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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I 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!