I was glad I wasn't out there embarrassing myself in Open. Sunday started off well. I burned one of their players early deep and threw a deep pass in the first few points and I felt good. But the team just fell apart. In the game to go, by the time I actually got to play, the game was essentially over, so it didn't matter.

Nationals, once again. I didn't get good sleep in the couple days prior to Nationals,and when I got up on Thursday, I felt run down. It didn't help that the temperature was going to exceed 90, but despite a good, early warmup, I just never had it in my legs all day. I'm not saying that I'm worth 4 points a game (Bill James once found that the value of a (baseball) superstar is far less than anyone thinks, and I would definitely be psyched if ultimate could one day have enough data to put a number on this), but I feel that if I had been moving well, we'd have beaten GLUM instead of losing to them.

Day 2 was much better. The quarters were the highlight of the tournament for us. Our O had only 2 turnovers and 1 break and we won 15-13. I didn't feel quite as good as at some of the other events this year but with strong performances all around, we did well.

The semis were pretty good but a half-step down for me. I had one full-field sprint for a goal but otherwise have nothing specific I can add about my play. It was certainly a game we could have won, something that no one would have thought possible after Thursday's play. We got broken twice to start the game, then there wasn't a break either way again until 13-11. Surly then scored on their only upwind point of the game, and then we got broken on our second upwind point of the game, and it was over. The 3/4 game was a throwaway, notable only for it being the only time we ever played the Condors and joked with them throughout the game.

Coop played great for us all weekend and deserves the team MVP. After being afraid of what he would be able to contribute, he did it all for us and was unstoppable throughout the tournament. Props also to Marshall Goff for solid and sometimes spectactular play handling. I'd go on, but after all, this is "The Year in Jim."

The team was one point away from not even making the quarters. After beating Ball and Chain Friday morning, we thought that guaranteed us a spot. Only during the last round did we realize that if we lost and Boneyard beat GLUM by exactly two, the three-way tie would go to the second tiebreaker, total point differential, and all we could think of was that we had suffered a blowout loss to Surly, and how lucky we were that we had gotten a break at the end to beat Boneyard by two (rather than trading out on serve to win by one). So we're watching that game while we're losing big to Troubled Past. In the TP game, we started out on serve, got a break, Al threw a hammer OB, we get the break back, Al throws another hammer OB to the other side, and they take half. After another break, things spiral and we start looking ahead to the quarters. Except that it's close on the next field. But GLUM is winning or at least has the wind advantage, until I look over at 13-13 to see Boneyard cheering in the upwind endzone celebrating their go-ahead goal. I next look over to see Boneyard cheering the ensuing turnover, and see them catch the goal that gives them the dreaded two point win. Meanwhile, we're down 13-8 and then 14-9, and we watch dreading that every turnover is going to be the one that keeps us out of the quarters by a point. But we manage to get 3 straight to make it 14-12 prior to losing 15-12, and then we hurry over to tournament central to figure out what's going on. Several teams are gathered around to see what's going on. I quickly add together our scores and get -2. A GLUM guys tells me that his team is also -2, and thus our team would finish behind theirs in a two-way tie, so if Boneyard was at -1 or better, we were out. But a quick add shows that Boneyard is -9, and I add GLUM's total to confirm that they are -2, and so I let everyone know what I found, and for about 15 minutes, this is the official word (GLUM, us, Boneyard, respectively, for 3-5), and we play Beyondors in the quarters for the live stream. I confirm with Will Deaver that overall point differential is indeed the second tiebreaker, so we start to mentally prepare for the big game. Eventually, though, when they do the official adding together, they announce that GLUM is really -6 and thus we are 3rd place and play OLDSAG in the quarters. I am torn at this point. I wanted to play the Condors, but I also wanted to improve my chances at making semis (and thus avoiding the consolation games), so do I tell them they added it wrong? Eventually, I decide not to, but go over to see the scores one more time. I then discover that when I got to the final game, I had GLUM at -4, then went and added 2 for the Boneyard game to get -2 instead of subtracting for -6. Geez, now THAT should embarrass me more than any slowness or codgerdom I show on the field. I try to track down Will to apologize for thinking him stupid but he is ignoring me while talking logistics to some other guy and I continue on.

I'm glad that we were on the live stream for the quarters, allowing my wife and my parents to watch it, up to the point that the feed went out at 13-12. Two interesting anecdotes from that game. After maybe the second O point, I hear my defender Paul Bonfanti asking someone in the next tent over how I had broken him that point. He is told that the throw went over his foot, so I shout over that I will throw the next pass at where his foot is supposed to be, knowing that he will be lifting his foot to the new place. Sure enough, I have the disc on the line and throw underneath him on the break side, and he gets a solid foot on the disc. Luckily for me, it pops up into the air behind me, I turn around and catch it, and continue playing. I let him know after the point that I am so used to getting footblocked that I instinctively know where it will go, while others get so flustered after it happening that they bury their heads and have no bid at the second chance.
Late in the game, at 13-12 I think, Alex has the disc about 10 yards out and on the backhand sideline, I am a couple yards outside the endzone, so we make eye contact, and I cut away for the blade for the goal. As he throws it, the two of us and at least one teammate on the sideline flash back to a hammer in the 2000 semis against Condors that some may remember from the second Above and Beyond video. This one, however, was not so high that it melted from being too close to the sun and not so far that I had to keep running after it and not in the air for so long that I had to think about it, and I caught it. (To this day, I'm still not sure the right way to catch that pass in 2000. It's possible that reaching out with one hand is the best way, though I can't imagine having the balls to do that at a late point in the semis.) My defender shakes his head in disgust and says, "Who throws that?" Here, I thought it was obvious.

