On Sunday February 21, 2016, the USA Ultimate Coach Development Program (CDP) offered a Level 1 Certification workshop in Seattle, WA. Taught by UW Men’s coach Alex Wells, the workshop was co-hosted by John Leahy and Scott Veirs and took place at Green Lake Elementary School from 8:30-5.
(We all thank John for helping us access the school where he’s a teacher. Prior to his help, Scott was really struggling to find a space that met the USAU facility requirements and budget!)
Alex led the group in a quick name-game. We went to the cafeteria and threw a soft cone in two circles of ~10 participants. You had to thank the person who through to you (e.g. “Thanks, Alex”), say your name, say the name of a person who had not yet been thrown while making eye contact with them, and then throw the “disc” to them.
The two groups competed to see who could cycle through everyone in the circle and back to the original thrower. The groups were different sizes, so it wasn’t fair, but it was fun to add complexity to the game — first by speeding up the cycle; then by adding a second “disc” that was started after the first disc had reached the third or fourth person. We headed back to Leahy Land with a new game that could help a team of unfamiliar players learn each others names efficiently.
Back in the classroom, Alex had us go around the room introducing ourselves. This was the beginning of one of the best aspects of the in-person workshop: getting to know other local coaches and sharing ideas with them. Here are a few topics that folks said they were hoping to learn about during the day:
- How to manage middle schoolers!
- Nuts and bolts of running a practice
- How to get more young girls involved
- How to teach the rules
- How to get equal improvement in a group with varied experience or different learning styles (e.g. not leaving passive kids behind)
- How to “seed” elementary and middle school teams in ways that support the development of high school teams
- Best practices for coaching elementary school
9:00 Why do people play ultimate
This was a great group discussion. We came up with lots of ways to “hook” new players on the sport, as well as some shortcomings of the game as it’s currently played by younger youth (mostly grades 3-8). I’ve listed some highlights (ideas that were new to me), but there were many more that Alex noted and discussed.
- The beauty of the disc flying (play Dog on the first practice!)
- Spirit of the Game (try playing look-up/down to choose throwing partners)
- More equitable and confidence-building play:
- Don’t say sorry rituals
- The “special” (has to be thrown to before team can score)
- All-touch points
- Keep away (practice low-emotion mistakes)
- 2v2 scrimmages (lots of touches for everyone)
- try mixed and single-gender practices/drills/scrimmages
- rotate who leads a middle school team each practice
- girl-girl leadership pair
- boy-girl leadership pair
- boy-boy leadership pair
- Try 4 girl, 3 boy scrimmages
- Hire more female middle school coaches!
- Attracting more girls and retaining them through middle school
- understand other sport calendars and trends
- market to groups of girls/women
- classrooms, especially social groups of girls
- teams from other sports that are burning out
- Verbal face-to-face recruitment of girls by coaches (helps make them feel valued!)
- Riot’s 3 tenets: ETL = Excellence. Trust. Love.
- Team work and athletic development: be purposeful with a charter?
- Seattle Public Schools has a process to follow for creating a charter (Charlie mentioned it, but I missed its name)
- A charter should describe how do you want to feel (as players; as a team)
- Then plan: What do you do to achieve the charter?
- Camp Orkila has a process for creating a constitution/charter with new campers…
- As a coach: watch 1 player for about 2 minutes and ask “Are they engaged in this drill/lecture/game?”
- TED = Throw every day
- Experienced parent’s role: teach ultimate culture to other parents
- soccer gets calendars out 6 months in advance!
- USAU web site is messy (trick is to google your search term and append “site:usaultimate.org”)
- General turn-offs
- Lack of good practice fields
- Canceled games (because many youth games are played on grass fields which SPS closes when super-wet)
Handout: 25-page booklet — “Coaching Ethics Workshop” including sections on: intro; the sport; Spirit of the Game; Liability and Insurance; Safety; & Emergency procedures; plus 2 appendices on: child abuse reporting agencies; references/readings.
We read through the USAU ethics pamphlet, discussing each point (many of which originated with the U.S. Olympic Committee).
Key concepts for coaches of youngest youth:
- Teach and practice the foul/conflict resolution process (Rules; how to call fouls; how to contest; how to resolve; best perspective)
- In game, coach is a resource not a judge
- “Do you have a question about the rules?”
- “Can I help you with the process of calling and resolving a foul?”
- Spirit circles
- Use them mostly for compliments and positive coaching
- If both teams mis-understood a rule in the game, coach can use as a teachable moment and clarify for all
- Pet peeves (of various participants)
- Don’t teach middle schoolers to call travels!
- Don’t allow kids to kick rolling discs!
