Tuesday, October 28, 2008
No other tourney, for better or worse, can so delete everything that came before it. Team disappointed with their season to date? A timely victory or two in Sarasota and the feeling shared between daiquiris by teammates can change from dejection to jubilation. Similarly, a high-flying team with nary a blemish to their record can find themselves in January wondering what went wrong after a disastrous Thursday.
Fates and Vegas betting lines can change instantly on the whim of the Atlantic winds that blow through the polo fields. A steady offense is a must if you want to have a chance against the fast, often-cheating zones and junk sets that all the teams deploy. Who’s your big backhand? Your giant flick? How good’s your weave, your lateral disc movement? Chances are if you made it to the big show you’ve got a nice toolbox to combat opponents; if you don’t, you’ll find out soon enough.
In my previous 8 club natties I’ve wrestled on sand on a Thursday, passed out face-down in the sand on a Friday, cried on the fields on a Saturday, and cleated up on a Sunday. Anything can happen, and as you gather your bearings after escaping from a barnburner and news trickles over from four fields over about a top seed that wasn’t as lucky you realize anything does happen. The first two days are exercises in surprise. But by the time Saturday comes the best teams have calmed and settled and the n00bs are exposed as such.
The mist hanging like a blanket over the fields in the morning. Strutting at the Publix. The beer garden accelerating Saturday afternoon. Walking along the beach with your frisbeemate or tourney squeeze. Sunday night at the Daquiri Deck. Helping Rob steady his hand for his Ultivillage videos. Mourning and celebrating from morning to night.
As I write this I am chilling at my beach house in full relax. I love this tournament. Love it.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
First Hodag practice of the year went down today, in blustery conditions far removed from No Wisconsin climatic perfection. It was cold all day, and the wind immediately tested new recruits' inadaquate throws. It was made immediately clear to all the new Hodags: shit ain't gonna come easy at any time this year. Welcome.
Running through a few drills, beginning our work on resets and marks early, all the new players seemed excited to be there, with their recently cut bretheren practicing on the field adjacent with the Pimpdags. A survivor's sigh on each set of lips.
They were rewarded at the end of the day with a taste of a Hodag tradition to warm each of them, and the first "Hodag Love!" cheer of the year, and for many the first of their careers. They don't even know how much fun they're about to have.
Muffin wrote up a tournament review for No Wisconsequences that I think is one of the top 5 tourney write-ups of the year. An instant classic Muffin.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Yesterday after No Wisconsequences the captains and officers of the Hodags had the unenviable task of helping close down the tournament after a long weekend of playing and evaluating, then hopping into a car for the hour's drive back home, where they reconvened and began selecting the final roster for Wisconsin '09.
Of the 40ish people left after two rounds of preliminary cuts, 16 had to be whittled down. At the end, with only 1-2 spots left for 2-4 players, things get real. It's hard to make a judgment call about who will benefit more from a season scrubbing with the Hodags and who will benefit from a year getting lots of touches on the Pimpdags. But the decisions are made, and in the end, the captains call those who made the team to thank them for their efforts and offer them a spot on the Hodags.
Anxious to see the new team practicing for the first time, I rushed from school to the practice fields with a heavy pack bouncing across my back and thoughts of the coming year flooding my head. But when I arrived at Ubay, aside from a game of pick-up soccer clear across the other side of the field, the fields were empty.
That wasn't entirely true. As I scanned the green I saw, alone and looking chilly, a kid with a disc. He was holding it with his elbow tucked squarely at his hip, and even from our distance the grip looked awkward, and he flung it at the back of a soccer goal, whipping the net upon impact. I watched him as he walked the 15 yards he'd thrown it, picked up the disc, walked back to his spot, and flung it again. And again, and again, each time cocking the disc in his hand like an ancient archebus and firing with a distracted accuracy.
I stood 200 yards away and watched this kid practice his gestational forehand for about 10 minutes and he, oblivious to my eyes, proceeded about his meticulous training. He closed the distance from the net to 3 yards and started practicing form, trying harder and harder to whip the disc. Learning. I approached him then. I recognized him as I began to yell "wanna toss" in his direction.
His name is Min Hu, and he knows nothing about Ultimate. But the kid is fast, Jesus is he fast. In practice he ran past everyone. No one could keep up with his legs or desire. Barely speaking any English, he nevertheless tried to absorb all the information the veterans threw at him, and you could see him working over bits of strategy as best he could and trying to apply them on the field. The captains and officers were salivating to have him on the team until they talked to him and found out he was here only for the fall semester, taking classes in English. He'd return to Korea in December, and not be back to Madison until he'd finished his undergraduate and began his PhD. The captains were devastated to cut him, someone so raw but with a thirst for improvement that made even the hardest working returners feel a bit complacent. And there he was, less than 12 hours after having been cut from the team, a player alone on 10 acres of grass, throwing a shitty disc against a soccer backstop simply because he wants to be better at it.
