Miranda's Mailbag #3

Updated 6/14


Coach Knowles can you reflect on the hustle through the first half of the season?


We are definitely improving as individuals and as a team.  We have a good system and while players don’t always act 100% with in the system, they at least know what the system should be and agree that it is what’s best for us.  It has also been a really fun, cohesive start to the season - players get along with each other and enjoy coming to practices, driving together to road games and just generally like each other.  Athletes are very bought in and care about the team. One of our goals is to compete and I’m very happy with how our scores have reflected that. Outside one bad trip to Texas, we’ve been within one on our losses and have pulled out some good close wins against strong teams.


How do you combat the peaks and valleys of a season. What can/should players be doing individually to continue to improve through a season?


Goals! Individual and teams should always have goals.  Without something to look toward or aim for, complacency sets in.  Many Hustle players are watching film and reflecting on how they could have contributed more to our team’s success.  Once they see those things (trying to do too much with throws, not sprinting through catches, not going for a D, etc.), they should be more mindful of practicing those things with the intent of doing them in our next game.


Evelina Pierce - What was your thought process like for developing the Hustle’s  system? What do you think the key differences are for developing for mens, womens, and mixed teams?


Honestly, at a basic level, I don’t see much of a difference.  You have to rely on fundamentals - catching everything, completing easy passes, shutting down your person on the openside under or deep - no matter what your age or division.  It might look a little different for the Hustle compared to Paideia in terms of what an acceptable success rate is, but we can always ask that athletes try to do the right things all the time.  Once you do this, then you can think about the strengths and weaknesses of your team vis-a-vis the competition and try to choose strategies that maximize the former and hide the latter.


What does it mean to play in a system?


Players must be humble players and put the needs of the team before their own. You can actually achieve more together this way. I love the games we’ve had where everyone has a positive stat and the goals and assists are well spread out.  To me, that is so much harder to combat than a team with 1-2 superstars. I also just love the confidence this instills in all players on our rosters - every player has been in on an important O point and a must-get D point and they are growing and maturing as players as a result.  I can’t wait to see the impacts this has, both in the short and long term for Atlanta open ultimate.


Why are the Atlanta Hustle players playing equal amount of time on the O-line and D-line? Why are the players who will excel on defense playing so many points on offense and vice-versa? Why are these players' specialized skills not being utilized? No other Pro team sub their lines like this other than the Riptide last year. Who went 1-13.- Gamewinnertv on r/ultimate


The short answer is that I think our subbing strategy gives us the best chance at success.  To elaborate, I’d like to point out that we are already more successful in terms of wins and losses than the Riptide (we’re 5-4 right now with playoff hopes), so while they may have had a similar idea, I doubt it was a similar philosophy.  The way I see our roster, we don’t have a clear 7-10 players who are significantly better at offense (or defense, for that matter) than everyone else. Even if we did, I’m not sure we would play strict O and D lines - our best O players are also great defenders and vice versa.  To sub any other way would actually be sacrificing some of their talent. Honestly, I also don’t love the message O and D lines send to players - so many people make the leap that the O line are the best players or the most valuable players and I don’t believe that is a good message to send in a team sport.  Being on the O line and never playing any D is a lot of pressure to execute - it isn’t fun to only be able to lose a game and it creates divisions within the team if the D line feels like it has to make up for the O line’s mistakes. This isn’t football with specialized positions - everyone has to be able to play offense and defense and I think empowering athletes to see that in themselves increases the likelihood that they will elevate their game and make plays on both sides of the disc.  In the short term, it helps us stay fresh so that even with only 20 players on an AUDL game roster, we enter the fourth quarter with vim and vigor rather than with a fatigued O line. If our offense gets broken we don’t have to send in “D line O” and already feel defeated, we just send in our next line who is highly capable at offense. In the long term, we are getting lots of players big game high pressure reps on both sides of the disc and are very excited to see where these young players will go with that early career experience.  I remember in the mid-2000s when Matty Tsang would put the bottom of the roster Fury players in on important points in nationals semis and finals wondering what the heck he was thinking.  Well, you know who that was? It was Alex Snyder, Lakshmi Narayan, and Lauren Casey who each went on to lead the team to multiple national championships just a year or two later.  It should come as no surprise that I’m hoping to start something here like Matty did in the Bay Area and a first step is investing in each of my athletes. I think they’re all rising to the challenge mighty nicely.


