Pull Fielding Analysis of the WUGC 2016 USA-COL Women’s Final

The image below indicates where each pull in the WUGC Women’s Gold Medal match – USA v Colombia – was caught or landed, and the path of the disc up until the point where flow stopped or a turnover occured. For the purposes of this article, “flow” refers to the disc being released within 3 seconds of the stall, with a maximum of 1 fake. This definition is less strict than the one I used for the USA – Japan final (passes made in fluid movement within 2 seconds) – early fakes followed by a throw after 2-3 seconds seem to be far more prevalent in this game.

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Points of note:

  • COL pulled out 2/8 times, USA 1/14 times, and USA also had a pull that slid out the back after landing in
  • USA caught 2/6 in-bounds COL pulls, COL caught 7/13 in-bounds USA pulls
  • COL moved the disc to the opposite side of the field 10/12 times
  • USA’s first pass moved the disc further away from the centre of the field 6/6 times, and onto the backhand side 5/6 times
  • COL took more than one pass in flow 10/12 times
  • USA took more than one pass in flow 4/6 times
  • Both teams pulled roughly the same average distance
  • COL turned over 3/12 times in flow, USA turned over 2/6 times in flow
  • Neither team scored from flow off the pull, though USA passed the disc beyond the half-way point 4/6 times
  • COL completed avg. 5.25 passes in flow off the pull, USA avg. 3.5

Colombia’s consistent pulls, occasional poaches, and USA’s flick-side-stack double-iso play

Most of Colombia’s pulls landed in the centre of the field, between the brick mark and the end zone. Colombian defenders generally arrived with simple person-to-person defence, however at 3-1 there’s a (possibly unintentional) poach off a handler, and at 8-4 there’s a clear poach off one of the downfield players in the side-stack – which Colombia use to clog the USA’s throwing lane. Both instances of poaching led to USA being slowed down with their advance, but not stopped.

When Colombia did not poach, USA would execute their pull play near-flawlessly – essentially setting up a side-stack on the flick side, then isolating a first and second cut on the backhand side of the field; #1 catches the pull and throws to #2 who is towards the backhand side of the field. #2 catches and looks downfield for #3 who is isolated. #3 looks to continue to #4, who is isolated deeper on the backhand side (and usually cuts deep). The other three players hang out in a side-stack near the flick-side sideline, and become activated if the play breaks down (or sprint to the end zone to score).
In the first point of the game, USA handlers pass the disc to the flick side of the field, and Colombia subsequently get an interception – I put this down to USA having not yet found their routine for the game as this is the only instance when the first pass goes to the flick side instead of the backhand side of the field, and it encounters more traffic. The lateral cut following this by #7 Kami Groom is at an awkward angle, and she does not attack the disc as aggressively as the Colombian defender, leading to the turnover.
For every other pull reception, USA follow their flick-side-stack double-iso setup as described above – being disrupted only when Colombia would put a poach in the mix.

USA’s variable pulls, containing defence, and Colombia’s 4-person crossfield swinging

USA’s pulls came down in a variety of places between the brick mark and the end zone line, and the defence would arrive with person-to-person marks (except for a zonal point at 3-0 and possibly 5-1). USA defenders marking Colombia’s handlers would ‘sag’ off slightly downfield, allowing the disc to swing to their player before closing them down and putting a flat / straight-up mark on.

Colombia kept four players back to receive the pull, spreading them laterally across the field. Without fail they would move the disc across to the opposite side of the field after catching the pull. This has the effect of dramatically changing the angle of attack, however results in the disc being nearer the sideline if flow is stopped by the USA. Downfield, Colombia’s cutters seem to be opportunistic – spreading across the field with no clear tendency to stack, the three cutters have plenty of room to work with, and cut into space as they see it developing – often after one of the four handlers pushes downfield (which they were happy to do in a very dynamic manner). The combination of increased downfield space and the disc swinging causing the angle of attack to change frequently makes the downfield defenders’ jobs hard.

Conclusions

USA allowed Colombia to swing the disc against their flat / straight-up handler marks. Usually swinging works as a tactic because the angles of attack change so dramatically, but USA defenders downfield were aware of which side the disc was swinging to, and their handler-marks would sag to clog the throwing lane, which stopped Colombia from gaining many yards through flow. USA also managed to get two early-point interceptions, and Colombia’s flow often stopped near the sideline, so USA’s defence can be viewed as a successful counter to Colombia’s offence.

USA’s pull fielding routine was well practiced – the disc was moved to the backhand side of the field 5/6 times, presenting the downfield players with a standard look to work from each time. Twice Colombia forced backhand, and these were the two times the USA’s plays were most successful – with two downfield passes being made to the iso players (although one of these resulted in an unforced turnover). Twice Colombia poached, and these were 2 of the 3 times the USA weren’t able to complete their first iso throw in flow – so it’s a tactic which Colombia should have explored further. Poaching off the handler encouraged USA to run handler-led flow for almost the whole length of the field, but poaching off a player in the side-stack prevented the first iso throw and stopped USA’s flow entirely. Forcing towards the side-stack and/or poaching off a side-stack player every time would have been good a tactic for Colombia to employ to try to counter USA’s well-drilled pull fielding routine.

Analysis of specifics

Colombia poaching off a handler, USA’s handler-led flow

Throughout the duration of this clip, USA have a 2v1 advantage in the backfield which they should be looking to maximise. Looking downfield and faking in this situation uses valuable time and energy, so must have a clear purpose – ideally one that ultimately plays to the 2v1 advantage. #52 Claire Chastain‘s play in this sequence is excellent – her first fake unbalances her mark, giving her an advantage which she immediately ‘cashes in’ on with a give-go move towards the near side of the field. She then tries to set up #18 Leila Tunnell to attack the far side of the field but they’re not quite on the same page. Chastain positions herself to receive the return pass – staying on her toes and moving dynamically. Note #8 Octavia “Opi” Payne on the near-side sideline, recognising the 2v1 situation and being happy not to get involved, leaving the handlers to exploit the advantage themselves. At the end of the clip, the poaching defender arrives and Chastain makes a well-timed throw & go move to counter the defenders velocity and get downfield of her – putting herself in a very powerful position. The Colombian defender’s overcommital suggests to me the poaching may have been unintentional.

