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Captaining in ultimate (disjointed musings)

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Mar. 20th, 2011 | 07:39 pm

Today I spent the day as captain of a team in a local social hat tournament. As captain ... well, I didn't really do very much. I called lines, talked a bit at team talks, but generally let the game progress without much of my input or control (beyond simply playing as I normally would).

Was that the best I could have done? Perhaps.

There are a few things that have shaped my thoughts on captaincy. First, a personal anecdote. I was playing in an A grade team captained by Jon Liddell. In one game, we were playing poorly, and snapping at each other because of it. Jon called a timeout and brought us in together. "Is anyone deliberately throwing the disc away?" he asked. "Is anyone intentionally dropping it?" Obviously, the answers were No and No. The takeaway was fairly obvious: angrily telling each other to do what we already knew we should do does not achieve anything.

Of course, that applies to general play, as well as captaining. And it's a very difficult lesson to learn (I still struggle with this).

#2: a blog post by Eric Zaslow. Zas is a super-experienced American player who's played and won at all kinds of international tournaments, and who also happened to marry a New Zealander, so he's spent time in Wellington. I recommend reading his whole post, but in a nutshell: in a typical team talk (e.g. timeout, or half time), three or four people will bring up three or four different points, people will nod sagely, and ... everyone will forget everything. If you want to make effective use of a timeout, you need one message, given by one person. Even that is difficult to benefit from, but any more and you've certainly wasted your time.

Related to this: It's impossible to turn a weak player into a good player through advice alone. I've played a lot of games in my life in which there was a wide skill or experience range on the team. Invariably the experienced players will try to up-skill their teammates by telling what they should be doing. Invariably, it doesn't work. It's very beguiling to think that all you need is the perfect phrase, the perfect analogy, and suddenly the weak player will start playing a whole lot better. In reality, of course, there's so much going on out on the field that they'll never remember your wise words. This is particularly true for inexperienced players, who need to spend so much more effort simply to understand what's happening in the game. Your best option is to pick one thing which they can realistically improve, and then emphasise that at every opportunity. You're still unlikely to see improvement over a single game, but over three or four you might make progress.

Finally, a quote from _The Little Prince_. (my copy is a graphic novel, so this will be a little imprecise. This conversation is between the Little Prince and a King)

"Your Highness ... do you mind if I ask you some questions?"
  "I command you to ask me some questions."
"Your Highness ... what do you reign over?"
  "Over everything."
"Over all that?"
  "Over all that."
"And do the stars obey you?"
  "Of course. I won't tolerate any rebellion."
"Oooooooooh. ... Please, I'd like to see a sunset. You'd make me very happy. Command the sun to go to bed."
  "Hmm, no. I'm an absolute monarch, but I reign sensibly."
"??"
  "Suppose I commanded a general to turn into a seagull, and the general didn't carry out the command, who would be in the wrong? Him or me?"
"You."
  "Precisely. Ask of each what each can give."

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