Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dogma and Diversity - Deconstructing Dogma

If you read the previous two posts, don't get me wrong.  More is not better.  In my college days, we were fans of having a dozen different offenses, none of which we could run well.  I think it's important to limit one's team's strategies to only as many as you can properly execute.  If you only have the time to get good at vert stack/cuts from the back and man/force flick/beat them under, then hey... that's all you have time for.  But i'd also add if you're a club team and that's all you can manage over the course of an entire season (let alone multiple seasons), then you might want to evaluate how efficiently you are using practice time.

And don't get me wrong.  All the strategic concepts i look at below are ones i am generally a huge proponent of and often can be heard espousing to my teammates.  Just saying if you hold to them too strongly, you're closing your other options off.  That's how dogma works.

And don't get me wrong.  I don't think these concepts are unique to Philadelphia.

Anyway, to get to the point of this post.  Some of the strategic concepts that have codified into dogma in this neck of the woods:

Don’t get beat up the line:  I’d say getting beat up the line is only bad if it’s for a goal or if it leads to significant yards or if it leads the dump catching it with momentum (so called "power position") that can lead to a huck.  Too often i see dump defenders play so far upline that contesting the break swing is impossible.  We played a team last year at regionals who we dump-swung and continued to the breakside over and over, and their downfield defenders who kept getting scored on would come off the field all pissed, "C'mon guys, no break!"  The problem was their team's defensive strategy overemphasized stopping upline cuts and underemphasized containing the swing.

There are times when keeping the team on the sideline is more important than stopping the upline cut:
  • when you have the deep space covered.  (e.g. you are bracketing a vert stack.)
  • when they are far enough up field that the upline cut to huck isn't extending the amount of effective space you need to defend.
Put another way, there are times i'd rather them huck it because we're ready for it, rather than letting them break us all the way across the field.

I'd also add against teams that move the disc well from the handler positions, it’s possible to play over top of the handler and hedge them into bad angles, which may not deny them the disc but contains their subsequent throw.

Beat them in:  That is position yourself underneath and force their cutters to go deep.  This underestimates throwers’ abilities to huck it, overestimates the other team’s abilities to work it underneath with tight coverage, and on many of the team’s I’ve played on, overestimated our ability to close on deep shots or contest discs in the air (my teams have always been short).

My biggest problem with this strategy is that it means the turnovers you're looking to generate will be in your endzone.  If you're the d-team, this means you now have to work it 70 yards to score (and since you're the d-team, you probably can't throw).

Always forcing your opponent deep is like always forcing flick.  After awhile, teams get used to the same defensive look point after point.

See Lou Burruss' post on backing
Win with your legs:  This one is tricky as it's not a strategic concept as much as it is a mentality (and again, i have been heard preaching this one for years).  Husting, running hard to give your throwers easy open looks, and resisting marginal decisions with the disc are all good concepts to emphasize.  There's nothing inherently wrong with this message.  To say it in the game to go at regionals when your team's delirious from fatigue is probably the right message.  To go back to my boxing analogy, when it's the last round, it often comes down to heart.

Where i see this becoming problematic is in what is unsaid over the course of a season or multiple seasons and what is de-emphasized.
  • Throwing is de-emphasized, and over multiple seasons around here, few young club players around here go from good to great with their throws.  Didn't Dusty post about how we do 6 workouts a week and only touch a disc on the weekends?
  • Going to the right space is de-emphasized (in the name of beating your defender in on the openside).  Sometimes, your team just desperately needs to have someone pop into the break lane or just go deep, but your cutters just want to be the hero and prove they can get open in the one place the other team's defending by going in on the openside.  Geoff Buhl used to call this the "man cut".  This is a vitally important cut that your team must be able to make, but if "beating your man" starts to obscure "winning the point," you're gonna run into problems.
Winning with your legs and your heart is critical in sport (no duh).  What i'm saying is that over the course of the season, don't overprioritize it at the expense of all the other assets you need to develop to be good.  Too often, teams and players focus on the physical because it's more obvious, and they lack the knowledge or sophistication or communication skills or mental discipline to work on other things.  If you gave up one workout a week to go over game film, would you and your team be better or worse off?*
Be Chilly**:  Like "win with your legs," being chilly is a mentality and often the right one to have.  What i'm getting at though is that your team's conservativism/risk taking should not be constant but rather should be dictated by the circumstances (opponent and playing conditions).  I don't think you want to be all over the map, but as a coach, you would want to be able to ratchet the risk taking up or down***.

