Author: megan

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“Foul? But I was just punching you in the…

I’m still processing a load of stuff from the weekend – most notably our ‘grudge match’ game, which has given me whole load of stuff to think about in terms of no-contest rules, how to beat drama and why we even play ultimate. Once I have that sorted in my brain, there’ll be a post on it for sure. I also owe Lucy a post which I promised a few weeks ago – so don’t panic, boss. It’s coming too.

This one’s a pretty brief post, about boxing out, position and bidding – because something this weekend reminded me of it.

This weekend, I went to jump for a disc and found I couldn’t – due to my mark running into the back of me as I took my approach steps.

Last year, I was punched in the face (accidentally, obviously) while jumping to catch a break-side knife indoors.

These two things have a few points in common: both times I had position on my defender (through the thrower’s efforts, not my own, I hasten to add) and both times my foul call was responded to with “I was just going for the disc”.

Oh, and both times, it ended up being contested and sent back.

First thing I want to make very clear – I do not view these pretty standard and clear fouls being contested as bad spirit on their part. This isn’t a post about how to recognise when you’ve fouled someone, or even a more useful one (possibly) about boxing out. This is a post about how to deal with that one phrase which is the derailer of almost every contested foul conversation.

“I was just going for the disc” is possibly the least useful phrase to use in a call, for starters. Of course you’re going for the disc – we’re playing ultimate. What’s the other explanation of what you’re doing? “I wasn’t going for the disc, but you were, so I thought I’d hit you”? No-one thinks that. No-one calls foul thinking that (or at least I really hope they don’t). Do me a favour – stop using that phrase.

Mini-rant over – this post is really about how to talk about the foul in order to explain to the defender that they have fouled you. In both of the calls I mentioned above, I found myself unable to convinvce the other person of this. And it’s because I didn’t mention the magic words – the words that are the bane of the “just going for the disc” approach: I had position.

This is the key point. When you and your mark collide, because you’re both running at the same speed to the same point, someone will say “we were both just going for the disc”. What they mean is, “we were going for the same space, and got there at the same time”. When you have position and your mark clobbers you, and they say “I was just going for the disc”, what they mean is “I was trying to get the disc, but you were in the way”.

Position is about having your body in the way, about giving your mark no other option if they want to ‘go for the disc’ successfully than to foul you. When you get fouled while boxing someone out, you haven’t ‘failed’: you’ve achieved your goal – the disc is yours. Unless they contest it.

Ah.

So, how do you convince them? I haven’t quite got it down yet – but I think the key point I’ve failed to raise in conversations like those above is that of position. If you can explain to them that yes, you understand they were going for the disc, but unfortunately you had put yourself in a position where they could not do so without fouling you, then by persisting in their explanation of “just going for the disc” by their own admission, they’ve just fouled you. They couldn’t go for the disc without fouling you – and they went for the disc.

Maybe that’ll work, maybe it won’t. Go test it out for me.

Mohawk Emails

Saturday Indoors – All Invited!

Howdy, Hawks.

So what do you do if you’re not away this weekend, but fancy an extra little hit of indoors?

Come down to the sports centre at 10am SATURDAY! We have 2 hours of hall time which is available for people to throw, drill and play to their hearts’ content.

It’s on top of usual training so there’s a small charge (£2), but what better chance to enjoy some extra indoor time, without the usual pitch hogs around???

I’ll be there for any throwing (or other) coaching that people would like, and you can also laugh at me throwing right-handed.

 

Meg

Blog Posts

The Grudge Match

When you read the general theme of my last post (‘Leave the Lie Detector At Home’), I’m guessing quite a few people had the same thought: “yeah, most of the time no-one’s lying or cheating, but what about that bunch of ****s from <insert rival team name here>?”

Maybe your team doesn’t have a grudge match. Maybe you don’t have that one particular team who it’s HORRIBLE to play. That team that you anticipate the possible match up with before the tournament, even if they’re not in your pool. That team that you’d consider poking your eyes out rather than play against because ‘they’re such dickheads’.

