Author: shimmy

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WILTW – Week 6: How to get out of…

What I learned this week: How to get out of a rut.

In my typical punctual style here is what I learned week 6.

This week I hit a wall. It’s been six weeks since the beginning of term and I feel like I’ve made no ground on getting to where I want to with my own skills and the team. A series of bad or missed practices, horrible weather, failing connections and increasing agitation have all contributed to the feeling that I’m just no good at ultimate, and probably should concentrate on my sideline for the rest of the season. We’ve all been there – you can’t get any throw right, the decisions you make are poor and the more you try to the worse the results are. This could be an off-day, or off-week, but in my case it was an off-month-and-a-half, or that’s how it felt.

Between games I confided in/complained to a team mate, I told him about how I hadn’t got anything right, wasn’t forging connections with my team mates, didn’t feel strong or confident in my throwing. His response (which I like to believe was honest and not just placatory): “I think you’ve been playing really well.”

When you’re in a rut it’s easy to become your own worst critic and sometimes all you need to get out of it is for somebody to tell you that, actually, you aren’t completely useless. And I don’t mean in a patronising way – clearly if somebody’s having a ‘mare they probably know and don’t need to be lied to, but the simple act of being reminded of what you do well can serve to restore your faith in yourself and evaluate your performance in a different way.

After hearing that simple phrase from a respected team mate it was like a pressure had been lifted. Where I had been trying to prove myself (to myself), resulting in forcing options that weren’t there, or over-analysing my decisions and mistakes, being told I was playing well allowed me to play to my strengths, do what I knew I could do and feel proud of my performance. I was content to do what I always knew I could do, and to do it well. I enjoyed the game that afternoon more than any I had done for months previously.

So next time you’re in a rut go and tell a team mate. We play a team sport, which means not just relying on each other on the field but also helping each other maintain our collective and individual esteem. And remember that encouraging words never go amiss, even if a player looks like they’re playing their normal, high quality game hearing “Good job” from a team mate can only do them good.

See you on the field.

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WILTW Week 4 – Using your axes

What I learned this week – Week 4: Using your axes

Apologies for the lateness of this post, this term is racing away very quickly.

At Monday night practice we have been trying out a series of fast-paced warm-up drills, one of which includes an intense version of the three-man/break-force where the marker marks for 10 successive throws (rather than the normal version where you throw then mark the person you threw to). This has the advantage that it makes you more tired and also enables you to focus on each element of the drill for an extended period of time.

Faced with a nasty GB mark who kept getting hand blocks I had to innovate. After a couple of fakes he stepped off from me so I floated a break around him (some would call this cheating in the drill but it’s the best way to punish somebody who steps off you). Next time he came closer, I stepped and leaned backwards on the side-arm side, as if to throw the same loopy pass, drawing the mark toward me. This opened up a gap on the back-hand side that I could step forwards into, not just pivoting out of my marker’s reach but also putting my body between him and my hand, making getting a block impossible without committing a foul.

At the start of the year on Wednesdays we would regularly do a pivoting drill, with a mark for a full stall, trying to see whether and how much we could break them (but not releasing the disc). Demonstrations of the drill always involved making pivots along a horizontal axis, and the mark’s movement was mirroring this horizontal movement. And that’s how I think most people executed the drill (correct me if I’m wrong). But of course there’s no particular reason to be restricted in this way when pivoting – using a single axis in this way will make your mark cover a lot of ground, and will eventually allow you to get a break out but probably isn’t the most efficient way to do it, and may make you more vulnerable to getting blocked by somebody with a large wing-span or fast reactions. Using your axes will make the mark have to cover not just two release points (left or right) but infinitely many release points – anywhere in the full 360 degree reach of your pivot.

Seriously though, being able to get your body between your mark and where you’re releasing the disc is a cast-iron way to ensure that you don’t get point-blocked, and the easiest way to achieve this is to use your axes – varying where you pivot on an x- and y-axis will help you move the mark more effectively and allow you to wrest the initiative from an over-bearing mark and make them do what you want. So next time you’re in a break-force have a go at using your axes to move the mark and get your body between them and your release point.

See you at practice.

P.S. Week 5 I learned that snow sucks.

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What I learned this week – Week 3

Week 3: We don’t warm down.

Last week I couldn’t make practice and so went to the gym instead. I worked pretty hard and I really felt it the next day because I hadn’t done any kind of stretching or warm down.

I started playing with the Mohawks in 2006. In those six years we have never had a culture of warming down. Occasionally at a tournament we would do some cursory stretches but we’ve never had a proper warming down routine or habit.

We should really have more respect for our bodies than that. If we’re training as hard as we should be we should be making the time (probably only about 5-10 mins) to cool down afterwards. Trudging straight to Falmer Bar for a pint and burger is probably not the best way to help your body recover.

Please share your tips for warming down – I genuinely want to know cause I want to start making it a part of my routine after practice and training.

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What I learned this week

Week two: The Paradox Zone

Week two seems to have been dominated by learning and teaching zone defence. Our first two open squad trainings were spent talking about our junk and FSU, then Sunday indoors the women’s team were practicing zone and we play against a zone almost every Monday night in Hove.

Now take a second to imagine trying to explain any particular zone defence.

When I was asked to explain our indoor ‘house’ zone I realised something strange. The default, when we’re talking about zones, is to go through each position in turn, saying what they are responsible for. I’ve a couple of problems with this – but the most important is that it misses out the central element of any defensive strategy – the team objective, and this is an element which I think we should be putting at the top of our agenda when it comes to defensive strategy. Allow me to explain.