We didn't throw. We talked for 15 minutes. I told him how much the leadership had appreciated his spirit and effort and how we wish he wasn't leaving. When it was time for me to go, he thanked me and we shook hands, but fuck - I was the one that was grateful. I remembered the jitters I'd get an hour before tryouts my freshman year. I remembered laying out for a goal in finals of Frostbreaker against a young Rhett Russ and UNCW in the spring of 1999, one of 6 points I played all game. I remembered wanting more points, and more confidence, and more speed.
The words of an email I still have, today, taped to the door of my room at my parents' house echo, an email sent by Opie O'Connell on July 10, 1999 asking us to work toward improvement:
Don't ask yourself if you want to be on the team, ask yourself what you are willing to do for the team. Do you want to have a bigger role than last season, or is someone else going to move in on your role?...What will make the Hodags a good team is improvement, TOP TO BOTTOM. If you were the best thrower, be the best cutter. If you were the fastest, be the best cutter. Offensive players, work on defense. Defensive players, work on offense...If you were the best sub, be a starter. If you were the best rookie on the team, be the best player. If you were the best player on the team, be the best in the region...How badly do each of us want this? -opeAnd those words resonated with me sure enough. I took them to heart. But today, more than those words of inspiration from my captain when I was just a kid, what I feel are the words scrawled in my poor hand at the bottom of the page, giant letters that were then a message from a kid to himself, but are now a gauntlet thrown down from my youth to my adulthood, a call that only my actions can answer:
DO I WANT IT ENOUGH?!?Yes, Min Hu. I do.
We're a week and a half out of Natties. The time to build any kind of physical gains in muscle or endurance is essentially over, but there is time yet to work the head game. A big part of that includes setting the mood on that jittery and exciting drive from Siesta Key to the fields, and in the warm-up time before our first game.
On Bravo, Richter and I made team pump-up CDs for each of of the rental cars. Once at the fields each person is left to their own devices, literally, while we jog and go through our preliminary drills. I know a few of my friends' teams have a team CD that contains a song from each teammate. However you do it on your team, you probably do it; pump-up music is crucial to getting you in that Kill Mode mood. So I'm asking for some input, some opinion. What's on your player these days? What tracks are bumping? I'm got a few in mind so i will link their YouTube pages (I love that YouTube has become what I always hoped MTV would be — instant gratification for my music video–watching itches).
Introduce me to some new songs. Blow me away with an artist I've not heard before. I love all kinds of music as long as it's well done. With that in mind, here are a few songs playing in my ears as I slip into Sarasota green and strap on my cleats:
- Picture Me Rollin' By 2pac, a classic.
- Bloc Party's Banquet song is tasty in Original or Remix flavors.
- The Faint were described as "being a little too emo for you, Hec" but I like Glass Dance just the same.
- MSTRKRFT's a great group, and their video for the song Easy Love is memorable for obvious reasons. Song's tight too.
- I can't say enough about how incredibly disgusting Little Brother's lyrics are (in the good way). Dominant group, and the 9th Wonder production on The Getup is straight nasty.
- Yes, The Knife is a weird group, and their videos feel like a bad acid trip, or a great one. Still, Silent Shout is a great song.
- Aesop Rock is back on the scene with a new album, and his non-stop rhyming on the title track for None Shall Pass keeps everything thrusting forward. It does it for me.
Friday, October 17, 2008
I will be practicing at the No Wisconsequences fields this weekend. Anyone want to share their opinions, support, or concerns about this whole thing I'm all ears, as I'm still trying to cement my opinions on this whole Conference 1 offering. I'm not intimidating in person and I welcome any discussion or debate people want to have face-to-face. I will be practicing with Sub-Zero. I'm the one that looks convincingly Mexican, you should find me fairly easily.
I promise I'll be nice to everyone but Match, who thinks I am a big bully for pointing out his egregious bullshits and insecurities, and thus with him I will behave as such.
Skip is in town right now. After a conference call between Cultimate and the UPA yesterday afternoon, they met up with the Hodag officers to discuss the current situation. I'm sure it's not the last of the conversations, as many reservations remain, and more will be hashed out when a few more of the players in this play arrive for No Wisconsequences this weekend (which shows good weather now, brisk in the low 60's with slight cloud cover).
Oh boy, where to begin. OK. Carleton and Wisconsin have become a brotherhood of sorts, and through communication have loosely decided to move together in whatever direction they decide. And it seems like the rest of the teams are in agreement: they have many reservations, want UPA cooperation, and demand a say in the final outcome, but are very intrigued about C1. They like the general premise. They think it's a good thing. They're anxious to experiment. And, despite concerns about having to change the approach to the season, having a schedule known months in advance and having every game matter sounds fun. It's exciting.