But maybe you do. I often find that having a bad game against a team once generally turns into having a bad game against that team again (without doing anything to avoid it, that is). So, as I promised Therapist, here’s a few thoughts on that ‘grudge match’ – what’s going on psychologically and how you can try to salvage spirit in these games.

 

What we look for, we find

 

Humans, in general, are pretty rubbish scientists. There’s a considerable amount of research that suggests that when asked to test a statement or hypothesis, we seek out only facts which would confirm it.* Equally, we’re very good at forgetting pieces of evidence which contradict our hypothesis. Apply this to the grudge match and you’ve got a recipe for disaster: you go into the game with all your knowledge of how they’ve been terribly spirited before, and hey, guess what, you find new evidence for this theory. Lots of new evidence.

Furthermore, we interpret this bad behaviour that we’ve looked for and found completely differently to our own behaviour (which probably isn’t perfect considering it’s a grudge match). Our behaviour in this game we see as externally driven (it’s because they’re a bunch of dicks that it’s hard to play spiritedly against them) and context-specific (we’re only unspirited in this game). In contrast, we perceive their behaviour as internal (they’re behaving like dicks because they’re dicks), global (they behave like dicks against everyone) and consistent across time (they’re dicks at every tournament). In psychology, this is called the fundamental attribution error – we undervalue the impact of situational factors on the behaviour of others.

So, if they’re terrible people to everyone, all the time, why the hell should you treat them with respect? Why should you attempt to play spiritedly? Chances are you struggle to remember the answer to that question during the game, and it all goes downhill…

*the irony that this was the researchers’ hypothesis and they’ve confirmed it is not lost on me, honest.

 

Whatever happens, happens always

 

Psychology suggests that we not only go into those games looking for incidences of bad spirit (and find them), but that we go in expecting to see poor spirit, and this in turn actually has the potential to generate precisely that behaviour.

Expectancy effects are pretty phenomenal – if two people have conversations with the same stranger, but one believes that stranger to be a friendly person and the other believes them to be unfriendly, the two people behave in such different ways towards that person that the other person reacts – and reacts in the way that in turn confirms that original information. The ‘friendly’ stranger is greeted more warmly, sat closer to, engaged in more lively discsussion and in turn responds with warmer body language and more enthusiastic responses. The ‘unfriendly’ stranger experiences the reverse of this, and responds in kind, thus ‘proving’ their nature.

So not only do we underestimate the influence situational specifics have on the behaviour of our competitors, but we actually fail to realise that sometimes we are those situational factors.

Imagine you’re bringing down a high floating disc. Another player jumps at the wrong time, from the wrong angle, and wipes you out – a clear foul. What if you know that the team you’re up against has done this before? If this is your ‘grudge match’? You get pissed off. You loudly and aggressively call ‘foul’, and start muttering under your breath about their failures of spirit. They respond by contesting it. You infer that they are a terribly spirited team – how else could they contest that call?

Having calls made aggressively against you is unpleasant and tends to make you want to be aggressive back. Either you’ve got to care enough about your own spirit being good, rather than theirs being bad, or you contest it because you want to punish their poor communication.

Imagine that exact situation happens against a team you’ve had well-spirited games with in the past. Maybe you don’t even call foul straight away. You start with ‘ouch!’ and then probably tell them ‘foul’ – but the way you call it will suggest that you expect them to be entirely reasonable about it, will make them feel like you think they’re not a complete moron, and will make them far more likely to uncontest your call. You conclude that they are a well-spirited team, like you already knew, because they gave up that call.

We have the ability to elicit behaviour from our opponents, just by expecting it.

 

So are grudge matches doomed to remain grudge matches forever?

 

Er, no. Here are some ways to avoid what’s going on psychologically.

