Monday, July 2, 2007

Mental Game: Offense vs Defense

So this past weekend was Jazz fest up in montreal. Weather was very good overall. Some spouts of rain, it was windy, but all in all no complaints.

After a less than stellar performance at BI, it was nice to come out on Saturday and take our pool 3-0 and win the cross over. I felt I played well at times and not so well at other times, but all in all good. Sunday, however, not so good. i think I was better off staying in bed. In any event, teams improving, yada yada yada, no one cares.

One thing I did think about, and this is not a new thought, is the idea of mental control affecting stamina. Now that isn't exactly clear, so let me explain. I feel like when I am on offense, which is usually the case cuz I handle, I feel like I can play forever. it doesn't matter how many points I have played, what the weather is like. When I am on the field and we have the disc, I rarely ever feel exhausted. Its almost as if the disc gives off energy. Conversely, I don't feel the same way on D. Not that I don't like D, or can't run for an extended period of time, its just that running around trying to shut my guy down takes a physical and mental toll on me and I don't feel the same seeminlgy invicibility that I do on offense and I suppose I sort of have an idea why.

On offense, you have control. You know where you are gonna go, you know where the disc is, you have a goal and should have an idea of how to get there. This is nice because it gives you focus. You can concentrate all your physical and (more importantly) your mental energy on maintaining possession and getting the disc in the end zone. I feel like this is almost a distraction from exhaustion. You need your legs to work and when its your time to cut, you put them in motion the best you can and, at least for me, they are there for me (more or less). However, defense is very different. You are not in control. Your role on the field is reactionary. You want to shut your guy down, you want to prevent the score and ideally you want to generate a D. However, none of these things are in your direct control. I feel like with this, you use your legs at moments that are not necessarily ideal for you. Maybe you are fast, maybe you are ready, but your running is dictated by your opponents. I feel like this difference is huge for mental and physical stamina on the field. With the ability to control when and where you cut, I feel like you can use your body to its maximum potential and maintain a high level of competitive ability. However, on D, you hope to train and condition as hard as possible so that when that moment comes when you have to run down that huck and try and get a D, or beat your guy to the cone, you've got the legs to do it.

So why do I care? Whats the message? Coming from a person that is not as athletic as most on the Open field, it is important that I learn how to make up the ground between myself and the guy I am covering. This is not easy. How is it possible for a defender (who is reactionary) to shut down and prevent a cutter/handler, who is in control, from getting the disc/scoring? If the guy I am covering has the same feeling of limitless legs on O, how can I, with the feeling of limited legs, make his life difficult? I think the answer is maintaining strong mental stamina. There are moments where I run and run and run and at some point, i don't even care who wins the point. On those marathon points, I just want the pain to stop, I just want the point over. Its thinking like this that'll kill ya and I try and stay away from it. I feel like the best thing to do is to keep your advantages in mind and position yourself as best as possible. A lot of people, like parinella, write about positioning and what not because its so important. Chasing a guy around the field is a waste of energy. Only when you affectively put yourself in a place where you can either 1) prevent a guy from going where you don't want him to go (ie deep) or 2) induce him to cut to place where you want him to go (ie a place where you have a play) can you affectively play D. Keeping this in mind, I feel, improves my defensive abilities drastically. I like to put myself about 1 yard down field of my guy (on the open side) to push him under. I feel like this distance is enough to prevent him from juking me out and torching me deep as well as just enough to give me the room to make up the difference either with a bid or some good old fashion running. More often than not, if you can stay within 3-4 feet of your guy, he/she will get looked off and you are effectively doing your job. This might seem like a small mundane detail but it allows you to have some control on the field. You put yourself in a place that is not entirely reactionary and you can potentially dictate where your guy goes. This is not unlike baiting a D, bascially letting your guy think he/she is open by slowing up a bit and then when the disc goes up you pounce. This, in addition to training and conditioning, can really improve your defensive abilities on the field, I feel.

This also goes for zone as well. If you are running cup, which is basically one of the most physically demanding positions on the field, it is important to run with purpose and direction. The basic idea is to chase the disc around and lock down on the thrower with 3-4 players in some sort of cup. However, running with purpose or control, can really save your mental and physical game. I feel like those 1 or 2 glances over the shoulder to let you know where the offense is positioned can really benefit your game. If I know that there is a wing ready for an up field toss as the disc is being swung, i know I have to get on my horse. However, if I take a glance and see that my fellow down field defender has him covered and there is actually a popper waiting for a quick strike through the cup, I can run and put myself in a position to stop that. This I feel is not entirely reactionary, but more preventative and it also gives you a goal and a purpose, rather than just running.

Therefore, maintaining this mental focus and concentration is huge for playing effective ultimate. On offense, it is handed to you in the form of scoring and your offensive strategy. On defense, however, it is so important to establish this goal, this purpose, this focus, because all of this allows for improved concentration which allows you to forget about your legs and think about shutting your guy down. And this focus on shutting your guy down is even more important because like any problem, it is better to look at it in terms of potential solutions as opposed to overwhelming yourself. Just like a big work project, its better to take one step at a time, focus on one goal, then another then another, as opposed to looking at the whole project, and thinking "Damn, I am so screwed". On the ultimate field, rather than thinking, "Wow I gotta run to keep up with this guy", its better to be more like, "Ok, I am gonna get to this spot, push him here, react this way if he goes where I don't want, trust my mark, and hit the ground if necessary". Maintaining this mental focus is no easy task, but if it is done, the endurance that you train for will be all the more helpful and your defense, I feel, will as well.

Offense, I am continually learning, requires an extreme amount of mental focus as well. However, rather than having your fatigue affect your focus, your patience is what is important. I am not a very patient person, although I am trying, and trying to play good fundamental offense is soo hard at the club level. The defense is good, but the main problem I think, associated with patience, is the idea that if you turn it, the odds of getting that disc back (in club) are much slimmer than college. You can't expect that the other team will screw up. Especially in those seeminlgly easy down wind points. If you over throw your target or push a break throw that isn't there and you now gave up the disc and they are going up wind, at the club level, they might very well get the score without turning it. Upwind doesn't necessitate an easy turnover at this level. That is why patience and mental focus are so important, and for me, so difficult. Hopefully things improve as I play more, but its tough and painful. You want to win, you want to score, you don't want it to take forever, but this game is about field position and movement, not scoring. If you hold on to the disc well, you'll win. No team wins becasue they have a guy that hucks well or a guy that can break any mark. Teams win by not getting broken (O-line getting scored on) and that happens with patience. A huck or break might get you a goal but not a W.

Whats worse is that as I write this I know I am going to screw this up. I know exactly what I need to do to perform the best that I can, but actually putting it into practice is such a challenge. I suppose that this is similar to consistency. Consistency, or the ability to play well all the time, not just in spurts, is one of the toughest things in this game. Being able to be 100% at anything, in cuts, deep shots, defense, breaks, is such a valuable assest and it comes with mental focus (and some athelticsm). I suppose a lot of the elite players out there know all this, but for students of the game, like myself, these lessons are the hardest to learn, but I am optimistic and hopefully, one day, I'll have it down, or at least close.

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