I was recruited by Michelle Ng and Without Limits to write about my experiences in my final season of College Ultimate. 2011 has many possibilities...let's see how they pan out. E-mail me (robyn-fennig@uiowa.edu)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The "Play-After-The-Play"

Last night I was on the phone with Dave, talking about ultimate. What's new, right? I found myself re-visiting a concept that I credit to my high school softball coach, Mr. John Rosenberg: the-play-after-the-play.  This concept has been drilled into my head for years. "Fennig, think about the play-after-the-play."

What did this mean?
It meant to think ahead. See what was unfolding on the field before my opponent did. I realized that I do this all the time on the ultimate field. I honestly thought something was wrong with me. So many of the top players say "I don't think. I just react." Well, I'm sorry, I think all sorts when I play. I haven't been playing forever and require the whole thinking thing. Sometimes, I think too much. Sometimes, not enough.

The Play-After-The-Play really is about one thing: field vision.

How to See a Play Develop
I feel that this skill is learned through time and practice, just like any other skill a player learns. For me, that meant changing how I watched the game. As a new player, thirsty for knowledge about this game I was so desperately falling in love with, I spent so much time watching college nationals games (CBS Sports at one time had all the finals footage online for free before Ultivillage took it over...). I remember sitting on my computer at home in Muskego with my Dad, streaming the 2007 National Championship games. I spent so much time during the summer of 2007 watching and re-watching the Hodags win the over Mamabird. Both teams had ridiculous chemistry, and just had such strong players. At first, I'd spend time watching the disc moving, but found that I was overlooking the real action.

Just like the days of watching basketball game footage, I began focusing all of my attention on the off-disc action. At the time, I was a cutter. I sat at the computer and watched Will Locke get the disc deep, and watched Drew Mahowald set up the play-after-the-play as soon as the disc went up to Locke. I recall this moment quite exactly, because, it was the first time I actually thought critically about what was happening.

Over the years, I have had many teammates ask me how I got to the point I am at with how I think about the game. At this point, I simply start spamming them with all sorts of links with games to watch. I tell them to watch it, and we typically will meet up for coffee or something over my laptop. I'll ask, "What did you see." At that point, we'll talk about big plays, we'll talk about big throws. But then I'll ask if they saw the off-disc action. The answer is usually no, unless it's an iso situation.

When you watch film, watch off disc movement. Watch how the players are clearing. Watch how space is created and how the secondary cuts are timed. Handlers, watch how the handlers get open and create space. Watch the give and go--focusing on the secondary cuts. There's so much off-disc stuff to focus on. I find that talking about the stuff that's going on is crucial. Don't just watch film by yourself, watch it with a friend/captain/coach/player. Not everyone sees the field the same.

Bringing Your New Mantra To the Field
Me and Roxie talk options.
So now you're seeing all sorts of awesome things develop. There are a few ways to bring this to your team.

1) Helping Your Noobs
Watch your teammates. Sideline talk is important, but even more so is using practice time to help your rookies. Grab a rookie on the sideline. Watch a veteran. Watch them set up the play-after-the-play. Explain to your rookie about what's going on. Point out when your vet sets up a secondary play. When they're clearing space or setting up the next cut, or just streaking down field. From my experience, in women's ultimate, true rookies (who have no experience) take a bit longer to develop the field awareness of seeing plays develop. It's okay to take someone aside and help them see the field the way you now do. But it's important to also try to understand how they see the field. If they saw another option, make sure you tell them that your suggestion is another option.
Pat Niles helps Anna Hettler between points.

2) Helping Your Vets
When you're being a kick ass teammate, you can help your vets. Personally, I'm not a fan of sideline talk on offense...it can be difficult for on-field players to communicate when everyone is yelling and screaming.This means, if you see a vet who isn't busting it or someone who didn't take a good opportunity, encourage them to do it. "Hey (Name), you had a really good opportunity to set up a good deep cut when (Other Teammate) had the disc off that strike. You had your defender beat. Totally take advantage of that match up." The same can be said of when you're on the field between points. Note: don't be a jerk about it.

3) Setting Up Situations
Situational scrimmages are key. As a captain/coach/person who plans practice, incorporate this into your practice plan.
**I'll talk about teaching skills in a later post, I promise. I got an e-mail asking about that last week. I promise that I'll get to it in the next week or two!

4) See all the options
Try to see off-disc movement better when you have the disc. This really is improved with more play time. Seeing the best option, not necessarily the first, is something that everyone really should work on, even if they think they're pros.

Most Important, Practice what you Preach
If you want your teammates to respect you, you have to follow through. Work on improving your field vision is a constant process. It is something to keep working on and developing as you continue to play. It is a process, and it doesn't happen over night.

The same high school coach who drilled the "Play-After-the-Play" into my head, also taught me something key: to be a student of the game. Always be learning. Never be complacent. Your knowledge can grow even when your skills and physical ability cannot.

Wanna watch some clips and don't have time to search YouTube for something you haven't seen. Go here!


  1. Awesome post, Robyn. Lots of great stuff here.

  2. did you watch any of the helicopter-cam footage from the finals of worlds this past summer? the first thing i said when i saw that was how perfect it was for watching people set up their cuts. awesome post. i completely agree about being a student of the game. there's so much to learn!

  3. Totally agreed, Maddy. That footage was awesome.

  4. I love the Worlds Footage. I watched many games at some odd times during the day/night. I think it's great that they could do that camera angle. Do either of you know where to access that to share with some of my teammates?

  5. I can't tell if this is actually the correct link because videos won't play at work, but maybe it's at least a good place to start your search: http://www.casttv.com/video/qt85ry/wucc-2010-open-division-final-video