Friday, November 11, 2011

The Desire to Win

"Victory and defeat are each of the same price."

A full club season is exhausting. A part time job, easily 18 hours a week. The challenge of exerting 100% effort into every single small facet of the cumulative season is daunting. Every workout, every dynamic, every single marking drill - can you consistently perform with the same high energy & execution? Occasionally the "long" winter provides the proper perspective with ample time away from the game. Often the beginning of the club season is the easiest time to renew the youthful energetic feeling,. I'm referring to the third grade recess type excitement, a certain kind of building in your stomach as your reach the doors leading to the fields, the spacious green space better known as freedom. The joyous feeling of walking onto a perfect open field eager for practice and perfection. The question persists, can this energy and focus be sustained day-in-day out? What makes the difference from Saturday afternoon to Sunday morning? Besides the 4 hours of sprinting, changing direction and pivoting. Excuses aside, if you can bring the energy and excitement -- your sore hamstrings and screaming calves make no difference. The hours of competition, the full purpose of winning each scrimmage to 5, completing every single rep of break mark attack drill.. The desire to win.

Can you bring it 24/7? Can you bring it in the clutch or even when it doesn't matter? At pick-up, at practice, at tryouts or in national finals? Fast forward seven months and now the entire season comes down a single game. Are you just as excited as you were the first day of tryouts? Are you still giving that 100% third grade recess type effort? Do you feel the pressure?
The first point of national finals, I was jacked up and ready to play max out. Heart slamming, testosterone at Chuck Norris levels -- ready to give it everything. Revolver scores in 5 passes, kicking the disc out for a perfect cross field huck. Now, is that energy and focus still there? I immediately went to our trainer/massage tent and flopped face down, peering under the tent flap as the next point began. The pull came, we centered the disc.
Now, is that commitment to excellence still aflame? Are you pivoting and faking just as hard as you did the first day of the season when you saw the fields after the off season months of the snow and rain and cold? The mark bids on the open side throw and gets the block near our brick line. I breathed out and swore to myself. Game over. That was the closest we were all game at 0-1. The overall finals performance can't feel like anything but under-performance in the clutch. Our play was consistent, but not overwhelming. The defense allowed quick strike goals and costly drops on offense yielded too many break opportunities.
But that's not what really happened.. We had fallen in love with our man defense because it had worked so well. Soft or hard marks both, it didn't matter, many D's were earned with honest-hard-nosed-effort-man-on-man-grindin-in-your-shorts-defense. It worked in practice, it worked the first game of the year against Sockeye after going down 1-5. We could beat every single team man-to-man, even if you knew exactly what we were going to do. It became the norm as the match-ups had been solid. But against Revolver, there were major letdowns in 1v1 coverage, especially in being able to effectively stop the initial set play. No help on the man. If the match-up was favorable and the throw went up into good space, points ended. It felt like getting pounded by your kid brother.

Ironside has now lost in the club championship to Revolver by the score of 10-15 for the second years in a row.

How do you rationalize defeat?

You put in the work. The hours of preparation.
But when you get to the last 70 yards, you falter and fail.
When your goal is to be the best - how do you deal with the letdown of second or third or fifth place? As it turns out, “Victory and defeat are each of the same price.”

Having the opportunity to win a title, twice, and falling short both times is extremely disappointing, more-so for 2010 than 2011 to be honest. Especially, I feel bad for Captain Mike Zalisk. When I was in the process of coming out to Boston, I flew into Philadelphia to play the tryout tournament Bell Crack. I actually met his mother before I met Mike as I was staying at his parent’s house that weekend. She served me a late dinner and began recounting the various injuries Mike has overcome since as early as high school – including multiple knee surgeries and slow-going roads of rehabilitation. Mike made the trip to Prague and essentially coached the Boston team to our 5th place finish at World’s. He was at every workout, every practice, every tournament, but only able to contribute so much on the field due his recovery schedule and doctor’s orders. There were practices that lulled to only 13 players and Zalisk was forced to play despite his noticeable limp. Towards the end of 2010, Mike was getting healthy. Regionals looked good and he was playing faster at practice, often catching glimpses of his powerbomb throws and savvy physicality.
The first game at Nationals in 2010, Mike re-aggravated his hamstring and was done for the tournament. If Will Neff was one of the more prominent huddle voices in 2010, but Mike was definitely the voice of 2011. At every significant practice – he was the voice describing the process – challenging the team. When the moments for team reflection surfaced, Mike was the vocal point. Stressing that for how many great seasons and incredible teams he had been a part of – but he had never won a club championship. During one of our last practices of the season – he made this point with passion in his voice and it really stuck with me. How many opportunities do you get to win a National Title? How many title games do you get to play in a career? From that perspective, I can look back on these past 2 years with Boston Ironside and come to only one conclusion, “Man, we missed when it meant the most.”

