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)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Improving Disc Skills During Crunch Time

This started out as an e-mail to my teammates. It turned into a post directed towards people who are "in-season." Saucy officially makes the transition into the outdoor season next weekend, with Midwest Throwdown (St. Louis, MO).

2008: Jaime, Katelyn, Lauren and I, showing off our clean jerseys. Thanks mud!
The Midwest, like most of the country, likes to make us play in ridiculous conditions, like below freezing temperatures, 30-40 mph wind, sleet, hail, slush, snow, 2 inches of mud that swallow your cleats (my personal favorite, horizontal sleet rain is typical every year at Regionals for us). We all know that these conditions make throwing and catching more difficult, to say the least. So how can someone expect to gain significant improvement from now until Midwest Throwdown (12 days away?): more touches on the disc.

My challenge is to find 10-15 mins every day of the week to get at least 100 throws/catches in. Go outside if the weather permits (today is great for throwing outdoors!) You might be thinking, "Robyn, you're crazy. 100 throws in 10-15 minutes!?"

If you don't believe me, watch me warm up before practice or a game (ask Bekah or Timko). I guarantee that if I am cleated up at 8:00, I can get you at least 80 reps in before we start our first drill.

Before every practice, this is my target:
-10 backhands, 3-5 yards
-10 forehands, 3-5 yards
-10 backhands, 10 yards (4 straight, 2 inside-out, 2 outside-in)
-10 forehands, 10 yards (4 straight, 2 inside-out, 2 outside-in)
-15 backhands, 15 yards (5 straight, 5 inside-out, 5 outside-in)
-15 forehands, 15 yards (5 straight, 5 inside-out, 5 outside-in)
-15 backhands, 20-25 yards (5 straight, 5 inside-out, 5 outside-in)
-15 forehands, 20-25 yards (5 straight, 5 inside-out, 5 outside-in)

Personally, I don't worry so much about working on low release throws or fakes during this "warmup" time where I'm trying to maximize disc touches. I don't do either of these skills (low throws or fakes) unless I have a mark on. So I focus on these skills during drills with a mark. If I have no mark on me, I have no reason to get really low. It slows down my throw and adds unnecessary movement. As for faking, I practice that when I'm watching TV or walking around campus (I prefer to make eye contact with strangers and fake throw at them. General rule of thumb, if they flinch, my fake was good. Which means, I have lots to work on with my forehand...). I am not sure how many coaches or more experienced folks would agree with this philosophy.

My advice: constantly be moving. Work on your footwork. Most importantly, work on your "transfer time." (Timko is probably more than sick of me preaching transfer time, haha)

As a former college fastpitch softball catcher, my coaches emphasized the need to decrease the amount of time I actually had the ball in my possession. Minimizing my transfer time (time that elapses from when I actually catch the ball and it gets in my teammates glove on a base to throw a runner stealing a base out) helped me play my role of keeping base runners in their place. I can control how long the ball was in my glove, how long it took me to set up my throw, how long I took to get the ball out of my hand, how fast the ball got to the base. Working on taking out every unnecessary movement was essential: it was the difference between throwing someone out and giving them a free base.

The same can be said of ultimate. The faster you get the disc out of your hands, the more options to throw you have. Things to minimize:
-How long it takes you to gain possession
-How long it takes you to find your grip
-How long it takes you to set up your throw (footwork, body positioning)
-How fast your release is

Something else to work on:
-How accurate your throw is*

Having a fast transfer time is great, but when it comes down to it, if the disc doesn't come close to your receiver, what good is a good transfer time?

Accuracy comes from practice, repetition, and touches on the disc. Case in point, get outside and throw!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Two Weeks.

It's crunch time, guys. While other teams are playing tournaments, I'm still practicing.

I'm having the most difficult time concentrating on Midterms and projects. You see, I'm trying to be proactive...a good student, if you will. I am trying what I have never tried before (in four and a half years of ultimate playing and being a student): I am attempting to get most of my long-term assignments done. All these research papers, group assignments, and problem sets that grad school has given me. I'm trying to get them done by tournament time. That means I have two weeks.

But how can I concentrate when Pres Day is unraveling? When I have scores and write ups from Queen City Tune Up and Santa Barbara Invite to catch up on!? Jeez Louise, Ultimate. You gotta slow down and go at a pace I can handle! All the write-ups. SOMEONE GET ME MORE WRITE UPS!

I say this like it's a bad thing!?

And throw in lifting/conditioning/physical therapy into the mix. I'm one girl who is in trouble. My time-management struggles are culminating to its pinnacle: March.

So those of you sharing my frustrations/joys/excitement/struggles...invest in a good planner, and write down all your stuff you have to finish. Prioritize that stuff. Get ready for tournament time, and keep fighting the good fight.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

About Me, What I Want (My Post Titled "Dang It," Expanded)

My first weekend spent with SOL.

