Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wit of Wronski: Does Chemistry make a Difference?


The Polish Prince takes no prisoners. I'd go on about his abilities and accomplishments (many), but he'd think less of me.

As the Fantanna to my Burgandy for many years, I'm always eager to pass on his wisdom to other players.

Here is a recent post from the Phoenix Ultimate site. Chemistry is something to consider every year, and this post delves deep into the issue from an Ottawa perspective.



Check out this article on Page 2 by Bill Simmons. Interesting read.

To sum things up, Simmons is saying that top NBA teams - namely the Spurs, Celtics and Pistons - successfully combine talent with chemacterility. These teams refuse to pursue moody, problem veterans and to sign unselfish, character guys (who clearly have some skill).

Now that's not to say these teams don't have talent - clearly they do - and that's also not to say skill development isn't fundamental to success. However, since these teams are not stocked full of all-stars it suggests that there is a balance to be had.

In short, chemacterility stands for:
  • chemistry,
  • character, and
  • salary cap flexibility.
I’m confident that most ultimate teams have good salary cap flexibility, so we’ll just shorten it to “flexibility.”

Here are some quick thoughts on each.


"These guys eat dinner, hang out, work out and play video games together. They don't care about stats, acclaim, shots or minutes. It's a team in every sense." - Simmons

In short, the guys on your team are your brothers – family. They put the success of team - and in our case, the program - in front of their individual needs. Check your ego at the door.


1) Is the player willing to do what it takes to win?
Don't confuse this with players who say "I'm a winner" or "we win" or "we don't lose to this team." These players are, in actuality, losers.

Yes, generally speaking, teams with greater talent will beat the underdogs in ultimate. However, with two closely matched teams it comes down to the player/players that have an edge. Those that have a) worked hard in the offseason, b) worked hard at practice and c) are thus willing to lay everything out on the field every point (why wouldn't you, after working your ass off all year). You don't "just win," you earn it.

2) Is this player selfish? Will the player run the system or just jack a huck at stall 9? Will the player whine if he gets benched? If you play poorly, you’ll probably get benched. Honestly, it's not an elaborate conspiracy theory and it generally happens in every team sport.

3) Is the player willing to play a role? All players have roles, but is the person willing to play within that role and their abilities for the success of the team. Individual glory means nothing if your team loses.


This could mean a number of things:
  • What does the player bring to the table in terms of O and D?
  • Does the player play within himself?
  • Does the player do what's asked of him in different situation?
...and the list goes on.

This probably doesn't apply for most club teams, but, for Phoenix/Firebird, flexibility also means, "would this player be willing to be moved between teams depending on their play."

We run a two-team club system here in Ottawa and were pretty committed to ensuring that guys that train hard and play well get a shot to play on Phoenix – it keeps the intensity level up for everyone.

This year we had several players start on Firebird and play their way onto Phoenix. In fact, they played so hard and well all season (on both teams and in practice) that there was absolutely no way to justify moving them again. It goes back to the character thing.

Brainstorm: Stats in Ultimate


The call to action for this post is
  • Help me list key stats on o and d for teams and players
On "vacation" this week, but I really haven't had power the last few days due to the ice storm that has hit my native province. If interested, this site may sum it up.

Was looking at my UPA ultimate newsletter this week, and I have to say I was mostly impressed with the product. Great photos, complete coverage of the respective divisions, and a lot of great stuff to read. The writing was a little weak in the divisional write ups (right style, just a little less engaging and concise than possible) but I definitely like the overall product. Injury advice, UPA news, spirit awards, and a retrospective by Steve Mooney.

Sockeye Photo Courtesty

An interesting part of the newsletter is pages 30-31. Stats are listed for the finals of each division. Team and player totals were collected for the very basic:
  • Assists
  • Goals
  • D's (defensive takeaways)
  • Turnovers
Immediately my friends are thinking that I'm going to attack this because macro level stats can be worse (more misleading) than no stats at all. I admit that's my first thought. But then I realize that this is a good start.

Using stats to indicate true player contribution and value will never be perfect. So why do it? I'll give you the reason through a quote by Billy Beane:

I think the misconception about any statistical analysis is that you’re not going to be 100 percent correct,” Beane said. “What you’re trying to do is create an arbitrage … if you’re right 25 percent versus 20 percent you’ve created a 5 percent arbitrage opportunity. That’s really all you’re trying to do.”

Billy Beane
Source: ESPN/Ehrmann/WireImage

That's why its worth it.

