Welcome back to Miranda's Mailbag (#MM2) where Coach Knowles answers questions from around the ultimate community. You can ask a question by posting it on social media with the #MirandasMailbag, tagging @atlantahustle or Coach Knowles @mirdiggity.
What advice can you give to an inexperienced student captain/coaches who are trying to focus on getting a new college program on its feet while also attempting to better themselves as players? - Andrew Record (@AndrewRecord)
Sort of like "dress for the job you want to have", I believe you should treat your new program as professionally and high level as you want it to be, not necessarily how it is. For example, the first year I coached the University of Washington women's team, we had a tryout process, even though we didn't have enough people to necessitate making cuts (I think we might have even called them "try-ins"). This let it be known that we saw ourselves as a seriously committed team and tryouts signaled the beginning of our season. Once everyone made the team, it felt great and we were able to start the season off right. Now, that program is huge and has a robust complement of teams.
How do you design a practice plan? - Thor
At the beginning of the season, I think about the first game/tournament and what I want the team to be able to do and then work backwards. From that list, I pull topics for each practice leading up to that event - for young, new teams, it will be skill-based like catching and marking and for older, more experienced teams it will be strategy-based like defending the reset or endzone offense. Once the season begins, I think about things my team does poorly in games (usually I maniacally write down areas where we need work on my sub sheets as I’m coaching) and plan practices around making adjustments so we don’t repeat the same mistakes in the future. Once I’ve chosen a topic, I try to break down that skill or strategy into the smallest pieces that I want players to understand and incorporate. If we’re talking about defending the deep shot, for example, I think about how I want players to run, position, make contact, retain position, jump, and catch. Then I’ll design little drills to address these things so players build a base of good habits. Then I combine smaller drills into bigger drills, expanding the scope of the content and forcing them to do multiple things at once. Bigger drills become small games become larger games. The games should always have some sort of focus or reward placed on doing the focus of that day correctly, like using a double-score scrimmage when we work on endzone.
Who has been your favorite team to coach?
My first coaching love was the Seattle (Small) Fryz. Those kids loved each other and loved ultimate so much it was palpable. They were like dry sponges just ready to soak up whatever I had to offer. I was also able to use their practices as a lab to experiment with new ideas and new strategies in ultimate - so fun! I currently love coaching the Paideia girls on Groove. It is a great joy to me to get to spend so much time with these athletes in the classroom and on the fields over the course of their high school (and sometimes junior high school) careers - by the time they graduate I really know them as players and have been able to help truly mold them as athletes and as people. These young women are amazing and I am so proud of all the Groove graduates every year.
Is there an example of a player you coached that became great but wasn't a natural?
Alyssa Weatherford should be on the poster for perseverance. As a high-schooler, she was gangly and awkward, but she cared so much about the sport and her teammates that she just kept putting more and more time into ultimate. First, she learned how to be one of the most creative throwers in the game, leading her Western Washington Chaos to levels well beyond what anyone expected. Then, when she joined Riot, she trained herself into a real athlete, working long hard hours in the gym and at the track to become an athlete to be reckoned with. Finally, she has grown into a leader on Riot and in the ultimate community at large, captaining and coaching all levels, ages and genders. None of this is what I would have guessed when I first met Alyssa in 2004, but by taking every opportunity to improve, Alyssa has expanded herself as a sportswoman, ultimate player and strategic mind.
Who are the best teammates you’ve ever had?
I’ve played on many teams and had many fantastic teammates, but I want to shout out one special person. One of my all-time favorite teammates was HeatherAnn Brauer, my teammate on UW Element in 2005. She was not one of our top players, but she cared about the team and our success with as much heart and dedication as me or one of the captains. She would play the crappy points/positions no one else wanted to and she would bring me water in games (most of them) when I didn’t take a sub. HeatherAnn immediately started coaching elementary and middle school ultimate in Seattle and after she moved to the Triangle Area for work, she had a huge impact on their youth scene as well. The coolest thing about HeatherAnn is that her love for the sport and her teams eventually transitioned into elite play - she contributed to Phoenix as a wonderful finishing cutter, no longer just bringing others water.
You've played on a World Games team and competed at Club World's with a women's team. How were those experiences different?
