Friday, November 16, 2012

The high school where I work has begun an initiative over the last two years to encourage collaboration between teachers, to share best classroom practices and learning strategies. Collaboration between teachers is time well-spent, as the insular nature of the classroom can turn a school into a land of tiny kingdoms, with each teacher doing their own thing, unaware of the work their colleagues are engaged in elsewhere. I love that time together, where I can pick the brains of people with years of experience making mistakes, adjustments, connections, and developing winning strategies.

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.



Anonymous said...

Got some questions for you.

1) Wisconsin has historically been a player/captain driven program. When you started coaching, was there any resistance or did make any adjustments to your coaching style going into it? For example did you take more of a back seat your first year?

2) Technical question. How do you call lines? I'm not asking about your line calling strategy, but what method you use to do it. I've watched McCarthy coach Ironside and it seems like he just uses a small strip of paper with peoples names. From what I've seen of you coaching, it seems like you prefer this method as well. Why do you use this way instead of something like a clipboard that allows you to keep track of points played and other stats? Do you have someone else keeping track of things like that? Any other methods that you've tried?

3) How does your relationship with your captains work? Are you guys all equal partners? Or does your wealth of experience make it so that you have the final decision? How does this manifest itself with the team and in huddles? Who dominates the huddles at practice and at tournaments? Is it you or is the captains? How do you run your huddles at practices? At tournaments?

4) How has your coaching style changed during the time you coached Wisconsin? Have you adjusted your coaching style because of personnel? If you could go back in time and give yourself tips when you first started coaching, what kind of tips would you give yourself?

5) Do you coach in the same manner that you captain Madison or play? If not did you consciously make Hector the coach, different from Hector the captain and Hector the player and why? I think that you're much more emotional as a captain and as a player than you are as a coach but I would love to know what you have to say about it.

6) Have you ever had an ultimate coach? What did you like about his/her coaching and what didn't you like?

7) Do you think that the gap between when you played for Wisconsin and when you coached for Wisconsin has helped or hurt you? Do you think it would be more difficult to start coaching immediately after you graduate?

I could not agree more about what you said about the Level 1 Coaching Certification. Can't wait to see what you have to say about your ideal scenario. Wouldn't it be viable to set something up Saturday night of a tournament for all coaches to get together? At MLC, you could have had Ricky, Charlie, Calvin, yourself, Schoettler, etc..

**Unrelated Bonus Question
I wish I would have asked you this at MLC, I've always been curious, what were you telling Seth Wiggins after you d'ed him in the 07 Club Final?

Anonymous said...

I didn't know the comments section was an anal probing device... huh.

Anonymous said...

Didn't know the comments section doubled as an anal probing device...

Anonymous said...

I thought those were pretty good questions.

Hh said...

But he's so gentle with the probe! A lot of good questions, and I'll answer them all in one or several other posts. It's fun having to think through and articulate my thoughts on each and it helps me to reflect on my approach. Thanks for the interest and inspiration.


neeley said...

that feeling where you're at practice, you have a high-level vision for how your team should be executing but know that it isn't going to happen unless individuals improve, and you're both overwhelmed by everything that could be corrected and tired from a long day of work. how do you deal with it?

Anonymous said...

How do you handle chronically injured players?

Especially if they miss a lot of practice time but are still one of your better players

Titus Tradewell said...

I'd second Neeley's question. Also, how do you plan for practices with regards to refining fundamentals in newer players? Do you plan out specific drills and adjust on the fly, or do you have a set number of intro drills that you use for everyone?

bzionic said...

Hey there Hector, I just stumbled on your blog tonight after skimming through SkyD's site. This is great! And a nice contribution to growing our sport. Was good to catch up with you at Nationals last year, as well.

I love the idea of a coach's confab, and would be willing to help make it happen. I also liked the idea in the comments here about gathering coaches on the Saturday evening of a big tourney like MLC, though I wonder how tight-lipped some might be just due to the nature of being in the middle of a competition.

A query I'll give you: how much time do you devote to practicing offense versus practicing defense and why?

I've learned a great deal watching Jim with Colorado since I starting volunteering as an assistant last season, and I'm hungry to learn more techniques and approaches from other coaches.

I think we'll next see you at Stanford, or maybe not until Easterns; either way, have fun and stay healthy.


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