Next in the Year in Jim: Epilogue. I promise that there is a cliffhanger.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Year in Jim: The Ironside Experience

The most lasting impression I have is that the tryout season is a lot different as a tryout than as someone on the team. When deciding between players at the end of the roster, the team should consider factors beyond who is "better" (not that there is a single answer to that). Other things being equal, you might prefer a 22 year old who will probably be better the next year than a 44 year old. On the other hand, experience should count for something, too.

So I left Nationals last year not knowing what to do. I was disappointed for the Ironside guys, some of whom I had played with on DoG and others I knew from goaltimate and Boston's Ultimate Showcase Series. I also felt happy for my Worlds teammates who won with Jam. I also missed the excitement of being in games like that. In Masters, win or lose, you're still going to drink beer after, and while you might feel disappointment or excitement, it's on a much lower scale than in Open. I had some misgivings about abandoning the Masters team, and it would have just felt weird to play on a team without Alex. But I felt I owed it to myself more to give it a shot.

So I started preparing myself for the idea of a comeback without officially committing to it. My son was taking swim classes, so I would do a Tabata at the gym during the class, and I played my weekly basketball game as if it were a training session. I committed to attending Kaimana with the intention of playing intense on a big, talented squad. We had a few guys who were invited to the World Games tryouts plus other big names from the Open scene, so I figured this would be a good test for me. I was pretty happy with the results, though it also came with a realization that while I could still hang, I wouldn't be able to do it on every point.

But this fit in with the role I had envisioned for myself, something equivalent to a sixth man in basketball, a starter's role with a substitute's playing time. On a team hoping to win Nationals, I couldn't be THE primary option, but with the opponent's third or fourth best cutter defender covering me (especially if that player was athletic but inexperienced), I thought I could do some damage. I also figured that I could handle a limited amount of playing time and still go all-out, maybe something like 6 O points a game on average. The last couple years, I got used to playing every O point and being in a primary role, but it was against either Masters players or against Open teams that didn't have a prayer at making Nationals, so I could usually afford to get a little lazy with setting up cuts. And if zone offense was required, I am extremely effective at popping.

My next stop was Paganello (hey!). It was a similar experience to Kaimana on the field, playing with a bunch of guys who made semis last year and fitting in just fine, at times standing out, though once again fatigue became a factor from occasional overuse.

Meanwhile, back in Massachusetts, I had alerted some of the powers that be on Ironside that I was interested in trying out, and stated what I thought I could contribute. They invited me to come out, though warning me that several starter-level players were moving to the area and were expected to play. I went to the practices (missed at least one, though), even having to skip out on DoG at the White Mountain Open, and played at one tournament.

It was such a different experience at the practices solely due to my station. I wasn't ever sure how much it was appropriate for me to speak. First off, I wasn't sure what had changed since I was left there, and found that I had answered at least one question incorrectly on what the team wanted to do in certain situations. Second, I didn't want to step on anyone's toes. I figured there would be time later to talk if asked about zone O or setting up cuts in vertical or whatever.

It was also a lot of work. I don't know if practices were any harder than they were a few years ago, but without having the luxury of being in charge of my fate, I had to play harder. At my first practice, I put so much effort into every single part of the active warmup that I was already fatigued by the end of it. In one of the early practices, an unfortunately hot day (it hit 90), I was cramping about halfway through, but others appeared to be in worse shape, so I had to keep on playing. Injury felt much closer than it ever had before. In years past, I could monitor my schedule and play time so I could be ready for Nationals. No such luck this time, but even given that, I felt further along in May than I had been in several years (and in fact commented that if I were already on the team, I would be very pleased with where I was in terms of conditioning and in game readiness), especially considering that at best I hoped to be used a point at a time, a few points a game. (There was still some question in my mind how much I would actually enjoy that role, or whether I could physically handle standing around for 20 minutes and then going in for a point. In later years, I found it harder on my body to stand on the sidelines than to play.)

My sole tournament was at Cazenovia, which we won pretty easily. We had about 22 for the tournament, so split into three lines. I was on the O line, had one turnover and one or two D's. I'm a big advocate of purposeful walking, but discovered that in order to try to fit in with the offense, I was doing a lot of purposeless running. I don't think I ever ran as much per second of field time in my life as I did that weekend. Some of this was due to unfamiliarity with what other people wanted to do or could throw, but I found myself having to think instead of reacting to what I saw on the field. I was able to occasionally display my ability to get open without running. One of my strengths is being able to set myself up so that I am open on my first step, provided that the thrower is ready to throw it, and I caught a few goals that way.

So, I was cautiously optimistic about the next few weeks of practices leading up to Boston Invite. I knew that there were a lot of quality players out there and it would be tough, but thought that the team could use an experienced versatile player more than another eager young guy. Even if the team was building for the future, you're never sure if a player will be around the next year. Plus, it was barely June, with almost five months of training and playing to go until Nationals. So that's why it was so shocking and heartbreaking to hear just a couple days after the tournament that my services wouldn't be needed any more. I knew that it was a longshot going in, and knew I hadn't played my way onto the team, but also didn't feel like I had played my way off it, and that a few more weeks of integrating might open the door. Sigh.

