Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ultimate Players and Coaches Conference: A Humbling Beginning and a Good Start


Just stumbled along a post on Mr Jamieson's excellent blog. He's attending a conference in Boston this weekend that I think is very unique- an ultimate conference with both a business expo and a presentation/training component.

Can we be surprised that Boston and the USA is leading the way? No. The American sports industry is a much more mature machine than its Canadian counterpart . This includes sport tourism, sport business and technical sport development. Couple that with ultimate and the role of Boston teams in UPA history, and we see why this conference is happening.

So what does the sport management side of me say? This is what I like
  • I love the idea of an academic/presentation aspect to ultimate conference. This will go a long way to improve the game both on and off the field. I will touch on this more below.
  • I appreciate the grassroots feel of the conference via the website. Hosting the conference at a high school while at the same time boasting about the speakers and business expo seems like a contradiction. However, we don't need to host things at the Hilton because that's what other sports do. Properly planned and executed, we could host it in any public place.
  • I like the involvement of players, coaches and people throughout North America. Places like Seattle, Texas and Toronto will be represented in Boston, and that's great.
  • I like the topics covered. Wish I knew about it sooner.
Much like the English major takes exception to half assed and half thought interpretations of schools of thought or great works, my academic side can be cynical about ultimate efforts. It is not to crush the efforts, but to improve without having to experience all mistakes:
  • Why are there no outside experts in the academic and practical fields to give perspective?
  • Why are there no men on "The State of Women's Ultimate" panel?
  • The conference features a number of speakers talking about a number of key development issues. Their expert status is questionable. Does being a captain of a good team make you a great recruiter or a great strategist? Not necessarily, especially given the regional deposits of talent and the discrepancies therein. Are the Yankees successful? Sure, but they are an example of a terribly inefficient team with a competitive advantage (cash).
  • Does being on Sockeye mean you know how to mark better than someone on a lesser team? You may be a fine marker, but you don't necessarily understand the bio mechanics involved, or the actual reasons why what you do works. You also run the risk of advocating something that has worked for one team and set of players as a solution for all teams.
  • Further, why is there no outside/counterbalance speakers in the Ultimate business panel. I'm concerned that attendees will hear about how to start up a business from people who honestly haven't gotten to a point where their success has been validated.
It's so easy to sound like we know in sport. It's much harder to be able to really pinpoint what works and what needs to be done. Our love of the sport should be the impetus for the extra effort.

I look forward to downloading and evaluating the presentations for 2008 as they become available. I will be more than happy to point out any great points that become available. In the meantime, I want to stress that attendees and readers be open and constructively critical of such presentations.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Trainor Teaches: The Basics of Team Strategy


One of the best things about coaching or captaining a team in any sport is formulating a strategy and seeing it realized into a victory. Personally, some of my best moments as a captain in ultimate have been defeating much more highly touted and experienced teams (at different levels) with a well thought out game plan. That undergrad business degree with a major focus in strategic management is useful at times.

I, like so many others, also love the role of Monday morning quarterback in many sports. We all seem to be able to detect what to do after the fact. Jacksonville should have rushed New England more. San Diego should have gone for it on first down. Dallas and Green Bay should have gone with more run and short pass plays. More often than not, the people I converse with know their sports and their assessments are very good.
Suttron Versus Scott "Beast" Stinson
Photo Source:

The difference between those that do and those that watch is simple: Knowledge of the basics of strategy. Not just one way, or end results, but a through grasp of overall strategy.

There are many ways to win in Ultimate. Outrun. Outplan. Outthrow. I think teams on the cusp of National, UPA and Worlds contention have to do a lot more on the strategy side to compete with the Sockeye and Furious of this world. "Playing Your Game" and "Just focusing on ourselves" doesn't quite cut it.

Thanks to the teachings of Dr Eric Buckholz, I can offer up a little primer of the 4 major blocks of strategy:
  • GO (with your strengths)
  • DENY(the strengths of others)
Before I explain each, it should be noted that EXPLOIT and PREVENT are often complimentary to each other.

GO (with your strengths)
  • Under this strategy, you get to use your strengths and talents
  • Usually accompanied with confidence (You're focused on what you do well)
  • You force the opposition to be reactive, and not proactive
  • Ignores the enemy gameplan
  • Enemey might be able to easy defeat your strength
  • Relies on ability to control game to use your strength. No control =no strength
  • The enemy is looking for it
Best to use on Offence or Defence?
  • Offence, because defence is more reactionary in nature
DENY(the strengths of others)
  • Use prior knowledge to your advantage
  • Prepare team to use strengths to deny
  • control of the game/ frustrate usual strength of opponent
  • Focus on opponent makes you unpredictable
  • Overcome talent difference
  • Might not work if enemy changes plan before or during the game
  • Despite your efforts, you might be unable to stop your opposition
  • Does not focus on your strengths
Best to use on O or D?
  • Usually a defensive strategy, reactive in nature
  • You could use on Offence, with regards to killing the clock
  • Psychological factors ( positive for your team, negative for opponents)
  • Plays the percentages (High chance of success)
  • Usually allows one to use their own strength
  • Takes advantage of good scouting and research
  • May not have great strength in the area you need to exploit
  • May open up your own weaknesses
  • Does not consider counter plans or surprises
Best on O or D?
  • Offence
  • Offence allows you more control in most sports, and allows you to better engage in exploit tactics
  • Reduces unforced errors
  • Easier to limit enemy gains
  • At times has the element of surprise
  • Great strategy for late in games with time limits
  • Might very well limit your strengths
  • You might not be able to stop your enemy, and lose valuable time in the process
  • Can change team/player performance in a negative way
  • This strategy still allows the opposition to make plays
Best on O or D?
  • Can be easily used for both. It's a low risk strategy that is effective in games with finite time limits.
  • Especially effective near the end of games

Monday, January 21, 2008

Trainor Teaches: Why Sports are a War


Yet another article inspired by the NFL playoffs.

