I have recently had a few different conversations about how the teams in these parts (Philly) are so strategically similar. While it’s probably quite common for a particular geographic area to have ideologies that dominate the local teams, my sense is that Philadelphia is more of a closed ecosystem than most metropolitan areas of its size. Certainly the Boston teams don’t all run a 6-person stack, right? So where do these ideas that are so prevalent in Philly come from, and why is there not more diversity in the strategic gene pool? (Disclaimer: I’m just gonna ramble and I’m sure I’ll say something I disagree with tomorrow).
Where do these ideas come from?
A current teammate of mine was recently crediting the philosophies and plays that are run around here to the Pike teams of the early to mid-2000s. While that was a NJ team, we drew a lot of the recognizable faces from the Philly scene, who in turn disseminated these strategies to other area teams. So I wouldn’t argue against that lineage as I see PADA summer league teams calling plays by the same randomly chosen names used in the 2002 Pike playbook.
But to give proper credit, that playbook was pilfered straight from the UCSB* teams that 3-peated in the late 90s brought east via Jim Regetz (though he made considerable improvements). And the style of play (conservative, possession-oriented offense) comes from the dominant mid-90s DoG teams. Before them came Earth Atomizer and Big Brother? (Before my time.)
Not saying any of those strategies aren’t still sound, but I think there’s something to be looked at if there’s been minimal innovation on 16+ year old thinking in a sport as young as ours.
Why isn’t there more diversity?
I can only speculate, but I’ll throw out some ideas.
- Philadelphia is not a particularly transcient community. People don’t move here for a few years and leave. Not that many people move here from other metropolitan areas. Not that many people leave. Off the top of my head, I can only think of a few male** players who’ve recently played in Philly who had history with other top clubs (Joel Wooten – not much of a Philadelphian, Trey Katzenbach – more on him later, and Carl Deffenbaugh). My impression is that in other geos, it’s more common to find players who’ve played on multiple top clubs.
- Trey really is a force unto himself. Through the sheer force of his personality and his history of successes, his ideas on how the game should be played have really pervaded the minds of a lot of the community.
- What about all the different college teams people have played on? Honestly, I don’t know. All of you who played outside the Philly-metro area, why haven’t you brought back new zones or new plays or new offenses?
- It’s not a particularly cerebral scene here. Maybe I’m just not talking to the right people, but there don’t seem to be a lot of players nerding it up over strategy. Maybe Philly’s not an intellectual town. Or maybe it’s because there aren’t as many college teams with coaches around here. Regardless of the reasons, I think you’d find the percentage of players who can articulate why their teams run a particular strategy is lower around here than say… Boston, San Fran, or Seattle… or even NY.
Now, I’m not saying being nerdy about strategy is critical to success. But I do think diversity is important for a community, be it an ultimate community or any other. Otherwise, you fall into “it works for insert top local club team name, so we should run the same thing” mentality because you aren’t aware of other options.
A real world example: Pike ‘02-’05 ran a vert stack with 2 dumps. There were no give-gos built into our offense, so handlers never got the disc moving into a power position. In order to run this offense, you need handlers who can bomb and break with a set mark on them. Our o-team happened to have Walt, Regetz, Heckman, and Bailey, so we could pull it off. Unfortunately, our d-team didn’t have the same depth of throwers (though we did have Ian). If you were one of the unfortunate college teams that adopted our offense, you probably suffered until you gave up, or you got good at those types of throws.
But even if you are good at running your strategies, I will point back to a previous post about pulling off upsets: If you’re not the more talented team on the field, playing the same strategy as your opponent is a losing game plan. It’s the same as a boxer who goes toe to toe with a slugger who is faster and stronger. Ali wasn’t The Greatest because he was the hardest puncher.
Next post: Deconstructing the Dogma.
*Funny enough the Condors and Pike had essentially the same playbook when we faced off in quarters of 2004 down to the play calling system.
** I specify male because women and women’s team tend not to drive innovation in our male-dominated world of ultimate. There have been some transplants of female talent in Philly, but for various reasons outside the scope of this post, they have not led any shifts/growth/evolution in ultimate strategy around here. If i'm wrong, and it's only because i'm a guy that i don't get to hear about what happens in the women's game, then i'd love to be educated.