Friday, November 16, 2012
Posted by Hh
That degree of collaboration is markedly absent from the ranks of Ultimate coaches, who are largely left to synthesize from their own playing experience and books and videos their particular coaching style and approach. The mandatory Level 1 coaching certification is a fantastic 8 hour lecture on legal liabilities and admonishments against hooking up with your players, and for casual rec players looking to help out and form a team at their local high school it's a good starting point, but as a long-time club player coaching and captaining established programs, I would have benefited more from direct collaboration with my peers. How do you talk to your players? How far in advance do you plan practices? How do you lay out an upcoming season? What do you focus on during play? How do you decide on adjustments and how do you communicate this to the players?
I take any opportunity to have these conversations with my peers and I'm always searching for new information. It was in this spirit that I was picking Alex Snyder's brain over a dinner last college season. Aside from having elevated herself during this year's natties finals into Club Women's current GPiG, she's one of only two players who have been coached on Fury by Matty Tsang for the entirety of their 7-year dynasty. And because I am so in awe of Matty, I wanted to know: what does he say in a huddle? How does he get Fury to make adjustments? I kept peppering her with questions, demanding specificity, but she couldn't answer me. Not that she wouldn't, but she couldn't. I began to see her annoyance at my incessant curiosity starting to rise because she could not tell me what Matty says, and more importantly, how he says it.
Exasperated and ready to drop the issue, I finally asked, "well, what are you doing in huddles while he's talking that you can't remember his words?" Her answer, its logic and effectiveness so obvious, blew me away in its simplicity. During huddles, with Matty addressing the team, she's playing Ultimate. Not for real, mind you, but in her head. She sees herself playing as she has been all game. And her brain, as it takes in Matty's message, adjusts the video it plays. If they're taking shots from the break side next half, then she sees herself creating space and cuts on that side. She notices where the cutters are attacking downfield, notes where she's looking. She throws those shots. If the adjustment is on the mark to force the arounds, then suddenly her woman has the disc, and Alex pays attention to her feet as the thrower pivots. She contests the I/O aggressively. She shuffles to push arounds for loss of yards. She does all this as Matty's words travel around the huddle and so his phrasing, his words, evaporate away, and a clear vision of how to play going forward remains as the sole precipitate.
What happens then is that when play resumes, she's already been playing under Matty's new rules and priorities. She's game-time before it's actually game time. And the results, for anyone who watched Fury last month, speak for themselves. The power of visualization cannot be overstated, but it only unlocks its full benefits for those willing to commit wholly and play make believe. Even the phrase leaves clues as to what is required: suspend your doubt, release your expectations about your current reality, and make yourself believe in a new reality. And when circumstances change and it's time to make adjustments, you will already know what it feels like to live by your new rules.
p.s. I'm going to expound a bit on the coaching certification/collaboration and my dream scenario in a later post. But for any captains, coaches or players reading, if you've got questions, I'd like to read them, and I'll answer them to the best of my ability here on this blog.