Thursday, February 28, 2008

Who puts the Spirit in Ultimate?

Nation,

Here's some early Friday fun.

I'm absolutely psyched to see the new Will Ferrell movie. Semi-Pro features Ferrell's newest character, Jackie Moon, and he's straight up afro-tastic. I don't even care if the plot sucks, or if he repeats the same jokes. He has a good formula (Anchorman, Talledega Nights, Blades of Glory) and he sticks to it.

Giddy about the premiere tonight, I started to think of friends of mine that still dress like they are in the seventies. Of course, my mind shifted to my ultimate friends. Ultimate friends are sometimes like post modern furniture (according to Moe Szyslak of The Simpsons)- "weird for the sake of being weird". I know funny clothes does not equal spirit, but there are many cases where the most zany do make their games fun/spirited affairs.

My questions to you are as follows
  • Who in your city has the most spirit?
  • Who in the following divisions would you say have the most spirit/fun within your country
    • Open
    • Women's
    • Mixed
I have two players to nominate. Gavin Thompson and Lindsay Bales.

Gavin Thompson has been playing for over 15 years in Ottawa and going to nationals for almost as long. He has never missed a tournament party. He always wears something so outlandish to the field and the party that he is remembered. He also plays the game with a lot of witty talk and spirit/fairness. He'll be the first to tell you about his legendary throws and his zone busting abilities as well as his deficiencies. He wants to donate his arm to a younger more fit athlete, and can't wait till science catches up to his generosity.

Still not convinced? The man has his own rule in a 3500+ member league

The Gavin T. Rule

Any player wishing to play naked must first secure the permission of both Captains.

Gavin Thompson Pre Party Outfit- Northern Flights 2005 Photo Source: Ultypics.com and Derek Hodgson

Lindsay Bales from Montreal is another example of zany costumes and great spirit. A fixture in women's and coed ultimate for many years, I've personally organized teams and begged her to come play with us. Yeah, she's a great handler, but we also wanted the friendliness and leadership she can bring, even when surrounded by strangers. The woman did a naked keg stand back in the day and tells people about it fondly to this day.

I admit that I am very serious about the game and my game. But having the chance to play with these people, I secretly hope that ultimate can keep the characters with the athletes.

JACKIE MOON!



Lindsay Bales- Layout for Life 2004
Photo: John Tajima and Ultypics.com

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Talking with Trainor: Andy Stewart

Nation,

Ottawa Open Ultimate has received a lot of attention in the past two years regarding their commitment to fitness and their team fitness levels.

The reason for this improvement is due to one man- Andy Stewart. Stewart, the strength coach of 5 time national university basketball champion Carleton Ravens, Olympic athletes, and national level athletes in many sports, has set aside time each month in the summer to introduce ultimate players to serious conditioning and training. It has been an eye opening experience for many. We don't deserve him, and that's why we need and want him.

The sad news is that Ottawa ultimate, and many ultimate players across the country, have a lot to learn about their bodies and about sport specific training. I include myself in this group.

Andy Stewart with Ultimate Athlete Cheryl Wadasinghe

Dedicating myself this off season to an average of 2-3 workouts per week at Andy's dojo sessions, I realize that a VERY GOOD fitness guru is worth their weight in gold. You have to be able to trust your trainer for information on programs and nutrition as they relate to you personally. You need someone to push you when the going gets tough. You need someone that makes you buy in and tells you what you don't want to hear as much as the stuff you do.

Here is an interview with the man my teammates and I respect greatly and curse all at the same time. I think his knowledge and leadership skills really stand out. His contact information is listed below.

Andy Stewart
stewarta@rogers.com
Open Sessions: Saturdays, 2:30 at the Douvris Martial Arts Center

SPT
___________________________________________________________________

Compare the level of fitness of competitive Ultimate Players to those of the other sports you work with. Honestly, how big is the divide?

That’s a very difficult question as I haven’t had the opportunity to test athletes in head to head and/or empirically/statistically relevant situations.

That caveat aside, the Ultimate players I have worked with are improving from training and athletic performance perspectives; they are improving their nutrition, getting smart, and trying powerlifting, cross-training – in essence they are doing all the right things. And it shows. It shows in their appearance, their athletic & on-field performance and in their positive outlooks (positive gains, from smart training, usually lead to positive outlooks).


Ultimate, as you know, requires a combination of athleticism & skills that are found in sports such as basketball, football and soccer. This includes aerobic and anaerobic system capacity with less focus on overall power – however intermittent sprints/jumps require optimal levels of burst speed, lateral quickness and leaping ability. If I compare to many of the national and Olympic level athletes I have worked with – it is on these athletic traits where I see a divide (but these cross-level comparisons may not be the most appropriate).