It took about a week before I let people know (other than those who knew already). It was a relief in some ways, knowing that I wouldn't have that time and effort commitment and that I wouldn't have to do 400s and that my body wouldn't be falling apart from abuse. But it was mostly a downer. Pretending I was a high school girl, I was wondering what I did wrong, why they liked HIM instead of me, not even caring whether the team was the right fit for me. I'd gotten laid off before, one time out of the blue and in a completely unprofessional way*, but hadn't been cut from a team since JV baseball, and had never had a painful breakup with a woman, and it hurts. In some ways, it's a fair payback for the wholly unprofessional way I had handled the initial cuts on DoG back in 1994, so I could see the irony, and like I said, I never really expected to make it (or at least didn't think it was the likely thing to happen). But it sucked.
* - there had been rumors, and there was a two-week shutdown planned at this 30 person company. One day, I see a co-worker printing off resumes in the library and thought it bold, only to see others come in and tell him how sorry they were he got laid off. I was sorry, too, but glad that I hadn't been told the night before by our boss that I was gone. But then again, I hadn't heard from my boss either, and he was out of town that day. No one says boo to me all day, until finally the CFO just happens to wander past my office and says, "Oh, uh, hi Jim, umm, did Peter talk to you last night?" "No, why do you ask?" "Uhhhh, no reason. Gotta go." Still no bossman, so eventually I corner one of the partners and ask him what's up. He looks at his shoes, the ceiling, out the window, and stammers, "umm, we had a meeting last night and decided we had to let some people go, and you're one of them." Silence. "Gee, Dave, I'm sorry you had to be the one to let me know." "Oh, hey, no problem, t's ok." Finally, about two hours later, I hear a page over the intercom, "Jim, line one, it's Peter." I say to another of the laid-off employees, "Gee, I hope it's not bad news." I pick up the phone and say, "Peter, what's new?!" "Oh, I guess you heard. Sorry." Ah, what laffs.)
So, back to DoG.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Year in Jim: My Sixth (and Final?) Final Season. Prologue

2004 was my first “final season.” I was 39, my kid was 1, and it was time to retire. I went through that season thinking that it was my final season, that this was my final 400, that was my final agility workout, this was my final Saturday practice prior to Nationals. The tournament itself was a bit disappointing. We nearly lost to bottom seed Goat in our first game, and had to play a pre-quarters game for the first time. We nearly redeemed ourselves with a near-epic game against Furious in the quarters, as we didn’t have a turnover until 7-5, but we weren’t good enough and lost. My final pass was our final turnover, a mid-range forehand to Kelvin. I played in the consolation game a little (good old Bravo always insists on playing those) but my muscles had locked up and I could barely run, and I didn’t throw a pass. The next day, leaving the fields, I choked up a bit, remembering all the good times and “knowing” I would never cast my eyes upon this scene again.
But then you get away from the season a little bit, and then like with anything, it doesn't seem so bad, and you remember the thrill of the chase and the good things, so I decided to come back. (Some say it was just to try to sell more books.) In my second final year, we made a somewhat unexpected semifinals appearance, and had the advantage up until Nord’s amazing layout D at 7-7. We started off slowly at Nationals that year and built up, taking down Bravo in the quarters. I don’t think I was really close to retirement that year, after the previous year’s trauma of going through all the emotional baggage about being ready to give it up. The year ended well and optimistically.
2006 was my actual final year in Open. Hard to believe but only seven players from that team are on Ironside this year. (Note to UPA: although it’s good that the link for each team on the championship site goes to the current Score Reporter page for that team, it also means that you can no longer see the roster of previous teams.) The team again had an uninspired performance, dropping down to the pre-quarters and then bowing out in the quarters. The season itself hadn’t gone all that well, either. I had disagreements with management about personnel and commitments and how to play the game, and looking back, I guess I didn’t have faith in the team. After the season, I realized that though I thought I could still get it done, it just wasn’t worth it to me to put in the effort. I also wanted to get the band back together before everyone got too old. So I sent the lamest retirement email ever and started sending out emails to the old DoG guys about putting together a Masters team.
At first I just wanted it to be a reunion team with the goal of making it to and not embarrassing ourselves at Nationals. Eventually wiser heads prevailed and we did some recruiting of non-DoGs. The regular season was fun again. We went to about the same number of tournaments as ever, but pool play games were challenging. Once again there was no doubt whether we’d win any of these, but this time we knew we wouldn’t. Winning is great, but competition is better. And having to play a larger role (both in number of points and in what I had to do on those points) meant that tournaments were that much more taxing. As a result, despite having few practices and doing only occasional high-intensity workouts, I felt like I was in as good shape as the previous year. We had sporadic attendance through the year, but managed to get almost all of the historical DoGs who weren’t injured to play at Nationals, and it was just like old times, winning the tight games and taking home the trophy. Granted, it was just Masters, so who really cares, and it’s not like we worked hard all year as a team (though some of us did, kinda), but it was fun. As I said at the team dinner that night, I didn’t really have any expectations for the team, but we exceeded them nonetheless, and I was surprised at how fun it was.
Having won it all, of course we had to do it again the following year. We got the monster roster commitment for Worlds, and picked up three Condors. We once again won the tight games and took home the trophy. However, there were troubling signs. Several players decided they couldn’t commit to both Worlds and Nationals, and our performance leading up to Nationals was decidedly worse than the previous year. We still won the Region, but I was uneasy going in, and predicted that I would have to be carried from the fields the first day, either from exhaustion from cutting non-stop every point or from being overserved at the beer tent after going 0-3. Instead, the other teams were even worse, and we won our first day’s games 15-4, 15-4, 15-8. It was then that I decided I wanted to do something else the next year. Open? Mixed? Retirement? The second day wasn’t any more competitive, though we gave up a few more goals. Even after getting smoked in the semis, I was convinced that Masters wasn’t worth it and still felt the desire for something more. It’s never enough.
Next: my Ironside experience.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sectionals 2009

We played once again in the Open Sectionals and finished 3rd out of 11 (or 28, if you include Division II). The tournament was once again held at the Citizens Bank Fields at Progin Park in Lancaster, MA, on some turf fields. Last year these fields saved our tournament, as it was raining a bunch and we couldn't have played on grass fields, but this year I am not that thrilled to have played there. I had a general body soreness afterwards and had an achier than usual left knee and right heel, both of which are bothering me a bit this year. The fields are hard, with some pretty solid base at some small distance beneath the turf. The footing was good enough, though there was an occasional slip, but I couldn't even wear one of my pairs of cleats because it would have hurt too much to stop quickly and turn (if indeed I can still do that). I have more sympathy now for baseball players who used to complain about playing on Astroturf.

