Saturday, November 13

Burn Out or Fade Away?

Neil Young and I have the same problem

No, not hilarious yet awesome yet embarrassing yet captivating videos on the web.
(Well, maybe)

More that the things we promised never to do when we were younger, we did precisely. Promises take work to keep. Dreams take time to build.

I faded out of ultimate, like I never thought I could.

It started with my body. After the punishing Southpaw tryouts, I was a wreck. It was literally having one of the most taxing tournaments you've played in, but every weekend. From the second week in April through when I got cut the second to last week of May. My body literally cannot keep up that pace any longer. Every step I took on the field became a brutal chore rather than a joyous bounce. Everything burned in practice, which I used to hungrily lap in incomprehensible cats-solving-complex-four-dimensional-fluid-problems-with-little-more-than-a-tongue-water-and-evolution-like-ways and turn into fuel. Or sustenance. Or something.

This time, every single step hurt. I mean, during the week. Like, from Monday to Thursday. Everything hurt. My knees were on fire every day. Inflamed. Swollen. This is ACLs replaced and partial meniscectomies on both knees doing what all the doctors told me they would eventually do. There are only so many miles on a car. There are only so many miles pain-free in knees. I reached that mark during tryouts, if not before (without realizing it). I hadn't accepted it, but this is what occurred, as I know now.

I wasn't ready to accept this at all, so I tried out with PoNY. They eventually took me on as a full-time player, when previously I explained that I was interested in a practice player role, due to the way my body was feeling this season. I got to play a perfect amount of points at some great tourneys (YAY ECC!, CUT, Boston Invite, Chesapeake Open) but at some point it was just completely apparent to me that I didn't have it anymore.

I don't know what it was in the first place, but it wasn't there anymore. It was a blast to go to practices with PoNY. They were some of the best practices I've been at in terms of high-level execution, precision, competition and general good-attitude work. They were intense, brief and organized. I don't personally agree with all of the strategic decisions, but those decisions were well above my pay grade, and I knew that they were made with forethought and discussion. I offered my bits that I felt could be easily changed for the better without dramatically altering the plans in place. I left out the crazy stuff I think on re: Ultimate strategy.

I bought into what they did when I saw how it worked. I experienced the other side of what happens when you play PoNY. They wear you out. Everything feels like it is going swimmingly for your O, and then all of the sudden, you've given up a quintuple-bird-strike and the motherfuckers are all yelling about already doing work around the clock while a whole fresh 7 are on the line already while your O-team is walking back to the line knowing exactly what is coming their way because the hybrids have only shown what feels like one defensive look all game which is similar in execution to The Great Wall of China. That is, you keep bumping up against it, even though you know where it is, what it looks like and what it is going to do when you make casual contact. The problem is that the fucker is too stubborn to give up.

PoNY D-Line 2010 was approximately 10 handlers and 6 cutters. Some players are hybrids, some of them play O and D. This meant that there was never any reason to panic on O after the turn. In games where we played our game and just completed passes, we brutalized O-teams. In games where we got antsy and over-aggressive with our throws, we sometimes won, sometimes lost. If the O had a bad game with an antsy D game? Big loss.

This was a great team to play with. Great. The average skill-level on PoNY was off-the-charts. The average skill set of "game-ready" throws/catches/cuts was just kinda... impressive. No one was ever surprised at the huge plays. They were so damn... routine.

The way that I played this year? Not-great. So subpar by my own standards that I just... I couldn't commit to being that average. I couldn't buy in to going on the field and being just... so... irrelevant. I could no longer dictate where my guy should go when I was covering him because my feet just didn't move as quickly as I remember them doing. Mentally or physically, I don't know where the "it" that was missing resides, but it wasn't there. I was terrified of my guy busting deep on me in a way that never was before. As soon as the field opened up, everyone kept getting further away from me. It was like doing track workouts with Malcolm Baker back in 06-07 or whenever. That guy was always accelerating over whatever the distance was. That is what every single cut over 30 yards felt like. I had to work so hard to box guys into a little space so that they couldn't or wouldn't cut because if they got out of the little box I put them in, I was dead.

I was so used to folks only getting out of the box to learn that I had somehow suckered them into thinking that I was slow. Now I was suckering myself into thinking that I was still fast. What a nightmare. On a team where individual matchups are prioritized over help-d, switching, poaching, different zones and the like, the worst player on the field is the guy who doesn't know his strengths and weaknesses.