I began playing Ultimate about four years ago at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for a small women's college team named SOL. I knew nothing about the game. I knew nothing about the passion that would grow inside me over the next few years. In four years, the team went from literally non-existent to able to compete with and beat some of the best teams in the country. This post is dripping with the effort, excitement, flexibility, creativity, tears, sweat, and dedication I gained from learning how to contribute to a successful new Women's Ultimate program in a small university in northwestern Wisconsin.

I bet most of you do not know where UW-Eau Claire is. To answer some of the questions I have gotten over the years. No, Eau Claire is not in Canada (the "Wisconsin" part of our name indicates that). No, we are not the Bella Donna B team (I've answered that one in many pre-game disc flip huddles). See this map to orient yourself: CLICK ME!

I picked up with Cornell's B team at Southerns...

Also, some people are surprised to know where I went to school. Over the years I have picked up with so many teams at so many tournaments...I can't keep track. So, yes, I went to undergrad at Eau Claire. Now I'm in Iowa as a grad student.

Women’s Ultimate continues to rapidly grow every year in Wisconsin. In the past three years, Wisconsin has seen the development of four brand new women’s teams at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse, University of Wisconsin-Madison (Atropa) and University of Wisconsin-Stout. The state has also witnessed the re-generation of a women’s team at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Finally, co-ed Ultimate programs are developing at both the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Programs around the state continue to cultivate interest in the game we are so passionate about; however, the practice facilities are sub-par to really encourage program development.

The times I have spent during the indoor season building an ultimate program on a basketball court at UW-Eau Claire were some of the most challenging, yet, rewarding times I have experienced with the game I love; however, indoor season poses unique challenges to new Women’s Ultimate teams during November through April. Overcoming these problems is key to the success of future growth of Women’s Ultimate in Wisconsin. At the moment, no one entity has been largely successful at helping these new teams develop.

My first tournament ever: High Tide '07 Hat Team (Team White White)

From my first hand experiences, I have seen a lack of interest necessary to reach out to developing teams. I have experienced being a brand new player who got mocked on the sidelines when I did not know what to do or what the proper interpretation of a rule was. I have seen other teams mock new teams for their ignorance and inexperience against high caliber teams. (In fact, I've been on a team that's been mocked before, during, and after playing a game...) I want to be part of the solution. I want to overcome this growing disparity inherent in the Women’s Ultimate community. If new teams cannot turn to us, then where will they go?

I was lucky enough to be part of something big, something important, something that I could buy into and belong. This experience has been invaluable in the shaping of the type of player that I have become. I want to do whatever I can to prevent a new player to get laughed at for not knowing that they could contest a foul, or yelled at for making a dangerous play. I want Women’s Ultimate to develop into something that promotes mutual respect, where teams support each other, and take an active role in success of a new team. All it takes is encouragement and interest.

There are organizations out there that attempt to bridge this gap, but I do not see their efforts successful in states that experience winter for over half of their season with practice facilities limited to a basketball court. Big name players at large universities cannot directly relate to the struggles of establishing a sustaining team or program while they themselves have little-to-no ultimate experience unless they, themselves, have done so. Very few voices of that sort are being heard. I hope to create a network of support and idea sharing between successful Women’s Ultimate players in the Midwest who have shared this experience.

Giving teams the opportunity to focus on skills development early in the fall season is a primary focus, in my opinion to overcome this struggle and promote growth. Specifically, I am proposing the creation of an annual skills development weekend for these newer, smaller teams at the time that will be beneficial for them. The event, still in planning stages, aims to provide these teams with the opportunities that will benefit the development of newer and smaller programs.

I originally wanted this to be in spring, prior to the USAU Series. But I have decided to take an opportunity to go to Boston to give a presentation the weekend I was planning on hosting the event. I mentoned this in my interview with Skyd Magazine. I emailed, called, and texted my friends at other schools. To my surprise, I got an overwhelming amount of  response...people loved this idea. People wanted to be part of this. Soon I was getting calls, e-mails, and texts about it. People wanted to help. People wanted to donate time, energy, etc.

The more I sit and mull the decision to postpone the event, the more I realized that fall is more beneficial for an event like this. Realistically, I will be getting in contact with teams over the spring/summer to help get their input and answer any questions they may have....as well as secure a low-cost, centrally located field location.

UWEC Intramural Champions: DA

I am looking for people who would be willing to serve as mentors and coaches at this event. If any of what I said has peaked your interest. E-mail me!! If you just wanna chat about how ultimate has impacted your life, I love that. I love hearing that. Because I feel so incredibly lucky to be part of this community. Out of all the sports I have played, this community is the best. It feels like home.

