Thursday, November 29

1, 2, 3: Experts Overthink and Agree

Okay, a short list:

1. please stop changing your goddamn format. I know you won't read this and I'm one person out of a thousand, but I spent a few months back when I started this shitty blog making my format work. Looked and investigated the html I needed for what I wanted, typed it all up, made it auto-format for all of the posts, and had the patience and experience w/in the format to go back and correct typing errors. Now? It's a whole different thing that I have to re-learn even though it's the same damn site. That doesn't even start on the fact that now, with your new post-writing format, I can't see the box i'm supposed to type in, don't know where anything is and can no longer find what i'm looking for. I can't effectively scroll down on the damn page to get to the end of my ramblings. I can't even figure out how to put linebreaks in easily, and now my post is one messy shitstorm of a paragraph with "&" all over it. This is like when google groups switched over to the new shitty format. I want the internet to be simple, text-based and consistent as a user. I don't need your fancy-pants UI garbage. Stop changing shit unnecessarily or at least give me another option. Oh, wait... Google's one of the best at the bait-n-switch? Oh. Never Mind, i'll just gfm.

2. I'm still working out a post re: Ultimate in 2012. It's a mess and covers a lot of things, so I'm trying to make it vaguely coherent. Hopefully It'll be up at the beginning of December.

3. Hey, Expert Panel at SkydMagazine: Let's look at Mr. Pooh's question (#2):

 “After playing ultimate since 1995, I’m lopsided from doing thousands and thousands of right leg lunges (to pivot to throw forehands mostly), what are some exercises to rebalance especially my hips and mid/back area?”

Your answers overlook the simplest way to work on balance from right to left sides w/r/t throwing: PRACTICE THROWING&PIVOTING WITH YOUR OFF-HAND.

In an ideal world, we would all be as ambidextrous as Steve Nash, but that's pie-in-the-sky for the future of ultimate. Stopping short of my Utopian views on that, and setting aside the functional usefulness of base-level throwing skills with your non-dominant hand, there are many benefits to using this as a workout tool:

a. the obvious balancing of motions.
b. the slightly-less-obvious balancing of brain-use.
c. the learning of how to teach a hand that can throw how to throw (think of teaching a new player to throw)
d. the use of off-hand throwing as an "active rest" for your dominant hand during extended throwing sessions.
e. the use of off-hand throwing as an "active rest" for your dominant brain during extended throwing sessions.

Okay, not going too much deeper on this, but I find it galling that these experts are looking for complex solutions to a simple problem. All of their suggestions are strong and valid, but they display the prejudice of folks preoccupied with a specific modality of solution. What can you do yourself without a doctor, sports medicine specialist or even a gym? Just throw with your off-hand! Want to make it more strenuous? Do marking drills using only off-pivots and off-hand throws. Yeah, at the beginning you'll look dumb and be bad at it-- just like when you first did marking drills with your dominant hand. Pull with your non-dominant hand. Work on non-dominant footwork in dump-swing situations or in-cut to throwing pivots or whatever. Point is, don't go complex before you go simple.

Often the answer you're seeking is implied in the question you ask.

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Monday, May 14

Rampage at Spinners, Sat. May 5

Welp, I finally made it to an AUDL game And I tweeted the heck out of the first half.  But the Spinners were beating the crap out of the Rampage, so I opted to yell more and type less during the second half.  The game finished 24-18 in Philly's favor, which had the added advantage of making my 7pt pre-game line a rather accurate prediction considering I'd never seen an AUDL game.

Here are my thoughts on what's up with the AUDL, now that I've moved past theoretical debates and actually experienced the product:

- The larger field is excellent.  The only downside to this is that there aren't enough players (yet) who can actually pull far enough to make it to the endzone.  Maybe they lack the experience in trying, but the effective field length for most points was not 80 yards.