Who would have thought that in the 5 years I've been out of college Ultimate the Hodags and CUT would be loving each other like an old couple? Even I was on Carleton's campus a couple of weekends ago raising toasts and reveling with Northfield. I'm developing a mancrush on Grant and Kanner. At a house party in Stadium 205 (if i can remember the number...probably not accurate) Muffin, in full Morfin-mode and wearing a white CUT jersey, was approached by a member of Carleton's basketball team that looked like a strapping athletic buck. A paraphrased summary of the exchange:
"Hey, you play on the Ultimate team. I've been wanting one of those jerseys for a long time, I think they look fly."So you see, our relationship has gotten so good that even Muffin is helping CUT with their recruiting.
"Fuck yeah. Ultimate, bra. You should come play for us."
"I've wanted to, I think it's a sweet game, it's just hard to play basketball and Ultimate."
"Are you athletic? Can you jump high? How fast are you?"
"Yeah, I can jump and run."
"What's your vert?"
"Like forty inches." (Not a made up number)
"Fuck! Dude, try out! Man, I will jerk you off so hard if you play for us. We all will, we will jerk you. Come play dude, jump over me! Jump over ME! We will jerk you so hard!"
Dude walks away slowly.
"Come back! Play for us! I will jerk you off!"
Moving on, there are some idiots that are decrying Cultimate's proposal as an end to spirit of the game. Asking if 5 Ultimate sponsoring this and simultaneous putting something about Spirit (capital S) on their website is contradictory. Talking about how how everyone is going to throw elbows in people's mouths. Assuming refs. Talking out of their ass without a peg-leg of information to lean on. Spirit is within. It's how you play, but more importantly how seriously you take yourself and your honor, regardless of whether there's a rule there or not. You respect yourself and your efforts now, you will respect yourself later, be it in Ultimate or elsewhere. If you come prepackaged as an asshole, you'll remain the insufferable douche you've always been. Cultimate isn't about to create a legion of d-bags that aren't already there.
This whole proposal most directly affects teams 25-32, bubble teams that put together a season magical enough to upset some of the 25 proposed C1 teams early on in the year before fading hard and fast when real shit is on the line. And the best of those teams can play into the final tourney. The proposal has the best 13 teams from C1 play in the championship tournament along with the winner of a play-in game between the best two of these bubble squads. The winner takes the 14th slot, the loser becomes the #1 seed in a 64 team C2 bracket tourney held concurrently with the championship at Devens. The winner of that bracket tourney, as well as the play-in game winner, become part of C1 for the following season, and on and on it keeps growing. You can still earn your way in, same as now. Keep winning, and your competition will keep improving. Sleeping your way to the top still not an option, but you may want to confirm that with Skip.
The teams considering the C1 option also agree that they want a seat at the table: representation and a voice on the Cultimate Board of Directors that will guide the championship league and play. One of the biggest complaints about the UPA is the lack of communication between their board and the players regarding proposals and progress, a big reason why the idea of C1 had a foothold to begin with. In talking with a board member recently, they told me that I didn't get it, how much the UPA does, and how they're talking about innovation, and that there are heated exchanges with people trying to change the sport. Well, that's the thing, no one got it because they're so closed off to communication with the general masses that we're left to make our own assumptions about what is and isn't getting done.
And it's clear from how seriously the proposed C1 teams are taking this proposal that they've filled in a lot of the blanks themselves, and found that they were troubled by how many blanks existed in the first place. And Cultimate is providing a lot of the same answers that have been talked about in dens and living rooms by these players for years. A lot of the snubbed teams are complaining that they want "their shot" at the big teams. That they're entitled to play against the best of the best. But several of the captains on these C1 teams raised a point that seemed to resonate across the group: Are they? Are the teams that play ultimate casually entitled to playing those teams that offer a substantial portion of their college experience and lives to being the best they can be at this sport?
This I think gets to the crux of what this is all about, what I was thinking in the back of my head when I wrote my Splinter Cell post. "Elite" now seems to be a dirty, pretentious word in the Ultimate community as well as the political one. But the fact is there are some teams that don't put in a quarter of the work the Hodags do. That's not an exaggeration, and I'm not arguing that they need to work as hard as Wisconsin or Carleton. They're not trying to let Ultimate rule their lives like that. But there are some teams that do, and have been rewarded with dominance in the sport as a result. No, not all the teams that do this are currently included in C1, and this will need to be addressed. But all the teams in C1 do live this life. They care about being the best. They are willing to make concessions above and beyond what most of the haters on RSD are willing to do. They are looking to play against other teams giving (and giving up) as much as they are. They are not interested in proving themselves against ragtag groups that occasionally get enough players to scrimmage at practice. They want to measure themselves against equivalent foes who have earned the right, through their hard work and dedication.