We once again had our pivotal pool play game early on Saturday against Red Tide, to see who would play up into the semis and who would play down. Last year we came out really flat and got spanked. This year's game was the first round, which was originally 8:30, then 8, then a late email on Friday night moved it to 9 (unbeknownst to a few of our guys who showed up at 7:30 or so). I believe we again went down a couple breaks after having a good chance to go up 2-0, but somewhere along the way we went ahead and won by two. This became the theme of the weekend, as our next game was also a two point victory over some local kids.

Bye, another win, then the premiere matchup against Ironside. We scored on O to go up 1-0, then had a chance for a break, but didn't get it and it was downhill from there. They turned it over several times but we never got a break, then let them get the last four of the game to win 13-5. They were able to throw it really far. I used to hate Sectionals when I was in their shoes, and couldn't imagine getting up to play some old guys, but they played fairly seriously, though they were goofing off when not playing.

This got us a semifinal matchup against Sons of Liberty. I had us as about a 2 1/2 point underdog. The details of the game escape me other than not making two blocks (both were nice plays by the receivers, though one of them required a mistake by me to give him a chance to catch it). We again had our chances, and though there was no pivotal moment that had it gone differently might have given us the win, it again felt winnable, much like a few of our 3-5 point losses at Boston Invite this spring. I guess if we match up against a team of athletic 24 year olds at Masters, we could be in trouble. 15-10.

Final game was for 3rd place against Tufts. We switched our D and O lines that game, giving all of us plenty of opportunities to mock the other line. We got a break on one D point and I just walked off the field as usual, and it wasn't until the point started and I was getting mocked for sitting out did I realize that you stay on the field when you score if you are playing on the D line.

Overall, I felt like we underperformed by about one break for both O and D each game over what we should have done. We won the games we were favored in and lost the ones we were underdogs in. Maybe the only game we covered the spread was against Ironside, though it would have been close (maybe Red Tide, too, which somehow ended up with a higher RRI for the weekend than we did).

Personally, I was disappointed in my play, never really feeling like I had it going, definitely much less than at previous tournaments this year. I don't really evaluate my play based on how many turnovers I have, but on how many turnovers other people have when I'm on the field, and there were too many of those. If I can cut well, then the disc gets moving, other people will be freed up, and we'll score quickly.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mixing it up on offense

There are several ways to mix it up on offense so as to keep the defense honest. You can run different stacks, you can vary the emphasis on the long game, you can run set plays and counters, you can try motion offense or you can be deliberate, and other variations. How much do higher level teams do this and what form does this take?

In our heyday, DoG really didn't do a lot of this other than shifting the names in the four-person play. Then again, the offense was built around giving the cutter options and taking what was given, so any mistakes or adjustments the defense made automatically gave a new look to the offense. What made it work (beyond talented players) was that we could operate successfully in a couple different modes, the jam-it-up-the-line mode as well as cut-deep-and-put-it-out-there mode.

Now, we will shift from vertical to horizontal stack if it feels right, but we won't flip back and forth. Our long cuts are a little more deliberate, too, as it's kinda tiring to run deep if you're not going to get it.

But all this is a long way to get to the point of this post, how to rotate the usage of players for maximum effectiveness. Braess's Paradox says that in certain circumstances, closing a major road will actually lead to improved travel times. With the road open, it's in each person's best interest to take the main road, but it will lead to an increased average travel time. If instead a certain percentage took other routes, the lesser travel on the main road would prevent clogging and those who took it would be much better off, more than enough to make up for the extra time the others take.

This guy decided to apply these principles of networking to basketball, though the target could just as easily be ultimate. For a single possession, it makes sense to go to your best option, but if you go to it all the time, it will get clogged. I discussed this a little bit a few years ago, taking the idea of usage vs efficiency from the seminal work on basktetball analytics, "Basketball on Paper" by Dean Oliver (who also chimes in on a discussion of the linked article at APBRmetrics. The idea is that a player's efficiency decreases with increased usage (defined as % of a team's touches he gets when he's on the floor) as he has to shoot more on less than perfect looks and there is more defensive pressure applied.

So how do offenses deal with this, especially in the case where there is a clear "best play" (I'm less interested in what you do when every option is a very strong one)? Do ho stacks place their lane cutters in the same lanes as always but run the play to different people? (I'm presuming that teams call some sort of four-person play or a set play on every point; does anyone ever run complete free flow?) Do teams instead run counters, plays that appear to be the same as always but in fact the first cut from the main cutter is just a decoy? (In this case, you lose a bit of the benefit as the main cutter still gets fatigued.) What is the right amount of going to your lesser options in order to keep things honest?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


"This is an important point!"
"Let's try harder out there!"
"Don't screw up!"

Platitudes: an idea (a) that is admitted to be true by everyone, and (b) that is not true. - H.L. Mencken

I've never been much for huddle talks, in part because so often they are useless. Really, what action are you going to take based on knowing it's an important point? "Gee, I'll make sure I don't drop the pull then." And why the hell should we listen to that guy right now?

And yet, there is somehow the need for people to hear someone else speak in huddles or on the line. (Admittedly, this is better than the need for them to hear themselves speak.) Thus did I find myself a few weeks ago calling the line and then trying to bark out something inane yet reassuring. I felt like I did as a parent when I first screamed "I don't want to have to stop this car!" at my kid. I have a sense of the absurd, though, and I chuckled and simply said, "Platitude #3, boys. #3." and nodded my head sagely.

I've made some improvements since then. I try to say something fundamental, technical, and simple. Give the people one of our key concepts to focus on, one that might tend to trip us up otherwise. It may be a reminder not to huck too mindlessly, or to huck if it's available, or to move up the stack if there are a couple of dumps in a row, or to get on the mark if we turn it over. The tip is that it should be something concrete, albeit small, that they can do, something more than simply "play hard."

