Shim’s blog and its focus on learning got me thinking. It’s important to recognise what you’re learning as individuals at training, week on week, and boy did I just eat up that zone post for week 2. But equally, as a club, it’s important to recognise what you learn at each tournament, year on year. So, this post is a bit less psychology, a lot more tactics (specifically uni women’s tactics, but some of it can definitely be applied to other divisions/levels). Learning from tournaments and dissecting them afterwards is one of my big loves as a coach and as a player, so here are some examples of ‘what I learned this half-decade’ (definitely not as catchy as Shim’s blog title, huh?). A few of these I think are pretty critical points, so I’ll probably come back to them in tactics posts over the coming months: consider this a preview. A very long preview…
When I joined Squaws in 2006, there were two experienced women at trainings. We got lucky with one Canadian and one Latvian pickup. Bob rocked up from Belgium for UWON*. We had a group of 6 or so freshers who played and hung out to varying degrees. The end of this academic year was our first UWON victory. Since then, the club saw three of those freshers (and one late arrival – hey, Bobbi!) go on to win the title again in 2009, and then for a whole new batch of freshers (and one old loser who can’t seem to graduate) to take the crown back in 2011. With no other university women’s team managing to get even close to this success, I have this vague niggling feeling that, hey, we might be doing something right.
Yup, this is probably completely inaccurate and monstrously egotistical, but I believe that part of Squaws’ strength is that we are constantly learning from our successes, and from our mistakes, as individuals but most importantly as a team.
Year 1: 2006-2007. ‘The Year Bob Won Nationals’
Yeah, yeah, so some of us had to run after the lobs and actually catch them for it to work, but Bob’s big discs (whether offensive hucks or devastating pulls) tore university women’s ultimate apart. We had a defence which got us turns (boring, boring zone) and our ‘yards gained’ from turning over in our attacking endzone, and then turning them over in the same place, meant that we had it a lot easier when we actually started thinking about scoring with our offence. Except for when Bob tried to layout D our own players… but that’s a different story altogether. Anyway, lesson learned: to be in with a fighting shot at women’s outdoors, you NEED the long game, and you need to be unafraid of turnovers.
Year 2: 2007-2008. ‘Where has everybody gone?’
The two experienced players graduated. Our pickups left. Bob was left with a bunch of reasonable second years, and some eager freshers. It wasn’t enough. There had been a year where, for whatever reason, recruitment had failed and no players had returned the next year. We had no third years. As second years, we were pretty decent, but not good enough to make up for the missing tier of experience. We finished 7th, which was alright considering, but it just didn’t feel like enough, given how well we’d done the year before. This year, we learnt the lesson of recruitment: you can never afford to take a year off, and you can never afford to have no returners from your first years. Because otherwise, in two years’ time, regardless of how strong your team is this year or next year, you will be screwed.
Year 3: 2008-2009. ‘Good throwers should do your throwing’
We lost our first game at nats 2009. It was against Pies and in the cross-wind, we couldn’t get through their zone. We made the mistake of putting two of our stronger throwers upfield, because they were also stronger upfield players. With a zone which lets you pass it between your handlers lots, we had more unforced turnovers than we could cope with having our less experienced throwers back, and the disc never made it into the hands of the experienced players behind the ‘cup’. Changing this for the final (at the suggestion of one smartest ultimate players I know – cheers, Longface) won us nationals. Yes, the tactics of 2007 made an appearance again (huck and D, and loads of zone), but the change of getting the disc in the hands of our strongest throwers for the final changed everything. It helps that we live for upwind-downwind, but the lesson from this year was pretty clear: at uni women’s the people you have handling are your strongest handlers. End of.
Year 4: 2009-2010. ‘If only we could throw…’
Describing the effects of the 2009 graduation on Squaws can be done with one word: decimation. We went from a nationals winning squad to having 2 freshers staying on, our captain remaining, and me sticking around for a masters which would almost completely wipe out my ability to attend trainings. I will not mince words: we got really bloody lucky. 2009 saw the most athletic intake of Squaws I’ve ever witnessed (and also the biggest). We had 2 whole teams from Sussex at indoor regionals for the first time, and these kids could RUN. I think we were all a little skeptical when Felix told us at a training early in the Spring term, that if we all threw around more we could win nationals. As usual, he was right. We came 3rd at nationals, losing out in a wet and scrappy semi-final against Flatball. Finishing 3rd was amazing, but for me certainly, there was a feeling we could have done better. We faltered upwind on offence. My feeble sidearm couldn’t match the power of my backhand, and with Flatball taking away our main deep shot with some sensible forcing we were forced to work the disc under. We had too many throwaways from less experienced players attempting under-passes, and went down 7-3. The lesson was pretty clear: reduce your unforced turnovers, and get the disc back to your handlers more effectively.
Year 5: 2010-2011. ‘I can’t picture the boys warming up like this’
UWON 2011. I could write a lot about the tactics we played, and played against. I could probably write a treatise about the awesomeness of having a lefty and a righty handler on a team. I could praise everyone for how much work they put into preparations and trainings this year (I should probably do that sometime…). But really, the lesson I learned this year was about team unity and team atmosphere. Uni women’s is not top 8 club level. The warm ups you run should be different, your team talks should be different, the way you approach tournaments should be different. We’d got it wrong in the past, and the clash of experienced club players expecting way more than was fair from second years or freshers had helped nobody. I’d recognised this in previous years, but never quite got the adjustment sorted. This year, the whole team got it right. We were basically idiots. The whole weekend. We did the usual plyos for warmups, but inevitably degenerated into a dance-off in the centre of the endzone. We had outrageously scripted team celebrations for when we scored (personal favourite: the body-builder with fainting women at their feet). And without the captains saying anything explicitly, people relentlessly built each other up as teammates, with nothing but support for one another, regardless of what had just happened on pitch. It was, without a doubt, the best team I have ever played on in terms of atmosphere. The lesson we learned this year was to remember to have fun. Oh, and that it’s always good to lie to your team, tell them there’s a hawaiian theme for the party, and make them dress up in bikinis and grass skirts.
*UWON: University Women’s Outdoor Nationals. For those not in the know…