And as the conversations continue, more of those 25 teams are warming up to the idea. A season where every game matters. Opponents as vested in being the best as you are. Schedules set months ahead of time. Reduced uniform and travel costs. A push toward the summit. It sounds enticing, but most importantly, it sounds like a lot of fun.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
[Some corrections in the Comments]
Yes, lots on our plate these days. Club Nationals, a looming college season, but I want to talk about something else. The 2009 World Games are just around the corner and if the U.S. national team wants to improve the selection process from 2005 the time to start thinking about that is now (or, weeks & months ago really, but now will suffice). Of course it's possible that the Powers That Be have thought about this already, but They've been kinda busy of late so I do not know.
In 2001, through the efforts of Japan's Furio Morooka, ultimate and disc golf were invited to take place in the World Games, held in Akita, Japan. Six countries sent 10 players apiece to play 6-on-6 co-ed (3/3). As you might guess, games were brutal; conditioning was crucial to any team's success. The U.S. team won a silver medal, losing to Canada in the final.
In 2005, the World Games organizers were gracious enough to boost ultimate's rosters to 11 players each and games were 7-on-7. Injuries were particularly harsh on Canada, who saw Oscar Pottinger go down with an ankle injury. The U.S. beat Australia in a closely fought final (I believe the first time any Australian team made it to the final of an international competition. Good on ya). There are accounts of Team Canada being so completely spent -- especially in light of losing Oscar -- that they sat on the line for the last few pulls of the bronze medal match. (Read about Team USA and the WG tourney here.)
If trends continue we can hope for at least 12 roster spots for each of six teams in 2009. But if WFDF, the UPA, or the CUPA have any clout that could get bumped up to 14 (the minimum I would argue for). I know it basically boils down to housing athletes and how many beds each sport -- and each discipline -- get, but IOC officials saw good things in the ultimate matches. Decry "Spirit of the Game" if you want to, but at the 2005 World Games the U.S.–Canada roller hockey game wound up in a brawl, whereas the U.S.–Canada ultimate game ended in a happy little circle.
The 2009 World Games return to Asia, taking place in
the Republic of China Taiwan Chinese Taipei. The six nations are chosen based on the previous year's WUGC performance, which means WG'09 will see these teams: Canada, U.S.A., Japan, Australia, Great Britain, and Chinese Taipei (as host country).
Team USA Selection Process
In 2001 and 2005 the national teams were selected by application: players submitted themselves for consideration, had references, and answered questions about their playing styles. Yet the surface of choice for any field-sport competition is grass, not paper. So this time around we'd be fools to take any other path. U.S. Junior National teams began real-life tryouts in 2004; it's time the adults follow suit.
Therefore attention needs to be paid to individuals at the upcoming Club Nationals. Since it's probably too late to initiate the WG'09 selection we should try to tape as many games as possible. (If I had my way players would submit their names before Club Sectionals and selection committee members would have opportunities to see these players play in person up through and including Sarasota.) In an ideal world members of the selection committee would also be on-hand for Nationals, but that seems unlikely at this point unless they've already begun the process.
But let's assume not much attention has been paid to this issue. After all, WUGC just happened and people are pre-occupied with the Club Series and the hotly debated college season. Witnessing how players interact with their own teammates and their opponents would be crucial to the decision-making process, but just as important would be a tryout camp in early 2009. To maximize its usefulness it would probably have to be a 3-day weekend. Since some of the selection committee, Powers That Be, and maybe even tryouts would likely be busy on MLK weekend I think I'd pick Presidents' Day. It would have to be warm and you might as well have some players not travel very far, so I would run it in Southern California or Atlanta.
This would be a great spectacle. The largest, sickest hat tournament of all time. Sure, there would be drills and timed sprints and sit-down conversations, but the gist of the weekend is the ~100 best ultimate players in the U.S. playing on the same field, vying for one of 12-18 spots (including alternates). Let's roll.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
A lot of people are talking noise on RSD right now, with more knee-jerk reactions than a Deep Tendon Reflex test. I was expecting this the last few weeks, but still got caught a bit off guard by the wave of reaction. The Hodags are again converging tonight, after a marathon officers meeting last night that lasted upwards of 5 hours. Some brief observations...
- For all the chatter on RSD, and all the people shitting on the idea, it's worth noting the absence of input from members of the twenty-five teams being asked to join. No doubt, they're within their wagon circle discussing the same points Wisconsin's leadership is considering.
- Whoever posited that those same teams are talking amongst themselves right now is right. We made calls to our friends on those other teams, and emails have already begun making the rounds. For those talking about the possibility of half the teams going and half staying with the UPA series, they're off base. This will either work because all the teams are on board, or none of them are.