I'm tempted to credit this for our Grand Masters championship, just to provide a segue. We outlasted Denver's "B" team Yomo Fog Oho in the finals, 14-13. Semis and quarters also count as outlasting. Our 12-9 win over Ozark Hillbillies in the quarters was noteworthy because every single point featured the O team going downwind. The only breaks (and only turnovers we forced on D) came on the last point of each half, so with an upwind/downwind game like that, only counted as half-breaks since we didn't get the ensuing downwinders. Our O gave them plenty of chances (8? 10?) that game, but they couldn't get the upwinder.

I don't think we were broken in the semi, either. Overall, the O had a pretty good weekend. Factors:
  1. The defense wasn't all that good. To be expected for a bunch of 40+ year olds, but it's also expected from 33+ year olds, and this seemed noticeably worse. Maybe the altitude had something to do with it.
  2. Altitude. Overall it made it easier to complete passes. There were exceptions, of course. We had some long overthrows that just kept going, and we had at least three passes to space on the first day that didn't curve or float enough and fell incomplete. But there were other throws that would have been
  3. It was pretty close to our regular starting O.
  4. We kept the rotation small so everyone was familiar with each other. Unfortunately, this also meant that the D was a hodgepodge. Also hurting the D was the fact that we never had a chalk talk about what to do.

One of the passes I threw that would not have been complete at sea level is worthy of its own paragraph. At about 2-2 in the final, I had the disc on the line about 20 yards out on the backhand side. William cut under and started to clear inside, and then Simon filled up the line, but William's man poached off. I looked to throw something to William (scoober was an option) but he cleared out and continued to go downfield. I then turned to the dump, but nothing was open there, so I returned my gaze downfield, found William headed to the endzone on the other side, and threw a hammer. It made it there, but it surely would have been held up enough for a block attempt if there were more air resistance.

Saturday was just a day we could have lost the tournament, not one we could have won it on. Our pool had a first round bye, then our team had an additional bye since there were an odd number of teams in each pool, so we didn't play until noon (2 pm ET). I spoke for 3 minutes and 30 seconds on offense, including 17 seconds on ho stack, which we ended up playing on every O point on Sunday. (I also wasted about 15 seconds on zone offense, which we played no more than 2 or 3 points all weekend.) We knew this first game was dangerous, as our opponents were the underseeded Denver team (our finals opponent). They were local, and they already had a game in them. Luckily we had received some warning from Randy Ricks that this team was better than seeded, and we also got a hint from their dismantling of the Philly team in their first game. It was pretty chippy on both sides the first ten points, with rules misinterpretations and some arguments. I told my team to stop being douchebags regardless of how the other team acted, not that anyone listens to me about that stuff. We pulled away, though, and the game got less chippy. We were going to give them a 2 in spirit rating, expecting a similar score from them, but then the scorekeeper came up to me and wanted to discuss the spirit score. This seemed a breach of protocol, but I listened, and upped their score to a 3.

The next two games were foregone conclusions against the two bottom teams in our pool. I was already starting to fatigue from the first tough game and the altitude and being out in the sun and standing around, and took it pretty easy these games.

This left us with another tough game against Philly, which came in thinking they could win the tournament. Due to their big loss in the first game, they had to beat us by 6 in order to advance, and the wind had picked up by this time, making it mostly upwind/downwind. Brendan was playing his heart out that game for them, but it wasn't enough, and we clinched a playoff spot, first place, and then the game.

Prior to that game, there was a 15 minute lightning delay, which of course we spent hanging out on the field. The weather there was interesting in its own right. In New England, as Marshall pointed out, if you see lightning, it's an immediate stoppage and you take cover, since it's close. But at the fields in Denver, we could see lightning 20, 30 miles in the distance making its way in our general direction, and only knew to halt play because the man and his radar system told us it was too close. On Sunday, the wind completely shifted direction from the morning to the afternoon as a storm approached (but did not hit us).

It was a lot easier to play against 40 year olds instead of 23 year olds, although this also meant I got a lot lazier at times on my cuts. otoh, it's a lot sweeter to go downtown on a 23 year old, twice in the same game on the first pass off a walkup.

Monday, July 20, 2009

losers whine and winners get the prom queen

I've never had a post whose purpose was to link to another blog, but today, Joe Posnanski totally nails it. I discussed something similar a while back with Players make plays, but Pos' is pretty good.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rerun: Rules for cutting

Rules for cutting was originally posted on July 7, 2005. This was a more concrete set of rules than the famous rules of "take what they give you, fake them into giving you what you want, fake until they give you something".

Anyway, the post:

1. Cut sharp.
2. Cut hard.
3. Cut decisively
4. Think, but only before or after the cut.
5. Know when to just run.

Cut sharp. Don’t round your cuts. Plant on one foot, push off hard, and go. The longer it takes you to change direction, the less separation you will get from your defender.
Cut hard. Don’t jog out there when you are actively cutting. One place where this is especially important is at the start of a deep cut. For your first 3-6 steps, go all out without looking up or back, until you’re near top speed and have some separation and can check back to see whether the throw is up and where it’s going. Further, cut hard when you’re the decoy in a called play, or else an astute defender will know that it’s a fake.
Cut decisively. As Idris said, “Oh, you had ‘em.” You really only have time for one or two efforts before you become a clog. Commit to something, if that doesn’t work, quickly try something else, and if you don’t think you’re open in the first three steps, get the hell out of the way.
Think, but only before or after the cut. During the setup phase of the cut, you might have a chance to think about what you’re going to do, and can try to manipulate the defender into giving you a straight path to the disc. But once you are in motion, you can only react. You need to internalize all the small details (defender body position, field space, playing conditions)
that let you know whether you’re open or not without having to think about it. After the cut, you can think about what it was that made it work or not so that you build up your experience, until eventually it will become more of an instinct.
Know when to just run. You need to learn when you can just sprint in a straight line and be open. Fortunat calls these “opportunity cuts.” These arise when you know that the disc has changed positions but the defender does not, because you have kept him busy enough that he can’t check in. But this also arises in the middle of a faking sequence, when you can recognize the exact moment that the defender has committed himself to another direction and you can cut behind him.