Offensively, I felt good. I had some timing/expectation issues early on in terms of adjusting to playing a primarily Vert Stack for the first time in 4 years. And a Vert stack with a very different plan on how to attack the field from that set. The Ho-stack that I had played for 3 years was now out. When we did run Ho, it was also very differently focused than the Pike Ho was.

I never really got used to looking downfield for more than 1 second. I'd trained myself to move the disc as quickly as possible to the first set of open hands I saw (be they 70 or .7 yards away) that I was very uncomfortable catching the disc, coming to a stop and waiting for a cutter to set up a cut. The time it takes to do that is all of... 2 seconds. But when my emphasis has been on getting the disc out before stall 2, waiting until stall 4 seems like an eternity. My problem, I know, and I worked on it, I just... it never felt *right* or I never got natural with it. I had a truly difficult time focusing on this when throwing/tossing with folks. I've always found this a great time to work on "Catch->throw" mechanics. Now I was trying to consciously stop all of my momentum, set my feet, and then step out and throw. Very difficult. I'm always working to never be stationary.

The worst part of Regionals and Nationals (the worst parts of the rest of the season were hearing "nice bid" on things that I knew should be blocks and feeling the surprise in the voices of my teammates when they learned I used to be able to dunk. Those moments cut in ways I can't describe without taking more time to find and parse the language than I want to do here. Suffice to say that previously non-existant issues re: "definition of self" and "identity" were left crashing and collapsing in upon themselves in an orgy of sadness.) was being on the sideline and knowing that my team needed the player that I used to be. Knowing that the little tiny chink in the d-teams armor was perfectly me-sized. The problem was that I was no longer me-sized. I was no longer utterly tireless. I was no longer ready to put myself on the line physically for the disc. I was no longer sure that I'd get there or that the other guy would blink before me. My confidence was shot, in a sense. I still don't know if my mental game weakened my physical game or if my physical game weakened my mental game, but this is again returning to the aforementioned missing "it".

Every time I went out for a run, my knees would burn for the rest of the day, and would be swollen for 2 days. So I stopped running so much. I replaced running with pullups, squats, medball slams, lunges, burpees, &c. Which leads me to my new favorite exercise: The pull-urpee. Do a burpee, but when you jump up, jump up to a pullup bar, and do a pullup. This is what kept me in something resembling "shape". It, along with the copious amounts of medball slamming and throwing (w/ 4lb variety to facilitate armspeed), made a perfect triangle for success in getting my throws better. I feel like another plane has been crossed in that department, and a whole new vista has opened up.

I still love throwing. LOVE it. The disc still fascinates me. The problems to be solved in-game with a disc are awesome. This is all good news. The problem is that the rest of "it" is so much more difficult now... blah blah blah.

(OH! a new fun fitness goal is the musclurpee. Yes, a burpee with a muscle-up on top.)

What this means for me is a mixed bag. Without "it" I should not be on a team with Nationals-level expectations. But I like to play. I am finding again how to find joy in each step, now that I can have it be fun rather than work (And yes, I found PoNY's method of convincing me to Do Work far more convincing than Southpaw's. But we are all wired differently). Then again, I can't take this game too hard anymore because I always said that if I had to take ibuprofen to play, I should be done. That finally happened this year. Depressing, but the only way to forget my knees for long enough to feel free to give on the field.

Yeah, if I'm running for my life, I won't notice. I used to be able to substitute in that equation based on "life=plastic". I can't now. I can't summon up the demon any more. The fiend for the disc. The part of me obsessed with beating you to that piece of plastic just up and R-U-N-N-O-F-T. The part of me that wants to beat you with my throws stopped, dropped and opened up shop, however.

(Yes, that's O Brother Where Art Thou? followed by DMX. I demand that they may or may not be congruous.

Yes, that's a Vroomfondel and Majikthise [Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy] reference.)

If Mosh is any indication, this means I still have a future in the fun-tourney circuit (However, the first round bye filled with hot tub and breakfast stouts may continue to make Sunday's play mentally optional). If PADA is any indication, I still have a future in the league circuit.


