Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Random Spew on Catching

So Brodie just posted a video about catching.  It got me thinking about writing a post on catching, but without a way to structure a bunch of random thoughts, I just have a mess of ramblings on catching, both obvious and non-obvious.
  • Catch the disc however you feel most comfortable.  That said, get comfortable catching the disc in a lot of different ways.
  • Actively open your hands and spread your fingers.  I notice as I fatigue, I sometimes don’t open my hands up as wide and am more prone to not take the disc in cleanly.
  • Watch the disc all the way into your hands.  It enhances hand-eye coordination to see your hands.  I have a tendency on low passes to reach down without looking down, and the disc is actually out of my field of vision at the point of the catch.
Soft Hands and Claw Catching
  • In football, people talk about receivers with soft hand – treating the ball like an egg.  Not as much of an emphasis on this in frisbee, but I remember when I first started using the claw catch (took me a while to get it), watching Billy Rodriguez play and being amazed that I couldn’t hear the disc hitting his hands.
  • On the other side of the spectrum, I see a lot of players stab at the disc when they’re claw catching on an incut.  There’s something to be said about being aggressive – attacking the disc and all, but I would prescribe trying to be smoother in bringing your arms up.  Less of a punching motion will decrease the net velocity at which your hands meet the disc, and that will lead to fewer drops.  That fraction of a second your hands are up in front of you also will enhance hand-eye coordination.  On top of that, having your arms up half a second early better shields the disc from the defender, whose arm is gonna be punching into that space at the same time.
  • To elaborate on that last point, one advantage of claw catching is your arm and hand is more likely to be in the path of a laying out defender.  If you’re clap catching, the side of the disc is exposed.  If you’re claw catching, the defender has to get an inch further out in front of you or get their hand in between yours to get the disc cleanly.  So claw catching makes it more likely the defender will have to go through you to get their hands on the disc.  Think about how many times you’ve made bids and been an inch away or got your hand on the disc but the receiver still caught it.  These fractions of an inch matter.
  • Oh, and claw catching will  make you more likely to square your shoulders to the disc and force you to take a direct line to the disc (which for most, though not all, scenarios is desirable).
Clap Catching
  • As for clap catching, i feel more comfortable with my dominant hand on the bottom, which seems less common.  Again, I think you should do what feels right.  Regardless of which hand you have on top, I am a proponent of clap catching the rim, rather than the middle of the disc.  You always hear people saying to attack the disc and catch out in front of you.  Well, if you’re gonna do that, you shouldn’t wait to catch the middle of the disc.  Catch the rim.  This will also speed up your transfer to throwing.  For me, since I catch with my throwing hand on the bottom, the disc is already properly oriented in my hand when I catch (assuming a right side up throw).  But even if my throwing hand is on top, my off hand is on the rim and can facilitate a more secure grip transfer than if it's flat against the bottom.
  • To return to the idea of losing sight of the disc, another time the disc passes out of my field of vision is on clap catches to my side.  If you reach to your left at belly height with your right hand on top, your right forearm is actually blocking your vision of the disc.  So I prescribe catching left hand on top when clap catching to your left and vice versa.
  • A counter argument to that point I heard recently was from Leon Chou, who was taught by Ricky Chung to lace your thumbs on those side clap catches so the disc doesn’t slide through, which requires right hand on top for left sided catches.
One Hand Catching
  • There was a tip on Zip’s tips about catching hammers up high by having your thumb over the top of the rim with the rest of your fingers rather than underneath.  I’ve not had success with this, though i'm not great at catching hammers up high.  I'm curious how many players catch this way.
  • When I first started playing someone explained to me the idea of catching the leading edge of the disc v catching the trailing edge of the disc.  Somewhere along the line, I even read an explanation of the physics behind this (written by Mooney?).  Do people still teach this concept?  If you’re gonna catch one handed, you can catch it normally on the leading edge, but if you try catch it on the trailing edge the same way, the disc will spin away from your hand and be harder to catch.  You either have to speed up you arm speed to neutralize the speed of the disc or, as the ever eloquent Jay Brown once told me, “just grip it tight like you’re jerking off.”
  • A mistake I see all the time that shows a lack of understanding of the physics here:  someone’s making an angled incut on the open side against a force flick.  The thrower throws an outside in righty flick a bit outside the receiver who reaches out with his left hand and grabs the far side (leading edge) of the disc.  Simple enough.  Where I see this principle applied wrong is when the cutter is making this cut but the force is backhand, so the throw coming out is an inside out backhand.  The receiver still reaches wide with his left hand, but now the wide side of the disc is the trailing edge.  The disc spins out of their hand into their body; if they’re lucky, they just bobble it and recover.  In that situation, the safer and easier spot to catch the disc is the near side.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Phases of Learning - Synthesis

To carry on my thoughts on learning progression, I mentioned 3 phases to learning technique.  If you do a bit of reading on these concepts, you’ll come across different names and different numbers of phases.  When you get beyond those 3 phases, the next step in learning is synthesis.  As one masters a skill and understands a concept, they can then extend those lessons to other scenarios and venues.