I was thinking that I should have added a rule about clearing, and I noted that the book (page 52) has a fourth rule of "actively get out of the way when someone else has a better cut". These anti-cuts are basically just moving in the opposite direction from where you would cut. When the flow goes right, the anti-cut goes left. Simple English communication can help to achieve this, as players talk to each other to establish priority.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rerun: Mechanical cutting

Mackey occasionally cites an old article of mine, so I thought I would get in the rerun business. I will begin to repost old articles, with addenda as necessary.

I noticed that it took me 50 or 60 posts to write something technical. Was I afraid of cannibalizing sales? Did it just not occur to me? Should "decision-making" count? Anyway, on June 14, 2005, three months into the blog (when I was making posts almost daily), I wrote Mechanical Cutting, reprinted below.
Mechanical cutting
I noticed that some of the tryouts this weekend cut very mechanically. They might fake, but then their actions do not depend at all on what their defender does. They don't even appear to be watching the defender at all.

Idris talked about this in his Oh you had 'em blog entry. Players just don't seem to realize when they're open. I commented there, "Bad players either plan too many fakes or else they get so caught up in trying to read the defender that they misread him. Instead, do a simple fake, expect that it's going to work, but be ready to do something else after 2 or 3 steps if you see that it hasn't worked."

Maybe the way to drill this is to have them watch real cutters and defenders and attempt to identify the exact moment at which the cutter simply needs to move in a straight line to get open. Anything a cutter does after that is at best inefficient and at worst the first part of a miscommunication turnover.

We sometimes say that a cutter has several seconds and several options before he has to clear, but that includes the setup time, which should occur before the disc is live.
1. The setup. As the disc is in the air to the new thrower, the cutter moves into position and might do a little bit of juking, but is basically trying to force the defender into a repositioning error.
2. The cut. Make a final sell and then go hard in one direction, making a commitment. THEN you evaluate whether you'll be open. When you get good, you'll know as you're making that hard move whether or not you're successful. If not,
3. The 2nd cut. Turn 90 or 180 degrees and go hard that way. If that's not open, clear. The only exception is when you're in an iso situation with a lot of field and the defender overcommits to the 2nd cut, and you are 100% guaranteed to be open in a good place if you return to your original direction.

I guess basketball players work on their fakes by themselves, repeating until they've internalized the sequences, but they will still need the feedback of whether their defenders are going to buy the fakes.

Addendum: in the ho stack, as was pointed out to me the other day, the thrower might want to give the lane cutter an extra cut before turning away, since there is still room for a 20+ yarder after a deep cut without poaching or clogging. I guess that is just the "exception" mentioned in point #3.

Also, what about when a defender really studies and learns an offensive player's moves? As mentioned in the post that spurred this idea, this can happen after only one or two instances, but what if a defender really learns the tendencies and internalizes them? (I mean, beyond just a simple bait.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Man I love Paga (hey!)

I went to Paganello for the second time in my life. I'm not trying to hit any list, just taking the opportunity to have fun. And boy, was that fun.

It wasn't even on my radar a few months ago. I enjoyed myself when I went previously but apparently didn't capture the full Paga experience (for example, I went to The Barge only once and wasn't even aware that it was The Barge), so hadn't really had any supreme desire to return. I wasn't against the idea, mind you, but it wasn't a top priority.

But then Alex was going, and I had a good team to play on, and airfares got cheap ($400), so what the hell, I asked my wife if I could go, she said, "Sure", so I booked my ticket quickly.

I'll leave most of the details to Alex, since our itinerary was the same and we were on the same team and he likes going into excruciating detail. The summary:
On the field: Solid team. Apparently a few guys couldn't make it because they had World Games practice or had other commitments, so we were stuck with a team of 2008 Open semifinalists and me and Alex. Without putting a lot of effort into laying out strategy, we were nonetheless on the same page and played efficiently throughout the weekend, even when some players were hungover or still drunk (several players blew over the limit in the morning or early afternoon from the night before) (but of course, this didn't bode well for our hard man-to-man D).
Off the field: Solid team. We were very well represented every night at the parties and at the bar, averaging something like 3 or 4 am bedtime each night after starting out with room cocktails after the games (well, after a carbomb at the Barge).
The tournament was built for socializing, with 2-3 hours between games, nightly parties, a stadium field, and a late start time (no more than one game before noon).
I held up pretty well, although I did get a muscle tweak (groin, maybe) on my last point of the finals. In the end, we were just a little worn out to play well in the second half, and watched them score the final five to win. We probably could have used another solid player or two so as to allow for a little more rest in the finals. There was only a brief period for me in between "ah, finally wore off the effects of last night" and "gee, my legs are awfully tired". did a 20 minute podcast each night. The final one covered part of our final. Our game was supposed to start at 4, but between the under-14 exhibition game and the gladiator exhibition (a bunch of guys in gladiator costumes had a pretent battle), it was pushed back 20 minutes. The UTI guys had already been out there for 45 minutes getting ready, while we were much more laidback, shall we say, and took the extra 15 minutes and pretty much just sat on the line and waited. (I do have to confess to taking a 10 minute jog at 3:15 in order to get a sweat going, and also did about a quarter of the full active warmup.) Unless not warming up doesn't manifest itself until the second half, I don't think this cost us. We just made some mistakes in the end. Despite not having invested a lot in this tournament or in trying to win it, I was surprisingly disappointed in losing, probably somewhere around #15-20 of my all time losses. Right now, I'm pretty much over it, but it was strong at the moment, even a couple hours later on the medal podium. One of the good organizational things that make this such a popular tournament is that they call each team up on stage one at a time, culminating in the medalists for each division. Standing up there looking out as the penultimate group, well, it felt good but it also hurt a bit.
Asher Roth's "I Love College" white boy rap somehow became the song of the tournament, at least for me. I don't know, it just struck a chord.
Had some good food, too, though didn't do a four hour team dinner like I had the previous time.
And absolutely no sight-seeing. After having spent 11 days in Hawaii, and with some other things planned for the year, it was stretching it even making it to Paga. But boy, am I glad I did.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

spirit, workouts, frisbee

The other night at indoor soccer, the ref was terrible. He seemed to get a majority of the contested out of bounds calls (i.e., which team did it go off) wrong, may have given us a goal on a ball that hit either the top post or the top of the net, and rarely moved from his standing position at center field. Now, this is just a coed B league (and only B because there was no C), so I'm not expecting him to be any better than we were, but I would appreciate a small amount of effort. But that is just the origin of the problem. The problem was how the other team reacted.