 

They’re people too

No, seriously. Those ‘dirty cheating scumbags’ at the other end of the pitch. They are human beings too. It is easy in the grudge match to get sucked into playing harder just to win the match and ‘prove’ who was right about those calls last time you played. Don’t give in to it. People have lives off the pitch. To view them as only your opponents on the pitch is dangerous, and leads (I’ve found) to reckless bids, and poorly discussed calls. The latter makes a game nasty and makes both your teams look bad to spectators. The former can seriously alter someone’s life.

 

Disprove your hypotheses; expect the unexpected

Go into the game looking for good spirit. Interpret ambiguous situations as good spirit (not cynicism, or the mimicking of spirit). Go into this game trying to convince yourselves that they’re going to be the best spirited team you play all tournament. Give them a fighting chance to prove that they’re a well-spirited team – you’d ask the same.

 

Recognise the Grudge Match

Other advice aside, I’d say this is the biggie. Recognising what’s going on in the grudge match is actually half the battle. Knowing that you’re psychologically wired up to a) confirm that they’re horrible people and b) cause them to behave like horrible people is a pretty big first step.

You’re going to have to work extra hard in a grudge match to be well-spirited, to not make dodgy bids, or calls, or even just to call correct things maliciously (every little travel…) or aggressively (“foul, you fouling ****!”). Maybe they’ll be working hard as well. Maybe they won’t (from your perspective). But if you value spirit of the game enough, does that matter? It’s bad enough for one team to abuse the rules/spirit (if that is what they’re doing): don’t get sucked in too.

Chances are you’ll find the game much better spirited as a whole, and much more enjoyable.

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Throwing Clinic THIS Friday – How to Break a…

First up – show up to practice today. Pretty sure there should be some non-snow covered ground somewhere by now.

Secondly – our first proper throwing clinic is happening this Friday at 3pm.

This session we’ll focus on the components of ‘how to break a mark’ – with some individual exercises you can do at home, some paired throwing exercises and a couple of drills (depending on numbers obviously).

Main benefit – you’ll learn some new ways to improve your pivot, your fakes and your throws. All handy things on the frisbee pitch. We’ll also have people around to do lots of one-on-one coaching of throws, which is tricky to do for everyone at Wednesday sessions.

Regardless of your level, there will be stuff for everyone (new drills, new exercises, new thoughts), so come along.

 

 

 

 

Blog Posts

Spirited Thoughts Part 2: Leave The Lie Detector At…

This is probably the biggest thing I have changed in my own approach to calls, and it’s shockingly simple.

 

Nobody is lying to you. And nobody is cheating.

 

The fundamental assumption that people do not make calls they know to be untrue is integral to spirit of the game. The rules are written not to punish those who break the rules, but to make sure that whatever should have happened, does happen. Equally, they make the implicit assumption that people will not purposefully call things which are false.

Let me just say it again. People do not call rubbish.

Sometimes this assumption is hard to stick with when, from your perspective, someone has called rubbish – something that is physically impossible given where the disc went/when you collided/whatever. But it’s true. People make calls because they believe that is what occurred on pitch.

Well, maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t. That’s not my point. My point is that as players, we need to believe this is true for spirit of the game to ‘work’.

When you discuss a call, if you think someone is purposefully lying to you, what are you hoping to achieve? They’ve already made the deliberate decision to lie to your face, and make a false call, so why exactly are they going to take it back? Discussing a call with this thought in your head is not going to make you behave like a nice and/or spirited person – and it’s not going to get them to ‘give it up’ either.

If I’m discussing a call, it’s because I know what I think happened, and I want to know what the other team’s players think happened. I’m rarely trying to ‘convince’ the other person to back down, to uncontest or retract the call – I’m trying to match up my reality with theirs.

Discussing calls becomes ridiculous if you believe that people are likely to lie to you. So don’t. Trust your opposition. Believe that people are telling the truth as they see it. Yes, sometimes, our brains will get the better of us, and we will not have seen stuff right, in which case we should be able to listen to a calm explanation of the facts and realise we saw stuff wrong. With the ‘no-one is lying’ attitude, you’ll be better at explaining those facts to other players, without coming across as aggressive and confrontational. Equally, you’ll rarely walk away from a call feeling cheated or hard done by, which is pretty damn awesome.