I can tell you there is some observable trends that are of interesting note
  • The masters final was the most efficient. There were 11 turnovers and 6 d's.
  • The men's final in open had 44 turnovers and 15 d's. It is incredible that such talented teams were that inefficient.
  • Highly touted Ben Wiggins of Sockeye had a very inefficient final. He was credited with just one d, no goals, no assists, and 4 turnovers. This might be exactly the type of player that is undervalued by a 4 variable stat package.
  • Johnny Bravo's Parker Krug had 7 turnovers in the open final. Riot's Miranda Roth had 7 turnovers also in the Women's game. Their teams lost, probably because they didn't substitute these players off.
  • Coed had the worst turnover to d ratio of the four finals. This in spite of the fact the newsletter talks constantly of the improved level of the division.

So, I am hoping viewers can help me by listing all key stats on both players and teams for offense and defense.

Post on the site or e-mail me. Forward it on to your stathead friends.

Brainstorm: Ultimate Business Directory


Looking to put together a list if Ultimate related businesses. Asking for you to help by posting or e-mailing me at



Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Talking with Trainor: Sharp(e) Cuts with Carl Sharpe


My previous interview subjects have been with players who are well known in the competitive circle at the national and world stages.

Carl Sharpe is not one of these guys.

Carl is a poster boy for a lot of the players who make up open ultimate. He came into the game in his mid twenties after experience in football and other sports. He balances a very important job (that we would have to kill you if we told you about) and a young family with his ultimate commitments.
Carl Sharpe
Source: Wing Leung Chan

If you're facing Carl, it's not pleasant. He's like sandpaper. Tomas Sandstrom in dri fit. He throws lefty, he plays to win on o and d, and he knows the rules. He also is one of the best talkers in the game. The better you are, the more you will hear. Luckily, he understands the concept of humor versus insult.

I've built the guy up to an impossible level. Here's a regular guy with his take. Expect to laugh and nod.

Tomas Sandstrom
Source: Wikipedia

You're a renowned joker. What's the funniest thing about ultimate?

"Importing" players from other sports. Very few people at this point in time grew up playing ultimate, most are transplanted from other sports. Typical initiation into ultimate involves a 30 second pre-game speech detailing the finer points of not running with the disc. Then the player is released to sink or swim during the game.

Personal highlights from my own career involve hitting a receiver hard enough to cause him to release the disc during a catch, and knocking over a marker because he was "in my grill." The highlight had to be listening to one player explain to another that he tackled (read: destroyed) the handler because the stall count had gone over 5, and that meant he could cross the line of scrimmage.

What keeps you slagging on sites and forums? What bothers you the most about other posters?

What keeps me on forums sometimes confuses even me.

I think it might come down to ego, where I just like to throw stuff out and see what sticks. Whether it be something (I consider) funny or some sage wisdom. It's always gratifying to post something that triggers some discussion, whether it be humorous or otherwise.

Negative posting, specifically personal slights against individuals, is probably the thing that bothers me about other posters. Some people use computers and the Internet as a shield to say things that they wouldn't in other venues. Ignorant statements are a close 2nd, but personal attacks are definitely #1.

What's your off season schedule consist of?

I'm on the all Canadian Diet.
  • Bacon,
  • Eggs
  • Timbits
  • Double doubles.
In reality though, I work out 4 days a week, 45 minutes with weights, 30 minutes on the bike doing intervals, plus a league game. I was running for a bit, but dodging snow plows gets old fast.

With a young child and very real job, What keeps you coming back to the field?

Teammates and the game. I've been fortunate enough to meet some really outstanding people through ultimate, especially at the club level. The camaraderie is 2nd to none. There really is nothing like looking across a huddle at another player that you sweat and bled with, knowing that he's got your back and you've got his.

The game itself is great when it's pure. At the club level, the first couple of points in a game normally determine the tone of the game, the acceptable rules, etc. After that, it comes down to athleticism and intelligence, and it can be a beautiful thing.

Firebird Ultimate
Source: Wing Leung Chan
Describe your nationals experience in 2007?

Rollercoaster. Although I learned a lot of things. 1. We (Ottawa) have a lot of work to do, but I think we're heading in the right direction. I remember running a bail cut against Furious George in Game 1. We were down 14-2 (but getting ready for our comeback), and I was being covered by Kirk Savage. I managed to extend out far enough to catch the disc, but Savage was right there, laying out, fully extended, with his hand about 3 inches behind mine. Did I mention that they were up 14-2? The focus and constant intensity of players on that team is something to watch. 2. We don't play each other as physically as they should. We tend to be mild-mannered "No I insist, after you" types on the field and in practice. When we meet hard pounding, smash-mouth defenses in tournaments, this translates into turnovers. Again, though, I believe we're headed in the right direction. 3. I'm old, and need to which to HGH to keep up.

Who's the best player you've ever seen? How has your ideas of players changed since you went from being dvd watcher to opponent?