Chastain pulls out of the throw & go – possibly predicting that #2 Calise Cardenas will look downfield after catching, and wouldn’t spot the give-go move early enough. Sure enough, Cardenas looks downfield and auto-fakes before hitting Opi coming under. Chastain has stayed dynamic & on her toes, always threatening and never allowing her defender to get comfortable, so is able to time her move to get the disc off Opi in perfect flow. Opi’s defender overcommits, Chastain immediately recognises and cashes in by dribbling with Opi, and then times her final fake to get her defender over-committing again. Other than Chastain continuing to initiate flow whenever she can by using her deadly dribbling skills, it’s worth noting Opi’s efficiency of movement – always aware of the positional advantage she has over her defender, never moving unnecessarily, always a threatening option – even when walking at the end she gets ready to receive a pass in the backfield as Chastain pivots infield. At the end of the clip, flow stops when Chastain doesn’t have an option to cash in on after faking her mark out – possibly another fake aimed at #2 Cardenas streaking into the end zone (or looking back to Opi) could have created an option of switching the play over to the far sideline, hard to say for certain.

Near-perfect USA pull play

USA execute their pull play nearly perfectly – #3 Lien Hoffmann gets free under as the first iso cutter, #6 Sarah Griffith gets free deep as iso #2, however she’s decided very early to cut for huge separation and reception of a flick huck over her right shoulder. She angles her cut slightly to the left corner (to create more space on the right), but gets so free with this move that Hoffmann rightly decides to throw to the left, putting up the immediate backhand huck. Griffith has taken her eye off the play and was expecting the backhand fake leading to flick huck on the right side, so looks over her right shoulder. She quickly realises she’s second-guessed Hoffmann and the throw has already been thrown to the left side – despite overcompensating with her read and putting in a good bid she’s unable to reach the disc. #51 Claire Desmond is free moving into the end zone as Colombia accidentally double-marked one of the USA cutters in the side-stack.

Textbook USA pull play

Great early read & adjustment from #51 Claire Desmond, who then slows down faster than the Colombian defender is expecting. Check out the speed from Griffith to create separation in the end zone! In 8 seconds USA have advanced the disc 60 yards, despite the pull being the best Colombia made during the game. Nightmare for defenders who chase down the pull & then must immediately turn 180 and sprint back to their end zone.

Colombia swinging the disc against USA’s containing defence

Colombia demonstrate how happy they are to move the disc quickly across the field – they are looking for ways to advance yards through disc movement opening up gaps in the defence, rather USA’s style of hitting isolated cutters from a particular disc-position on the field. You can see USA’s containing defence – each Colombian receives the disc in space, and is then closed down by their respective USA mark putting on a flat force. Note #24 Alex Snyder, after her player swings the disc she drops back slightly whilst matching the lateral movement of her mark, clogging the lane and encouraging a yard-losing pass back to her mark before closing her down again with a flat force – classic ‘sagging defence’ movement.
Interesting to note #44 Maggie Ruden on the near sideline (off the field) gesticulating to indicate the direction Colombia are swinging the disc – demonstrating without question that USA were aware of & trying to counter Colombia’s offensive movement by allowing the swings but being aware downfield of which side the disc was moving to.

In summary, it’s easy to see how Columbia’s dynamic swinging offensive style got them to the final, however USA had clearly done their homework and were prepared to counter it effectively. USA’s pull routine was very effective and was still being worked out by Colombia, who could have countered it more consistently by forcing flick & poaching off the side-stack to prevent the early iso passes.

Pull Fielding Analysis of the WUGC 2016 USA-JPN Men’s Final

The data below marks where each pull in the WUGC Men’s Gold Medal match – USA v Japan – was caught or landed, and the path of the disc up until the point where it stopped & the defence was set. For the purposes of this article, “flow” refers to the disc being released fluidly within 2 seconds of catching.

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Points of note:

  • USA pulled out twice (both out the back), Japan once (out the side)
  • Japan caught every in-bounds USA pull, but were not tested with hard-to-catch pulls
  • USA caught 5/5 in-bounds JPN pulls in the first half, 1/6 in the second half
  • USA moved the disc towards the centre of the field 10/11 times
  • Japan moved the disc towards the centre of the field 5/12 times
  • Japan took more than one pass in flow 7/12 times
  • USA looked for and completed exactly one pass in flow 10/11 times
  • Japan one time chose not to chase down the pull, and allowed USA to work it up uncontested for 40 yards
  • All of USA’s pulls went further than all-but-one Japanese pull
  • Japan scored from flow off the pull twice, and gained more yards from fielding the pull – resulting in a shorter field to play with despite the deeper USA pulls
  • Japan were offside once, USA called travel on Japan flow once

 

Japan’s blading pulls, containing defence, and USA’s clinically executed pull-fielding routine

Japan’s pulls were all outside-in, so sacrificed hang-time and distance in order to make them riskier to catch – more so in the second half. This could have been a tactic to tempt a dropped pull, sacrificing being able to pressure USA’s first pass (which they consistently used to centre the disc). USA caught the couple of more bladey pulls in the first half, but let them land 5/6 times in the second half. Japan’s defenders were reluctant to go past the disc after running down the pull – preferring to clog the USA’s immediate downfield throwing lanes.

USA have a very clear pull fielding routine in place – two players hang back, one catches/picks up and passes to the other, who has positioned themselves as central as possible – gaining yards if safe. When the pass is complete, the pull catcher becomes the reset, and the thrower’s focus is turned downfield for the cutters to make the first play. Catching the pull is not of paramount importance in this routine, as seen in the second half when they only caught 1/6 pulls but were still able to get the pass off each time – in fact their least successful centering in the second half was off the one pull they caught.