If you're a college basketball coach for a 16th ranked team going into the first round of March Madness, maybe you know you need to have a big night from the 3-point line if you want a chance of winning.  Likewise, if you're outmatched downfield, maybe you throw more hammers**** or abide less stringently to the rule of thirds.

Again, there's a reason certain strategies have become conventional thinking.  It's because they've proven effective.  The danger is when we accept them as dogma without developing a deeper understanding and we close ourselves off to other ways of thinking.

* Depends of course on where your team is and if you have any idea how to use the information available.
** Do club players still say this?  "Chilly-O" seems like "shit ultimate players say."
*** The championship Sockeye teams in the mid-2000s always impressed me with their apparent ability to dial down their risk taking based on their opponent.  Pike beat them in pool play and then lost to them in the semis at 2004 Nationals.  There was a marked difference in their o-team's risk taking in that second meeting knowing they could work it under against our defense, compared to the supposed "huck and hope" strategy the northwest was accused of having.
**** Hammers are seen as riskier throws in this area.  Is that true in other parts of the world?


  1. I'm finding that ALL inverted throws--hammers, scoobers, even inverted quick dishy passes--here in the NW are regarded no more risky than upright throws.

  2. In my totally male-centric view of this: women's teams are the worst offenders. This is based on overheard comments in women's games after complete and incomplete hammers. Just behind that are (upper-)middling men's club teams. low level teams have no aspirations (on both sides) so they do what they want. Elite teams work on necessary throws to decrease the risk/novelty. I don't watch coed.

    Risky throws are throws you can't execute because you don't practice them. If you're told (starting at the wrong end of the argument) that "hammers are risky throws", you won't practice them which will make them risky throws. how circular!

  3. I absolutely agree, dusty. If players and teams would practice the hammers/scoobers etc. as much as they practice forehands and backhands they wouldn´t be risky anymore...

  4. Disagree... any throw sideways or upside down takes away the basic aerodynamics of the disc itself causing more variables in the flight and thereby increasing the risk. In ideal conditions, that increase in risk can be negligible... in less than ideal conditions it can be huge.... but in all cases, the risk goes up.

  5. Also disagree. It's not just the execution risk; there can also be a fair amount of weather uncertainty. Wind speed goes up with the square of the height (google: wind speed profile). There is also the issue of gusts.

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  7. Hey Anonymous(es), good points. I would agree that upside down throws are inherently riskier throws than standard backhands and forehands because "touch" (or lack of touch) decreases the margin for error. Throwing a hammer when a standard backhand will work is probably decreasing your odds.

    That said, i think those risk are mitigated by context. We come back to the old argument of what is the risk-reward ratio for the following options:

    - 50 yard openside flick huck to a receiver with 3 steps of separation
    - 15 yard openside flick to an incut with 1 step of separation
    - 10 yard break backhand to a flaring cut with 2 steps of separation
    - 20 yard hammer to an away cut with 3 steps of separation

    And so the argument goes that one high risk/high reward throw may be ultimately less risky than multiple low risk/lesser reward throws.

    I'd also argue that throwing where the defense is weak also increases your margin for error. E.g. jamming a 5yd throw to the open side cone with tight coverage is probably not that much higher percentage than a 30yd hammer over the stack to the deep break corner with loose coverage. How many times have you seen someone catch that hammer standing still? But turnover that hammer and you'll draw the ire of your team far more than when your 5yd flick got D'ed.