If you ever want to get a true sense of the modern Olympic movement, take the time to read David C Young's book The Modern Olympics: A Struggle for Revival. It is highly regarded as one of the two best books on the history of the Olympic movement. Learning ancient Greek and tireless decades of research lead to a great account of the Olympics ancient and modern.

One of the major themes discussed in the book is the characters that lead to the Olympics being restarted in 1896. While a french man, Pierre de Coubertin, is credited as the father of the modern Olympics, he naturally built on the work of others in his era who had similar goals. He's a legend today because of global vision, luck, and partners. William Penny Brookes is a much less celebrated name who did more to invent the modern movement than his French counterpart. You probably don't know either, but you know Brookes much less. :)

One common theme: They both saw sport as a way to ensure the health and fitness of their country's youth, who in turn would be better prepared for war as a result of such strategic games and events.

And that is why you have such comparisons between sports and war.

William Penny Brookes
Photo source:

The NFL is definitely a war. Physical and mental attrition. Strategy. Generals and leaders calling plays. Specialists. Ditto the NHL and ultimate.

Yes, our beloved hippy game is a game our army should approve of. Physical fitness. Motor skills and hand eye coordination. Strategy and team building. Everything but the bloodshed.

Given this, it's no wonder we use war analogies. It's silly to compare the atrocities of war to anything, but unlike most analogies or cliches used in sports, there's a lot of truth to it.

NFL Excitement- Deliberate Awesomeness


We are in the final stages of one of the greatest seasons in National Football League history:
  • A team threatens to go 19-0 for the first time ever.
  • Tom Brady and Randy Moss set single season records respectively for their TD prowess.
  • Brett Favre has a career year at 38, breaking career marks every week and telling everyone how much fun he's having.
  • Green Bay is relevant again and the bikini ladies don't mind the weather. New York, Dallas, Boston, bring LA back and put them in the playoffs and you have the perfect storm.
  • Tony Romo's doing the nasty with Jessica Simpson. (Stop talking about the vacation people)
  • Pacman Jones is making it rain at some joint far away from the NFL (NFL's new image policy being warmly received).
  • Vick is put to jail.
Okay, so the last three are more dubious than great. But the real reasons I just stated make this year memorable. Outside of these great feats, the NFL playoffs have been the usual great success.

Why is NFL football so exciting, and how can we apply its success to ultimate?

I'm not implying that Ultimate is anywhere near the position to try and compete with pro sports. However, given the amount of money we all spend play competitive ultimate, we might want to look at anything that builds up the sport and adds revenue to leagues/groups/teams.

Here are some of the things I think the NFL does well, that we can learn from
  • Every year, we know when the NFL plays, where they play, and where to find it.
  • Like a great co-ed or multi division tournament (Clambake plug right here), the NFL game is an experience. The tailgate party, the costumes, the characters. Should we expect to have both the experience of the fun tournament with the best teams? It seems like a hard balance, but unfortunately we seem to be experiencing a divide in the fun/competitive tourney. I hate having to choose a good tourney like Cazenovia over fun tourneys like Northern Flights.
  • You know it's going to be a 16 game regular season. 162 game regular seasons in baseball is an example of a sport that overextends itself.
  • Further to being overextended, ultimate finds itself (for reasons of geography, cost, egos) with far too many tournaments occurring at the same time. It is only at nationals that the best face off.
  • Needless to say, the NFL is a marketing machine that has huge TV contracts. Far below this stratosphere, sports like Ultimate are relying on Ultivillage and little else to document and showcase. Could we not be doing more to get the game on TV/ Internet stream/ etc. The answer is yes.
  • The NFL goes to great length to understand their sponsors and partners, and to cater to them. They understand that sport sponsorship is no longer philanthropic. What's the benefit ratio to your team/league/tourney sponsors? This is the kind of thing good partners want to hear from you.
  • The NFL pays a lot of money to secure the right people for the right job. For every thousand volunteers at Super Bowl, a person at the top is highly paid for a reason. In ultimate, we let politics and the volunteer concept get in the way. Is it a case of people being burned by paying bad people in the past? Maybe. However, there are ways to ensure compensation reflects performance.
  • The NFL shares. Money and resources.
At one point in time, american football was a break away sport from rugby, growing through colleges and universities. Sound familiar doesn't it? These things take time and the right people, but it's nice to have benchmarks and great examples to learn from.

Those are some of my ramblings.. feel free to jump in...