This style of pull-fielding is very suited to the USA’s style of Ultimate – their aim was to present the downfield cutters with a static centralised handler situation, and they executed this practically without fail.

 

USA’s deep pulling, anti-centering defence, and Japan’s organic yard-eating pull-fielding style

USA’s pulls were all aimed at maximising hang time and distance – and they executed this with brilliant consistency; 9 from 11 of the downwind pulls floating into the back half of the end zone. They would always send one defender down the centre of the field, arriving first and 6/11 times preventing Japan from centering the pull.

Japan’s pull fielding was more organic and variable: Three players hang back; one catches whilst another is in a central position, and the 3rd player either provides an alternative first pass, a continuation / flow option after the first pass, or makes an aggressive move.

Fielding the pull with three players suggests Japan’s aim was to use flow passes to shorten the field, which they largely succeeded in doing – consistently ending up with a shorter field than the USA, despite the USA’s pulls all being deeper. Twice they scored in flow – once taking four passes, including a lateral / backwards open pass, and once from a two-pass play.

2nd level analysis:

USA’s tactic of sending their first defender down the centre of the field to prevent Japan from centering the disc was relatively effective, but Japan fielding the pull with 3 players was a natural counter to this. With 3 players fielding, Japan were prepared to advance the disc past the USA defender who arrives first in the middle of the field, and did so 5/12 times. This was often at the expense of the disc being moved away from the centre, which did not seem like a priority for them, but was definitely one of the USA’s biggest considerations. This organic style & the disc not being centered resulted in a variety of early-point scenarios – Japan’s downfield players seemed comfortable working from these less commonly seen situations, whereas the USA’s downfield defenders would have been unfamiliar defending against them.

Japan did not always take the flow passes open to them – there were 7 times when the disc could have been moved laterally or backwards by Japan, but they only took these options 2 times – once eventually resulting in a score, once resulting in a travel call on the next pass. At no point did a lateral or backwards flow pass result in an eventual loss of yardage, which suggests it’s an option they should have explored further. The 5 missed opportunities to pass laterally or backwards all resulted in flow stopping immediately or on the next pass.

USA’s pull-fielding routine presented the downfield cutters with a static centralised handler situation every time, which allowed the cutters to get familiar with creating plays from that exact situation. Potential yardage gains with extra passes were sacrificed in favour of centralising the disc, which can also result in a longer field to work with; however this plays to their superior deep game, so it works both ways. Japan may have been more aware of this long-field advantage than USA were, hence why they did not chase down the pull at 10-8, encouraging USA to play with a short field.

Conclusions

USA’s relentless routine consistently put them in the position they wanted, so from their perspective was a total success. Japan used more flow passes and resulted in gained yards – which can be viewed on the whole as a success – but questions remain about whether taking more open lateral or backwards flow passes would have resulted in greater yard gains (if this was their aim).

The objective question of “Which is the better routine/style?” is hard to answer as so many variables come into play mid-point. One can not objectively say the disc being centered is a good thing, or more flow or yards are a good thing, as each is dependant upon the team’s mid-point strategy and style. The relevant information we have to compare the two methods objectively is: neither team turned over when fielding the pull or flowing from the pull, Japan scored twice from flow off the pull, and USA won the game 15-11.*

Personally I preferred Japan’s fluid and variable style, but think there is much room for improvement which can make it more effective and harder to stop, such as taking yard-losing passes in order to keep the flow going. Generating fluid looks at the start of points – from random places on the field – is hard to play defence against, but arguably hard to play offence from also. USA seem to have nearly perfected their routine, but its standardised nature has a potential weakness in that the defence know what is coming – a static look from the centre of the field after one centering pass. Whether or not the defence can use this to their advantage is another question for another article – we did see Japan clogging throwing lanes and downfield space at the start of points as they attempted to do so in this match, if you’re interested in how effective they were then check out the full game footage.

* another potentially useful stat would be the number of points each team scored from the pull without turning over, and in how many passes

Hype – 7 on the line

I posted this image to /r/ultimate but it got taken down due to classifying as a joke/meme – against the rules – so here it is! For anyone out of the loop, it’s an edit of the recent image released by Rockstar Games to promote their upcoming Red Dead Redemption 2 game.

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Intuitive v Analytic players

I was just reading an article from 2015 on Skyd about Intuitive vs. Analytical Thinking in Ultimate [link], where the author (Alex Davis) places players in two categories;

The Intuitive is everybody’s favourite kind of athlete. Team sports culture celebrates intuition, and true geniuses of the archetype attract lofty accolades: they have “natural athleticism,” “potential,” and “strong instincts,” as if their qualities stemmed from some unknowable magic. They defy more concrete description because–frankly–they simply don’t work according to concrete, well-articulated methods. They feel their way through the game, often without explanation. Quick-thinking and coordinated, the Intuitives perceive the playing field according to shades of instinct, reflex, and experiential knowledge. In team sports in general–and ultimate in particular–we eagerly recruit for this seemingly unteachable intuition, and we then try to equip it with sport-specific tools and skills.

On the opposite end of the spectrum dwell those I’ll call the Analysts. Characteristically methodical, deliberate, and hard-working creatures, they think in firm, defined terms. They value correctness over quickness. They fight temptations and external pressures. They thrive on well-defined frameworks, rules, and mechanisms, informed by their accumulated experience. What they may lack in spontaneity or instinct, they usually make up for with sheer effort. Unlike the Intuitives, their mindset demands a degree of explanation, detail, and investment that coaches often struggle to satisfy.

As an Intuitive-player-turned-coach, I  have found the process of learning how to teach others to be very enlightening for all areas of my game. Analysing my intuition-led on-field actions in depth led me to a greater understanding of those actions, which has made passing on that knowledge / understanding possible & successful.

