Friday, December 23, 2005

Ultimate history book

So, I've done some lengthy skimming of the book, and in-depth reading of the 'glory' days of the DoG run. My initial reactions are not nearly enough discussion about ME. And there is a factual error that I corrected with Tony and company, and they do quote me partially, but here is the REAL story...

So, we arrive at the 90+ team tourney at Lehigh, Discs in the Mist. We are going under a new name, with our spunky roster of 12 or so, and the tournament directors did not recognize us, so they put us in the B division. We eventually forced the tourney directors to completely reorganize the tourney so that we could move back up to A (they were most helpful in that regard). However, while we're talking to the director, I notice that Jordan Haskell had submitted our team name as Death and Glory. I immediately lay into him, saying 'Are you crazy? We can't be DaG!' I argued vehemently that we should be Death OR Glory, which would shorten more appropriately as DoG. We did a few more tournaments as DaG (apparently, according to Jim), but it was definitely my idea to switch to DoG, but without the leverage to force it. It is spurious for Cork to say, oh it was my idea because I had the dog. Talk about revisionist history...

Other than that, the book is pretty sweet. I haven't had a chance to look at the DVD yet, but I'm looking forward to it. And to everyone who is actually reading this prior to the holidays, happy whatever you celebrate.

Another addendum... Wednesday night we had a mini DoG reunion (well, 6 guys), and I brought a few copies of the books, since they hadn't made it to us in the mail yet. Well, there was a lot of excitement, and poring over the relevant sections, looking at pictures, looking for people they recognized. What is great is the index has the name of every person that appears in the book, and what pages they are on. So you can quickly look yourself up, or just scan through the index and see what names you recognize. All in all, it is a very cool experience. Adam, Tony, and Joe have done a great service to the game by bringing forth the book. I suspect that the book signing in Boston will have a significantly larger showing than that in NY, if just for the number of players that are up here, and the fact that it will be on a weekend, and not a Monday night. Looking forward to it.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Visiting the 'evil' empire

With my kids off of school for the last two weeks of the month, my parents graciously volunteered to take care of them this week so I drove down to Rye (NY) from Boston with kids in tow, and planned to spend a few days down here before going back on Wednesday. Well, it so happened this also coincided with the Ultimate History book signing in New York City at the Shades of Green Pub last night from 7-10. Clearly I had to go...

I drove into the city and made my way down to 125 E. 15th street amidst almost no traffic, despite the impending NYC transit strike. Parking was easy, and I soon found myself walking into the entrance of the pub around 7:20. From there it was a descent into the land of the enemy. Of course, this would be a lot more poignant if NY was actually sporting a competitive team right now, but regardless. This was my first look at the actual published version of the book, and let me say the book looks pretty sweet, and I can't wait to take a look at the DVD. They even went so far as to make sure the actual cover of the book (not just the book jacket) had the same cover art and not just a monocolor material, so that when you inevitably tear the book jacket, you will be able to remove it and still have the sweet cover art.

After I did a quick lap doing the meet and greet with old friends (and enemies), they did a quick presentation, with Rob (Nob) Rauch saying a few words before introducing Adam Zagoria, who proceeded to do a reading from the very beginning talking about the origins of the game. He then handed the 'mike' over to Tony Leonardo, who said some more words, then did a topical reading about the NYNY team/era. And there was much rejoicing... Oh yeah, Andy Borinstein said a few words also, but I can't remember where he was chronologically. After that, we got back to eating, drinking, and catching up.

What was sort of cool for me was that I felt like I was a bridge between the much older players and the young guns. There were a lot of people there that were already towards the end of their career when I started playing back in '85, including Sass Peters, Sauce, etc. who I played against a bunch while at Princeton. There were also a bunch of NYNY players old and new. I'm sure I'm forgetting a bunch, but just to try and list some of the 'luminaries' that were there: Dave Blau, Nob Rauch, Skip Kuhn, Andy Sheeman, Matt Jefferson, Ron Papenak, Eric Cochrane, Aram, Mike Nevins, Kevin Cande, Paul Shields all from NYNY, and then others such as Andy Borinstein, Linwood Lewis, Ronnie Drenger, Sass Peters, Sauce, Conrad (from Purchase), Ken Silver, Bill Baer, Neil Perchuk, etc. I think I was the only player from that era still playing open, which felt pretty weird. Remember that I had also played New York and Westchester Summer League with a lot of these guys back in the mid-80's, including playing on a team with the venerable John Gewirtz himself (and Teens back when those two first started...).