Neil Young is still putting out albums. They are still good. They still rock sometimes and they still folk-out sometimes. They are nowhere near as vital as what he put out earlier. They are not as incredible. They can't be. They come after and in the same vein as the the incredible things that done earlier. The incredible things born of a belief that what you're doing matters. That the moment is important. That every note is vital and could be part of a musical moment that is never forgotten. That every step on the field is vital and could be part of a physical moment that is never forgotten.

I don't believe any longer.

I'd rather exist on the field in meaningless moments that envelop me wholly than moment upon moment of "The most important moment of the game, your career, your life". Or, failing that, "At least as important as all the other moments which are not the most-important moments". I'm at the point where each point played is just another point. Each throw is just another throw.

I lose my( )self in the unimportance and impermanence of so many discrete moments.

This too shall pass.

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Thursday, November 4

Braincklog of Thoughts

This is not about anything in particular,

but rather an old-school spewfest of ultimate related schtuff.

If that hasn't scared you, uh, maybe the verbal tic represented, uh, textually will, y'know, convince you that this is now what you think it should have been.

1. Wildcards.
Growth wildcards should be burnt at the stake. Or in effigy. Either achieves the same. Meaning is meaningless. I think we all agree here. At least in club. I still don't care about college, even though that's the real division. We really believe that growing the memebership is relevant to which teams deserve a shot at the NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP? Fuck off.

Size wildcards are an abomination. The difference btw the NE and the CN was 2 teams. 2 teams that had nothing to do with the competition to get to Nationals. Something like... well, we should have put together 2 7-man teams who showed up for the first point of the first game and then bagged. Or we should have convinced the local colleges (NYU for example) to go as women's and men's teams instead of coed teams. Yup. College should always be about choosing whether to hang out with chicks or send someone you've never met to Florida.

Strength wildcards are a year off. The MA has 2 strength bids. The MA DOES NOT HAVE 4 NATIONALS-LEVEL TEAMS. In fact, I can't recall it ever having 4 nationals-level teams. Great. Good showing by Truck, Ring and Paw, but... who makes the 4th bid in 2011?? Can't we take away the bid based on "Virginia Squires" "Medmen" and "XRATES"? And give it to... I don't know... a region with ECU&Rhino? A region with Bodhi&GOAT? These strength wildcards are a misnomer. They cannot and do not attempt to measure current strength. They measure past strength based on the results of one tourney. Yes, we all know that it is the biggest tourney in the world and the best and that everything is on the line and all (for example, PoNY's loss to Truck Stop was a biggie for strength wildcards, and as such, the NE has no one to blame but itself, in the end.) but it is literally one tournament played by a portion of the teams in a region. Wouldn't Strength of a Region be determined by the regions competing against each other rather than the top 2-4 teams competing against each other? If I'm not mistaken, all that does is determine which of those teams is better. The application of that data to the whole region is fucking dubious.

2. Refs/Observers.
Solve nothing. They solve NOTHING. They just change the locus of responsibility. Would you rather have an issue with an opponent making a call (An opponent with whom you can speak, converse, find a middle ground and move on) or an observer (with whom you can get TMF-ed etc for discussing shit with passion)? BEcause you can't handle the authority that self-officiating gives you? Or is it the responsibility? That said... active line, goal, up/down and stallcounts should be handled by non-players. An arbiter is useful, but wouldn't you rather be a grownup and solve the problem yourself? Wouldn't you rather make good choices when no one is watching than when you're being hovered over? Yes, this allows you to cheat, but you can cheat with observers and refs too. If I grab my opponents jersey w/o observers, the guy will likely turn to me after saying "foul" and say "if you do that again, we'll have some problems." we're in control. Iff we do that with observers and I know that I pulled the guys shirt from an angle that the observer could not see... Welp, I'm going to the observer. I've been trained by soccer and basketball to know where the refs are, know what they can see and can't. When I go to the observer after obviously and tactically cold-bloodedly fouling you, he will uphold my cheating.

There are loopholes in all rulesets (or did Godel not stick with you?). We caan still choose where those loopholes lie in ultimate. We can still take control and say "I believe we can all be adults about this meaningless game." Or we can say "Y'know what? I don't like responsibility."