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Not making notes of which players are Analysts and which are Intuitive

For example, slow fakes with the disc – they feel good and are fun to do, but when I look deeper I realise they serve many purposes – a slow fake has the status of potentially being a throw for a long time, meaning downfield defenders must commit and stay committed to stopping a throw which could come at any point, which makes them more likely to either over-commit or to bite on the wrist snap at the end. If the defender isn’t watching then a slow fake (or slow wind-up) opens a communication channel with the receiver and gets them on the same page as the thrower, in sync and able to cut for the throw or react immediately to the fake as appropriate. Until I stop and think about the nuances, slow fakes are simply approved of and encouraged by the pattern recognition area of my brain, and become part of my style.

Saying ‘I’m not sure why this works’ or ‘Do this because it feels right’ is better than guessing at a reason and then teaching it as fact, but true understanding should be sought by all coaches, and comes from analysis. Intuitives and Analysts working together make great coaching teams, providing they can communicate. Gaining deeper understanding has helped to guide my intuition further, including giving me the knowledge of when to control it for the benefit of the team, and strengthens me as a player year upon year. Once the analysis of a technique such as slow fakes has been done, I am more able to consciously recognise situations where I can suck defenders in or open communication channels with cutters, and construct mental models of the play beyond just that fake or throw.

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Pointing in different directions – Analyst vs Intuitive?

There are a few players who I struggle to connect fully with as a coach, who I now realise are on the Analyst end of the spectrum, and I put the lack of connection down to the relatively unexplored nature of some of what I have been trying to teach. When trying to convince players to change the way they approach the vast arenas of offence or defence, the lack of a clear positive example (such as an elite team winning a championship with what I’m trying to teach) immediately makes everybody sceptical. When teaching particular throwing technique – such as getting a player to shift focus to spin rather than power in order to increase the distance of their throws – the results of the change are often immediate and clear, so any initial scepticism can be quickly either upheld or discarded. When teaching an offence or defence as a whole, the plethora of nuances involved and the ambiguity in evaluating the results (a turnover or a score happens, but what were the real causes?), means that Analysts possibly struggle to build a complete working mental model of the systems – requiring all sorts of assumptions, and it doesn’t make sense to them to take the ‘leap of faith’ needed to cross the unexplored areas & onto the unproven ground.

Intuitive-types will ‘feel’ positive (or negative) results of offensive or defensive changes almost immediately – they can sense the improvement of their team’s game regardless of scores or turnovers, and be keen to explore the ideas further in order to perpetuate these positive feelings (or vice-versa). They do not need full understanding, trust in a coach, or ‘proof’, as their evaluation is not related to a fully working mental model, tangible results, or the experiences of others.

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A non-flow offence with potential flow moves drawn on by Frank

For example – when attempting to convey the merits of initiating flow – a player has a choice between taking an immediate yard-losing open pass, or looking downfield for a few seconds. Regardless of which option they take, it’s unlikely they will turn over immediately, and either one could fairly quickly result in a score. The immediate shot to the end zone for the goal is the quickest validation, but for flow fans that would be a false positive. If they take the open pass, it’s possible the disc will continue moving and then turn over a few passes later without even an attempt to score or break the force – but the opposite outcome for all these situations is also possible, as it is dependant upon a huge variety of other factors (including the defence). Given the difficulty of analysing the merits of either approach with any level of clarity or certainty, it’s natural for Analytic players to look at championship-winning teams for an idea of which approach is ‘correct’, whereas Intuitive players prefer to experiment with either approach and judge which one ‘feels’ right to them – being far less concerned with attempting to analyse the outcomes (immune to false positives), not depending on trust in their coach, and not desiring to look to the championship-winning teams for guidance.

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Analyze This

Intuition is relied upon over analysis whilst a new strategy / tactic / technique is being played and developed, as it guides the direction of development through uncharted territory using the powerful pattern-recognition ability of humans. However, intuition is not perfect and can be very much a trial-and-error process, so whilst a strategy is in its development stage the coach cannot (and should not attempt to) fully explain it – which can come across as weakness or uncertainty, and is an unsatisfactory way of training for Analysts. It therefore makes sense that the status quo is usually perpetuated, and it takes a long time for overarching strategic changes to be adopted. Only after a strategy has matured is it possible to develop a full understanding of it, and therefore be in a position to convey this understanding in a way that satisfies both Analytic and Intuitive players alike at trainings.

It’s quite possible that the majority of those who decide whether or not to implement strategies – team leaders, training organisers, coaches – are Analysts, whilst Intuitive-types simply focus on playing the game and are generally less inclined to coaching or leadership roles (although if their talent stands out, they are often put into these positions and begin by leading by example). It’s also possible the status-quo strategies drive away some talented Intuitive-types to other sports which ‘feel’ better to them – where they’re not asked to stack up / focus solely on their mark, or enforce other traditional Ultimate tactics which feel counter-intuitive and are unseen in other team sports. The athletes I’ve introduced to Ultimate from other sports tend to relish flow and have a disdain for stacking – perhaps the majority are Intuitive players.

hammer-layI recommend you check out the original article – Intuitive vs. Analytical Thinking in Ultimate [link], where Alex (an Analyst) talks more about the science behind the different personality types, and describes his frustrating attempts to learn how to cut effectively from an Intuitive player, plus the impact that conversation had on him as a player and a coach over the course of the following few years!

Join / start the reddit discussion on this article

 

Felix is going to South Africa!

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I was contacted yesterday by Fergus Klein – Sussex University (Mohawks) alumni from 2013-14. Since graduating and moving back to Johannesburg, Fergus has got massively involved in Ultimate, and is now chairperson of the Gauteng region of South Africa – they have around 100 league players and 500 kids currently playing Ultimate!

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The sun does not appear bigger in Africa because it’s closer to the equator.

South Africa (RSA) entered teams into the Men’s, Women’s, and Men’s Masters divisions of WUGC 2016, and at U23 Worlds 2015 their mixed team played against the GB team I was coaching, in the match for 5th place. Now they are hungry for more Ultimate knowledge & coaching techniques – to boost the development of the game in the country and raise the top level!