The World Games was a special experience - getting to represent the USA with the best players in the country was an insane honor. No one really noticed the genders on the field - when you’re throwing to the best people in the world being guarded by the best people in the world, there’s not that much horizontal difference between Deb Cussen and Mike Namkung or between Dom Fontenette and Jeff Eastham-Anderson. Sure, it’s nice to put up a stall 9 throw to Chase or Zip, but really, it felt great to be equals with elite men and women.
Competing at club worlds with Riot was more an expression of the love and commitment we’d all put into that team over many years. Each player had a role and her individual niche - very few were all-around do-everything players. In this way, competing at Club Worlds was more interesting as a team - we each had a part to play to succeed. After losing to Fury in semis, we were heartbroken but picked each other up in the 2 hours before we had to face an up-and-coming Brute Squad in the bronze medal game. That win is actually one that I’m most proud of because of the mental and physical challenge that Riot was able to overcome together.
What skill(s) have seen ultimate players as a whole getting better at? What skill(s) have we lost? I.e. certain throws, fakes, give-go, knowledge etc.
I’ve really enjoyed seeing the throwing arsenal increase - when I first started playing, anything upside-down or off-handed was considered a joke throw. Now, if you can become proficient at it, you can throw it! I’m sad that no one (that I’ve seen) has followed Jaime Arambula’s ambidexterity lead and crafted bilateral hammers as I think that may be the final frontier of throwing.
CMK, I'm looking forward to the start of the 2018 Hustle Season. After this weekend’s tryouts, what are your thoughts going into this season. A Vickroy/Tunnell-less season? Though I wasn't at the try-out I heard you had not just a great turn out but a great deal of talented professionals come out! What are your thoughts??? Thanks, Steven Bush
Tryouts were awesome. It was inspiring to see so many players come out and work so hard to make the team. This was by far the highest average level of talent we’ve ever seen and the roster we’ve taken is honestly the most promising. Though we still have some stars and stars-in-the-making, I’m most excited by the team work ethic - each athlete is gritty and comes to every training, throwaround, and practice wanting to compete. Dylan and Vickroy have dominated the stat lines for the Atlanta Hustle but I’m really looking forward to a season where we spread out the goals and assists more broadly on our roster.
Which returning player was most improved at tryouts?
Austin Taylor and JP Burns both looked amazing. Austin was able to use his fitness and powerful throws in new ways with much improved hands-skill and decision-making. Maybe it’s the off-season yoga or being on Sun’s team every scrimmage, but JP looks even faster and more powerful out there, adding smart defensive positioning on deep throws to his already scary defensive toolkit.
Which AUDL South players would you most want to coach?
We just chose our Hustle 2018 roster and those 35 people are the players I most want to coach. I am extremely excited about this year’s team and our potential.
In terms of who I’d like to steal from other teams: Jakeem Polk, Matt Bennett, Jeremy Langdon, and Jesse Shofner would be my list.
Can you talk a little about the Hustle/@ATLchain relationship/partnership? - Jaime Perez
Atlanta open ultimate faded after the 2009 championship and 2010 worlds run, losing stars and losing replacements from the youth scene to other cities. Some AUDL cities can survive on separate entities for club and pro, having an abundance of talent and athleticism (see Seattle and the Bay Area), but right now, we are not in that realm. Fortunately, the leaders of the Hustle and Chain have come together and decided to share leadership structure (captains and coach), strategies and seasons in 2018 to give both the AUDL and USAU our best shot. In the past we found ourselves overlapping in our efforts and conflicting in our schedules so we are hopeful that sharing commitments and athletes will lead to more rewarding seasons for both teams this year.
What are the best 2 defenses to run specifically in mixed? I remember you teaching "umbrella D" I think we called it and I think there was a part about it being especially good for mixed. - Andy Charlton
Mixed ultimate presents a very interesting strategic situation - I haven't coached it much, but I do talk about it a lot with my friend/colleague Martin Aguilera who is an expert! I think umbrella (flat mark in in the middle of the field and force middle on the sides of the field) is a great D, regardless of gender balance, against teams who like to huck out of continuation. Mixed ultimate seems to use that even more than single gender because of the advantages of gender-based isolations. I think mixed is also a great place to experiment with zone defenses, particularly when you have bigger women who can play in the cup/first-line, leaving more men in the deep space. I've really enjoyed playing 1-3-3 and I also LOVE doing a box and 1 with a female defender matched up on a male handler denying him the disc with deep help. It sort of levels the playing field for the genders (and feels great) in a division where being a great female defender can be overlooked when there's so many plays involving men in the deep space.