Fucking punt and decide you're not an adult if you like.
Cheat against me in all the self-reffed games you like.
Take the "win". It is a matter of perspective.
I want you to get what you want
I want me to get what I want

3. PoNJ
NJ isn't a state unto itself. It exists at the pleasure of NY and PA. The only joy of living in NJ is the ability to play in either the MA or the NE. The NYC metropolis might actually cover as much ground in NJ as NY (anyone who tells you that the space from the Hudson to the far side of Newark is not NYC is a moron. Newark is just for folks who haven't made it to NYC yet. Much like Connecticut. Hell, you could extend this to people who live in Philly and commute to NYC every day on the train to work.) The notion that a whole team could move from one side of a river to the other within the same metropolis, keep the same jobs, move into bigger apartments and have a commute that is either the same or shorter and as a result switch regions is a absurd.

4. Yes, the beer tent was waaaaaaaay emptier.
But the sidelines had a shit-ton more coolers full of beer. Yup. Environmentally responsible, that's the USAU! OR, excuse me, that's the insurance folks! Waaaay to worried about drunk people to sniff out "Wait, there will be more cans, bottles (tho they're illegal at the site) coolers, bags of ice, solo cups &c which are all not actually things we need more of!" IF you want ultimate players to spend time in your beer tent, you need to do a goddamn price comparison. 3 dollars per shitty beer is not as good as 30 shitty beers for under a dollar each. Maybe ramp up the selection? Maybe... encourage people to be social and spectate? Definitely folks leaving the fields "to get beer" and never coming back. Yup. Huge spectator sport we've got here.

5. D5.
Big shout outs to Zac&Jeff for reppin' old school NYU in the mixed finals!

6. Troll 2
P(heart)Troll 2. That is all there is.

7. Twitter. CRUSHED in terms of usefulness, timeliness, interest and all of that. Similar: Who was nominated from allof the teams for the spirit awards? Who can't call me "Dusty Rhodes" instead of "SAMUEL DUSTY RHODES" on the scorereporter? Who can't get any pre-nationals in-depth writeups (I'd link to the 2003 ones, but they don't exist)? Who can't have a separate site with a clean url (like... Who erases all of their history in order to rebrand with a new dumb acronym?

Look, USAU, I am generally pro-you. You do a lot of things. I pay little money for it. But really? You go from having nice, working website2 for CLUB NATIONAL CHAMMPIONSHIPS to which i can direct friends, family and freaks to this piece of shit USAU ugly scorereporter thing? This is what you want? Yeah, you're right. History sucks. Sustainability is for the birds, and archives blow chunks. I would rather have more page views because no one can find anything on my goddamned site. And certainly not from a mobile phone! Thanks for loading up ludicrously crowded field maps ( such that my phone can't view it. Is it because you thought no one would see the portojohns? or that non one would see the water? Wait... it doesn't matter, I couldn't view the goddamn map from the phone that I was using at the site anyway.

Mike G sez it best

And I can actually go back and see what the score was at different points of the game??? Dump the USAUltimate site altogether, add rosters, and apply the RRI algorithm. Get it over with.

8. Tournament Food.
This is not only about nationals, but who the fuck is in charge of this stuff? Bagels without peanut butter? Bread and fruit without protein? Seriously? How long has this been going on? How many studies have shown? HAnd out some jerkey or PB or other nutbutter (giggle away, children) or whatever. I don't think that tourneys should necessarily provide food, but if you take on that responsibility, do it right! Care for the bodies of others. Even Gatorade caught on that carbs and salt aren't enough!

9. Tournament Food pt 2
I haven't been to a single ultimate tourney where someone is selling breakfast other than Poultry Days. Why? Ultimate players are all responsible enough to eat before they get to the fields?

10. See y'all in the future, my high level open career is happily, thankfully, mercifully, whatevery over.
I'll lurk around for a while, eventually move to coaching and I'll continue play at fun tourneys (Mosh, Ultimax, Kaimana up next), but the journey is done. The real work? The heavy lifting? The willingness to put myself in a hospital for my teammates? Over. I'm removing the meanings I imbued the spinning disc with for so long to reconstruct a real life. Instead of only caring about plastic and whether I could catch it or not, I'll saddle up and give real life a real shot. The years of escape are over. I think I should apply to college. Wait... I already graduated? Really? For years? Yikes.

Anyone want to hire me?

I suppose even if the answer is "yes" no one who reads this blather will hire me.

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