At first they just whined. We actually gave up a call that was obviously wrong in our favor, then watched them complain a few minutes later on a less obvious call. Shortly after that, they started to try to steal the calls by acting as if the ball was theirs. This led to me retaliating, twice. The first time, I deliberately kinda fouled a player from behind, leading to an OB ball in our favor and a resulting goal from the corner kick. The second time, it was a horribly blatant OB on them and their player ran to put it into play. I complained to him about his terrible manners, and he said, "Lighten up" and proceeded to crowd the ball on the kick in. So I kicked it as hard as I could right into him, and would have done so again on the rekick had he not backed up.

The way I see it, when they realized the ref sucked, they could have either accepted that each call would be a coin flip as to which team got it, or they could play as if there was no ref by dropping off when they knew it was our ball. It was not ok for them to whine and to try to steal the balls. (In case you didn't notice, this was a B league coed soccer game, albeit the semis of the playoffs.) I was very close to speaking to their team about it, both at half and after the game. I am again mad as I type this.

I've worked out more this winter than I have for many years. Been doing about one Tabata or pseudo-Tabata a week, often during my kid's swim class. I've varied the exercise, trying out the rowing machine, spinning bike, exercise bike, elliptical machine, swimming, and burpees. I'm not sure the rowing machine and exercise bike provide enough resistance. I maxxed out at about 400W on the rower, and while I got to 600W on one of the bikes, the resistance it provided was inconsistent and slow to adjust so I had difficulties with it. I don't have my own heart monitor so have used the machine monitors or counted heart beats and multiplied (but only at the end of workouts) and found my heart rate to generally be only about 165. (I hit 170 once after running on the treadmill.) I also ran two timed miles to see where I was. The latter was at a 6 minute pace but with a 15 second break with about a lap to go (due to a weak will more than a physical breakdown), followed by two quarters at 75s pace (after 5 and 3 minute breaks). (According to treadmill conversion charts, running on a treadmill at a 1.5 degree incline translates to a very slightly faster road time. And a 6:00 treadmill pace at 8 degrees is a 5:00 road pace (what I used for my quarters).

Also playing basketball most weeks, working hard there. Played some goaltimate over the winter, too, and finally got a chance on Saturday to play on something besides snow. That game couldn't have worked out much better. I show up to see Alex's team lose game 1 while he's muttering that they will have to mix up the teams soon. I join the other team and we win two more. At that point they agree to mix the teams, so I say that I have a big enough ego to think that I can make the other team win. Sure enough, I switch (along with another guy) and we win the next two. Someone then suggested that the two guys who switched to the new losing team ought to split up so at least one of them can get I win. I wonder aloud whether conversely, there was anyone who won all his games. (Someone quickly pointed out there was another guy who had done so.) Then we played a few more games but I can't remember how they turned out, other than I had a nice sweep catch called not a goal at 4-4.

I'm surprised at the variety of ways I will throw the disc at goaltimate. On the one hand, this is a bad habit, since I can get away with using just my arm on those short throws but in ultimate throwing without shifting my weight might be a bad idea. But otoh, it helps with creativity and in fast decision-making. Seve Ballesteros became an escape artist on the golf course because he grew up playing with only one club (a 3-iron, at that) and had to learn how to do everything with that club. (I'm not sure that's the right analogy, but I'm sticking with it.)

I was looking at my recent commentary on end zone offense and was wondering whether a typical elite ultimate team could benefit by using Frank's motion offense there without having to adopt the philosophy everywhere. Give and goes often work great as long as the space ahead is clear. If you keep the disc off the line you have enough space to keep multiple players behind the disc. You only need a few yards, and your goal-scoring cut has the additional benefit of not having to leave the receiver in position to make another throw.

Off to Paganello next week with Los Ox, one of only two US teams this year (the same number that Russia is sending and less than France). I was there in 2000 or so so I won't be doing any bucket list editing, not that I have a bucket list.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Kaimana Klassik and the 23 person paradox

I got back the other day from my second Kaimana tournament, the first being in 1998. Both teams had "Southern" in their name and were basically the same team, except only one other guy from the first team was here again.

The tournament was a blast. There was no need to leave the area for the whole tournament. Breakfast, dinner, and beer were at the site, camping across the street. Pseudo-Nationals format with 4 pools then power pools then elimination play. We stumbled undefeated through Day 1, winning but not covering the spread appropriate for the #2 overall seed. We had one last pool play game at 8:30 on Day 2, but were missing several players from too much partying the night before. This is the 23 person paradox for a casual tournament. If you have small numbers, say, 12, then the only valid excuse for missing a game or practice is if there is something legendary happening. When you have a few more, then the realm of excuses expands a bit, but it still has to be for a good reason. But when you get to 23, then pretty much anything goes, and you can even convince yourself that the team is better off if you took off that game (or day, Luke) because it's more PT for everyone else and you'll be fresher when the games REALLY matter.