So yeah. No-one’s lying to you. Except maybe in that call afterwards where you have to line them up in order of age…

Blog Posts

Excuse Me, But You’ve Got Some Bad Spirit in…

This weekend, we took two women’s teams to indoor regionals. It was quite possibly the best weekend of my ultimate playing career. I had more fun than I realised you could have at a competitive tournament, and not to be all ‘Andrew Fleming Disc 5’ but I LOVE THIS TEAM. And for me, our spirited play as a team and as a club is a huge part of what makes playing with this group of women so amazing. Our first team won spirit, and I won an individual spirit award, which actually almost made me cry because (as most people who know me know) I’m pretty keen on spirit, and it’s something I think is hugely important in the game. But way more importantly, of the 10 or 11 nominations for that award, three of my teammates also got nominated, and one of our second team players as well (yes, yes, before you ask, I got emotional again when someone told me that). I’ve been trying to think about what we did as a club, a team and as individuals that other teams recognised this weekend, and I’ve come up with quite a few points so this will be a three-parter post (I think). One thing which links all of these points is that they are less about ‘what is spirited behaviour’, and more about spirited thinking, which I hope I’m going to make a pretty strong case for over the next few posts. So here it is:

 

Spirited Thoughts: Part 1

 

I watched a TED talk recently which changed how I approach a whole ton of things in life. TED talks are basically short talks (10 mins ish) by people who are really passionate, and really good at talking, about something. This one was by a video blogger called Jay Smooth, and it’s about how to deal with being called racist (see it here).

Errr, so how the heck does that relate to spirit?

In this clip (you should watch it, because he’s far cooler than me), he’s talking about the fact that we take being told we have just done, or said, something racist as being told that we are racist, and therefore by extension that we are bad and terrible people. But, he argues, only in the case of racism would we do this. If someone told you that you had something in your teeth, you wouldn’t respond with ‘Nope, you’re wrong, I’m a clean person’ – you’d thank them and pick that piece of spinach out of your teeth (because it’s always spinach). And if we could react to being informed we had said or done something racist in a similar way, Jay argues that we’d be a lot better at discussing race. He talks about this as ‘a dental hygiene model’ for talking about race.

I think it’s a genius way of conceptualising the issue, but I also think it’s a more valuable distinction than just for talking about racism. I would argue that this ‘what you did’ vs ‘what you are’ dichotomy is applicable to almost every moral issue. There’s a lot of psychological research which suggests that one of the most important ways we evaluate ourselves, as individuals and as groups (like, say, a sports team) is in moral terms. We are very invested in wanting to feel like moral people, so we are very defensive about being told that we are not moral people.

In our sport, to be spirited is to be moral. And we very much want to be moral.

Jay Smooth’s ‘dental hygeine model’ of moral judgement has two implications for being a spirited player and how we talk about spirit, in my opinion. Firstly, approaching spirit as a behaviour, rather than a personality trait, means we can recognise that it is something we must continuously do and put effort into. Just because I won a spirit award this weekend, that does not mean that I will be spirited next weekend. The fact that I will consciously monitor and regulate my behaviour on and off pitch next weekend is what will help me be a spirited player next weekend. I’m not saying that takes no effort – I’m saying that we need to remember to put that effort in every game, and not take for granted our ‘spirited nature’. This weekend, I saw Beth, probably our feistiest player, regulate her reflexive response to an aggressively called ‘foul’, and instead of snapping back with ‘contested’, give her mark the disc back and calmly say ‘yup’ – I definitely don’t find that situation easy, and that’s why I am so proud of how she responded to that call made in the heat of the moment (hey, Beth, how’s it going). Beth put the effort in and behaved in a spirited manner, and I feel that this behaviour was repeated across the tournament this weekend by our entire club.