- Common issues
- Playing time: try to keep it balanced by using a sub-sheet
- Player is unspirited (cheating): start with a question, like “How did you feel about that last play?” Then educate about a relevant rule or process.
10:50 Took a 15 minute break for snacks!
11:20 Spirit of the Game
We broke up into small groups to define and discuss SotG. Then came back together to share and look for commonalities.
- Try having a spirit “captain” (esp on high or club school teams)
- Coaches role is as a model of good spirit (calm communication; fairness
- Incorporate SotG into drills: e.g. high 5s when you enter a line; offering encouragement and compliments to teammates.
5 duties to avoid exposure
- Proper instruction for risky activities (e.g. lay outs)
- Provide safety equipment (safe field; don’t mix cleats and bare feet!)
- Provide care (upon injury)
We made sandwiches, ate chips, drank juice, and chatted at our desks.
Handout: 76-page booklet “Coaching Performance Workshop” covering: intro; communicating with your school; parents; logistics; growth/promotion; equipment; conditioning; & tips; plus 12 appendices on rules; affiliates; state associations; sample season schedule; sample parent letter; sample med form; intro clinic schedule; 12-week fitness program; injury prevention; nutrition/hydration; injuries; and references/readings.)
We discussed the fundamental skills and knowledge we need to teach in ultimate, then prioritized them into an optimal sequence for new players.
5 steps to learning:
Brevity ends with a “Why?”
- TALK LESS (2 minutes is too long)
- Why (explain)
- Use 2 or 3 cues, e.g. for backhand “keep disc level” (see hard-copy handout “Skill Specific Cues” for lots more)
- Try mnemonics
13:15 Transition to gym
The active portion of the workshop included: coming up with a drill (in groups of ~4 participants) to teach fundamentals; demonstrating how to run those drills to the rest of the group; and Alex demonstrating typical parts of a practice (warm-up/plyos, throw foci; drill iterations).
13:15-14:30 — Coming up with a drill to teach each fundamental
Groups formed up, took 10-15 minutes to prep a drill, and then demonstrated it (for a few minutes). [I have video of some of these if folks want to see themselves in action!]
- level the release by thinking of serving a glass of water on it
- Step out
- Snap your wrist (like snapping a towel?)
- “pull through” (not uncurl, that’s the “BBQ throw”)
- hinge from the shoulder
- “buckle the seatbelt
- booger flick
- outside edge down
- finish with palm up
- hips low, shoulders up
- arms active and low
- “low hands”
- high energy
- “land” then throw
- be clear with language
- “pivot on foot opposite your throwing hand?”
- “move foot on same side as your throwing hand?”
- Force — emphasize it is a form of team work
- Sharp change in direction
- Clap near end of cut?
- Chop stop (NOT 1 big stop and step)
- Go/fake away from target area, then cut back
- “Cut to a cone” (e.g. any corner of the endzone)
- 3D: defend, deny, deflect?
- dictate (instead of chase)?
- But be careful with language and younger players!
- “head up”
- backing, fronting
- stop the under; stay between receiver and disc
- shadow movement; dance
- “be the mirror (image)”
14:30-15:00 — Demonstration practice (by Alex)
- Started with a cheer: e.g. “1, 2, Learn!”
- Do a lap while tossing with a partner (take note: 40 throws/lap x 10 practices = 400 extra throws per season!)
- We’re teaching movement (to protect bodies over a lifetime)
- The goal is to talk about and practice movement (e.g. running form)
- Think of plyos (dynamic warm-up) as movement puzzles
- Have a base warm-up; make small changes; add new challenges
- Practice names of muscles and parts of bodies
- Go from small, low intensity to big, high-intensity movements
- Practice names of muscles and parts of bodies
- Science shows: static stretching is good for flexibility after exercise (not before when a dynamic warm-up is better)
- Sequence of plyos (from toes to head) [we did these as a big group lined up across the gym]:
- Toes out; heels back
- High knees; lunges
- Airplane; picking dandelions
- Close the gate; open the gate
- Torso twists
- Arm circles (forward, backward)
- Fast feet out; high knees back
- Butt kickers out; Door busters back (toe pointing to sky; hit door with sole not toe)
- Leg swings (with partner or fence)
- Side shuffle
- Kareoka (or Kareoke)
- Run @67% out; 42% back
- Skips (emphasize height, or distance, or both)
- Jump and land (prevent ACL tears [7x more prevalent in girls than boys!]: quiet; soft; knees over toes, NOT knocked-knees)
- Proplyoception => challenges (do it backwards; close eyes); try airplanes w/eyes closed; fast knees backwards (and eyes closed?!)
