Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Huddle is Fantastic...Here comes the BUT


The Huddle online magazine is great for ultimate. Both in terms of quality and quantity of ultimate frisbee content.

One recent issue/theme was about role players. As a role player, this seems like yet another great issue idea.

Despite the fact that all of the authors are anything but role players in ultimate, I once again find the articles very good reads. They throw in some conventional wisdoms and the odd cliche, but generally their experiences in ultimate let them shed some tips that the readers (who want to improve in the game and want to hear from those that excel on the field) covet.

One of these articles got posted on my local leagues open forum. Charles Reznikoff's 'What Is A Role Player?' drew praise from a local aspiring player. Indeed, it is a good article, but for one major sentence that irked me.

One of my first captains saw me working tirelessly to fix my weaknesses. "Don't do that," he said. "Spend 70% of your energy improving your strengths." He was right. I'll never win a game jumping.

Huh? Let me get this straight. You're going to suggest to all aspiring players out there to ignore their own weaknesses and focus more on what you're already strong at.

This might work in baseball, where a player can focus on their offence or on their defence. Pitchers work more on their pitches However, ultimate is a HIGHLY organic game, where players have to do everything in order to play a point. You can't just play offence or defence. You can't just mark or jump.

There is a lot of good stuff to take from this article. However, if you're imparting advice or trying to determine how your team can improve its fate and the individual fate of its players, I want (as a guy that humbly tries to geek it up in the sport econ , sabrmetric and sport intelligence realms) to remind you of this:

  • A sample size of you or your team isn't necessarily good enough to summarize what works and what doesn't
In similar organic sports (hockey, basketball etc) many people try to find the link between winning and certain parts of the game (in our case, hucks, blocks, marks, you name it). What it really comes down to is this: The only statistically significant factor in winning at such games is to score more than the other team does, and your overall efficiency at playing the game and all of ts components is the key.

So please, get your role players to work on their weaknesses more than 30% of their practice time. Keep reading the huddle and listening to the stars, but remember to take their tips with a grain of salt.


jhaig said...

I think there is some merit to what is being said there. Although I will concede that it depends an awful lot on the player’s situation and the situation of the team.

Many players new to the competitive scene arrive as raw athletes with a lot of potential but limited disc skills or field sense. Realistically, and in the short term, the only way that player is likely to contribute is to the defensive unit of his team. And the only way he's going to get on the field is if he can play effective defence in a specific position that the team needs.

Clearly the most glaring weakness in his game is the fact that he can't throw a flick. But even if he could throw a flick that wouldn't help him, because what his team really needs is someone to cover the 6'5" athletic monster on the other team's offence.

Although I would agree that long term, each player should aspire to be great at everything, there is value added by becoming a specialist, especially early in your career.

parinella said...

I agreed with Charles' point, too, as I have given similar advice before. I basically told one player that we don't need another fifth handler who plays average D and would prefer another 2nd or 3rd handler who plays slightly below average D.

The main reason I think it's true is that a good team doesn't need a guy who is a 6 out of 10 on everything. Unless a player is so weak at his weakness that he is a clear liability, he will provide more value by taking his strength from a 7 to an 8. (jhaig's example is good but is a little extreme.)

The usage while on the field (touches or quality of offender he covers) is based on the strength(s) of each player, not the overall rating.

Druski said...

I think there is a disconnect in this advice between a beginning competitive player and one who is 'almost there' in making a really competitive team. The former can likely shore up a lot of weaknesses in learning basic skills... throws, defensive positioning, field sense for cutting, etc. Once that's down though, I see the benefit in specialising in your strengths as Reznikoff advises and Parinella supports... if you're not an all-star you should stand out at *something*.

As much as I try to avoid it i'll use some pro-sport analogies... there are a lot of 4th line centres in the NHL and plenty of nickle or dimeback defensive backs in the NFL and CFL... but a 4th line centre who can reliably win faceoffs, or a dimeback who is clutch on special teams tackles... they'll get their contracts renewed and not wind up on waivers.

To get to the high levels you at least need the basics - no disputing that - but to have a role there you either need to be so good overall your role is obvious, or be really good at something (or a few things) that make you more or less indispensible.

Sport Management Steven said...

The 3 of you make some good points. A team in the elite level or on the cusp of elite needs to have people work on their strengths to help the team goal (winning). Long term (as John said) this doesn't help the player or the team, but it is the short term goal (winning now) that prompts a captain to tell a role player to focus on, well, their role.

However, I have to ask you this
-Is ultimate a sport where you can accommodate specialists? Using Druski's examples, it's a very organic game where you can't win the face off and sub off immediately after and you can't just come on for offense or defense. A great defender who can't throw or catch at the level he plays out will kill you. An offensive dynamo with no d is a mess when his team turns it over.

-Do you need to practice your strengths more than you do on weaknesses? Is the rate of return on practice time the same or better for working on strengths than it is weaknesses. I guess I have no problem working on strengths and weaknesses.. but I am opposed to the notion that you focus on what you are good at a disproportionate amount of time.

parinella said...

-Is ultimate a sport where you can accommodate specialists? Yes, though not to the extent of, say, a long snapper in the NFL.

I think it's a question of how weak those weaknesses are, and how critical those weaknesses are. If you can't throw long, what do you do about it? In most cases, you do nothing, since that means maybe that you go from completing 25% of your hucks to completing 40% (which means you should be hucking about twice a year). Two cases I could see where it would make a big impact are if you are a top receiver who is being given the in-cut, or if you were a handler and there was a relative dearth of long throwers on your team and you don't stand out otherwise (or maybe just on the D squad and you're a D line handler). While hucking is critical to every team, you don't need a certain level of proficiency from every player.

I think you can justify "work on your strengths" if you think of it as "work on what you will be using most".

Even if the weakness is something as generic and critical as "defense", it depends on how bad.