The second implication is that it means we can have a new, less emotionally charged way of discussing spirit, by moving our conceptualisation of it away from essentialism. When we critique another team, we can tell them that their behaviour was unspirited in a game – and accept that there may be situational factors influencing it – without calling them terrible people. As a general culture, the West absolutely loves essentialism – the idea that you behave the way you do because of who you are – but personally (and scientifically, as there’s plenty of evidence to back me up) I don’t buy it. Good people do bad things, often accidentally, and if we can’t explain to those good people that they’ve done a bad thing without calling them terrible people, how are they going to learn and not do that bad thing again? The reason we’re so defensive about being called badly spirited is because we want so badly to be spirited. Being told we’ve behaved badly in the current essentialist conception means not that we messed up one time, but that we are horrible people who will always mess up. And then we tell the people who give us this very hurtful, personal criticism to… go somewhere else, shall we say… and ignore their feedback. This means we’re less likely to learn how to behave more spiritedly in future.

In contrast, if we talk about spirit as a behaviour, which we can and will sometimes get wrong, we can improve our spirit (by improving our behaviour) when others let us know that we’ve behaved badly (but aren’t bad people). Feedback about spirit becomes meaningful and useful, and helps us to regulate and monitor our behaviour – that thing that we need to do to behave spiritedly.

 

For Squaws, ‘spirited’ is not something that we are. It is a perpetual goal, which we must constantly strive for. This weekend, I think we worked really hard, and we got it right. Great work, team – I am so proud of all of you.

Blog Posts

Let’s Get (Psychologically) Ready to Rumble!

While I’m sitting here waiting for the final draft of one of the regional schedules, I thought I may as well kill some time by talking about the issue of psychological preparation for tournaments. Rather than go for some drawn out research examples, I thought for a change I’d just go through some of the basics of what I do.

 

1. Musical Preparation

Every tournament needs a playlist. Well, not really. But every type of tournament needs its own playlist. At UWON 2011, I think I really started respecting music as a way of not just warming you up as an individual before games, but a way of bringing the team together. Ok, it’s probably something that generally works better for women’s teams, but I can also cite as evidence the Mohawks Open first team singing ‘You Know We Belong Together’ before a big game at indoor nats two years ago – so really, you’ve just gotta know your audience and pick your tunes.

My personal tournament list gets sorted probably 1-2 weeks before the tournament, and I’ll be listening to it lots during that time: between home and uni, in the gym, chilling out at home. Generally this is about 3-6 songs which get me in the right frame of mind. At Beach Worlds, this was proper agro music – I’m talking Ultivillage trailer tunes, maybe a little Pushpass – because I needed to get pumped and I needed to get aggressive. These were big games, and going in floppy wasn’t going to cut it.

For uni tournaments, my playlists are a little different. They’re not about getting me pumped for games, although generally they manage that too. They’re there to remind me what uni ultimate is all about – and it’s mostly about having fun. Yes, playing good ultimate. Yes, doing all the stuff we’ve practiced in training. But uni level isn’t club level – I cannot ‘expect’ of my team the level of clinical offence or high intensity defence I can ask of the Brighton Women’s club team. So I can’t listen to ‘high intensity’ angry music – I have to listen to, as Robbie would put it, complete trash. It is terrible. I think the lack of musical nuance may actually kill some of my brain cells with each listen– but it is perfect, because it reminds me to stop taking myself so seriously. And to drop it like it’s hot, obviously.

 

Actual point: it’s important to have a set of music that evokes the right emotional and mental state for a particular team and tournament.

 

2. Personal Preparation

I think it’s important before tournaments to not just imagine yourself doing super-awesome things (mental rehearsal) but also to think about things you will need to focus on as an individual for the benefit of the team. For me this weekend, I’m thinking about how I’m going to have to switch between tactician/coach and player, without taking away from our captains. I’m also thinking about the fact that I am going to have to self-regulate my throws – and work out if I’m having an off-game. It’s one of the great things about our team this year that if I’m having a ‘can’t hit a barn door at five paces’ game (or day) there are plenty of other players (like, the whole rest of the team) to take up the throwing load. But they can’t do that if I persist in throwing away like a goon. Third point for thought is the idea of leading from the front: I can’t influence directly how people play on either the second team or the first team really. All I can do is play as hard as I can, as well as I can, and hope that with that as a whole team we can feed off the energy of 7 or 8 people doing the same thing (I should probably be able to remember how many of us are on the team…)

 

Actual point: Prepare yourself for the decisions and regulation you’re going to have to engage in.

