Pulls are Important

Cued by a comment on a recent episode of Deep Look, I began to think about the importance of pulls; whether it was worth it to spend real effort cultivating pullers this year.  The more I thought, the more I became convinced that it wasn’t just a good idea, but something quite important and that I should be working at it more in my own game.

The Football Outsiders place the importance of special teams in football at about 13% of total performance, or roughly one-quarter that of O and one-third of D, not an insignificant percentage.  Moreover, they’ve always emphasized the importance of kickoffs, particularly before the recent kicking rule changes, as an underrated aspect of evaluating a kicker and special teams unit’s performance.  Essentially, a kicker who goes 20/25 on field goals but consistently pins the other team deep could be significantly more valuable than one who goes 24/25 but is lousy at kickoffs.  The connection to pulling is obvious.

But is it worth working on something that, while important, is far less important than O or D, particularly on a developmental squad which has such stark deficiencies everywhere?  The answer is yes, and it’s precisely because of those deficiencies.  B-Team offenses are really bad.  An extra 10, 15 yards or trapping the disc on the sideline might increase the chances of a turnover by 50%, if not more.  Moreover, pulling is an inefficiency.  There simply aren’t that many good pullers.  Part, the main part, of my job is to make my players better and more valuable to higher-level teams, and players who are good at things that no one else is good at are valuable.  Finally, pulling isn’t particularly conceptual or difficult to practice.  It’s one of the easiest things to practice alone, and I imagine getting a few players to hang back and work on pulls after practice won’t be too tough.

Thus, Team Goal: develop at least 2-3 designated pullers by the time Regionals roles around.  Individual Goal: Consistent (8/10? is that realistic? too conservative) inbounds/in-the-endzone pulls by Summer League.

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Bots 2017 – Season Planning

This is taken from an e-mail I sent to the captains, my basic plan for the season:

In general, I think that in a short season you can really teach at most 2-3 things. Based on the level we’re at, I think those things should be dump sets, marks, and basic defensive principles (i.e. staying with your man).  I’d like to work on those, along with catching, in some fashion every single practice.  If we can execute our dumps 80% of the time and limit around breaks ourselves, I’ll consider the season a great success and think we’ll be a real contender at Regionals.
Behind this are some general principles that are going to influence how we operate in general (so not something that’s explicitly being taught, but the way we teach and run scrimmages).  The basic philosophy of our offense is to quickly move the disc in order to rapidly and decisively exploit holes in the defense.  More practically, dump swing so we can fast break it down the break side.  I want to play fast and aggressive this year, I think we’ve got some athletes with low levels of experience and an aggressive downfield attack with tough D seems like a winning strategy that will also give people useful skills to play A-side (i.e. defense, hucks, and running quick strike O).
On D, I have a dream of running force middle, hence us working on changing the mark last night, but really my main goal is to lead with our defense.  I want us to defend actively, to force them to take throws they don’t want to.  In practice, that means doing things like really pushing people under/deep, hassling dumps, and (if we can manage it, I doubt it) trying some “contain” type defenses, which are really effective against B-teams that can’t complete a lot of underneath throws consistently.
This year, I’d also really like to stress team values.  Surveying the team, virtually everyone gave some variation of “fun” and “team” as the values they’d like to see us aspire to this year.  In my eyes, the true success of our season depends on the degree to which we actualize these values.  What precisely that requires, I do not know, but that won’t stop me from trying and I’d like to document this attempt over the course of the season.

Intersections of Athletics and Virtue

Summer always inspires me to think deeply about ultimate.  This year, that’s resulted in reading a lot of military strategy (about which I’ll hopefully have something to say soon) and re-reading Timothy Gallwey’s classic, The Inner Game of Tennis.  Inner Game is probably my favorite book on coaching and teaching, and I’ve long attempted (and often failed) to implement lessons from it in my own work in the classroom and on the field.  On this re-read, I was struck by the affinity of the central pillars of Gallwey’s method with Josef Pieper’s writings on the virtues.

At the heart of the process outlined in Inner Game is the idea that true learning requires, first and fundamentally, that we see reality as it really is and allow ourselves to act accordingly.  The word “allow” is significant here.  Gallwey suggests that there’s a sense in which your body already knows the techniques, strategy, etc., which you’re attempting to master and that the goal of the teacher is to shepherd you towards a realization of this, guiding you towards something already present, as opposed to pouring new, alien knowledge into a previously empty vessel.  We might think of this as akin to the idea that a block of marble already contains within it a statue, and that the artist’s chisel merely strips away at the excess, making manifest an inner form which has always been.  Learning considered this way is essentially a form of remembrance or re-cognition, an understanding which has a long lineage in classical philosophy and towards which I’m deeply sympathetic.

This all maps very closely on to what Pieper has to say about the virtues.  For, to Pieper and to the classical tradition which he inherits, to be virtuous simply is to live in accordance with reality.  Therefore, to recognize, to see, things as they really are is the root of all virtue, the first and most important step which lies at the heart of the good life.

All duty is based upon being.  Reality is the basis of ethics.  Goodness is the standard of reality.  Whoever wants to know and do the good must direct his gaze toward the objective world of being, not toward his own “sentiment” or toward arbitrarily established “ideals” and “models”. He must look away from his own deed and look upon reality.

A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart, 11

The apprehension of reality and making of decisions in accordance with it is, more properly speaking, the virtue of prudence:

Prudence, the formal basis and “birth mother” of all human virtue, is the cautious and decisive faculty of our spirit for shaping things, which transforms the knowledge of reality into the accomplishment of the good.  It encompasses the humility of silent, i.e., unbiased, understanding, memory’s faithfulness to being, the art of letting things speak for themselves, the alert composure before the unexpected.  Prudence means the hesitant seriousness and, so to speak, the filter of reflection and yet also the daring courage for definitive resolution.

Brief Reader, 15

It is, I believe, the hesitant seriousness accompanied by daring courage for definitive resolutions of which Pieper speaks that athletes experience when they’re “in the zone.”

Gallwey’s directive to the student to see things as they truly are, and to the teacher to guide the student towards this recognition (primarily through images, another affinity between Gallwey and the classical tradition), is thus ultimately a directive to cultivate prudence within the domain of sport.  To achieve mastery, we must become virtuous, at least with respect to the area in which we seek mastery (think also of courage, justice, and temperance in Ultimate).

We quickly realize a problem with this: at any given time, we only have access to a narrow sliver, the barest hint of a larger reality.  Yet we must act and, more often than not, act rapidly.

The man who does good follows the lines of an architectural plan that has not been devised by himself or even totally understood by himself in all its components.  This plan is revealed to him moment by moment only though a narrow cleft and a tiny gap; in his transient condition, he never perceives the specific plan for himself in its global and definitive form.

Brief Reader, 17

There cannot be a system or rulebook which governs our reactions in all situations.  Any such attempt a comprehensive guidelines will flounder against the shoals of reality.  The athlete rigidly cycling through a preset list of reactions will fail.  A morality which is predicated solely on the following of some abstract set of rules will collapse.  Instead, we must shape ourselves through the application of broad principles to the immediate apprehension of reality through a constant, self-reflexive process of re-orienting ourselves to that reality.

Thus, we must determine those principles.  And in the meantime, open our eyes.