- For those people who are decrying this idea, but bitch and moan about having to explain why dogs are not involved in our sport, they're talking out of both sides of their mouth. While I understand the general ultimate culture is mostly socialist and grass-roots, and thus want to keep this "about the people", Cultimate has to date proven themselves to be excellent marketers and promoters of top-quality tournaments. Their tourneys are seamless, their graphics slick, and their promotion strong. Much more focused than the UPA's approach.
- The UPA, in their Revolution, outlined tiered college competition for the upcoming years already, but those on the outside of C1 are complaining most about not being able to play the top teams. Guess what? It's coming anyway. Cultimate's announcement only moved up the date substantially.
- That being said, concerns remain. Verifying eligibility is the main concern, in my opinion. Making sure outside teams can play into the winner's bracket is another. Outside teams should at least be given the chance to try to prove themselves, in the way non-conference football teams still have an outside shot at playing in a BCS bowl. However,
- Teams and regions have complained about bid allocation processes since there was a bid allocation process. Some teams get left out. Others get a chance. It's not equal for everyone because not all teams are equal. The majority of teams out there will, playing any of those 25 teams 10 times, lose all 10 games. The main gripes are coming from those teams that can, at times, beat several of those teams. Yet last year, even with the noise Arizona made at the beginning of the season, they got blown out in quarter-finals. If the purpose of the UPA series is not to find the best 16 teams, but to crown the best team in the country, I feel confident saying that the C1 will do that just as well. As they say in the game, "haters gon' hate, ballers gon' ball."
- Still, there needs to be a fair way to make sure any good teams outside of these twenty-five have a shot at playing in the final tourney, and have a shot at playing into the league for future years. No one should be left out based on reputation alone.
- Another thing there are relatively few detail about are these officials (observers? active observers? refservers?) and any rules changes that might come from that. Any changes to how things will be played need to be stated fairly early in the process.
Monday, October 13, 2008
The weather cooperated like a federal informant this weekend. Unbelievable all weekend long. Having lived my fair share of Wisconsin Octobers, I literally shudder to think of No Wisconsequences next weekend. In a Northwoods fall, climate like that rarely sticks around for two straight weekends of partying. On the radio this morning they designated today "the last day of summer", and already next weekend's forecast is showing a 25 degree drop in temperature. College teams, bundle up!
I saw some incredible things this weekend. I saw Skeetpocalypse shit away what certainly would have been the upset of the tournament when, winning on Saturday against Chicago Machine 13-10, they gave up 4 straight points to lose. I thought fate was on their side their final opportunity when a player of theirs had an unbelievable layout running forward to stab a hammer blading way short of target. Jawdropping. Two throws later, turn on a dump pass. Two minutes later, Machine scores, and has a collective bowel movement in relief. What a choke. Skeetpocalyse, for shame. You looked so mentally soft at the end.
Machine was having trouble adjusting to the loss of Tim Halt as their offensive gear-turner. They had a hell of a rough Saturday, losing in semis to Madison, before bolstering their confidence with a glance at recent history and knocking Madison off in the game to go Sunday.
Sub Zero brought the gum and the pain all weekend. Without much care for where we're seeded, we're poised to bring our best games to Sarasota and I'm looking forward to all the matchups we get.
More heartbreak for Madison Club, who didn't seem like the same focused team on Sunday as Saturday. After putting together an impressive performance, they could not win the one that counted, and the one I'm sure they knew they'd have to win. With a lot of new faces and the looks of a program establishing itself beyond the boundaries of the Hodags, they should build next year and improve their cohesion. It's a shame the flyest looking jerseys in the club game won't be representing in Florida.
I didn't watch much of the other two divisions, either mixed or women's, but after not being written about in the club season preview Pop is going to explode onto the scene in Florida, probably making quarters. They have many many fast, athletic, and good-looking women. Womens' teams, you've been warned. Mens' teams, you've been advised.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
Let's get something out of the way: this is not about a hybrid referee/observer acting as the sole party making calls on the field. This is about striking a balance between two competing systems of officiating. So a quick recap...
Gripes with Observed ultimate (and especially ultimate without officials of any kind) from the pro-ref crowd:
- Players, in the heat of the moment, are disinclined and perhaps unable to make objective calls
- The nature of self-officiated ultimate -- with its occasional chat, aside, or debate team practice on contested calls -- drags out the game and renders it unwatchable. It's bad sports entertainment
- Refs add authenticity & legitimacy thereby immediately inviting lucrative broadcasting contracts
- Our players have the discipline and respect for themselves and their opponents to call a fair game. (This argument was eloquently spelled out on this blog by a Former College Champ. Well worth the read.)