Derek Alexander. Although I should probably snub him because he didn't mention me in his article, I'll be the big man. In addition to being a great athlete, Derek has a great understanding of the game and tremendous field vision. He's also ice cold on the field. Derek was the inspiration for me to play ultimate at the club level. I should probably point out that he's almost (if not already) a better left handed thrower than I am, the key difference being that I am the only one of us that's left handed. The biggest thing I've noticed being in and around games vs watching them is the conditioning level of the players. Average tournaments can have seven or more games in a two day span, and there's people out there sprinting through cuts and tearing up grass in game seven like they were in game one. It's something you really can't appreciate unless you're in it or right next to it.

Who (teams, players) do you love to face in open?

I always like playing Toronto teams, even though our overall record isn't that great. When we play GOAT, or GT, or ROY, there's a little more than just a game on the line. There's pride, and bragging rights. Add to it that we have players from Toronto playing in Ottawa, and vice-versa, and there's another element added to the games. They're alwa
ys fast paced, exciting games, even if they do get chippy once in a while.

Who's the best player in Ottawa?

Other than me right now, Derek Alexander. BT (Brett Taylor) said he'd destroy me if I didn't say him, but I think I can take him. He's a new father now, and probably tired and uncoordinated.

Who's the most overrated player in Ottawa/Canada?

Andy Corey, that guy had to go to Toronto to find a team that would take him. Then he managed to get to the semi-finals at UPA Nationals. I play with him on Wednesday's and I'm always carrying him.

What ultimate related thing is on your mind right now?

Whether or not my thumb hammer is game ready (yes, yes it is)

Anything else while I'm shoving the mic in your face?

I'm glad this is called Sharp(e) Cuts and not Sharpe(s) Cut.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Ultimate Business: Managing Price Expectations in Ultimate


As a member of one of the (if not the) largest city ultimate frisbee associations in the world, I often look at the Ottawa Carleton Ultimate Association (OCUA) as a learning experience for smaller organizations throughout the country and the continent.

OCUA started in the basement of someone's house in the mid 1980's. By the mid 90's it was the largest ultimate league in the world. Sadly, the success of the league can be summed up by a Simpsons quote:
Lyle Lanley: Y'know, a town with money is a little like the mule with a spinning wheel. No one knows how he got it and danged if he knows how to use it.

OCUA has over 3500 members, and I don't think they really know how it came to pass. Further, the nature of volunteer boards, volunteer staff and paid staff turnover fails to capitalize on tacit knowledge that has been picked up over the years.

An ambitious push is being made for strategic planning by OCUA. 2006 saw a long term plan document that was as encouraging as it was guilty of being verbose, idealistic and bloated. A 2007 version was a better effort, narrowing the focus of the goals and priorities of the league.

One key issue that will rear its ugly head in the next few months is a summer team fee increase. Already members only forums are discussing the fee increase, and questioning the claims of OCUA that there have been no fee increases in the past seven years. I will say that an organization needs to avoid false claims, but I'm not posting about that sub issue.

What I want to talk about is the strategy of increasing process. Can you have a fee increase be embraced? Are there methods that business and sports groups use?

The answer is yes.

Currently, the communication strategy of the fee increase for the upcoming summer has been a defensive/justification strategy. To paraphrase:
  • We're looking to expand our revenues
  • It's in line or lower than other sports
I will point to an interesting article I critiqued at Western, written by Kyle, Kerstetter, and Guadagnolo (2003). The goal of this paper was to understand consumer response to price for an annual 10 KM marathon race. Kyle points out that understanding consumer response is more important now in public sport programs as public sport shifts its dependence on government revenue to user fees. He identified two kinds of price checks that a consumer uses to make a decision to buy or to pay additional fees:
  • Internal Reference Prices (IRP) (actual price paid, perceived fair price, and price last paid) and
  • External Reference Prices (ERP) (suggested retail price listings, comparison pricing, and brand price comparison).
The authors posed four hypothesis regarding a consumer IRP, finding statistical significance to three. Here's what they found as well as an explanation of how it relates to Ultimate
  • The provision of cost of service information will raise subjects IRP.
    • OCUA members will be more understanding and supportive of fee increases when they know what costs are entailed and how that affects the running of the league.
  • Preference to potential service loss will raise subjects IRP significantly higher than reference to service gain.
    • It's pretty simple, people respond better to spending extra to maintain sprinkler and maintenance fees than to add a clubhouse at UPI and other fields.
  • Reference to personal loss will raise subjects IRP significantly higher than reference to personal gain.
    • Very similar to the previous hypothesis. It is easier to motivate a customer to spend more to keep what they have than to add extra.
What can we take out of this?
  • Understand the difference between internal and external reference points
  • Realize that IRP has often been ignored by leagues and groups trying to communicate price changes
  • Understand the consumer/league member better
  • Understand how to sell fee increases with a proven strategy from a similar situation
You're not going to convince your entire league that price changes are needed. People are as resistant to change itself as they are to paying more. However, Your organization can do itself a great favor by understand the "science of selling" and focusing on the aspects that speak to your members.