- The removal of the double team rule is excellent.  The issue is that the players/teams/coaches have not yet discovered how to use this.  The zones that were run in this game were minor variations on standard ultimate zones.  3-map cup, 1-3-3 matchup... with the width of the field coming into play to provide space for the hammer these zones are rendered largely ineffective.  Those zones are designed to take advantage of the lack of ability of the offense to get completely around the zone due to the 40yd width of the USAU ultimate field.  With the added width, the ability to change the angle of attack increases significantly.

- The wider field. There are far fewer opportunities to get poachblocks.  Personally, this means that I would likely never get a block in AUDL play.  On the other hand, the width of the field would put me in situations on offense that allow for a larger variety of throws to attack the defense.  A good swing pass (w/ or w/o a dump) changes the angle on offense to a degree not previously possible.  The other two thoughts on this are that ultimate players don't yet know how to cut with this width.  Most players up to this point were taught that there is one angle on an in-cut, for example, in large part because with only 40yds to work with, there was generally only one effective angle.  This is now different.  The other is that the largely horizontal cut (as well as the square cut rather than the pure comeback) has much more space to force a defender to commit fully rather than jog at your heels in an attempt to bait the block.

- The speed between points is awesome.

-  The difference in conditioning/strategy btw Spinners and Rampage is a chasm.  I've not seen any other teams play, but... this was striking.  It was apparent by midway through the first quarter that on every possession at least one Spinner(?) was beating his man by 5+yds in every direction.

- The refs.  The refs were inconsequential.  They didn't have to make many calls b/c in large part, ultimate players avoid fouling to begin with because they know no other way of playing.  Contrary to the MLU experience, it is not the gross intentional fouling that becomes insidious in sport, it is the "persistent infringement of the rules" (to steal from soccer) that changes the game.  Rather than one shove or tackle or intentional foul, constant physical play, hands on body restricting movement, subtle shirt-tugging, consistent Matt Murphy-style foot-entanglement, not slowing down quite quickly enough as you transition from receiver to thrower, flopping... these are the things that change over time as refs become the sole arbiter.  The players don't know how to do that yet, so the refs are largely unchallenged.  The experience levels of the refs varied wildly, as did their confidence in the power of the whistle and their ability to communicate with the players to coerce the game to run smoothly.  There was some yapping at the refs, and some missed calls.  This will get worse before it gets better-- I'm not sure who the refs they've got lined up for the future are, but the hope that they will be experienced both w/ ultimate AND reffing is... a hope.  Again, no issues here, but the envelope is far from being pushed.

- The concessions.  The concessions were... rabidly expensive for Spinners gear ($30 for a hat?) and rather cheap for food and the like.  If you want to make a mint selling something at AUDL games, get a license to sell alcohol and stock the cooler up with craft brews. 

- The overwhelming presence of Trey.  Here I am at a semi-pro ultimate game, and it sounds just like nearly every club tournament I've been to from 2003-2012... a dull patter of players, coaches, fans and passerbys saying things, an occasional collective sound in appreciation of a play and then this one voice just tearing through everything at what seems to be a unique frequency available only to him.  The guy is unique in ultimate-- let's just leave it at that.  The only other Trey note is that it looks like he finally learned how to throw.

- The crowd.  no comments on the size (we were at some random high school in Philly-- not exactly Franklin Field) but the intelligence of the crowd was solid.  They were reacting not just to first level plays (skies, big throws and the like) but also displayed an understanding of the game.  They mostly seemed to be parents of ultimate players, with a smattering of kids and college kids.  The demographic missing?  The male from 18-35.

On the whole, the game was well managed and presented.  Watching this, it is unclear why so many people have been down on the idea of ultimate as a viable spectator sport for so long.  If it was just the refs and the professional presentation (field, announcer, scoreboard), all ultimate players prior to the AUDL who wanted this to happen should be ashamed of themselves and walk up to Ulticritic and say "You were right."  If there is something more than that (using a frisbee, a relative newcomer to the sporting world; lack of true athletes; origins of the game [elitist b/c of only existing at colleges for so long]; whatever else) well, it was only a matter of time.