- Retro-runs (forward, backward)
- Choose high repetition
- Prioritize familiar drills; then build on them
- Lots of iterations w/small changes and limited focus (2-3 cues max)
- Examples of coach challenges and nuanced skills:
- How to counter blacksmith leg (from always pivoting on leg opposite dominant throwing hand)?
- Catch with dominant/throwing hand under in the alligator (so grip is ready to throw)!
- Step back to throw hammer.
- Variants on paired throwing drill (we tried these with a partner)
- 3 forehands; 3 backhands
- vary release points (regular, high, low, wide)
- vary release angles (inside/out; outside/in;…)
- Goofy foot compass throws
15:20 Overhead throws
Normally discouraged with youth, but Alex likes them for fun and to help handlers practice decision making.
15:30 Practical aspects of drills
- Clear wide; yell “Safety” to prevent collisions
- Alex led a “Go to” drill (2 sets of participants) as an example of how to iterate w/distinct cues
- chop feet; go to disc; ready; eye contact
- alternate sides to give drops a chance to clear
- different focus point each day
- 5 full steps = deep cut
- chop feet; get low; rotate hips; explosive first 3 steps; drive knees.
- challenges: pancake every disc; non-dominant hand catch
- add a mark (open side; break mark)
- different cuts (out/in; handler cut = fake to open side, cut to break mark side)
- competitions; games
15:45 Return to classroom to discuss practice planning and structure
- Set expectations with players and parents
- Pre-season “goal setting” (+ a mid-season check-in)
- will this work for elementary?
- best practices for goal-setting are still developing
- SMART = specific; measurable; A?; realistic; time-bound
- Map out general plan
- How many practices before first game?
- How many practices in the season?
- Plan season (to some extent)
- Next 2 weeks?
- Next month?
- Make list of 5-10 skills to work on next
- Plan specific practices to tick off skills; select specific drills
- Planning process should help clarify goals…
- For each practice, don’t forget:
- Talk about Spirit of the Game
- Specific over-arching concepts: e.g. throwing skills, or a particular defensive strategy
Every good practice looks like — group brainstorm:
16:30 End with evaluation forms, handing out coach bags, discs, FiveUltimate coach benefits (CDP Odyssey 1/4 zip, other gear if your team orders gear thru them), etc.
Resources to share
- Disc Northwest youth coaching forum (private Facebook group)
- Youth Ultimate Coaching Conference 2016
- Positive Coaching Alliance
- Ideal ration of positive:negative feedback = 5:1!
- Complement sandwich positive:negative ratio = only 2:1!
- 45 minute seminar on “filling your players emotional tank“
- Chris Peterson, UW football coach
- Spectator’s guide
- Put it in the pre-season email you send to set parent expectations!
- Concussion video?
- Ultimate Peace
Good ideas? (Some voiced; some just in Scott’s head)
- What about a dual-model for coach development by USAU (and/or local organizations)?
- Youth only (grades K-8): FREE workshop (maybe requires a coach membership, but fee is subsidized) for volunteer coaches of elementary/middle players, camp counselors, etc.
- Level 1 (high school, college, club, pro): ethics and performance workshop for new coaches (typically paid, not volunteer?) of teams that may have some players who are new to the game
- Level 2 (high school, college, club, pro): strategy workshop for advanced coaches of more competitive teams
- Ways to boost girl recruitment and retention
- Get a middle school girl to assist with your elementary team
- Use the resources developed by GUM: Girls Ultimate Movement
- We should have a community brainstorm or survey on these topics
- 10 most commonly confused rules in youth ultimate
- 10 favorite ways to promote spirit of the game
- games (and how to play them safely)
- spirit circles (real examples that work)
- cheers & songs
- sideline roles
Post workshop activities
- Alex emailed an awesome list of resources to all participants
- Suggestions for future workshops or subsequent activities
- Management strategies (logistics; behavior)
- Spirit of the Game, & fairness (case studies; examples)
- More practice design details
- How to prevent injuries
- How to teach specific skills
- more examples for new coaches
- advanced examples for experienced coaches
- Develop more tools for coach community, conversation, networking, peer-learning (Inter?National?)
- Move some of morning activities (liability, insurance, ethics?) to online format; use workshop for more active learning, coach sharing/discussion
- Elementary school
- More drills
- Strategy or not (horizontal, vertical, neither, something?)
- School relationships
- Middle school
- Demo games to keep practice extra fun!
- Age-appropriate drills?
- How to teach offensive strategy to beginners
- Drills that also help teach the rules?
- High school
- Fitness progressions
- HS-College strategies (D, O) and process for developing them
- More discussion of increasing/nurturing diversity (racial, gender equity)