“The entire season, we’ve kept ourselves hungry. When we do something good, we say ‘silver medal’ to remind ourselves of falling short in 2009." This was Revolver's response to losing in the finals of 2009 to Chain Lightning. Always a reminder, always staying hungry. After 2010, Ironside reloaded the cannons, with 10 players moving on from a team of 24. Adding 13 new faces is nearly half the ship's crew.

"When defeat comes, accept it as a signal that your plans are not sound, rebuild those plans and set sail once more toward your coveted goal."

This is amusing for two reasons.
First, Ironside is a boat and second, sailing to our coveted goal is competing for a national championship. As it turns out, championships are much easier to collect in college. But it's often difficult to reconstruct plans that are entrenched in history and success.
The offensive system, pioneered by Death or Glory is possession ultimate. It won 6 championships in the 90's. I'm finding the reset pattern outdated and narrowing.
Flashback: I am 18 years old and playing my first ever club season with Madison Club. I'm a freshman, my eyes are wide, and I'm soaking in ultimate like a sponge, about to ride the wave of 7 ultimate tournaments in my first 9 weekends of college. At this point, tryouts are in process for the Wisconsin college team. Chicago Heavyweights begins. Madison Club loses 3 straight universe point games in power pools and is in danger of dropping down out of the elite bracket.
Players are falling one by one, now deep in the 5th straight game on a hot September afternoon. Madison is battling Illinois Alumni and morale is waning.
9 times out of 10 we crush Illinois, but we are on the dregs as the losses have sapped our conviction. Halftime happens and we made a futile attempt to focus on just one aspect of the game. Swing the disc off the trap sideline and reverse the field against a crosswind. The only point stressed is to swing the disc off the line early in the count.
The game resumes, it's now tied 10-10. Another offensive point begins and Madison is slowly moving the disc down the sideline. Stall 5, another cut to the line, stall 5 again, another cut to the line and again and again. Hector, totally muttering angrily on the sideline as he sees the pattern. Valdivia paces closer and begins to increase his presence. His muttering volume suddenly roaring into the picture, "Swing the disc! Swing the disc off line!"
The disc continues up the line.
Valdivia begins pacing the play, repeating his words, steaming.
The disc continues up the line.
Now jumping up and down pleading, "Get it off the line."
To no avail.
In a fit of rage, Hector picks up a cooler lid and begins smashing it against a nearby cooler.
"Off the Line!"
"Off the Line!"
That offensive possession must have lasted a half an hour.
For every single cut to the line, that cooler paid a price. It was symbolic as it was hilarious. We were unable to focus on the simplest of team concepts and an example was going to be made of the cooler. This is what you get when you play like an asshole.
Madison drives the disc into the red zone now.
The final cut, going hard to the cone, looking for a clinching score!
The cutter hurries his flick and turfs is OB, jamming it straight past the front cone.
The heat of the day had taken to Hector hard, and the disappointment of the prospect of losing to this chump team on a win-less Saturday, it was all too much.
I peered over Tyson's shoulder to see a debris everywhere, a plastic cooler damaged in half, various pieces of a shattered cooler lid and Hector panting hard, spread on the ground.
He looked a man overheated.
That cooler took the beating of its life -- for failing to concentrate on the simple concept of swinging the disc off the line.
Thanks to Hector's visual outburst, I will never forget the life-or-death importance of swinging the disc off the line, early in the count.
This lesson has served me well.