If the marketability of this sport is due to the elimination of self-reffing, everyone who played pre-AUDL *and believed in spirit of the game as a governing principle* should be ashamed of themselves.  The reason that the reffed version is different is because of the elimination of arguments, not the efficacy of the system in terms of making accurate calls.  That is, every time you:

- argued a call instead of "contest/no contest", 
- stomped around in a circle in anger
- threw the disc over to an adjacent field b/c "fuck that guy"
- refused to abide by a legit call
- didn't grasp that "best perspective" does not mean "closest player"
- made a call to get back at someone
- made borderline travel calls to slow the game down
- continued to throw after you heard the call
- fouled intentionally
- never actually read the rulebook which you were required not only to abide by but to enforce
- cheated in whatever other way when you *knew goddamn well you were cheating*

you were digging the grave for self-officiating.  If you agreed to play ultimate, you agreed not to do those things to the best of your ability.  By not doing so, you chose to undermine the game.  You perverted it in the most insidious fashion possible.  You broke the system and proved to everyone all over again that humans are not to be trusted- not even in something as trivial as a game.  Ultimate was built, to some degree, on very lofty ideals.  To play the game was to agree to attempt to live up to those ideals to the best of your ability.  If you never even tried... well, you were just a reject from some other sport or someone who never gave Ultimate a chance.  You were forcing your own ideals onto the game rather than agreeing to the conceit of ultimate.  This is like playing a soccer match, picking the ball up, running it into the goal and then telling the ref that *he* doesn't know the rules as he gives you a redcard.

Anyway, it was a fun overall experience and I will go to another game when/if I'm close to a game in the future. 

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Wednesday, May 2

RIP Junior Seau

The end is dark.
I am not the man who knows, I am the man who hopes he doesn't know. 

Junior Seau is dead from a (reportedly self-inflicted) gunshot wound to the chest. Echoes of Dave Duerson. 

I'm not a Seau aficionado, but I paid attention to him as a player, and appreciated that he seemed to (at least try to) walk upright in the world. 

This is not about that. This is about the nightmare of life-after-[]. In his case, it was life-after-football. 

I'm sure the lingering pain is relevant, the concussions piled upon concussions, the blown knees and shoulders. NFL players were always motivators to me, as a player (This whole Brian Dawkins video is great, but I've cued it to the moment that tells the most about what it is to put the Team First). They displayed the level of caring for results to the point of sacrifice that I always wished I could emulate, however weakly, however meekly. 

The palimpsest of my reinventions is muddled at best. The fearless animal I rewrote with sweat&blood over the unsure neophyte was necessarily temporary. I was a roaring lion once. I am now a calm center. 

What then comes next? Junior Seau thought he would surf. I'm trying to ride Ellis Kim's Seated (Awesome Loaner) Bike. I still think I've played my last "real" game, but I'll never totally rule out playing again-- I've never been as good at anything in my life as I was at being on a Nationals-level club frisbee team. I love having time and not experiencing constant burning knee pain. I don't love time like I loved ultimate. I don't love ultimate like I loved ultimate. That path is closed. I don't know which way is open. 

I didn't make any money playing ultimate, but I made my fortune playing ultimate. 
Ultimate wasn't my job, but it was my occupation. 

Junior's path is one that seems all to real to me. Some days are so dark and cold... I miss my teammates. Some days are so long and pointless... I miss my single-mindedness. Some days I work against my better judgement to turn my goddamned brain off and just make it to sleep time so I can see the sun rise again in the morning.  It is always mostly downhill from there.

What if the pain and longing doesn't change? What if it intensifies instead of abating? What if my mind turns out to be more flawed than my body? Could that be me? Would I...? 

After rain the sun shines, after sun the rain falls. 

There is so much I see in the world now that I've broadened my focus, But what if it all always pales in comparison to this? Or the other myriad moments which were not captured so adroitly? 