 

3. Watching Some Damn Good Frisbah

Ok, so I do this all the time anyway without tournaments coming up, but tournament weekends are an excuse to put aside chunks of my evenings the week before to watch highlight reels, in game footage and just generally fill my brain with all the awesome things it is possible to do on an ultimate pitch. One of my current favourites is a clip of a US women’s college team at regionals, which includes one of the most ridiculous layout Ds I’ve seen for a while (standing start layout from a far side handler mark on a pass into the lane, check it out here) and the monstrous throws of Robyn Fennig. But anyway, I think it gets me ready for the total immersion in ultimate that is a tournament weekend, and it gets me excited about ultimate, which is probably the most important thing before gametime.

 

Actual point: Err, I like watching frisbee. You should try it too.

 

If anyone’s got some favourite preparation stuff for big weekends, why not let us know in the comments? And before you say it, no, stuffing my face is not part of  my mental preparation. That’s physical, silly billy.

Blog Posts

Five Years of UWON: Some Thoughts

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…

Blog Posts

Clipboardaphobia – or ‘Why I Suck at Trials’

So, stepping late into the fray (as usual), here’s my contribution to the Mohawks blog-o-web. I’m one of those weird people who likes applying their degree to ultimate, in spite of never having done any actual ‘sports psychology’ courses. I’m also a little obsessed with tactics, especially the differences across divisions, so expect to see a mix of tactics discussion, psychological literature highlights and general dumb observations here. First up: my biggest mental block…

 

With trials for the club I’m hoping to play with this season coming up (er, today), I’ve been thinking a lot about my general failure to look like a competent human being (let alone ultimate player) at most trial sessions I’ve ever attended (grass women’s and mixed, beach women’s, U23s…). A couple of times, I’ve managed to scrape through anyway, but mostly I am the ultimate-playing definition of choking.

And while focusing on this right before trials is probably not the most psychologically healthy thing to do, I figured if I’m gonna think about it anyway, I’m gonna think about it logically and find something interesting to share about it.

There are some good posts out there about how to play at trials (Lou Burruss’ is pretty good and the Hodags one from a few seasons ago is neat, but I’m sure there are loads of others around). And generally, they have quite similar messages: play D, work hard, don’t be a jerk. Don’t turn over, unless you’re trying to make the team as a handler/playmaker, in which case turn over, but in all the right places on all the right throws…

I know all this stuff. It is not any of these things (I think) that cripples me, but rather the knowledge that this is not ‘training’, but (ominous drum roll) ‘TRIALS’. Sounds pretty stupid, but there is some quite interesting psych lit to back up my stupidity.

 

Audience Inhibition

Funny how when no-one’s watching, you can do something fine, but as soon as you’ve got an audience your brain goes to jelly, isn’t it? But how come it doesn’t always happen? Sometimes performing in front of audience makes you better at something. A lecturer in my first year demonstrated this brilliantly, although the two students he picked would probably disagree. He got one to stand at the front of the lecture theatre of 300 students and recite the alphabet. Surprise surprise, this student had no difficulty. He then got the other to recite the alphabet backwards. The guy was all over the place. Before this, he’d got them to do it outside, in front of each other – both had managed both tasks just fine. Lucky student no. 1 demonstrated ‘audience facilitation’ – the audience makes you better – and studies have suggested that when you’re incredibly familiar with something you perform better in front of people. You play up to the audience, because you know what you’re doing. Unlucky student no. 2 demonstrated ‘audience inhibition’ – you cock up because you’re less sure of what you’re doing, and the extra people add to your nervousness enough to disrupt the cognitive systems you need to do the task. Put this into practice with ultimate, with a nice judgmental audience of ‘the selectors’, and boom – car crash ultimate. Interestingly, this would suggest that people who are in general more confident about the skills being evaluated won’t feel the sting of trials quite so harshly – it is wrong that I am now thinking of how to test this empirically at trials on Monday?