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It’s currently being discussed within the Gauteng Ultimate committee, but the proposed idea is that I fly over for 3 weeks around March – half spent in Johannesburg, half spent in Cape Town, with a visit to Kruger National Park in the middle. That’s a park with impala, buffalo, zebra, elephant, rhinoceros, lions, leopards, giraffe, hippopotamus, black mamba, pythons, crocodiles, vultures, eagles…

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I couldn’t find a picture with all the animals together for some reason

I heard that the RSA Masters team were playing Mex Offence at WUGC 2016 but I was too busy filming/commentating to check them out, and had no idea how it came to be – now the jigsaw pieces are starting to fall into place! It was Fergus’ idea and apparently it’s the “in” formation at the moment – he says “all the good teams in SA are using it now!”

I’m really looking forward to the trip, where I’ll get to see Fergus and Ant Pascoe again (teammate from 2001-03 Smash & Grab era) – having never been anywhere in Africa before, I also can’t wait to check out the wondrous and abundant nature; maybe I’ll find some good hills / mountains to run up!

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Like the Guateng Ultimate Facebook page

EUCF 2016 report & play-by-play of the Open Final

EUCF 2016 is the 10th European Ultimate Club Finals, it was held in

Sunday:
Open final play-by-play, as it happened:

Clapham with a stifling zone at the start, after the first point Funk had a couple of turnovers, a few points traded and a break for CUSB. 4-4.
Clapham working it well but footblock from CUSB and the score. 5-4 CUSB
CUSB show great awareness of the stall count as a team to get a D with the wall and then the stream dies. Comes back and it’s 6-4 La Fotta.
Couple of travel calls. La Fotta with a zone, some fouling on the mark from Davide. Ashley Yeo with another score from Justin, 6-5.
Huge Justin sky after a floaty CUSB huck – will be a good photo! Timeout.
Long possession with only short passes, Clapham work it up the line and bring it level, 6-6. Stream dies.
It’s back and I’ve missed a couple of turns, then Chris Baker sends a flick skyward but gets saved by newcomer Connor McHale. Contested foul. Conrad Wilson with the Clapham score, 7-6 Clapham, then they take half 8-6.
Justin with a layout catch on a lateral cut, then a big hammer across to Ashley Yeo who lays out big for 9-6.
CUSB mis-throw and then Briggs to Jackson deep with a flick – 10-6. Timeout – feels like a push coming from CUSB but they have to put in their offence…
Deep throw by CUSB just out of the reach of defender Garner, 10-7.
Clapham timeout on stall 8, they get out after a false re-start, Stobbs cuts up line for 11-7 score.
Floaty mistake mid-field from La Fotta and Clapham sustain their offence outside the end zone to score, 12-7.
Tom Abrams with the layout D on Davide, quick move up the line for 13-7.
La Fotta trapped at the back of their end zone, manage to complete a huck but then another unforced error on the next throw. Clapham bomb it deep to Andrew Jackson for another goal, 14-7. Stream is dropping in and out quite a lot.
A couple of turnovers before another unforced error for La Fotta, this time on their own goal line, and Clapham pick it up quickly and slot it in for the win! 15-7, Clapham are EUCF 2016 champions!

Women’s Final:

CUSB Shout put in a good performance against Flying Angels in the women’s final, with Eliza Frangalini making many huge grabs for them, but FAB’s experience shone through as they closed the game out 15-13. The match turned into quite a huckfest, both up and down wind, many contested catches and D’s in traffic.

Mixed Final:

After a fantastic domestic season where they took the UKU Nationals title, Reading secured their first EUCF title by defeating the very young team Grüt (FC Airborn, Netherlands) in the Mixed Final – this Reading side are incredibly strong and didn’t have many problems, dealing with the unpredictable and brave offence of Grüt – 15-8 the final score.

Saturday:

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Semis:
Clapham 15 – 8 Tchac:
Tchac’s fairytale rise gets firmly stopped by the UK powerhouse. Tchac’s unconventional style got them a few points and some incredible layout blocks, but Clapham seemed solid and confidently put away the game. Clapham’s Justin Foord connected with Ashley Yeo for the winning point.

Bad Skid 11 – 14 CUSB La Fotta:
The firey Italians, after a heated battle with Switzerland’s Freespeed in the quarter, had the edge on Germany’s Bad Skid and secured their spot in the Final for the second year running.

Clapham vs CUSB La Fotta is a repeat of the EUCF 2015 final, where Clapham won 15-8.

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Semis:
Iceni 14 – 15 CUSB Shout:
Last year these two teams met in the group stages, and Iceni won 12-11. This time, the Italian side CUSB Shout got their revenge and denied the reigning champions a place in the Final, in another exciting universe point match.

Troubles 10 – 15 Flying Angels Bern:
Switzerland’s FAB bring the Polish “Troubles” team’s good run to an end with a  5 point cushion.

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Semis:
FC Airborn 15 – 14 Hässliche Erdferkel:
Netherlands’ FC Airborn (“Grut”), with players ranging from 14 – 25 years old and an average age of 19 (the 54-year old coach is one of their fathers) have a very exciting style where they are not afraid to huck to double cuts and find unexpected spaces with their throws, and it paid off for them as they took this thrilling semi final in sudden death against the German Hässliche Erdferkel team.

Reading Ultimate 15 – 10 SeE6:
UK’s top mixed team Reading with a fairly comfortable win over the Swedish SeE6 side.


Playoff bracket graphics with scores: OpenWomen’sMixed

Scores, Groups, Results & Standings website
Clapham v Otso – last two points (universe point)

Southampton Hex Clinic

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Hex Clinic on Sunday in Southampton

Liam Kelley from the UKU got in touch about running a one-day UKU Level 1 Coaching Course in Southampton, and I figured it’d be a good time to start getting Hex Clinics on the road in the UK! I would deliver the Level 1 UKU Course on Saturday, and a Hex Clinic on the Sunday. I stayed in and AirBnB in Eastleigh, a couple of miles from Southampton, and rode my bike to the University in the morning.