Anything new happening with the HOPS program this year? Would be really helpful to get assistance early in the high school season rather than later. - @Atlasycc
We are aiming to run back the HOPS Hustle Player at Practice program this year. Youth teams in the area will be able to schedule a player to come to their practice during the spring as part of a team ticket package for one of our home games. Look for that after the schedule is announced.
Our main youth focus in 2018 will be on our new ultimate camps (advanced HS as well as middle school) staffed by Hustle players, coaches and top women’s players.
How can Atlanta maximize the potential of its youth population?
I have four goals for growth in Atlanta:
For every boy who plays, a girl also plays.
Broaden the reach of Atlanta youth ultimate. Let’s stretch into populations not classically reached by youth ultimate.
Start younger - Atlanta youth should be exposed to ultimate in elementary school.
Close the gap between elite players and youth - the best players should make connections with young players and young players should know who the best players in their city are!
As youth Ultimate grows and becomes a more viable alternative to other sports, we’re finding ourselves with more and more converts who have been successful in those other sports, and the experience they bring can really help them jump right in and be factors. But our counter-culture origins mean we still attract kids with little experience or bad experience in traditional team sports. I am glad Ultimate still attracts such kids, but they often have difficulty catching up to the pace and skill and competitiveness that today’s Ultimate calls for. In your experience, what works best for bringing these kids along and helping them really be contributors and valued members of the team? - Jim Veal
Even as ultimate becomes a home for seasoned athletes, we still need to appreciate what the never-played-sports-before youth athlete brings. I contend that ultimate is a space where if you work hard enough, anyone can excel and the best teams incorporate many different kinds of athletes working together. While converted basketball or soccer players might bring an amazing level of intensity and athleticism to your team, the newer players can bring the fairness, selflessness and joy that the experienced athlete might have forgotten over the many years in the crazy world of traditional youth sports. Being sure to praise both of these skill sets is imperative as a coach. We must reward more than just the insane plays and more than just the team cheers. Today’s youth ultimate requires a mix of soft skills and traditional sportsplay be cultivated by the coaching staff and valued by all members of the team.
Pick your all time best women's and men's lines from Atlanta (in their prime).
Women’s - Kat Kidd-Shippey, Holly Sommers, Lisa Kotora, Angela Lin, Katherine Wooten, Laura Gold, Chris O’Cleary.
Men’s - AJ Tiarsmith, Dylan Tunnell, Jolian Dahl, Josh Markette, Grant Lindsley, George Stubbs, Stu Downs.
Who would you rather have on the Hustle: Lebron James, Julio Jones, or Christiano Ronaldo ? - Viktor Krum
You know I’m an Atlantan, right? Julio, obviously. In all seriousness, I think he brings an amazing combination of height, speed, smarts and heart. He seems really coachable and looks like a great teammate on the sideline. Plus, he’d be deadly for end of quarter plays on O and D. Of course, I wouldn’t say no, to you, either, Viktor.
In the last mailbag you mentioned the difference between Professional and Club Ultimate, that AUDL is more like traditional sports and as coach you can use time outs and end of quarter schemes. I noticed while traveling that many newer countries...adopt these sort of plays in their club environment. Specific example: calling multiple time outs in a row to delay until cap comes on, or prolonging discussions to delay time. What do you think the impact of these sort of decisions has in the club realm? How does the spirit ...of coaching affect the future of the club division? - @LifeinRoam
I agree - I’ve seen some more cutthroat/unsportsmanlike strategies being used in other countries, particularly those that are highly influenced by soccer and flopping (time wasting) culture. To me, this is an expression of competition being highly valued at the expense of Spirit of the Game, two pieces of ultimate that are always in a delicate balance. What I like about the AUDL and observed games is that they are timed by an external source so it is implemented fairly. The same would go for having extended conversations about contested calls on the field. This boils down to an inherent issue in our sport - if we can’t trust our opponents to come to the game with the same value on integrity and commitment to fair play as ourselves, what do we do? We would prefer to put a high priority on educating all players on Integrity/SOTG/Spirit of Coaching and trust that we hold ourselves accountable to make correct, fair calls even when it might be at the expense of the outcome of the game.