- Hmmm, yes, well ... #2 has some merit. Observers are directed to ask players for reasonably quick decisions; Observers are also trained to determine the correct call and announce it summarily upon request
- I call bullshit. No evidence points to this. People still see a Frisbee -- sorry, a disc -- and think of hippies and beach games. The sport's proponents need to buckle down on this conception.
So here's the thought experiment. Neutral parties, called Observers and wearing something tasteful, number about five on the playing field, plus 14 players. Boom! 19 officials. When a player is fouled the infracted player or a nearby Observer are both able to make the call. If an Observer is not in position or does not see the play, the foul's outcome follows the current rules set-up. This prevents cheap fouls, the get-away-with-whatever-you-can tactic in ... well, in every sport I've played except ultimate.
In/out calls, travels, and up/down are all active Observer calls.
Let's say a receiver goes up for a disc and is blatantly fouled. Both the fouled player and the nearby Observer call "Foul!" Boom! Immediate judgment, play on. If the Observer makes a call and the 'fouled' player makes no call: no foul, play on.
Thus we have a system where players are still empowered to make calls, but Observers are also making active calls. When they agree, great: instantly play on. The result will be a game executed under the same principles as a self-officiated game, but with the necessary checks & balances to satisfy pro-ref blood-lust. Players won't call bad games because they won't get away with it. Refs won't ruin games because they won't be the sole authority.
I daresay this system would even lead to games where the Observers are largely unheard-from, except on in/out, travels, up/down, since players know that a bad call would be corrected (in the form of silence from the Observers).
I have probably missed some salient points, and there are likely flaws in this proposed system. But I think it addresses the concerns of the ref movement while keeping intact much of what players like about self-officiating.
Monday, October 06, 2008
At a recent meeting with the Hodags' current captains and officers, held to decide what role, if any, several alumni would have in the development of the team this year, we shot the shit for a while before getting down to the nitty.
Talk inevitably turned to the current crop of Hodag hopefuls, and their various merits. Aside from whether they could throw and how well, or their field awareness and prior experience, aside from all other tangible qualities the tryouts possessed, in the end the category most talked about was whether or not said hopeful possessed Kill Mode.
Kill Mode. Never clearly defined, over those tacos and beers, but agreed upon as a trait that could almost singlehandedly get you on the team. To claim that someone did not have kill mode was to cast a vote of no confidence against them in those moments when you need them most, to emasculate them and deny they posses the agency to step up and produce when the chips are down. To say they did not have KM was the beginning of an argument for cutting them. It was straight damning.
Maybe we first need to understand Kill Mode a little more before I go on. I'm not going to define it; kill mode is different things for different people. But while agreement on what it is is hard to come by, everybody knows when they've seen it. A refusal to be denied. Bids without regard for the landing. A spark that lights up the D's powderkeg. KM is how you know, soon as this guy goes in, he's going to do everything he can to accomplish his goal, that anyone could judge him at point's end and declare confidently, "he did everything within his limits, and when the moment was most crucial went beyond them." Kill Mode is a a refusal to lose, to give up on oneself, a knot in the mind that can only be undone by the accomplishment of the goal, or death.
It's been the big buzz phrase with the Hodags for the last several seasons and speaking to several of last year's outgoing class, they could clearly state moments when they felt the team collectively make the switch. As we reminisced on these moments and talked about people who it was agreed did not have KM, I wondered, is Kill Mode something innate or something acquired?
Can Kill Mode be taught? If so, some of these young whipper-snappers vying for a spot on the team deserve another look. Seeing it in action might spark it within them, and create the type of fearless defensive machines that the Hodags are looking for. But maybe it's not that it's taught so much as discovered and unleashed, a matter of finding the right end to pull on so the whole trap is undone and the beast is loosed.
So with two weeks left to go before the final roster is announced, captains and officers pay attention to the mechanics and throws, but they're looking for a little more. They're looking for signs of a dormant animal, a tinge of glow stalking the sidelines, an energy begging for a reason to bubble out of them, trapped rage like a knife fight in a closet. The Hodags want Kill Mode.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
The questions are eerily similar every time.
"How do you throw it so far? Do you use a different grip? Can you teach me how to do it?" From young to old, freshman to super senior, handler to cutter, everyone is looking for the easy answer. The thirst for ultimate knowledge is generally unquenchable – but finding answers is not always as easy. Often it takes adaptation and experimentation strolling hand-in-hand, slowly ascertaining small truths. But this quest for understanding can really only be realized through the journey itself. There is no one miracle tip – rather a streamline of intricacies that, when choreographed together, create poetry from motion.
But how should one approach this journey to self-discovery? Perhaps through observing and emulating – perhaps through learning and creating – or (if you are indeed asking me), through the hips. The hips? Absolutely.