I ended up buying 3 of the books for my family and getting them signed by Tony and Adam. Because I didn't have anyplace to keep them secure, I didn't buy them until the very end. Once I finally got them (getting 3 of the last 4, so just in time), Tony showed me his copy that he had gotten signed by a bunch of the original Columbia high school crew, which made me regret not having done something similar for a copy of mine, which would have been to go around to a bunch of the NYNY guys and have them sign my copy, like a yearbook. I think that would have been pretty cool and of course very risky... Oh well. But I highly recommend the book from what little I've seen (doesn't hurt having my name in it a few times), but I was disappointed that I didn't make it into any of the pictures. I was razzing Tony about that, and even he acknowledged that he was surprised he hadn't seen me in any of the pictures that they were even considering. There was one picture that I saw of Boston players hanging out, and I was sure I was going to be in that one, because it was a bunch of my teammates that I often hung out with, and I wasn't even in that picture. AaauuuughhhhhHH! (of Charlie Brown fame) Oh well. At least I make a cameo in Ultivillage disc 4 from what I hear. I guess I'll have to buy it.

But I did make it out of NY alive, and spent a few enjoyable hours catching up with the old NY players, including quite a bit of time talking to Tony, Matty J., and Aram.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

You'll know ultimate has hit the big time when...

There is a video library all the way down to individual players. Granted the title was somewhat of a red herring. I was thinking about some stuff I said in my addendum on ultimate strategy musings regarding what Tarr labeled the quick release.

One of the reasons I have had success throwing is that I have a very quick release on the markable throws like the inside-out forehand and backhand, the step around backhand, and the hammer. The with-the-force backhand and forehand aren't quite as risky, so I don't typically rush them. If you had a video library (similar to what baseball, football, basketball, and other moneyed sports have on individuals), you would have noticed, for instance, that I almost NEVER fake (now I'm setting myself up for about 5 more point blocks than the maybe 1 a season that occur). You would be able to note the users tendencies. I think video analysis would raise the defensive portion of the game to a much higher level, especially on the mark. It would force the throwers to vary their releases much more than they do now, and that level of thought would require a lot more repetitive training than they do now.

It would also probably create more standard offensive/defensive matchups. It would be difficult for a defensive stud to focus on 7 or 8 different players, but he might focus on 2 or 3 players, with him matching up on his secondary choices when his primary matchup isn't in the game. The same kind of study would also pay dividends on downfield defense.

Let me put forth a caveat on all of this. I don't think the best defenses are the in your face defense, because of the advantage that rests with the offense (because the defense is reactive). I expect that as the sport evolves, you will see effective switching defenses become a bigger part of the defensive playbook. Right now the switching that occurs is pretty haphazard except for organized stuff like the clam, which is somewhat limited in its effectiveness at the highest levels. Given this statement, I expect that the most effective use of video would be on the mark, at least for individual player tendencies. Obviously, video will be VERY useful in breaking down a team's strategy.


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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Ultimate strategy (more reflections) (and now the read more works)

Wood started an excellent thread over here. I was going to comment on it over there, but I decided that I have been lacking for topics recently, although I have a few drafts going, that I decided to do my own post. At a high level, wood laments the current state of ultimate strategy when compared to certain other professional sports, in particular football. And his post was inspired by an Idris post on field sense.

One of the commenters talked at length about high-level soccer practices and strategy, saying that they are way ahead of where ultimate is right now. However, after I finished reading his comments, I didn't feel that way. I feel they may be way ahead of how to DEVELOP the instincts that Idris and wood discuss, but I don't necessarily feel that the strategy is light years ahead. Let's start from first principles.

I actually think that soccer is the best professional sport to compare to ultimate, in terms of its nonstop action, two-way players, and the wide open field with few positional restrictions. If you wanted to, you could take all 10 non-goalies and flood the front of the 'stack', but the first counterattack, and you would be scored upon (probably). In soccer, you are also trying to develop mini 2-on-1s. Soccer is a series of set plays arising from a fluid field position. The typical strategy might to send the long ball down the sideline, setting up the cross to the middle of the goal for the header goal. I would say the majority of soccer goals are scored that way (this includes a rebound off of this, or a offensive player catching the cross, passing it to another player, etc.). Obviously you have the artiste going up the middle, but it gets crowded in there. The point is how they set up to score and position themselves.