I didn't make it to the NFL, where the stakes are higher. I can't imagine what it is like. I can't pretend that I would be strong enough of mind (let alone the obvious body) to get there and survive, let alone thrive. I'm not coming down from the same heights, but I'm coming down. I just don't know how far I have yet to fall 

My thoughts&wishes are nothing, but I wish with all my nothings that you found peace, Junior Seau.

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Tuesday, January 10

Wizards: 011012

There is a chance Michael Lee not a particularly observant spectator.

A mere four sentences in to his recap of the Wizards loss to the Timberwolves, he reports that "Coach Flip Saunders helplessly searched for a player who would at least show mock interest in competing". Garbage. And I will name names.

The list starts with Chris Singleton. Unmentioned in the article, Singleton, with the help of Rashard Lewis's absence, (Also unmentioned in the article. These were the two most remarkable things from the game.) started his first career NBA game after doing more than compete in each home game this season. He flusters a variety of opponents on the defensive end in the SF to G slots and passes the ball on offense.

The list does not include Andray Blatche, who, as best as I can tell, does not like playing basketball and isn't particularly good at anything other than being appropriately sized and wanting to score. Noncontextually, of course.

The list includes John Wall, whose one-man fastbreak layups are not only the best offensive option the Wizards possess, but they are his inexplicable otherworldy talent. This is what is worth watching about Wall. This is his gift. He will take the ball from below the defensive FT line, look upcourt, see 3-4 defenders and 1-2 teammates and proceed beat them all to the basket. John Wall + Water = Fast Break.

The list does not include Jordan Crawford. He's like a cross between Andray Blatche and Jamal Crawford. Except without Jamal's ability to get scorching hot or Blatche's ability to collect rebounds by default.

The list includes JaVale McGee. This guy is a true NBA center. He's, admittedly, still developing moves other than "Fake to the lane, pivot to the baseline and out-freak-athlete the defender toward the rim somehow", but he blocks shots, rebounds, runs the floor and finishes at the rim. Plus the announcer loves his name.

The list includes Nick Young. I know it looks like he isn't trying. And his chronic inability to pass to the wide-open player is spellbinding. The thing is, he simply doesn't do either of those things. He also doesn't play defense. He is, however, the most reliable isolation scoring option on the team. He can score buckets against NBA-level defenders. He cannot read a defense and make decisions. One-on-one, he's a tough cover. Oh, and he's constantly using his lack of obvious effort to trick you into a cheap turnover or two.

The list includes Booker, Seraphin, Mason and Mack. They're all good. None of them seem particularly great at anything. They don't stand out, but they can play. They don't know when it is their turn and when it is someone else's turn, but they're not black holes on offense, and they're not terrible at defense. They are system guys. They have to be taught the O and D and how to make decisions based on the system, rather than what they are individually thinking. Heck, McGee, Singleton and Wall are ALL system players in a half-court offense. They do each shine at other individual aspects of the game though.

The list does not include Flip Saunders. He has a young athletic team which thrives on being aggressive. To wit:

1. The 10 blocked shots by the Wizards against the Timberwolves.
2. The Wizards lead the league in blocked shots and average 3.25 more blocks than their opponents per game.
3. The Wizards are 8th in the league in total steals and outsteal their opponents by 2.38 per game, good for 4th best in the league.

I don't mean to suggest that the Wizards are particularly good at defense. That would be dumb: They are giving up the 4th most points per game in the league, and are being outrebounded by 8 per game, the worst in the league. Sure, this has to do with their lack of an actual PF who beats the piss out of his opponents down low to compliment McGee's athleticism, but it also has to do with a lack of belief. To commit yourself to rebounding is to commit yourself to punishment and redemption. You must believe that even though your idiot teammate can't shoot, that you'll give up your body and the team will do better with this extra possession. You must believe that even though your opponent got off a shot, they missed it and now you will give up your body so that the team will score on offense.

The Wizards, as a collective, totally lack this belief.

Individually, players believe they can score. Systemically, they do not. They do not believe that they get easy buckets from their offense, because they don't. The ball stops at inappropriate times and continues at worse. The players run the plays, but they don't know what, exactly, is supposed to come out of them.