The primary differences are in due to ‘natural’ athleticism and years (often over a decade) of elite training/coaching and competition. By natural athleticism I mean the basic genetic athletic predisposition – such as natural speed (sprinting), lateral quickness and agility (stop/start), explosiveness (e.g. vertical leap) and raw power/strength. This translates to athletes that can run faster and jump higher/longer, change direction more quickly and more often. Good news is that through smart work, focus and nutrition you can force adaptations – you can become a better ‘natural athlete’.


As Ultimate gains in popularity several thing will happen - more competitive level athletes will join, more competitive training programs will be followed (year over year)– and a rising tide lifts all boats if you will. Increasing challenge, focus and competition will require more athleticism! Check out the NBA, tennis, heck even ping pong athlete of old – it is a natural progression for such a young sport.
In Ultimate, the skills components given their precision and timing, also require sport specific skill sets including visual acuity and tracking, proprioception (think balance), muscle memory, footwork, hand eye coordination and reaction/anticipation etc. These are often overlooked when people think fitness.

What are some of the most important muscles for performing on the ultimate field?

Wow… legs, core… What isn’t?

To identify muscles I look at purposeful performance. Ultimate makes use of anaerobic and aerobic energy systems and the focus (muscular-wise) is clearly on the legs as the engines of athletic performance. The quads/glutes/hams/calves provide the basis for footwork, explosiveness, agility, quickness and are the primary movers in the anaerobic (sprints) and endurance aspects of the sport. They are called on for maximal power (vertical/long jumps) and for positional flexibility (marking/tracing). Traditionally, individuals who ‘like to play’ but don’t train the physical components enough (perhaps like highly skilled handlers) end up neglecting their endurance training, sprint training, plyometric and SAQ. The result is a lower possible output on the Ultimate field.
The CORE then becomes incredibly important – as the foundation of movement is critical to the over stability of the athlete in motion. The upper body is clearly required for throwing skill development, efficiency and effectiveness.

However, the ultimate player does need not be bulky – rather explosive and lean. Great dexterity and hand-eye coordination also lend themselves to sport specific performance – what good is the fastest wide receiver if he has no hands? And that every player has to be a QB in effect!
What muscles are most commonly weak in ultimate players? In my experience, the athletes (collectively) have started out at a lower experience level in overall competitive athletic training. They have missed out on years of sport-specific powerlifting, plyometric, footwork, SAQ, resistance training – and so are generally (and I am really generalizing here) weaker in overall athleticism in the legs. Upper body comparisons are not valuable.

Good news again is that now is the right time to change it! So much scientifically proven/validated information that easily accessible, so many committed athletes to learn from etc. – it’s all out there to help the athletes that want to be helped!


Who's the best Ultimate athlete you've seen?

I have had the opportunity of seeing several quintessential Ultimate athletes – and picking one doesn’t do them all justice. Colin Green comes to mind, in Ottawa, as the type of athlete that best exemplifies my vision of an Ultimate athlete. And, he most similar to the athletes I train from high-level competitive basketball √† quick, agile, powerful, explosive - complimented by natural height and length, and bolstered by determination and a kick ass work ethic. I have had the pleasure of training Colin at the Dojo and on the field.


Colin Green Of GOAT (Black Hat)
CUC 2007 Championship Game

What are your strongest and weakest traits as an athlete personally and how does that affect your leadership style?


Interesting question… As an athlete, I have always been strong and more powerful (these are mesomorphic qualities – I gain muscle mass, strength and power quite quickly when I train). In my years of basketball, I was considered hard-working, typically in-shape and actually quite aggressive. Early on I was probably too aggressive for my own good. My weaknesses, physically (for my sport) were in being too short, not long enough, having poor flexibility and I had sport specific weaknesses (no left hand!). There are so many ‘mental’ aspects to sport, training and competition - occasionally these were areas of strength and weakness for me.

Leadership styleI believe I am a social communicator first and drill sergeant second. I see my role as a motivator – to inspire and challenge people (far to many people create barriers for themselves, and fail to overcome them because of weaknesses of the will and the mind!!). Authenticity and sincerity are critical in pushing people to blow threw their self-imposed limitations (and a bit of knowledge). Most importantly, I find that I have been very lucky to work with committed, driven and hard-working people. (If you’ve been to the Dojo, you understand. It is not for the faint of heart). I find that the athletes internal motivators are often more important than my leadership style.
If I had to psychoanalyze – I’d guess that my strengths support a healthy self-confidence while understanding my weaknesses (and working on them) gives me ‘athletic empathy’ and balance.

What are some of the most frustrating things when training athletes?

Things that drive me bananas:
  • Laziness and complacency
  • Dealing with highly-skilled poorly conditioned athletes with healthy egos and an inability to take constructive suggestions
  • People who eat like shit, drink too much, smoke too much, don’t sleep and can’t figure out why they don’t see gains in their training!
Things that are frustrating, but are good problems to have:
  • Athletes who can’t ‘slow down’ – overtrain and hurt themselves
  • Trying to get athletes to ‘buy in’ – some people go on trust, others need to be convinced over a lonnngggggg period of time.
What type of athlete frustrates you?