What can you do when a game is going wrong?


When a game is not going the way we’d like, usually players start to get negative toward themselves and toward each other.  At this level, I typically don’t need to come down hard on players - they already know what they’re doing wrong. What I do need to do is keep the focus on things we can control (choices we’re making, types of execution; not weather, opponents or refs), stay positive allowing players to believe that we can right the ship and set goals that are small and attainable in the moment.


Why is playing in the wind so hard for some teams/players?


More generally, why is _____ hard for some teams?  Because they don’t practice _____. When you encounter new things, you may get tight or nervous and not be able to execute your game plan as well.  In the Hustle’s case, it might mean that we just need to take a few extra passes to score goals. Some athletes lose focus and start doubting themselves, the system, their teammates. They lose patience and trust. They chuck it deep into a 50-50 (or worse) situation.  Newer players or those who haven’t spent enough time developing their skill-set can be particularly affected by wind or other adversity. The answer is experience and experience comes through reps - in practice or in games.


Highly effective people tend to be juggling many things at once. What are you juggling?


Hahaha, sure.  I’m a mom, wife, daughter, full-time teacher (AP Biology, Neuropsychology, Anatomy & Physiology), full-time HS coach, advisor, mentor, coach of the Hustle & Chain Lightning, member of Team China women (Shanghai Sirens) for WUCC and iRot (Seattle women’s masters) for WMUCC.  I bet there’s some other stuff, too, but I’m forgetting because it’s summer now and I’m allowed to forget some stuff. In terms of balance, the first thing to say is that it’s hard. Balance is necessary. You have to make difficult choices to keep it. I really like doing my best at everything I do, but sometimes, that’s just not possible.  I’ve had to give up a few things (retired from competitive play after last season with Outbreak, e.g.) to be able to focus on the rest of what I’m doing. I am also getting better at widening my circle of trust so that I can delegate more and accomplish more. I try to choose things that make sense for my family and for me - for example, since my husband Matthew plays for Hustle & Chain, it makes sense for me to coach those teams right now.  Support networks are key. I wouldn’t be able to do anything without my parents (Bob, Kathryn & Tom) who are big Hustle fans and amazing grandparents. My daughter Madeira enjoys all her uncles on the team almost as much as she loves her Groove aunties.


Did you watch college nationals? Which teams, players impressed you and why?


I really appreciated Carolyn Normile’s game - she carries her team without being selfish.  She can cut, handle, throw, catch and matches up on the toughest opponents. She’s the real deal.  I was also incredibly impressed with Dartmouth’s entire roster. Jaclyn Verzuh is terrifying to opponents and will always draw the best defender (I loved seeing Julia Butterfield and Nhi Nguyen matching up on her - they were fearless!), but this year even more than last year, Dartmouth had a really lovely and deep cast of skilled athletes.  Piper Curtis’ relentless cutting, Caitlyn Lee’s amazing throw and go style, Julianna Werffeli’s pulls and mental fortitude and especially Claire Trop’s all-around stardom - any of these women alone on a college roster would be a force to be reckoned with...but all of them? With Jaclyn? Please.


Did you watch the NBA playoffs?


Unfortunately, keeping up with the NBA for the whole season isn’t on my list of priorities, but I was able to watch most of the finals.  I know that I love Brad Stevens and have enjoyed watching Steve Kerr coach (and remember him playing back in the day when I did have time to watch all the games!).  I like how Stevens and Kerr value all of their athletes and invest in players to make up a team rather than a single player who IS the team. I think LeBron is a wonderful athlete and is extremely talented - particularly his passing...watch how his drive and dish hits outside shooters exactly where they want the ball to start their shot - but I don’t love how he is the end-all-be-all of the Cavs’ game.  