I realized. I may not be the best at the game. I may not be the fastest, or have the best throws. That's okay (it doesn't mean I don't stop trying and working my butt off, because frankly, I do). What I do have is a thirst for the game and the community. I want to share this with other people, and I want them to share this with me.

Enough for now.

Friday, February 11, 2011

4 weeks out

I started this post at the beginning of the week on Sunday night. It's Friday. 5  days have since passed. I wanted to take you through what's going on in the life of Saucy right now. This isn't your typical "summation of practices" type entry. This is about the wall our team hit last week. A few others have noticed it (via our convos after practices), and I wanted to think about it and give you all some word on our progress (in one big entry, rather than a few small ones)

Sunday Recap
Saucy is 4 weeks out until our first outdoor tournament. Last week after practice, I was reflecting on the direction we are going in. We kind of hit this "focus" wall. It's that part in the semester where everyone starts getting settled in, getting into routines. Practice becomes part of that routine. Socializing about what everyone is doing becomes part of that routine. Focus, on the other hand, falls out of that routine.

I think that many teams hit this wall too. The part where practices start becoming a little sloppy and energy kind of gets down. The problem is, we don't have a ton of time together before our first tournament. In fact, we have about 2.5 hours of mandatory practice per week (two one-hour-fifteen-minute sessions) or ten total hours left.

I did a little research. Thankfully, most teams operate functional blogs or websites these days. What do top teams in the game do when it comes to practice times. It makes me slightly depressed when I am reminded that, yes, teams on the West Coast are still outdoors. *Sigh* 60 degree weather is tough. The beach must be so cold! These teams get to practice 3-9 hours per week with good facilities. These teams have 1-2 tournaments before we put on out layers and huddle together on the sidelines for warmth at Midwest Throwdown. Then we hit a four week frenzy of non-stop tournaments. So our real work has to be put in now, because, realistically, we have enough time between tournaments to tweak little things in our game...not time to make major changes.

Here in Iowa (like many other places), we still have snow. But we are fortunate to have some really nice practice facilities. Seeing as how I have nothing else to do (sarcasim...as Sheldon would say, "BAZINGA!") I wanted to remind my teammates that regardless of the foot of snow we have, regardless of being indoors, regardless of not being one of those well-established teams, that we need to keep focused. If our team goal is to make it to nationals, we need to start holding ourselves accountable to the progress goals we set at our team goal meeting. The best way to do that is to stay focused at practice and utilize the limited time and resources we are faced with. (God, I am talking about scarcity...I sound like such a bright budding economist!) Let's see how the week pans out.

Tuesday Night
Timko just left my apartment. We were diagramming stuff and talking about life. Okay, enough about me. What about Saucy?

Well, I fear that what I wanted to be an inspirational e-mail to encourage people to focus and keep energy up, has scared the bejeezus out of my teammates. I didn't mean to put pressure on anyone. I just want them to remember the process goals we set. It's difficult to work on team chemistry, or "Beasting Everything" when we aren't trying super duper hard. That was the problem before. Now the problem is everyone trying too hard. There's gotta be a balance.

I think that now everyone is over sensitive of our goals. Let's hope for something a little more relaxed on Thursday,

Thursday Night Reflections (on Friday morning over breakfast...)
Last night, we got it right. That was significantly the most satisfying practice I have ever been part of. Mikey kept the tempo fast. We focused on offensive looks and execution. At first, offensively we looked good, but were struggling to just put it in the endzone in one possession. Every turn we had, we came back and started again. No breaks, no discussion. Just bring it back and go at it again. So basic, but it really got people to value the disc.

We set up scenario scrimmaging. Both teams were connecting. If one team turned it over, the other team put it in in one possession. There was rarely more than one turn per point. Intensity was up. People were connecting. It was exciting.

The focus is back. Mission accomplished.

Dang it.

So I had this idea to put on a skills clinic/tournament for Central Region teams this spring. It's not going to happen. Dates are not going to work out with Conference and Regional Championships. I feel like I messed up. I want to do provide resources to some new teams...and we have lots of new teams around here.

I guess I shoot for Fall?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Blizzard Night Two-fer: Indoor Practice Planning

I received an e-mail last week inquiring about indoor practice planning for small teams. Here is my response, courtesy of the blizzard I'm sitting through, alone in my apartment.

I apologize, first and foremost. I have not actually planned a practice since last season. Mikey, DK, and Steve plan practices. I get to show up and play. Bear with me as I recall all sorts of things we took into account/planned for at UW-Eau Claire.

UW-Eau Claire SOL, circa 2008 (Sectionals). Yup our full roster

Back to my response…For those of you familiar with the Wisconsin-Eau Claire program, you will know that SOL exploded out of nowhere. My first season, we had eleven on our team total. This meant that we were lucky with 6 or 7 at any practice. Though our numbers reached something close to thirty every season after that, we still had a problem getting girls to practice. It’s hard to “require” practice or adopt a mandatory attendance policy when you go to a relatively small school. Let’s be honest, I think there is more to life besides ultimate, and college is the prime time to foster those interests and jump-start the resume a bit. As a result, our sub-optimal practice times conflicted with all sorts of meetings, classes, volunteer-programs, etc. We had low numbers at practice.