First and foremost – ignorant athletes – individuals who lack respect for themselves, teammates, opponents, referees and for the game(s) they play. I have very little patience for ignorance… A healthy ego, aggressive style, even win at all costs attitude I can understand and manage – but overall ignorant behavior frustrates me!

The athlete that ‘doesn’t care’ or is defeatist comes in next… You know, the nice person who doesn’t believe in themselves? Can’t get past go – to even start towards self-improvement. I find these people to be a challenge, I enjoy helping them break free, but I have seen some that never believe – and it’s frustrating to see them waste their emotional time…

What are some of the most satisfying rewards training athletes?

There are to many to count… And it has less to do with ‘winning’ and more to do with the journey, the challenges and individual successes. I have truly enjoyed working with Ultimate athletes over the last two years. Making new friends, watching as people blow through personal barriers, achieve personal bests (athletically, aesthetically). I believe that everyone is capable of greatness – if they believe in themselves and have the will to work hard. I have had the wonderful opportunity and pleasure to partake in athletes’ quests for excellence. It is an honour… It’s not about me, but about seeing how people strive, challenge themselves, unite as a team or as friends towards common and individual goals.

The atmosphere that Ultimate players bring to the Dojo – friendly, interactive, supportive while at the same time motivated, with intensity - the desire to be challenged and to challenge with a kick ass work ethic – it motivates and inspires me all the time.


If you could give one piece of advice to all ultimate players, it would be...?

So very clich√© – but I always recommend people get educated, get fit and play your sport… Work on your weaknesses and build on your strengths. More specifically though:
  • Nutrition for performance (get educated)
  • Train for performance (get a trainer, work with teammates)
  • Ask questions
  • Set goals and plan plan plan!!!!
  • Mental training (for competitive athletes)
  • Challenge yourself.
  • Take chances
  • Get advice and constructive criticism.
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Personal Update

Nation,

I usually don't make this site about me. I like to focus on the game itself, and I value serious topics that other people can relate to themselves. Thus I won't tell you about every club practice, my trips to the grocery store or anything of that nature unless it may make you laugh/learn.

I'm taking an 8 month position with the Canadian Olympic Committee starting tomorrow, focusing on Olympic Games Preparaton regarding the Bejing Olympics. I'll still be working on contracts with the Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance and the Canada Games Council. Needless to say, I'm pretty excited about the new opportunity. It might open many doors.






I am also happy to say that I've accepted an invitation to join the Board of Directors for the Canadian Ultimate Players Association. I will go on record as saying that our national body has failed to organize and develop our sport as well as it possibly could. We have a new executive director and there appears to be a desire for change. I hope to help CUPA change the way things are done, so that it can work harder and smarter, and we can develop ultimate, build stakeholder relations, and make CUPA much stronger.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Captain Considerations: Win Now Versus Win Later

Nation,

Our sport is growing up. No longer can pick up teams walk into local tourneys and dominate as they once did. As the game continues to mature, this will become even more difficult.

Under the current Worlds system, teams qualify to represent their country by winning their national title in the previous year. You win nationals in 2007, you represent Canada in 2008. That's the system we have to work under.

So if you're not a defending national champion this year, what should be the plan of your team?



A lot of teams that were very close to winning will continue to compete for a national title every year until it is time to dissolve. This is understandable. I expect my readers to cringe as I compare teams to the business concept known as the product life cycle. But what about the rest of the pack? How should team leaders plan for this year and for coming years?



Ultimate Product Life Cycle



Here are some ideas on how to get started making those decisions
  1. Take stock of your team and your players
  2. Evaluate your micro environment. Your city, your league, your feeder system. Understand how everyone and everything affects you. Understand cause and effect.
  3. Evaluate the macro environment (competition in the division and how you stack up, changes in the system, changes/status of outside areas such as the college scene)
  4. Set your goals
  5. Make a plan
  6. Stick to it
Personally, I think the most important thing in club ultimate is winning nationals in a qualifying year. It's a pretty simple and clear vision, and every leadership book will tell you such simplicity is needed to carry out the many tasks needed to get to your goal. There will be a lot of tough decisions, but being able to ask "Does this decision help achieve the end goal" adds focus and credibility to your mission.

Any team on this planet can be beaten. However, if you want to beat Furious, Traffic, or Team Fisher Price in 2011, you better develop a long term comprehensive plan that gives you the best chance for success when it matters most.

Don't you drink coffee with a fork?
Photo Source: Daniel Bergson/Facebook

Or,

You can do it the other way that so many teams do. You can lose focus and abandon your plans the minute a good player(s) comes into town in order to try and win every year. You can ignore your city leagues and feeder systems because you're busy with other things. You can lead aimlessly without a real plan from year to year.

To each his own.