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Seventeen people turned up for the L1 course, including captains from St Marys / Southampton / Exeter Universities, Clapham/GB player Magnet, and reps from Guildford including Elliott J – the up-and-coming 15 year old Ultimate-playing-trickshot-star.

It was great to see so many Uni captains in particular taking the L1 coaching course, which I hope have a great positive impact on their teams. After the course I cycled towards the river Itchen which runs through Southampton, and noticed a group throwing an Ultrastar around on the green. I joined in and met Mike – he played Ultimate at Bath Uni and could spot a fellow Ultimate player a mile away. He doesn’t play at the moment as unfortunately there isn’t a club in Southampton – hopefully in the future one will emerge, perhaps when alumni who remain in the city want to keep Ultimate in their lives. As I understand it, current club players from Southampton play for county-wide team Hampshire Ultimate.

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After a good throw, I headed along the river on my bike, going past a 300 year old lock. Barges on canals were the most efficient way to transport goods around the UK before railways.

 

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The plaque was covered by brambles. Can you find & name the animal?

 

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The paths along the river Itchen go all the way to Winchester.

 

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A bridge and a pipe-bridge.

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The water was very clear.

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Something really freaks me out when I go through these concrete river-tunnels. Takes a fair amount of self-restraint not to break into a run

 

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As day turned to night, I happened across a lovely riverside pub for dusk dinner.

Next day at the Hex Clinic we had 10 attendees, all active Skunks players (Southampton Uni), with elements of Punt, Reading, Guildford and Hampshire. The theory session on Flex went really well, then we went outside into the sunshine and I tried out a couple of new Flex drills – the Skunks smashed them!

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Triangle-Sandwich Drill

In the Triangle-Sandwich Drill they were using both sandwiching and switching really well  – next time I think I’ll start with a ‘no-switching’ rule before developing it into full sandwiching & switching, to make sure everyone is developing their sandwiching skills.

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Switch Drill

In the Switch Drill, where a 1v1 cutting situation plays out near a static O/D (who can only be activated by a ‘switch’ call from the active 1v1 D player), everyone was picking the right moments to switch (or stick), as well as closing down the newly-activated O player quickly to complete the switch. Next time I’ll add in another O/D pair to be activated and see what develops from that (switching in & out of sandwiches!). I’ll also take more photos of the outdoor frisbee stuff!

It feels like some huge steps forward were taken at this weekend’s Hex Clinic. Finally we have some proper Flex drills! Plus the course material gets better and better with each Clinic. I’m excited to introduce the new drills to another group soon – possibly the next Hex Clinic will be in Exeter. If you’d like a Hex Clinic in your city & you can help with getting a venue, get in touch!

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Train journey home on Sunday night took me to strange places (who ever thought there was a West Croydon?) and lasted several hours – more than enough time to write this article.

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Chat with Mario O’Brien

[–]riseupmario[S] 1 point

overall yea it all sounds like it could work, just a matter of refining and testing it. I’m a true believer in the idea of ‘anything strategically can work if everyone’s on the same and it’s executed well’. Just gotta keep self-evolving as much as possible.

In general my idea on switching/sandwiching is that it can and does work, situationally, but defenses that get overly switchy are too risky and against smart cutters and great handlers/throwers… you’re setting yourself up for 1 throw that breaks the ice and then never catching up. Fact: most top elite handlers break any mark they want, even the best marks, so if you blow a switch and leave someone open for a split second, they get the disc and boom everyone’s scrambling to catch up… and if you switch at the wrong time when the thrower’s mark is out of position, it’s several easy throws in a row.

Again, not saying it can’t be done, just telling you what I see at the top… and I’d say Sockeye is as experimental as any team out there in terms of trying new/unconventional things… maybe Japan has us beat 😉

[–]riseupmario[S] 1 point

sweet. can’t wait to play against it 😉 or play in it sometime!

Chatting to Mario helped me clarify my thoughts on & for the first time verbalise how poaching causes the progressive collapse of Flex D. I’ve now incorporated this specific example into the Flex theory clinic – it now feels like there is a frame in place, and we’re no longer fumbling in the dark trying to figure out & define ‘smart defence’; we’re working out what fills the frame & where the holes are. The task for the first time feels relatively finite.

I’ve got a lot of time for Sockeye – I hung out with them a little in Prague during WUCC 2010, I love a team that knows how to play hard, party, and isn’t afraid to innovate on the field and openly discuss new strategies and tactics.

To read Mario’s full AMA click here, and be sure to check out his new ULTACADEMY project.

felixultimate in Latvia – report

Last week I was in Latvia, delivering a Hexagon Ultimate Clinic.

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Sunset in Riga’s suburbs, Soviet-era accommodation on the left

I was staying in Riga, which has a mix of modern and old orthodox-style architecture in the centre, whilst the suburban landscape is dominated by the huge Soviet-era accommodation buildings often seen in the Baltic states. There are no houses near the city – everybody lives in these huge (9 or 12 storey, and very wide) blocks of flats, where it is traditional to stay up late sitting in the kitchen drinking vodka and chatting about life, politics, philosophy, and everything in-between.

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Pine trees just outside the suburbs. Easy to get lost in after sunset!

Just outside the city limits are huge pine tree forests, which are perfectly suited for night time gatherings, as groups head out before the sun goes down to find one of the countless nice spots for a fire – the undulating terrain creating picturesque and unique areas for dozens of groups each a few dozen yards away from each other.

On Saturday I travelled to Ogre, the geographic centre of Latvia, to deliver a 7-hour clinic on Hex strategies. 30 players from all over Latvia attended, 1/3rd of them were juniors, gender was split 50-50, and they came from 8 teams from all over the country – from the coast with the Baltic Sea on the East, to the border with Russia on the west.