The strongest major muscle group of the human body is the legs (quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes) and coincidentally, the hips connect that concentrated power to your core. Meaning, when the body needs to create a powerful force, the energy comes from the legs, is transferred through the hips, through the core, and then - if timed correctly - through the arms depending on the desired movement. This was one sport specific concept I'd have loved to have understood years before the dawning realization reached me as a fledging, furiously cocky junior in high school.
I had played competitive sports my entire life, and wanted to dominate any sport I could sign up for as a youth (save the intensely boring game of baseball – which was a wonder anyone could stay awake long enough to play). My childhood coaches, sports camp directors, and mentors all seemed to understand the concept of utilizing power from your hips, but despite their complex descriptions and illustrations, understanding was always just out of reach. In each sport they referred to hip power with a different example; calling it the triple threat position in basketball, the breakdown stance in football, the driving shot of a single leg takedown in wrestling, the explosive arcing path of a corner kick in soccer, the top spin of a forehand winner in tennis, or the crack of a home run in baseball. Whatever the sport, what do all of these sport specific movements have in common? The explosive power always generates in the hips and, when performed correctly, can translate vectors of force coming from various appendages into one perfect fluid motion. It is truly training the muscles to fire in the correct sequence, while overcoming the body's natural resistance to learning those firing patterns.
It will take time and practice, trial and error, but the first moment you generate that power and feel the difference, new doors to performance will be opened, as if leveling up and finding all new attacks. However, the hips and core strength are two tricky animals to tether. Getting those muscles to fire in the correct sequence is difficut. But don't be discouraged – it takes practice, hours, days, weeks, and months of clumsy, stupid, awkward practice to finally hone into a movement worth memorizing.
But where should this expedition begin? Where all journeys of great importance begin – at the fountain of motivation. Wanting to perfect anything will take the time and dedication. The desire must be strong enough to endure the days when it would be easier to not practice, to not a make that sacrifice. Because it will take a sacrifice – whether that is chaffed and bleeding knuckles, a sore back, or the abstinence from homework or television – it will take time and it won't come easy.
Once the proper motivation is in place, formal mechanics and fruitful visualization will need to follow. The best way to present this idea articulately would be with a handful of analogies and stories, that when spliced together, can create the narrative.
A few general ideas will be necessary before we crack the whip, so to say. Imagine a young and inexperienced high school ultimate player – easy. Upon first picking up this piece of plastic, the only way to toss it is with a feeble and uncoordinated backhand wobble – no spin, no hizer, just jerky arm-propelled movement. There is no fluidity to the movement, no speed of release, no tight grip on the edge, no well-placed pivot to balance the movement. The attempt is ill-conceived and maneuvered without confidence. But as the player practices more and more – the disc begins to flatten, the number of Z's slowly increases, and soon the speed of the release increases as well. It took practice, but even now the player is only half-way there.
The easy lessons are replaced with more difficult concepts to grasp; degrees of torso rotation, exact finger placements of force on the rim, angles of release, and intention of S curve. As the player wants to develop his ability he must move into realms of advanced study, using forces and muscle memory to expand his range and power. But the backhand was the easy part: grip it like a handshake, and rip it. Grip it harder, throw it farther. But that elusive forehand has such different mechanics, how could you possibly understand advanced theory without anyone showing you properly? You experiment and adapt. You take lessons from other sports and walks of life – and apply their principles. The cliché holds: practice makes perfect.
Now when trying to teach this same high school player how to throw a forehand – it takes much longer because the principles are far less intuitive. There are several joints now propelling the force in a snappy action, quite different from the big backhand wind-up. The analogy which best suits the mechanics of a forehand is the crashing car scenario. A car is driving fast and there is in incredible amount of force being built up. However, the unbuckled passengers can not yet really appreciate this strong acceleration, until another force acts upon it. When the car hits a solid object and suddenly stops, all of the acceleration now lands upon the passengers, thrown forward through the windshield – going from 0 to 100 in the split second it takes the car to stop. Now imagine the disc is the passengers and your arm is the crashing car. The elbow and arm swing forward aggressively and only when the wrist snaps to stop and recoil does the disc speed out of your hand. This is the first step – understanding where the force of the movement is actually coming from. The second step is maximizing this force expenditure. This is where predetermined athletic ability, flexibility, coordination, agility, and muscle strength begin to blend into a cohesive movement – the 90 yard forehand sniper bomb.
The closest examples to a forehand sonic boom are the cracking of a whip or the hurling of a baseball pitch (close seconds would be a baseball swing, judo throw, or golf drive). These movements take energy from one part of the body and transfer it into an athletic movement that creates a huge implosion of force.