@loreality recently complemented your comentating of the Atlanta Soul game. You have comentated before including for the All-star tour when they played Ozone. We hear you'll be in the booth when the Eurostars play Ozone on August 21st. What do you enjoy about it?

I really enjoy commentating.  After my parents got divorced when I was 6, my mom had to work a ton of hours and so I ended up spending a lot of time with my dad, who is a sports fanatic.  Most of my non-school non-playing sports time was spent watching sports with him in sports bars. Watching sports with Bob Roth is never passive - he would talk to me about what the amount of time in the hockey game meant for the two different teams and what the coaches were considering...and it was always so exciting when a team would pull the goalie!  He would point out how terrible it was that Rodman had committed a 3rd foul in the 1st half and what that meant for his style of play and the rotations his team would have to make from then on out. We were in Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, having scalped tickets in the parking lot, for the early ‘90s Braves NLCS and World Series games, even when they were during the school day.  So I know things about sports. I’ve also been playing and coaching ultimate for well over ten thousand hours at this point so understanding what’s happening in a game comes naturally to me.

Commentating seems to be the intersection of these two capabilities.  Add on top of that, the fact that my day job is talking in front of people, so I’m able to speak in public for long stretches without too many delay words or being nervous.  I will say this, in all those years in sports bars with my dad, I never heard a female voice and we were rarely able to find a place broadcasting female athletes. I’m proud to be part of that change so young women today can learn sports from me.

It’s fun for me to get to explore my commentating career for the Soul vs. Torch game and the Eurostars vs. Ozone game.  The level of play is really strong and it’s awesome to have exposure for these women. As a high school girls’ coach, it is so valuable for my athletes to have role models to look up to.


Explain about what Chain is trying to accomplish by partnering with Bullet?


For years, Atlanta open ultimate counted on players moving to Atlanta ready to contribute on Chain or magically appearing at a young age ready to play at the elite club level.  Since that is not a reliable pipeline, we’ve decided to create a system where promising young players or those newer to the sport can hone their skills while being introduced to elite strategy on a competitive developmental team.  We are aiming to create the players who will be on Chain and Hustle in the future. In that way Bullet is sort of like Outbreak for men. Bullet coach George Summers will be using the same strategy as Chain and often practicing alongside Chain.


We have  tried to streamline things for Atlanta open ultimate this season.  With Rush Hour, Bullet and Chain having a joint combine, it gave players a place to tryout for all teams at once.  Next year, we hope to streamline the entire tryout process and include men interested in mixed play to make things even more centralized. We’d love to eventually go yet another step further to elevate our community by helping club team leadership to coordinate early in the offseason the scheduling of their tryouts to avoid conflicts. This will benefit players as well as shorten the tryout process for teams allowing them to start practicing at full strength sooner.


It seems like ultimate camps are hot this summer. Are you coaching a summer camp?


Yes! The best way for youth to improve is to spend tons of time with plastic in their hands.  Camps are intensive improvement times and we have lots of great camps to offer in the southeast.  Michael Baccarini already had his elementary school camp and Spin Academy is happening right now. Next week will be Hustle Advanced High School Camp begins (you can still register here) and then I will be a lead instructor for the  Hustle Middle School Camp July 9-13th (register here).  

Something special that I’m proud of the Hustle for is that they are offering 20 full scholarships across their two camp session. Ultimate has typically been an expensive sport for individuals to play, with athletes concentrated in cities and in affluent neighborhoods.  As part of the AUDL, the Hustle is able to use partnerships with Universe Point and Discraft to provide cleats and discs to athletes in our clinics and camps. We also believe in spreading the sport of ultimate to increase diversity within our community - you can still apply for camp scholarships here! Hope to see you out there!