So this presented an opportunity for me to test myself. I came into the tournament wanting to play hard, not efficient, and expected that with our pool of talent (the email list of talent was even greater, as the Kid didn't seem to remove anyone from it), we'd win 15-6 and I'd try to play 6-8 points a game. Instead, we'd win 13-11 (and have those 24 points be more like 35 with all the turnovers) and 23 felt more like 16 with a few part-timers. And we had to win this game (or lose it by one or two) in order to avoid getting sent to the B pool. So I laced them up, did what passed for an active warmup, and went out to play. I can't actually say that I remember much other than I played a lot and we staged a late rally to avoid relegation (and also won).

But then I was cooked. I played a couple points early and could hardly move, and then took off the next ten points while I chatted with Dugan, who had a bye but was at our field for some reason. I started to get my legs back and was rarin' to go when they turned it over at 7-7, half at 8, cap approaching. One of our players had the disc about 10 yards outside the goal and I saw him flip the disc over to a thumber grip. I said to him sternly, "No, Karl." He swung it to me on the open side, I got no cuts from anyone, so I went to swing it back to him, but got point blocked (it was probably going into the ground anyway). Score, 8-7, halftime, cap comes on, they score again to win. After a bye, we head over to the other fields (10 minute walk away, second time we had to head over there) and go down 5-1 to Voltron. Our offensive flow stands out as being terrible by this time, as a disproportionate amount of the time, whoever has the disc is looking at the endzone. Sure, with players coming from all over, there wasn't much familiarity prior to the tournament, but it never really meshed, as we never really discussed an offensive philosophy. (Perhaps there were too many potential cooks and all were afraid to tout their own recipe.) We stage a late rally but it is impossible to score quickly enough to overcome the hard cap. (Hard cap in effect for all games, including the elimination rounds, although apparently the women played with a +1 soft cap in their games, but whether due to different rules or different knowledge of the rules, I don't know). We're still in the quarters, though (one of the teams fell down to the pre-quarters, lost, and had to play a fifth game of the day in the B bracket quarters).

Quarters were against Philthy, who were looking much the worse for wear after a hard partying night. And with only somewhere between 10 and 13 functioning players, they needed everyone. Nevertheless, their offense at times featured an unbelievable amount of running. We were no longer a favorite to win or even contend for the tournament by this time, but we still had enough good players and experience that a run of wins wouldn't be out of line. But it didn't happen, and despite yet another late rally, we couldn't overcome a big deficit and lost at the cap, 14-12.

I was particularly irritated late in this game when we played a zone defense and no one on the sideline ventured more than 2 yards from where they started the point. Earlier in the weekend, I noticed players doing the same (and pointed out that the guy 30 yards away probably could not hear what was being said). I myself am generally not all that active on the sideline, unless not enough people are helping out already. There is much to be gained from having one sideline person talking to exactly one player on the field (and only that sideline person is talking to him, excepting perhaps if it's a deep and there is one guy on each sideline). Instead, it's "Tom, look at 34, now Fred, a guy is coming up behind you, ok, ok, force middle, 34 again, Tom, ooh, is that a travel, up, up" while Tom and Fred have to listen (or not, more likely) to several voices and figure out which words are for them. This isn't to pick on the Southern Dandies, as it is the exception that teams talk efficiently. But it's big.

Overall, I had a great time at the tournament. Lots of time to hang out, good opportunity to play. I was happy with my ability to move around, less happy with my throwing skill at times (although in fairness, I've only thrown goaltimate passes since October). Good group of guys who were genuinely happy to be there (one fellow even flew out there with wife and infant, rented a pop-up trailer, and left late on Day 2 to head back) and that rubs off. So thanks, guys.

Trip to the Big Island after the tournament was a lot of fun, too, but I won't bore you with too many of the details. One day exploring the wet Hilo side, including a trip to Waipio Valley, one day at the volcano (lava flow was outside the park, could only get a mile from the flow but watched it from there), 4 days on the Kona side. One 2-tank dive, several great snorkels, and a manta ray night snorkel adventure.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Hawai'i, and Hard vs Efficient

We bought our tickets for Kaimana, after some headaches along the way. We'll be spending a week on the Big Island after the tournament (3 days on the Hilo side, including the volcano, and 4 days on the Kona side at a TBD discounted luxury resort (yeah, recession)). From the time I started looking at flights, the price cycled between $600 and $900-1100 four times, and each time I missed the buying opportunity, I got sick to my stomach. The third time was especially painful, as I saw the fares and did a few other searches and got FF numbers and rejiggered and played whatifs, and by the time I hit "select flight", all the low fares had disappeared. We had almost resolved to paying an extra $900 for the three of us but waited it out, and at 9 pm on New Year's Eve, prices dropped again so I snatched them up. Fares are still at that price if you're willing to leave at 6 am.

I decided I'm going to play hard, not efficient, at the tournament. I'm playing with John Hammond's team, and it looks to have a lot of good players, he says, so I should have the liberty of burning my energy in short bursts without feeling like I have to be ready all the time for the team. My normal mode is to play efficiently. I spend a good part of my time doing purposeful walking on offense, and generally try to minimize damage on defense.

The two modes are not mutually exclusive, of course, but there are different mindsets. The downside of "play hard" is that you can play stupid, biting on fakes in order to make the big D, or being overaggressive on marginal throws. The downside of "play efficient" is that you can be too passive and thus let others make the turnover (and it can mask laziness).

Efficient play can work really well on offense if the team is smart and has the ability to reset at will. The team then flows as one, creates lots of open space, and punishes the poach (if there are fewer people moving around, it's easier to spot the poach and find the poachee who has moved to the open space). Hard play is more stereotypically frothy defense, but I prefer to think of it as good positioning like in basketball. I play hard at my pickup basketball game, especially on defense, constantly moving my feet and getting my body into position, not flailing with my arms. In indoor soccer, I usually play goalie, and I play hard there, too (though that doesn't involve running so much). I move around, run hard to get loose balls, diving even, and am willing to take a shot to the body to stop it. When I'm in the field, I tend to be more efficient, though I'm not as sure how to be efficient playing soccer since I don't have great control of the ball.