If you understand the release angles and corresponding flight paths of a hammer, you can extend those principles to any upside down throw you see or make up.

If your understanding of zone offense goes beyond, “when the disc swings, popper 1 cuts to the line, popper 2 cuts across the middle,” to the point where you understand how to create 2-on-1 matchups and pick on the defense’s weak points, you can extend those principles to any zone strategy and even extend those principles to other sports that feature zone defenses.

That’s the synthesis phase of learning.  What hinders our reaching a higher level of game IQ in our young sport is a lack of coaching and critical thought about how we play.  The simple lack of time working on our sport impedes the depths to which we can learn it.  So we teach the basics.  We (hopefully) tell people where to throw, where to cut.  How to throw, how to cut.

Invest the time to tell people why to throw there and why to cut there.  Teach the Whys.

Why are we running this drill?  Why are we running this play?  Why are we swinging the disc?  Why are we forcing flick?  Why are we running a ho?

We have limited practice time, so it's important for coaches to KISS (keep it short and simple), but plant the seeds for critical thought.  Don't overload a learner with nuance they can't handle or make use of.  It's best to go through any exposition during the drilling phase when you want to encourage the learner to think about and reflect on what they're doing.  But if we take that extra step, a few of our athletes will take it a few more, and maybe our sport will take a few steps forward as well.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Phases of Learning

Had to repost this from Dusty's blog.

This has driven me nuts my entire club ultimate career.  Dusty's link to the above article on coaching reminded me of something i wrote back in the day and made me dig up an old end of season feedback email i wrote.  Pike sent out an end of season survey, which i thought was a great idea.  Here's an excerpt from one of my responses.  This was small part of a very, very long email that included positive and negative feedback. 

What i have gone on and on about in the past is that the method we use most of the time when we teach involves explanation and then applying it.  What i have long complained about is that this method skips the middle (and possibly most important) phase of the learning process, the associative phase.  We should explain, then drill the technique in isolation without a ton of other stimuli and skills involved, and then drill it in a game situation.  That middle phase is where the muscle memory occurs, technique is perfected and made instinctual/automatic.  We finally started doing this when we started teaching clam and the monkey zone, but we still do not maximize our teaching time by not focusing more attention on the associative phase of learning and jumping too quickly into live play.  I blame our poor offensive motion, our consistently getting beat by upline cuts, our poor individual defensive positioning, our drifting toward the disc, etc... all on poor teaching and poor learning.  Guys who've played with Pike for 4 or 5 years still run blindly in the cup or only watch the disc when they're on offense.  It's embarassing.  This is not all the teachers' fault, but obviously it starts with the leadership.

When Jim was injured all the time in 2004, he would watch our practices and constantly complain about how the d-team's offensive motion was terrible, and then he'd draw it out on the white board how it's supposed to work.  And it never did any good.  We cannot expect to just explain something and for people to do it.  We must drill muscle memory in simplified scenarios before we do it in a scrimmage.  The Katzenbach drill is a good start for that type of thing, but only a start.

Depending on what theory of education you're reading, there are 3 to 6 phases of learning.  For the sake of learning a skill, e.g. throwing, you can talk about 3 phases:

Cognitive:  how to hold the disc, how to step, arm motion, when to use the throw, where to aim, etc.

Associative:  Repetition/practice in controlled environment.  Typically the longest phase.  We throw thousands of times and monitor our technique.

Autonomous:  Natural, reflexive movement.  Less attention required, freeing up the player to focus on other things (i.e. is a cutter open, is there a poacher, etc).

We drill throwing, but teams tend not to drill team level strategies nearly as much, short-changing the associative phase.  We draw up our offense on a white board and then do a few walk throughs and then scrimmage.  Maybe since we have little time together as a team, we feel we need to scrimmage.  Or maybe we just don't know how to drill tactics.

The article that Dusty links to talks about progressing from 1v1 to 2v2 to 3v3 etc.  When i coached volleyball, we broke down drills into 1 skill drills, 2 skill drills, 3 skill drills, etc.  Breaking down the game into smaller pieces allows us to better focus on the details.