Development Versus Winning: The Importance of Pitch Time

Sophie Edmondson starts off the new Discussion section with a look at squad sizing and its implication for player development…

Looking back over last season, something that’s puzzling me is something I’ve not given much thought before now. Perhaps it’s because 2013 was my first time at the helm of a club team. This is the first time I’ve realised just how important squad size is. On the surface the topic of squad size sounds pretty dull but it has lots of layers to it. No doubt there are lots of teams and individuals out there that have different experiences and opinions on what works best.

I write from the viewpoint of the women’s division on the UK domestic tour and at xEUCF 2013. I haven’t done a ton of homework collecting stats from each team about who played when and where, nor have I acted upon the knowledge that Iceni significantly shortened their lines in the final at Europeans last year. I’m sure had I done this a few home truths would be revealed both statistically and anecdotally but that’s still up for discussion.

At the LLLeeds Ladies AGM last year it was clear that 2013 was going to be a fresh start and the drive for new players was a priority. Turns out there’s a lot of female frisbee talent in the north and luckily trials were packed out. In summary: we settled with a squad of 22 which quickly went down to a tour team of 17 through unfortunate injuries and drop-outs.
Leeds Women at London’s Calling 2013. Photo courtesy of David Sparks.

We finished 4th at Tour and at Nationals and came 15th (last) at Euros. We went to xEUCF with 12 players. In Bordeaux we didn’t play a team with fewer players than us and we didn’t finish in the same bracket as any of the other UK teams. In fact we didn’t actually win a game (story of my 2013 life) but I’m confident in saying this was one of the best tournaments I’ve played in from the perspective of being a “team” and in terms of players’ development.

We lost in part due to the lack of playing experience and in part due to legs. With a bigger team I think we could have won a game or two. At the start of last season, xEUCF wasn’t even on our radar so we had no expectations about taking titles; LLL were in that well-talked about “development season”.

What baffles me though is that Tour, Nationals and European Champions Iceni were arguably in a development year too. They held weekly winter sessions open to all, then took a squad big enough to field two teams at tours 1 and 2, giving a large number of London based players regular quality weeknight practices with coaching and game play.

So is the question really about development versus winning? Yes.

At xEUCF Iceni’s large squad had 27 rostered players and they went on to win. I’m not going to dispute how good winning feels but I get the impression there is some contempt among some Iceni players who went to France but didn’t get a proper jab at the final.

Would it have been better for Iceni to focus on using the whole team, as evenly as was feasible, and let everyone have a shot playing in a European final? I’d argue that the only way we can develop women’s ultimate is to do precisely that. A team works hard together to get to the final and then all players contribute on pitch in the big game.

Easier said than done; if we want women’s ultimate in the UK to improve in line with the rest of the world we need to empower the new talent we’ve just spent a season nurturing. That means even amounts of pitch time in the biggest games of the season. Possibly for Iceni that can be achieved by moving towards a more possession rather than their current yardage based style of play and potentially by taking a slightly smaller team to xEUCF.

Their opposition in the 2013 final was U de Cologne, a relatively fresh team on the circuit who were joined by the formidable force of former European champions Sara Wickstrom and Susanne Theimer. They rocked up with 17 players and came second. If it was all down to legs then surely Iceni should have panned them, right? Perhaps I’m underestimating both the powerhouse that is Cologne and the combined experience within Iceni last year but I’m definitely not underestimating the power of pitch time for player development.

Perhaps my initial assumption that Iceni were in a “development season” this year is wrong.  If so, that may explain why despite already qualifying for 2014 World Clubs they still shortened their lines in the final of xEUCF. I don’t know the ins and outs of who got more/less pitch time and the reasoning behind it but it would be interesting for someone to shed some light on the topic.

There’s a risk that some people may interpret this article as an excuse for some Iceni-bashing, ignoring the themes at its heart. But I’ve noticed, since moving to London earlier in 2013, it’s obvious that there’s a real buzz about women’s ultimate here at the moment and it’s something to be harnessed.

I strongly believe the capital has space for two strong geo women’s teams.

I wonder what would happen if Iceni took a smaller squad at the beginning of a season and if this would add fuel to the development of the women’s scene in London. Many cite Iceni’s established geo-ethos as a reason to trial as it enables regular well-attended practices. Surely that’s what almost every team is striving for but can’t always deliver.

With a more even distribution of geo players across – still distinctly separate – London teams and a combined closed London women’s practice, could we achieve the best of both worlds: quality practices and more of the ‘tough game’ pitch time? Other benefits would include: pushing the skills of more players already near the top of their game, creating better contact between clubs and potentially forging connections in preparation for future GB teams.

Development isn’t just about coaching and improving, it’s about tournament experience and knowing what it takes to be a cog in a bigger machine. More pitch time means more contribution to your team’s efforts and more experience playing different opposition. Some hold the viewpoint that if you’re fully engaged in your team you can be just as engrossed in a win when supporting from the sideline as you would through playing on pitch. In my opinion sideline can never be a substitute for feet on pitch and hands on disc. The UK’s performance at the top for both club and country will only continue to improve if we seek to give our players the chance to match up, train with and compete against the toughest opposition possible.

What do you think? Feel free to comment below, or even better submit a response to


Co-founder Josh Coxon Kelly introduces the latest addition to The ShowGame – Discussion

If there’s one thing Ultimate players aren’t afraid to do it is to stand still calmly with a hand in the air and command the rest of a fourteen strong whirl of athleticism to freeze all sport in an instant to, well, have a chat. As players of the game we have all had to become accustomed to this emergency stop, and with it occurring at such a frequency and pervading with equal importance a rainy 3 on 3 at the park and the World Championships it is easy for the intervention of ‘a call’ to become so familiar that we forget that it is something that instantly separates our beloved sport from just about any other the world over.

UltiPhotos: Friday Women's - Brandon - 2013 USAU US Open &emdash; US Open 2013 - Friday
Katey Forth (Texas Showdown) in a call. Photo courtesy of Brandon Wu, UltiPhotos.

Discussion is hard-wired into our sport. We place the burden of fairness on not only those whose sense of impartiality is stressed the most, but also at the exact time that it is most stressed. Championships, trophies, medals, victories, and most importantly a crucial, yet fundamental sense of honesty all rest on our ability to first to play with that sense of sportsmanship, and secondly to use words and dialogue to solve any cases where any player believes the rules to have been breached. All in all, our positions as both officiators and players lead to a sport that we all share the responsibility to co-create each time we play. There is no (outside of the US) external interference or incentive – we between us train for, stage, and compete Ultimate.

On-pitch is not the only site where debate can be found at Ultimate tournaments. Sidelines, tents, hotel rooms, bars, minibus and car journeys home are the site of team bonding but also naturally bubble into forums where we compare and form our various opinions on the many facets of our sport. The hope of this section of TheShowGame is to amplify the viewpoints that these discussions are composed of, no matter how complementary or discordant they may be.

In this section will be posted pieces that tackle issues and debate head-on. Taking Ultimate as our lead, we encourage opposition, expect disagreement and expect and encourage mutual respect at all times. And so with this introduction comes a call to writing. Far from a pulpit, this is an open floor. So please – more than ever – get involved!


The Grapevine – 10/01 tSG Special

shopparajumpers Georgia, Times New Roman, serif;”>The Grapevine this week looks forward to what we have in store and some cool announcements plus some other fun stuff from the week.

To herald in the new year we shopparajumpers have a new About page, go see! Note that we still don’t have a correspondent for the Mixed division and we want one. Do you play at mixed tour and want to report on the upcoming season? Contact us now

We have also recently got rid of the twitter to FB page link less annoying retweet posts and more personalised posts, please follow us on twitter and make sure to like the FB page for more tSG action. 

Next week sees the official announcement and opening of our new ‘Discussion’ section as mentioned in Ultimatum 2013.

With the season starting soon Charlie Blair looks back at 2013 and ahead to what looks to be a massive 2014. Watch out for James Burbidge’s Open division 2013 review and 2014 preview.

Now for some news from the rest of the world:

We love Women’s ultimate here at tSG and we really enjoyed this weeks viral piece on Ultiworld. From Brute Squad (Boston, USA) and recent Whitecaps triallist Emily Baecher writes about how we can’t measure Women using the same points of reference as Men in ultimate and how Women’s Ultimate IS a sport it it’s own right! 
To further promote our sport please vote for the Team USA World Games team for World Games team of the 2013. Let’s admit, they rocked and we want Ultimate to win this. Vote daily until your computer breaks! 

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Super exciting! Keep on commenting, sharing and reading!
DP @ tSG. 

No Heroes

Sion “Brummie” Scone discusses what it takes to be a team player.

Here’s a little experiment.  I want you to close your eyes (not yet, keep reading) and picture yourself playing ultimate in the future, playing at some event that you are going to be working hard for, playing in the “dream game” that defines your season, maybe your playing career.  It could be coaching your student team to the regional “Game to Go” match for the first time, maybe getting onto a big club or national team, maybe playing a big final. Allow yourself a good few minutes, play that over in your mind, allow the vision to develop.

Continue reading “No Heroes”

Clapham at Chesapeake: Is the Gap really closing?

Sion “Brummie” Scone, continues this seasons analysis of Clapham Ultimate and their run up to WUCC 2014 in Lecco, Italy. 

Previously, I wrote about how much potential I thought Clapham have in 2013, tempered with the fact that they still have work to do if they want to have an impact at WUCC, to avoid a repeat of their disappointing results in 2006 & 2010.  With this in mind, I watched footage of their games vs Ring & Ironside, to find some insights into the question posed by Pichler recently as to how big the gap is, and to work out whether that gap is being closed by the efforts of Clapham, and if not, what they need to do to achieve their aims of a semi final berth at WUCC.

Firstly, let’s look at the stats (note: “Scoring %” differs slightly between O and D lines; it is the number of goals scored / number of points played for O, and the number of goals scored / number of points where the D line forced a turnover for the D line.  The number of possessions required to score a goal are therefore irrelevant for this stat… a deeper look could get into this in more detail!  I wanted to ensure that this statistic reflected the scoring rate where each line had the disc):

The results are pretty interesting.  I posted the scores for Sub Zero’s final-winning game in order to provide some comparison.

The Ring game was very sloppy from both teams’ O lines, and the real star here was Clapham’s D line who rattled off 4 breaks in a row after half to pull into a 3 point lead; still, Ring had the disc to tie the game up at 13-12, but Clapham’s O held and the D line broke again for the 15-13 win.  Clapham’s D line scored 7 goals from 8 attempts, which is a phenomenal rate of 87.5% and proves they are a world-class unit.  The same cannot be said for the O line, who scored 8 goals from 16 possessions, meaning 1 turn per goal on average, and considering that just 5 of the 12 points played resulted in goals without a turnover, there is a lot of work to be done if they want to compete at WUCC.

The Ironside game stats show where Clapham’s reliance on their D line will cost them when playing elite opposition, as they simply do not turn over with anywhere near the same frequency.  Clapham’s D line were only able to get the disc in 5 points, and scored 3 of them.  This is probably in line with the scoring rates required of elite level defensive units – Ben Wiggins believed that 3 breaks should be sufficient to win any game, as the strength of his then team Sockeye meant they were confident in their offence’s capabilities, and were therefore not reliant upon their D line to win games – but Clapham’s O line again shows that they racked up 13 turns to score 9 goals (compared to 5 turns from Ironside’s O line who scored 10 goals).  In fact, in the first half, Clapham’s O line scored only 1 goal without turning over (from a total of 6 goals), and their D line scored 1 break from 3 points where they had possession.  The second half saw 100% offence from the Clapham D line (2 breaks from 2 possessions), and 3 goals without turning from their O line, yet the remaining two points saw multiple turns from Clapham’s O and both led to Ironside breaks, allowing them to to keep their lead and take the game 14-12.  Saving just one of these breaks would have been enough to take the game to sudden death.  

Comparison of Clapham’s scoring percentages to Sub Zero’s in the final gives an idea of where “the gap” lies; O line turnovers; Clapham need to be aiming to halve the number of turnovers per game if they want to be successful next year.  The positive is that Clapham’s D line show a similar, or even better, scoring ability than Sub Zero, and certainly better than Ironside (3 goals from 11 attempts vs Clapham), and were capable of getting enough blocks to keep them in games until late.  The quality is evident in Clapham’s O line, what is missing is consistency, and given how close the North American teams are to each other, Clapham need to try to emulate the consistent, high-level play of the Pro Flight teams.

The spread of turnovers indicates early game nerves, turning into second half confidence – and possibly over-confidence. I spoke to Markian Kuzmowycz, who plays for PONY – a team that beat Clapham twice at Chesapeake – for some thoughts.  “In my opinion, they played like an “American” team, like club teams I’m accustomed to facing. Physical D without calls to slow down the pace, mostly man-to-man, and an offence that works to set up a deep shot. Where they were a little weaker was in 1:1 defence on the downfield cutters. Also, Clapham missed a lot of hucks“. European readers may be surprised to find that Kuzmowycz believes that Clapham lack the fitness they need to win late in the day: Clapham imploded in our 3rd place matchup … last game of the weekend, they looked tired”.

And what about their chances at WUCC? It’s great to see the results Clapham had, especially beating Chain in a must-win game, and giving Ironside such a tough game, as I would like to see more clubs internationally playing at this level of ultimate. Do I think they could make semis? Not at this time, no. Quarters? Maybe.” “I would say the ceiling for them is probably somewhere in the 5-8″.

Jolian Dahl of Chain Lightning had this to say: “I was impressed with the poise of Clapham’s offense; they made it far more difficult for our defense to get turnovers than in years past. The times Chain was able to get turns came from situations where Clapham’s offense was prevented from swinging the disc. My take on the effectiveness of Clapham’s deep game: all of the uncontested hucks were mid-range and were thrown off movement after the offense had moved the disc 1/3 to 1/2 the way down the field.”

From watching the games (all available from UltiWorld), there are a number of things that stood out to me:
  • Clapham show that they are the athletic equals of the US teams that they are striving to beat, play some tight handler defence and get more than enough blocks to win games against even the best.  Clapham also pull off a number of highlight reel plays to rescue poor throws, more so than most of the other teams at Chesapeake; this is a positive, but reaching out for players to make plays is a dangerous strategy.  US teams seem to use athleticism as the safety margin, not an offensive tactic.
  • In the Ring game, and the start of the Ironside game, there are very few picks (unlike their opponents).  This means that Clapham are not stifling their own flow.  The number of picks increased dramatically as the Ironside game wore on, showing that as Clapham tire, they lose focus & structure.
  • Clapham struggle to create and maintain flow, resulting in lots of players sat on the disc aiming to create something downfield. There also seemed to be a reluctance to reset early; Sub Zero and Ironside tended to reset after 2-3 seconds of looking downfield. 
  • Clapham play their dumps noticably closer to the disc than any of the other teams there, which means they did not use the width as well as the other teams, and it also makes it more likely that the throwing lanes are clogged by an offensive player.  Even if the lanes are open, they are very narrow & therefore throws are more difficult to execute.  Clapham players need to trust in their team rather than crowding the disc.
  • Clapham’s D line offence is vastly improved from 2011, and is probably the reason that they have won games comfortably this year.  Now the O line need to catch up.
  • 1-2-1 cutter defence is poor; teams like Ironside that rely on repeated isolations downfield had little trouble getting open for big yards.  Clapham defenders have a tendency to turn their attention away from their mark, and smart cutters use this opportunity to get open.  It seemed like Clapham were not communicating very well on defence. I saw very few switches, and only occasional useful poaching, despite playing against Ironside who stick all of their players out to one side and play with one guy in isolation.  They need to be more adaptable than this if they want to challenge at WUCC.  Ironside, in contrast, were able to stall Clapham out on their own goal line with some intelligent switching and poaching. Clapham’s poaching more often looks like lazy defence than intelligence. Clapham need to be able to play better shutdown on the unders and rely on team mates peeling off the back to cover, especially when they play with a force-upfield mark that gives no protection downfield.
  • Compared to Ring, Ironside and Sub Zero; Clapham don’t move the disc aggressively enough off the pull, nor do they generate any big gains before the defence is set.  They could use a pull play that will allow them to utilise the free space that comes with pulls that come in low and hard.
  • Clapham’s successful deep throws mostly came directly from flow, thrown on stalls 1-2.  When they threw deep from static, they had a lower completion rate.
  • Ironside were without 3 of their starting 7 offensive players and fell to their worst defeat in 3 years at Chesapeake; Chain were missing a World Games player and offensive stalwart Dylan Tunnell. Likewise, Clapham sent only a small number of their players, with some missing out because of U23 Worlds.  But where were the others? Clapham will never succeed without total commitment from all of their team, so to see so many players missing in a non-GB year was a little surprising. Perhaps Clapham need to select players who can commit more if they want to make the breakthrough?
Clapham Ultimate at Chesapeake 2013. Photo courtesy of Kevin Leclaire Photography.

So the question is: are Clapham closing the gap?  It is hard to answer; after all, this is not the first time that Clapham have made semi finals at a US tournament.  The fact that everyone was treating semi finals as an amazing result – and not just an expected one – indicates that people believe the gap has increased since 2007.  If this is true, then perhaps Clapham are closing the gap.  The strength of their D line firmly suggests that they are.  But the disparity between Clapham’s O line performances and that of their opponents shows that any gap is real, and vast.  


Comments welcome! DP @ tSG.

Closing the gap

David Pichler questions how large the gap between the Big Three and the rest of the world actually is.

In the last 2 weeks, USA Ultimate teams went 36-0.  4 golds.  Dang.

GB teams were competing in all these divisions which Team USA won.  Our medal count wasn’t quite as prolific as our American counterparts, every returning player’s suitcase was a little lighter than hoped.  Most, although not all, medals went to the countries in ‘The Big Three’.

By The Big Three I am refering to USA, Canada and Japan.  These three nations seem to dominate when it comes to medals at the major international events.  In recent years GB have had the focus and talent to push these nations close but never seem able to make the leap from challengers to champions.  Why are these countries ever elusive to us?  That question can be best answered if we look first at what’s getting us in with a shout to begin with.

Continue reading “Closing the gap”