On the other hand, they go on runs. They get a generate a couple of steals/blocks back-to-back and Wall generates a couple of one-man fastbreaks. The pace of the game increases. The heartrate in the building and the opponents goes up. They show off how athletic they are by taking risks and covering for each other. Steals and blocks indicate activity and effort.

Then the Wizards lose hope. Blatche tries to ride someone else's fire. Crawford self-immolates. Someone other than Nick Young tries to create on offense. (I'm looking at YOU, Singleton and Wall.) JaVale doesn't jump for a board. They lose belief in their ability to compete.

This team needs to play faster. This team needs to press. This team needs to gamble. This team, the youngest team in the league, needs to run their opponents out of the gym. They need to run into their opponents on fastbreaks. They need to run right up their defender's chest on the break. They need to never be in a half-court offense. They need to learn the slow break to compliment the fast break. The best way to forget about failure is to move on to the next act as quickly as possible.

This team needs to know their roles. They do not. They are all alternately overreaching and under-efforting. Taking it easy during the parts of the game they need to work harder and putting too much on their own shoulders when they need to share the load. These are things a coach teaches them to do.

When I first started watching the Wizards this season, Flip Saunders looked like he was in his first season. I was shocked to learn that he's been here for years. Then, I read Mike Wise's piece on the Wizards being "dismal by design" which inexplicably exonerates Saunders from any wrong-doing. While the piece does succinctly recap what, exactly, led to this team being 0-8 over the years, it paints a picture of Flip painfully sitting on the sideline while Blatche says crazy shit, JaVale says ignorant shit and players-only meetings are the end of the world. Well, Blatche is lost on this team, JaVale is trying to be friendly while playing rather well, and player-only meetings are just meetings.

Then Mr. Wise plays a quick round of the Blame Game, as if something like an 0-8 start can be directed at an individual. The problem is systemic. The players do not believe in their system, Flip is powerless in Leonsis&Grunfeld's system, Leonsis&Grunfeld system is built within the league system which works over years rather than games.

Flip is therefore one who must change his system. He has already lost the ability to make these players believe that they can compete. As he was quoted in Mr. Lee's article, "You can't give 82 Knute Rockne speeches every night." Yes, I agree. The issue is that speeches, while they can pull deeply-felt truths to the surface, cannot create belief. In competition, success creates belief. With the Wizards, Mr. Saunders has not created success. No, 49-123 is not all his fault, as Mr. Wise adeptly explains on his behalf. It is, however, the record the Wizards see when they look at their coach as well as the record they feel in the ruts of the offensive and defensive strategies they implement.

The Wizards do not have hope, redemption, faith, belief or science to cling to. They simply need change. They need something exciting. They need new traditions. Dig out that old full and 3/4 court press. Opponents are scoring just fine, maybe they'll be caught off-guard. Drop into some trap-zone and trap-man looks in the half court. Losses don't come by much more than 13pts per night, which leads the league. Convince your opponents to sign the turnover compact and plot a more variable course for the evening. Bring out an irrational box-and-one or a goofy 2-2-1. Increase the total number of possessions in the game for both teams by encouraging quicker shots on both ends with defensive gambles matched with a constant dead sprint on offense. More possessions equals more steals and more blocks. More abrupt changes from half-court defense to full-court offense. More running, more gunning. There is literally nowhere to go but up.

This is the turnaround moment in the movie. The moment when the old ball coach tries something new, or the moment when the old ball coach is fired for a new experimental ball coach. This is when we receive grainy footage transmitted by slightly arcane technology of something fresh, yet totally ancient. An inspiration for a group of rebels, waging an uneven war. Mobilizing the youth to believe in an iconic, photogenic leader. Decked out in an interpretation of the colors of his home nation's flag: Red, white and blue.

No, not President Obama in 2008 as HOPE for the legions who had not felt their vote mattered before him. A reference far more lasting:

"Help me Obi-[J]an, you're my only hope."

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