Because it has been around a lot longer than ultimate (and at a lot higher level with actual MONEY), the skills development is much farther along than ulty, so that certain repetitive actions become instinctual. Just as an example, how often has somebody come along in ultimate and taught people how to sky for a disc? At best, you might have a skying drill, but there would be no explanation of the technical aspects of going up for the disc. It was more just to practice. I often thought when Furious first got good, it was in large part because of their deep game, and they just came down with way more than half of the hospital passes. And if you ever watched them at tournaments (which is obviously the only place I saw them), they were inevitably doing individual skying drills with their buddies, with one guy putting it up to 2 or 3 of them, literally for a half hour.

You can't compare football to ultimate because of the stop and go nature of the game. Even successful offensive plays might not last more than 5 seconds, whether a pass or a run. Given the short duration of a given play, the options for adjusting what an individual does are very limited other than the quarterback. It is a chess match to try and exploit a defensive weakness, or again create 2 on 1 mini breaks by overloading one side, feints, pump fakes, etc. This is for the offense at least. Because the defense is reactive, it has to by its nature be more dynamic and ajustable. And you want to try and force the offense to go where you want them to go. Maybe for a given play, they are expecting a pass, and will set up the linebackers in x position, but they will still have enough coverage for the run. Did anybody catch the end of the KC-Dallas game last weekend? When Dallas was going for their final touchdown, they were on the one, and loaded up the line for a run. Drew Bledsoe made a great handoff fake, turned around and found a tight end WIDE open in the endzone. What was even more telling after the fact was when they zoomed in on coach Vermeil and he was SCREAMING at what I assume was the defensive coordinator for the major lapse.

The same situation occurs in ultimate defense. Because we are reacting, we are immediately at a disadvantage, and so we attempt to push the offense out of their comfort zone. Typically a defense should be able to take away at least one thing a point. Hopefully you picked the right thing, and the offense will get flustered and turn it over.

Back to football, to be like ultimate, everybody would have to be quarterback, and every time somebody got the ball, they would have to be the ones that would next lineup under the center and be QB, they wouldn't be able to get the play from the sideline but would have to call it themselves, so everybody would have to have a pretty well rounded basic set of skills unlike the extreme specialization that they have now. There is a good reason you don't see more of the halfback options. To me, it seems like a GREAT play and should be run more often, but if it had the appropriate risk/reward ratio, then you would see it more often.

As for basketball, while it was somewhat non-stop, the value of a particular score is much more devalued than in ultimate, you can only possess the ball for 24 seconds, and anyway, have you seen the NBA these days? Other than the triangle offense, when is the last time you saw things much more complicated than the pick and roll? It is a sad commentary to see how much 1 on 1 is happening these days. Also, the ability of a single player to dominate a game is much more pronounced in basketball (unless Muresan or his equivalent played ultimate, and learned to read the disc in the endzone), since other than the throw-in, he wouldn't necessarily have to EVER pass it to his teammates.

Now I'm not saying there aren't huge strides to be made in ultimate, but considering how young the sport is, I think it has done pretty well for itself in terms of its evolution in both offense and defense. Granted, I am less impressed with the current 'huck it and play D' offense that appears to be gaining converts, but we (DoG) appear to be short the athletes to truly contest that game right now.

A final thought on field sense. While I'm not sure how to develop it, it is much easier to develop it as a handler than as a receiver because
1) You get the disc more often
2) More is expected of you with the disc
3) You have more receivers available to throw to (since they are usually all upfield from you), which means more choices, AND more crowding/poaches to avoid
Consequently, you HAVE to develop it or you basically are consigning yourself to the second tier of the game. My field sense has been probably the only thing that has enabled me to play at the highest levels of the game. I definitely do not have the prettiest throws by any means, but they get there. I would worry less about how your throws look than whether your player will be able to catch it. I see these guys during warmups that are doing these totally exaggerated forehand throwing motions (that also take an extra 1/2 second to release) and chuckle to myself. While they may look pretty to the ignorant bystander, you are putting your team at a disadvantage. Hmmm, I think I can probably expand that to another post. Well, another time.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

The 4th revolt (assuming 1-3 actually count as such)

I guess I need to get on the bandwagon so I can say I was one of the first (after Jim, naturally), but you might find some interesting reading over at this sight. It has some cool, thought-provoking videos.


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