Sunday, February 10

Small-Sided Success

There I was... awake, but without a ride.

Something about Long Island, Hofstra and "Girls, Girls Girls." I hadn't made the trip with those idiots, but by the time I got back to my apartment, my ride was on his way to Long Island, and those were the words he and his traveling friend were shouting into the phone. I had been out until about 2 and realized that this phone conversation, at 5am, no matter what promises were made, would not result in me having a ride to pickup a mere 6 hours later.

I made my plan. I would get a couple further hours of sleep, cook breakfast, get ready and get on the path train by 11am. This way if the ride miraculously comes through, I can just get on the PATH train in the other direction, lose on 1.50 and get a ride. If the ride, as expected, falls through, then I'm well on my way to a normally timed arrival at pickup.

As I got up a couple of hours later, I was very pleased with my plan as I got to cooking a ham-n-cheddar omelet. Had an orange with it and then a great cup of french-pressed coffee. Yemen Mocha, if you must know. Excellent breakfast. now, as I watch sportscenter on mute with my tunes cranked to a rather high volume for 10:20am. At least I could imagine someone else would think of it as too high a volume.

Back to the coffee for a moment. My mom was nice enough to buy a little french press for me for christmas. It makes one cup at a time of the thickest, strongest coffee I could want. Well, at least thus far. It decreases the amount of actual coffee I drink and increases the quality of said coffee. Perfect.

Anyway, so I get on the train on time and all and get on the njtransit train and then walk to the fields. I then decide that I should sit down and have a lite second breakfast of another orange and some cashews. So I do. I then walk over to the usual meeting place and see that we've got low numbers. No worries, we can play mini. It is at his point that someone comments on thinking they saw me sitting on a bench earlier. Nope. Couldn't have been me having breakfast again.

So we set up for mini and play maybe 5 best out of 5 series. Maybe more. Lots of winning, some losing, some not losing. I love the way that players think in mini versus in ultimate. In mini, everyone is thinking "I'm open right now, all I have to do is catch the thrower's eye." In ultimate people lose track of that tremendous advantage throwers and receivers have and get bogged down into heavily structured offenses or the rote memorization of patterns without deviation. The patters provide the framework. The thing with mini is that it cuts down on the complexity of the pattern. From 14 players to track to 6 players to track. This helps you see the same situations over and over and over again from each of 6 different perspectives. Plus "sideline" as we were running hockey-style (or WWF style, as one player commented) subs on the fly.

Small sided games like mini and then boot* are so damn fun early in the season when you've got no actual weak links on the field. When you adhere to the first rule of mini, ie "No Chumps" you're inextricably bound for a good time. If, when I say "No Chumps" you think I might be talking to you... I am.

Yeah, the games can get goofy, but both mini and boot have self-limiting goofiness/chumpiness factors. In mini, you can lose at -2, so turnovers always count. In boot, you can be lazy but you can't be uncaring or unfocused, otherwise you get scored on immediately as the field changes direction. Even if you can't figure out the strategy, you can be effective by simply standing next to one set of cones playing only defense. Just don't do anything bad in boot, and you'll be good.

As we switched to boot later on, much to the delight of the primarily Jersey-based crowd, there were the classic opening blunders of people unsure of the strategy, but as we switched the teams up to get even rookies and vets to the game, it quickly became a quick-moving constantly evolving game. Including Walt's clinic on classic post-play in boot. You can't give him position or the game's over. My team tended to hoist early, bad shots near the goals, but we were running the spread O very nicely and crisply. We just needed to work for slightly better scoring opportunities on our man-advantage breaks, which are the whole point of the game.

Interestingly, I find mini and boot to mirror PoNY and Pike's strengths and weaknesses rather eerily. In mini, there is a premium placed on beating your man when it is your turn. When you're the guy in the open space, find a place to be open, and the thrower will deliver the pass. Hammer, blade, huck, under, break, whatever. Sure, keep it moving, but those higher skill-level throws are often the correct decision right away. Focus on snapping your throws,
no matter the flight path, into a small space versus hard man D. Catching all of those throws confidently. Work on making eye contact and realizing that every 6 inches of advantage over a defender is a potential completion if the receiver can catch with both hands and consistently read the disc soon after the thrower releases it. The pressure to make higher skill-level throws and completions is always there. They aren't impossible throws by any stretch. The field's not huge, so you don't have to rip the disc. It isn't crowded, so there are few poach D's (though some opportunities present themselves). But you do have to beat your man and make good throws under pressure.

In boot, there is so much space and you can always change directions to get a better look or a different advantage. You don't have to beat your man so much as you have to out-think your man. Difficult throws aren't as important as accurate, basic throws with a high level of field awareness. If I can always attack in two directions, and the defender must chose one way or the other to defend me, then i always have an advantage in another direction than the one I'm attacking. If we've got a 3 on 3 here and they're all playing good d, if we sprint to the other set of cones we'll have a 3 or 4 on 1. If I position myself well, when I catch this bailout pass, I can start a 2 on 1 in the other direction. Just run the floor! That's been Pike's strength for a while. Yeah, we had some sick receivers and individual talents, but using their individual strengths as the key variations from our basic-level structured offense was what carried that team to a new level. Being aware enough as players on O to change the angle of a attack seemingly on a dime as a group of 7 players was the key to their success.

Yeah, the offense wasn't "Huck into coverage" but when certain players are only covered by one guy going deep, there is no coverage.

Just like with some throwers, the phrase "if he's even, he's leavin'" particularly applies. With a truly great thrower, the disc arrives on the side of your body in the place to which you were already running such that all you have to do is run where you were already going and catch the disc. No adjustment, no late defensive bid to worry about. You're open and the disc is where it needs to be so that that defender already knows he's beaten. When that great thrower makes a slight error, that's when the great receiver makes the great play under pressure. Or the great defender makes his great play and comes up big. That gray area is where games are won and lost. 4 plays like that can be the difference between 15-11 and 11-15.

Celebrate your gray area plays and players-- they're the game-changers. The rest of your team, and the rest of your offense are the blue-collared workers. You've got to acknowledge those plays every day. Encourage those plays at practice until they become the first option. Those are the plays and players that make the big plays that happen under pressure valuable. Without their work, big plays happen in meaningless games or in meaningless points.

I know I've gone on a crazy tangent here, but I've been thinking about what makes a winning team in ultimate or even other sports a lot recently. I think this is directly related to being a captain now and that I feel like that's the sort of question I should be able to answer, considering my goal is to be a member of a winning team. I love thinking this way. Anyway, I'll just return to the earlier point:

Pickup in NB was awesome today. No Chumps. Yes Wind. Yes Weather. Hours upon hours of high-level disc games. Keep pushing. Always more to learn. Always more to improve on. Better throws, better cuts. Quicker motion from catch to throw. More balanced on defense. More aggressive as a cutter. More. Better vision. Always something to work on. Always something to improve. Always a new throw to perfect. Always.

The burrito afterward were certainly no slouch either. I think I'll have to make a habit of that place.

On the train ride home all I could think of was "I can think of no day I'd rather have." There might be something wrong with me for thinking that, but I don't care any more.

*- New Brunswick Boot Variation: Stall starts at 6 (like mini) and cones are more like 4 feet apart than 4 yards such that one player can almost guard both of them. I think we also played to 5 instead of 3.

No comments: