Matt Tsang on coaching middle school ultimate

As I launch into the fall season of coaching at Eckstein Middle School in Seattle with a great group of new and experienced coaches I’ll be reviewing helpful resources, including curricula, drills, and videos.  To set the stage and delve into how to develop team culture with middle schooler, here are some notes on this great talk by Matt Tsang, a coach and teacher at a middle school in Berkeley, from the 2014 Youth Ultimate Coaching Conference.

Matt’s goals (and talk outline):

  • Team Culture
    • How to be a good teammate
  • Expose diverse group of kids to a new school
    • Gets them hooked
    • Goal was at least 1/3 girls
  • Teach ultimate

Ways to build team culture

  1. Make good mistakes
    1. In drills, explain that some mistakes still leave a play possible (while others are worse).
    2. For example, in a passing drill over-leading a player is better than throwing it behind them.
  2. Learn from your teammates
    1. Encourage players waiting to run the drill to actively observe their peers.  (This gave me the idea to ask them to line up along a sideline so they can all see, rather than orthogonal to it where the end of the line has nothing to do but chat.)
  3. Acknowledge players at the end of practice
    1. Not just for skill, but more importantly for spirit or team work
    2. For example,
  4. Talk it up (14:00)
    1. Demonstrate and incorporate supportive phrases to say when someone makes a mistake (important in middle school dynamic which is often critical or judgemental)
    2. For example:
      1. Good bid
      2. Nice try
      3. Way to go to
      4. Plus let them invent their own (builds team identity)

How to teach ultimate (23:30)

Goals for his 8 week season (most coaches try to teach too much in Middle School)

  • Throwing
  • Catching
  • Stack (these are the types of cuts you do from the front/back of the stack; front into the lane; back downfield for yardage)
  • Switch fields (when trapped on sideline)
  • Mirror defense
  • Force
  • Not zone.  (Instead counter zone offense with a dump swing and turn the corner)
  • Not plays, except maybe a pull play (what should be happening in our normal offense) to ensure we don’t always turn it over near our end zone
  • Don’t talk about positions.  (Everyone or no one wants to be handler.  Habitual cutters won’t even look up field!  No dumps to habitual handlers.  Rotate to build depth.)

A 6th grader might start with the just the first 3, but would tackle most of these topics by the time they’re 8th graders.

38:00 Groups share thoughts about a few key middle school issues

  1. How to deal with disparate skills and size?
  2. How do you get a couple disrespectful kids to not poison the whole practice or team? (42:00)
  3. How to convince kids to share the disc to develop other players and their team. (44:15)  [Try drills without a disc, or scrimmage with 2 discs!]

Good ideas:

Warm up with Monarch or tag.  Don’t limit throws, at least during free play.  Part of the joy of throwing is all the creative ways you can throw the disc.