Ultimate has an offensive bias. The structure and rules of the game place the impetus with the team in possession – they know where they’re going to run from and to and when. The way we compensate for this is using defensive tactics – ideally forcing the offence to make the most difficult throws, cuts, have the smallest margin for error or use an option they’d rather not. In doing this we are tacitly accepting that we can’t stop everything and settling to instead limit their options and try to dictate what the offence does. So there is a paradox here: Even though ultimate has an offensive bias it is the defence that dictates the play – let’s call this Shimmy’s First Paradox.

Shimmy’s First Paradox leads to a second paradox in that the defence can simultaneously succeed and fail. Consider the simple example of a one-way force, which aims to push the play towards a sideline. If the offence scores by using passes up the open side, getting nearer and nearer to the sideline and never getting off it then the defensive strategy has succeeded despite having failed to prevent the score. We will call this Shimmy’s Second Paradox.

This doesn’t sound right. It sounds like defence lacks a killer instinct when clearly the point of defence is to get a block. The problem is that because unlike playing offence, where you can predetermine the movement of the disc, on defence you can’t plan where you’re going to get your blocks (you might have an idea about where it’s likely to happen though). A block is achieved by an individual making it happen. And this leads to Shimmy’s Third Paradox: The individual goals of any defensive strategy are not the same as the team objective of the defensive strategy. An example to demonstrate: In a one-way force one of your individual aims is to not get beaten to the open side. So when this happens you’ve failed, but as we discussed before, if a team plays and scores up the open side then one team goal – restricting the offensive play to one side of the pitch – has been achieved.

If you’re worried that I don’t believe that D-teams should aim to get blocks that’s not what I’m saying at all. Of course they should. What I’m saying is that “get a block” can’t be called a defensive strategy.

Back to zone. So we can probably all describe what each individual position does in, say, our outdoor junk zone, without thinking too much. But how about a team objective for this defence? I’m willing to bet that if we asked 100 Mohawks our survey would say there’s a notable difference in individual interpretations of team objectives in zone defence.

A defence is strongest when the whole team is working towards the same aim (if you need proof then remember the last time when someone on your team got the force wrong and how it undermined the whole defensive effort). So by neglecting to understand what your team is aiming to do within a particular defensive strategy you are reducing your efficacy as a defender. So from now on, when you are learning or inventing a new defensive strategy, consider asking yourself or your team mates the question “What is the team objective of this strategy?” Making sure everyone is on the same page in terms of team objectives turns a line of individual defenders into a far more formidable defensive unit.

Okay. This has ended up a quite long blog post. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and it’s made you think a little differently about defence. I think there’s a lot of interesting thoughts which come out of this line of thinking, so please post your discussion points, abuse, arguments etc. below.

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What I learned this week

Welcome to my first Mohawks blog entry and I’m delighted to be writing it. It is called ‘What I learned this week’, or WILTW. You often hear experienced players saying “I still learn something every time I play” and I thought I’d put this to the test.

So each week I’ll draw on happenings at our practices to explain some new idea or epiphany which I have come upon in that week.

My main aim is to stimulate some thought and conversation about whatever it is I’ve chosen to write about, so please feel free to comment below each blog entry with what YOU learned this week (WYLTW) or further discussion. Be sure to check the blogs section regularly!



Week One: A New Hope

Resolve is a really important word at this time of year. It is where we get the word ‘resolution’ from, as in “I’ve broken my new year’s resolution already.” Resolve can describe the quality of an action, “She progresses with a great deal of resolve” as well as being something you can do “He resolves to be a kinder person” and something which you can lack in general, “She has no resolve whatsoever.”

First let me assure you, nobody remembers the practice the last term where you couldn’t catch anything, or that time you just forgot how to throw a sidearm, or the Callaghan you were responsible for at regionals, or the time you were so offside that the pull hit you in the back of the head. You might remember them but we don’t. That means the new term is a great time to start afresh and resolve to form some new habits.

Most people find it hard to break habits because their life is so monotonous, but as a student you are in a unique position in that your life is segmented into chunks of 10 weeks at a time, with a rest in between. This means that at the beginning of every term you get a new schedule with new deadlines and, most importantly, the opportunity to form new habits. Whether that’s a big thing like making time to chuck around with somebody regularly, hitting the gym a couple of times a week, or a small thing like doing 25 press ups and 25 sit-ups every day before breakfast – it only takes a little resolve to get it done.

Most importantly you have to start right now. It’s already the end of week two (I admit, my blog is running late) and as time goes on fixing your bad habits is only going to get harder. So if you’re sat at home thinking to yourself “Yeah – from Monday I’ll definitely do more core work at home”, or “Once I’ve handed in this essay I’ll start going for a run in the evenings”, or “Next practice I’ll work on my side-arm huck” then that’s no good. Imagine you have a limited store, a finite amount of resolve. By promising yourself that tomorrow you’ll go for a 5km run, you use up some of that resolve in simply deciding to go for the run (call this resolving to resolve to do something), so that when you get to tomorrow the resolve you have left in reserve isn’t enough any more to force you to put on your trainers and make it happen.

So instead, get out and do it now. Right now. You’re not doing anything right now so put on your running shoes, or grab a disc, or get into the plank and resolve to keep doing it. Believe me, it’s much easier to resolve to do something that you’re already doing.