When a whip is snapped, the energy from the initial thrust moves easily along the whip, but when the wrist stops and snaps, the crack is generated from all the force traveling the entire length of the whip. When a pitcher hurls a baseball, notice the wind-up of his leg, the turning of his hips, the torque on his shoulder, elbow, and wrist. The pitcher has taken force from his legs and the ground, and then twisted his body, only for his arm to follow through on the motion, whipping the baseball using energy from his legs, hips, and core. The same goes for a baseball swing or a golf drive – the legs push into the ground, creating force, the hips turn to change the direction of the force, and the core clenches – transferring this force to the arms and hands – gripping very tightly to not lose any of the transferred energy, and when contact is made – BOOM. The same power of the hips is found in football on a tackle and even in wrestling on a head throw. If these conclusions are so obvious in other sports – why hasn't it translated to hucking in ultimate? Because no one has taken the time to break it down proper.
We will start with the secret of the shoulder jerk and then move into the realms of unknown – the hip & shoulder jerk – articulated as the super sniper bomb. The shoulder jerk begins with a powerful stance, shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, head and shoulders up, and two hands on the disc. Anyone who has to travel to throw obviously has not done their homework and clearly has not realized the benefits of a firm pivot. That pivot foot is the focal point of the force, pushing from the legs, transferring through the core, and synchronizing with a shoulder jerk to send the disc sailing. Now, the shoulder jerk involves generating force from the upper body, swinging one shoulder to create momentum, and blasting the second shoulder through, as the torso violently twists. The elbow and wrist stay locked in close to the body, but noticeably behind the shoulder attending to the violent twist. Are you still following? First, the left shoulder swings to left, creating a slight shimmy, the weight shifts from left to right and back again, but this time, the left shoulder fires forward, as if cocking a gun or pulling back a bowstring. When the left shoulder pushes forward, it is go time – turn the hips and crank on the torso, jerking the right shoulder as far forward as possible – then as long as the wrist and elbow are locked in place – all of that energy from the shoulders and core is translated perfectly into a lightning fast release, wrenching the elbow like slingshot. Theoretically it sounds easy, but the synchronization of the movement and timing of events is the most crucial part. If the timing is incorrect, the result will be likewise.
Two other considerations to the shoulder jerk, a slight step forward also brings extra momentum and the friction of the release point needs to be clean. Meaning, the "power point" of the release would be better suited if the last point of contact with the disc is smooth and crisp (like say athletic tape), rather than sweaty and sticky (like say the skin on your hand). That makes sense right? Generate force and momentum from powerful parts of your body like your legs, chest, and core, and transfer it through the arm and into the disc by the grip of the hand. The aim and curvature of the disc are also important, as the release angle of the disc should come off so IO, and with so many Z's, that it flattens and then comes back OI, usually biting just to left, right over the defenders head, setting up an easy read and total bitching. The exact grip placement of the fingers is quite crucial, first knuckle of the middle finger. Every little intricacy matters because every ounce of energy lost in the transfer – is one less Z on the disc. Lots of players have picked up the shoulder jerk and at most elite levels – this will get you a solid 50+ yards, even without a step.
But now we will move into realms of ultimate knowledge never revealed in any ultimate book. For the originals of the mythical forehand super sniper bomb are only cited in the deepest legends of Hodag Lost Dark Arts. I give full credit to Tyson Park – who ripped a 85 yard forehand in 2003 National Finals – walking the disc to the line, yelling at Joey Dombrow, and pointing deep – there was nothing either Wiggins could do: the biggest throw coupled with the fastest player is an unbeatable combination. Tyson, a proficient golfer, clearly understood, even with his small frame that turning the hips and stepping forward can create power unknown to most ultimate players. This feat has only been outdone once – in 2007 Nationals Semifinals Wisconsin vs. Stanford. After an injury time-out (Mabrowald sick layout D) the disc laid at least 10 yards deep in the Hodag end zone. Malecek put the disc into play there, and similar to Tyson, yelled for Shane Hohenstein to take off deep, already 40 yards away. The marker Cahill waited patiently at the end zone line, too slow to realize the disc was in play, and Muffin proceeded to sonic boom sniper bomb it 90 yards for the 1 pass goal – outdoing his mentor and completing the biggest throw ever.
To reiterate – the extra power comes from perfect coordination of a shoulder jerk, coupled with a strong forward step initiated by tapping into that hip power.
Now, why would I reveal all of the deepest never explored secrets of ultimate prowess? Because there are many factors that go into the delivery – predetermined genetic athletic ability, flexibility, coordination, agility, and muscle strength. For the 90 yard forehand sniper bomb to go off without a hitch – you might need to be able to bench 300 lbs – because the pectoral shoulder jerk is going to need some oomph on it. Your grip will need to squeeze so hard, that your fingers will be at risk for dislocation. So if you were not blessed with superior athletic ability, never quite developed that hand-eye coordination, or never hit the weights hard enough to recognize an increase in muscle strength – this Dark Art will still remain unknown to you.