 

Mastery vs. Achievement Goals

On to one of my favourite chunks of psychological literature. Some smart people in the states came up with the idea that when people engage in activities they can have two general types of goal: mastery or achievement. Mastery goals are very much geared towards, guess what, mastering a skill or task, learning how it works, understanding it and improving with relation to yourself. Achievement goals are all about looking good while doing a task – showing off what you got, so to speak. Now guess which goal-set trials encourage. (Correct answer: achievement goals).

By adding an external evaluator of your skills and play, trials automatically start kicking your brain towards thinking about how you’re being viewed by someone else and start motivating you to impress them. Which, regardless of your general mindset, has a lot of negative effects. Achievement goals tend to lead to worse performance, less perseverance with difficult tasks and more negative self-evaluations, regardless of how people approach most situations: it’s not about whether you ‘match’ the goals you’re currently focusing on.

So, coming into trials, suddenly you’re focusing not on breaking a mark or throwing a sidearm huck, but whether the person with the clipboard thinks you can break a mark, or throw a sidearm huck. This extra external perspective gives you a whole new level of chatter in your brain (Are they gonna blame me for that turnover? Do they think I made the right cut? Do they think I should’ve got a block on that break throw?) which makes it increasingly difficult to achieve what gets referred to in sports lit as a ‘flow’ state, where you stop actively and intrusively thinking and, as the advert says, just do it.

 

Now what?

Ok, so now I know why I underperform at trials. Should probably try to work out how to fix it, right? Here are some suggestions I’ve scraped together…

Step 1. Be confident. You’re not trying out for this team because you’re rubbish. No-one trying out for any team will be rubbish. You’re trying out for this team because you’re good and they’re good and you wanna get together and make some awesome Frisbeegame. Because you’re good. Get some audience facilitation going.

Step 2. Trust the selectors. With external evaluations suddenly in the picture, you’re worrying about whether this other random person thinks you’ve done something right. Now, I’m guessing that you trust these people to know what ‘good ultimate’ is (if you don’t, what the heck are you doing trying out for their team? Go play for someone else!), and that you trust yourself to know what good ultimate is. So go back to focusing on your play, rather than judging yourself through their eyes. Don’t worry about looking like you’re playing good ultimate; focus on playing good ultimate. I am pretty sure this is my major downfall at trials and it is something I’m determined to fix come Monday.

 

Alternatively, in the wise words of Nicole: ‘Don’t think of it as trials then, think of it as training.’

 

I’ll let you know how that goes…

Mohawk News

Mohawks Blog Competition

It would appear we have a new shiny website. Oh wait, we’ve had that for a while. But what’s even newer and shinier about it now is that we have the ability to host blogs. Yup, you heard me. BLOGS.

As a committee, we’ve been talking about having more content on the website, and who better to generate it than YOU?

We’re hoping to have several regular blogs running on the site, but we don’t want all of them to be run-of-the-mill ‘here’s how ultimate works’ ones. We want excitement, drama, insights into stuff that is often missed by the mainstream blogs.

So, enter the fray by emailing in your idea for a themed blog, and giving us some kind of keen-o spiel about how much you love the interweb and want to use it to entertain Mohawks, ex-Mohawks and the rest of the ultimate community. We don’t have a set number we’re looking for and are planning to go with quality rather than quantity, so don’t worry that there won’t be space for your genius.

Suggestions from the committee thus far include some boring chat about tactics and self-improvement and the slightly more entertaining ‘EdCam’ (where Ed’s everyday activities and statements are documented).

You folks can do better, right?

Entries to info@mohawks.co.uk. Deadline: January 3rd.