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In the classroom for the theory part of the Flexagon clinic

Indoors is the preferred division in Latvia – with 12 men’s and 4 women’s teams competing. For outdoors, there are about 8 men’s teams and ~5 women’s teams.

The spread of experience at the clinic was great – some players had been playing one year, some fifteen – but they all helped each other to understand the new concepts being discussed, and everybody I spoke to felt like they got something valuable out of the clinic. When learning Flex, sandwiching players was new to some and uncommon to others, but I saw plenty of it happening during the game, and I noticed a few pro-active (not reactive) switches in there too. We had less time to play Mex Offence, and split the group into two games based on ability/experience – simply having all these players together in the same place, at the same time, playing alongside each other as team mates rather than opponents was quite a new experience for all of the attendees, as inter-team mingling does not happen so much in Latvia.

latvia-hex-workshop-selfie-3I hope some connections were made or strengthened between the teams present, and that the new ideas are spread by the attending players when they return to their clubs – maybe we will see some hex elements incorporated into Latvian Ultimate in the years to come, as the next generation players mature and explore the various facets of the strategies for themselves! Set plays are very popular in Latvia, with vertical stack being the dominant offensive strategy played outdoors, and a lot of focus put on athleticism to beat your mark to the open side. Hopefully the principles of Hex style Ultimate will add a new dimension to the Latvian style, or at least an interesting alternative.

Big thanks to Edgars Dimpers, a Latvian who has been playing in Brighton for the last 8 years and did a full translation of the classroom material, and to Jekabs and Ogre Ultimate for booking the venue and hosting the clinic, and to the players from all the clubs who attended: Sirocco Ultimate, Ultimate Decision, KCN Riga, Valimera, Ventspils VFK, Nightwatch / Moments OFK, Salaspils WT / JR, and Flying Worms VFK.

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Players from all around Latvia gather for a photo after the clinic

 

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View from Skyline Bar in the centre

 

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Hexagon spotted

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Gathering in the forest just before sunset

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Skyline Bar – above Riga

360 degree view from Skyline Bar’s windows (attempt) | 360 degree view from inside Skyline Bar

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Latvian cat, startled

University Taster Sessions Guide

This article is aimed at University clubs who want to recruit and develop players from a very large, very inexperienced group of freshers turning up to taster sessions at the start of the year. This is a guide for how the returning players can teach basic catching and throwing techniques, and how to behave in the games to ensure everyone has a good time and wants to return. When experienced players are able to teach basic techniques to incoming players, the speed at which freshers improve increases dramatically, and when experienced players know how to play in a fresher-friendly way during the first weeks of term, the retention of players skyrockets. The first step to getting this working within your club is to connect with the returning players before term starts, and make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to interacting with the freshers.

Throwing around

When a fresher arrives at their first training or taster session, they should be welcomed by an experienced player, and invited to throw a Frisbee around for 15-20 minutes – in pairs or in as small a group as possible, with one experienced player per group. After a few throws, the experienced player should ask if the fresher would like some tips on their catching or throwing. It’s important to ask this question and get a ‘yes’ answer, as then the fresher has psychologically ‘bought in’ and will be eager to listen to what you have to say. Make sure the first thing you do is pay them a compliment.

When teaching catching technique, focus on just a few important points:

Move your feet to get your chest behind the disc
– Use both hands, clap catch in the centre of the disc with both hands hitting it at the same time
– Watch the disc into your hands

Throwing technique involves four sequential points:
1. Footwork – step out wide at 90 degrees, bend at the knees
2. Grip – fingers tight inside the rim for the backhand (index finger where it feels comfortable); power grip for the side-arm (index and middle finger together, not split)
3. Release (backhand) – rotate body, drop shoulder, coil wrist, release at or below knee height, with outside edge pointing slightly down
4. Spin – snap the wrist more

The order of these four points is critical. Don’t teach the fresher about grip until they have their footwork sorted, don’t teach them about the release until they have their grip sorted, and so on. Focus on one point at a time, give them a compliment every time you give them a tip, and try to relate the usefulness of the movements to the game. Remember at all times that you are setting an example with your own throwing and catching, and a lot of players learn by watching rather than listening, so be a model player with clap catches at your chest and wide, low pivots – “classic” technique.

Playing Ultimate

After these 15-20mins of throwing in small groups, it’s time to play. Remember that when a fresher comes to Ultimate practice for the first time, they don’t want to learn how to play great Ultimate; they just want to play. They certainly don’t want to be told to stand in a line and run in a particular direction for no apparent reason, so skip any drills and go straight into games.

Split the players into groups of 4-6 beginners with 2 experienced players, to play 4v4 / 5v5 games (not 6v6+). Whilst the pitches are being set up, the 2 experienced players per team should briefly explain the basic rules and have a chat for a few minutes to get to know their team. Make the pitches big enough for a good run around – 20 meters wide by 40 meters long with 3 meter deep end zones is reasonable. If the beginners can be split into groups with some pre-existing connections (friends, living in same accommodation, course mates etc.), this is even better and will really help retention.

There are 5 basic rules for the experienced players to explain in their teams:
1) You score 1pt by catching a pass in the opposing team’s end zone
2) You can’t run with the disc – it can only be advanced by throws
3) An incomplete pass (drop, throw away) or an interception (knock down or caught) is a turn over, and the other team get possession going in the other direction
4) It’s non-contact, so you can’t yank the disc out of someone’s hands and there’s no pushing before/during catches
5) It’s self-refereed, so call your own infractions and decide between players what happened and how the game should continue.

It can be good to talk more about Spirit of the Game / self-refereeing before the games start, and during the game make sure that everyone stops for any clear fouls & that the related rules are explained to the players, who should come to their own agreement about what happened. Freshers won’t often stop the game – you have that responsibility.