So how can you effectively use your time when you have 12 players? Yes, we all preach that games and scrimmage time is the most valuable way to learn the game, but when you don’t have enough for teams, let alone subs, how can you expect people to do so at a high intensity?

The answer: drill progression into controlled scrimmages.

As captains, we would plan practices via e-mail with our coach, Pat Niles. We would develop our focus. (For the purposes of this blog post, we’ll say we are having an offensive focused day, specifically working on swinging the disc.) After the plan is finalized, we send it out the night before or day of practice for the team. That way our teammates know what to expect, as well as what to hold themselves accountable for if they cannot attend.

After 5 minutes of tossing, and 10 minutes of warm up, we get right into drilling. As we get water, we go over the focus. We’ll what we are looking for. We set up a drill that starts with the basics, progressing into more difficult skills.

You need to break down your focus into pieces. The most basic being first, adding more into the skill as the drill goes on. Making sure that there is continuity on what the focus is from one drill to the next. Keeping a central theme helped us stay on track.

Okay, so let’s say we expect to have twelve players at practice.  It is the end of January. We’re indoors, on a basketball court. We have the gym from 6:30-8 pm. This would be my suggested practice that focused on swinging.
    SOL busts off the line during indoor season 2007
  1. Warm Up (6:30-6:45 pm) Ideally, if we had access to a hallway before practice, we’d do warm ups at like 6 pm in the hallway. That way we could get going right at 6:30. Not realistic everywhere.
  2. Water/itinerary/explanation (6:45-6:55)
  3. Situational Drill, Progression 1: Basic Swing off the force side-line. Break into 2 groups of six. No defense. Basic swing, with a mark on the sideline only. Rotate after each successful repetition. (6:55-7:00)
  4. Situational Drill, Progression 2: Same as Progression 1, but add defense to all handlers. Rotate after every successful repetition.  (7:00-7:05)
  5. Situational Drill, Progression 3: Same as Progression 2, but change defensive position on off-disc handlers. Rotate after each successful repetition. (7:05-7:10)
  6. Situational Drill, Progression 4: Same as Progression 3, but in one big group. Defense on all handlers. Add a cutter cutting into break side (no D). Rotate after each successful repetition. (7:10-7:18)
  7. Situational Drill, Progression 5: Progression 4, but add D to the cutter coming in on break side. (7:18-7:25)
  8. Break for water. Re-cap points of emphasis. (7:25-7:30)
  9. Controlled Scrimmage 1 (7:30-7:45): 4 v 4, basketball court. Start with dead disc on the sideline. Offensive team gets 5 attempts to swing and get into some sort of offensive flow, sub between every point. Sidelines should be talking to defensive players. Switch O-to-D after 5.
  10. Water break. Discuss basic take on scrimmage. Things to switch quickly to increase efficiency/success rate? (7:45-7:50)
  11. Scrimmage 2: Regular scrimmage from "pull." Emphasize that disc should not be worked up sideline. Rearrange teams. Even split, or rookies vs. veterans.  (7:50-8:00 pm)
Boom. Practice planned.

Don’t feel limited by space or facilities. You just have to be creative with what you have. Keeping drills fast paced and altering controlled scrimmage situations keeps your players constantly thinking and constantly moving, hopefully minimizing boredom.

"Beast Everything"

Sunday night, Saucy Nancy had a team meeting where we discussed our personal and team goals for the upcoming 2011 college season. One of my teammates left me absolutely speechless. Kelsey Defenbaugh, one of our rookies who has been playing ultimate since September, revealed that her goal was to “Beast Everything.” Personally, I can’t think of a better way to describe the type of playing style that we all strive to achieve…isn't that why we play?
We all have our own unique individual goals, right? I feel like if I was part of a team with every individual goal was to beast everything, I would be pretty lucky. A team full of people who went for everything, giving as much as they can in each point, regardless of whether it’s a game or practice, whether it’s on the field or on the sideline. Everyone working as hard as they can one point at a time to achieve our team goals. Enough being hesitant. If I'm going to make mistakes, it's going to be aggressively, because I'm going for it hard...not because I'm being timid.

Let this be a lesson, veteran players. Listen to your rookies. Listen to all of your teammates. Because they are just as motivated and inspired as you are. You may have added knowledge of the game, but it doesn't necessarily mean you have more heart. Because I think the rookies have more than we do. Idk about you, but one of my teammates just motivated the heck out of me.

I think this should be my new life mantra.