Below are some general points to remember when playing Ultimate with freshers so that they have fun, learn, and want to come back. When on offence:

– Let freshers pick up the disc if they want to. Progress to calling a couple of people at the start of the point who will pick up the disc and make sure you rotate through everyone.
Throw slow, flat, easy to catch passes, both for short and long throws, even if they are easier to intercept.
– Throw when the cutter wants it, even if you know it’ll be intercepted. In the worst case, the defender does a good thing, and your team mate feels you trust them.
– Let your team know you’re always there for the easy pass if they need it, but don’t demand the disc, don’t reprimand speculative shots, and try to always be a hittable option for the thrower.
– Don’t teach a formation (such as stack) unless the freshers ask about strategy – it’s too much information at this point. Better to work from principles around creating and using space. Under no circumstances stand over the disc waiting for everyone to ‘stack up’, or pick up the disc and demand ‘cuts’. The game might seem like chaos, but this doesn’t mean the freshers aren’t enjoying themselves more than they would if it were disciplined.
Put up long shots, especially if it’s getting crowded around the disc. This will encourage deep cuts and throws in future points, and will also give freshers the unique experience of chasing down a long throw… an experience which in itself can be enough to get a fresher hooked.
– Ensure everyone is getting disc time by being mindful of who you’re looking to pass to. Calling a ‘string’ play helps with this (player A looks to player B, who looks to player C, etc.).

Then when on defence:

– Don’t teach the stall count (or stall anybody) for the first week, it only adds pressure and complicates things. Forces should be loose.
– If marking another experienced player, let them get free when and where they want around the disc. After summer it’s tempting to play hard against your peers, but you must resist. If the experienced player you’re marking goes for the end zone though, go for an amazing interception.
– If marking a beginner, let them get free too, though mark them out when they start clogging space around the disc as it’ll encourage them to clear out. If the genders on the pitch aren’t balanced, it can be better for an experienced player to mark a female fresher instead of another experienced player.
No poaching. It’s not a challenge to get a poach D in a game with beginners – especially when you’re already out of position due to letting players get the disc as detailed above – and it’s not fun for anyone else.
– No point blocks or even stopping break throws – you want throws to either be completed or be intercepted by beginners. If an experienced player wants to break you, let them. If a beginner looks like they’re going to throw it into your force, get out of the way. Don’t let your team know you’re not pulling in the same direction as them on defence – make it look like you’re concentrating and playing hard – but be ineffective.
– Don’t teach strategy, such as forcing one way, unless the freshers ask, or if you’re nearing the end of the session and your team has a good understanding. Better to work from principles and simple instructions – man defence can simply be explained by saying, “if they throw the disc to your man, catch it before he does”.
– When marking confident or athletic beginners, raise the intensity to give them a proper challenge. Some freshers won’t come back if you intercept their throws or mark them out, while other freshers won’t come back unless they get a tough challenge and are shown what they can achieve, so play it by ear.

In general when playing a game:

– When two experienced players are involved in a foul and have a subsequent discussion, remember you are setting an example for all the other freshers, so explain your point of view honestly, clearly and respectfully, and settle the call in the ‘proper’ fashion – a joke between friends may be misunderstood by freshers.
– For violations such as travels, picks, and close in/out calls, and not quite being in the end zone for a score, only stop the game if it’s a fresher who notices the violation – even if it affects the play, it’s much better for the game to continue if the freshers don’t notice.

Finally, remember it is your responsibility as an experienced player to ensure everyone on the pitch is having a good time, and not just your team. You could be scoring every time and thus feel everything is going great, but think about your opposition, and adjust your tactics accordingly (having your weaker freshers pick up the disc, for example, or attempt an exciting deep throw against their best defender).

Exit / retention strategy

After the games it’s good to circle up and let the freshers know how your club works – for example, everyone is welcome to continue coming along even if they didn’t have a good practice that day, and that over the year they’ll all be taught everything they need to know to go from a noob to a good player. Mention beginner tournaments, fun tournaments, the BUCS league and Nationals, so you’ll retain the competitive freshers who will be trying to get onto your 1st / 2nd team from the start, as well as those who simply enjoy the game and will make your club socials great. It can be good to have a big game (like a showgame) after everyone finished, so let everyone know that some people are going straight to the pub (on campus near where you train, hopefully), and some are sticking around to play a quick game of 7 vs. 7 first, where freshers are welcome to join in.

This game should be on a full size pitch, with as close to a 4:3 gender split as possible, and everyone playing proper, hard Ultimate, hopefully showing what the freshers can aim for. Again, don’t call picks or travels, but do call and discuss fouls properly when they occur. After a couple of points invite freshers to get on the line and join in – there will always be a few that are keen. Make sure the experienced players try to persuade their team mates from the 5-aside games to get on the pitch, and to sub out for any freshers that show interest in playing. You may only get a handful of freshers joining in, but they will likely love the experience of being on a big pitch with so many experienced players, and they’ll appreciate greatly how they have been given the opportunity to play in a fairly high level game at their first session.

After the session, make sure as many freshers as possible come to the pub, and then talk to them! It’s very tempting to catch up with your team mates who you haven’t seen all summer, but there are better times for that, so be mindful of who you’re chatting with. Go out of your way and make it your responsibility to get every fresher talking, as it can easily make the difference between them never coming back, and them captaining the team in two years time. The confident and athletic freshers will want to hear about the GB Junior and GB U23 opportunities available to them if they stick with Ultimate – they want to be challenged and they want to know it’s possible for them to achieve greatness. There will also be freshers who want to take up a sport but hate the ethos of rugby and football so now is a great time for them to find out if the vibe of your club is something they can enjoy.

By applying the advice given here at your taster sessions, your freshers will hopefully enjoy their first experiences of Ultimate and become hooked in no time. By ensuring all experienced players learn these guidelines before the fresher intake each year, hopefully the recruitment and retention rates for your club will keep growing, and thus lead to huge performance gains.

– Felix Shardlow
Felix has been coaching the Sussex University Mohawks since 2003 & Brighton Panthers since 2011