Lou Burruss wrote dozens of great columns; here are the 10 best.
October 29, 2014 by Simon Pollock in Opinion with 1 comments
It’s time for us to say goodbye to a unique voice that has guided our community into a more transparent, media friendly world.
Lou Burruss announced his departure from Win the Fields earlier this week, a column that started as a blog in 2010 and has been a staple at Skyd Magazine since 2011. We’ve had five years of prose from Lou, all of us benefactors of the words that flowed from a storied career as a player and coach. Though Win the Fields covered a little bit of everything, Lou’s was the first high-profile column to offer tournament recaps and matchup analysis, a harbinger for much of what we do here at Ultiworld.
When he arrived on the (virtual) scene, Lou fed hungry minds craving more Ultimate information and thought. Most of all, his column gave us an intelligent, idiosyncratic perspective from which to learn. As he leaves, we should be proud of the growth in coverage, analysis, and connectivity that will continue to foster development of our sport.
Without further ado, I’m proud to countdown the Ultiworld Top 10 Win the Fields posts.
10. The Rulebreaker
“Every offense has rules, and every team has that one player who can’t be convinced to follow them.”
A major strength of Win the Fields was keying into team mentalities and behaviors, particularly in a way that was relatable to Ultimate. Here in one of his last few columns, Lou offered a treatise on the on-field behavior of Beau Kittredge and Jimmy Mickle, key rulebreakers for San Francisco Revolver and Denver Johnny Bravo. This column goes above and beyond the point that many teams (especially college teams) have a talent disparity that leans on one player to get the job done –it covers how both teams adapted their offensive strengths to these two players, and how to use them as “pressure valves.”
Kittredge and Mickle are the outsider, the unicorn, the flaw in the system. At the elite level, Revolver and Bravo rely on adherence to principles that guide their system –these two are the twist in the plot according to Burruss. He argues that good teams recognize and adjust to allow these unpredictabilities to give them the edge they need to get out of high-intensity situations. Kittredge has the ability to get open for deep shots when he is seemingly under coverage; Mickle is allowed to roam closer to the backfield to snag the reset in traffic between stalls six and eight.
It’s an in-depth breakdown, in fairly common sense language. There’s a lot of film study behind creating a piece like this and it shows off the thorough analysis that people trusted Win the Fields to deliver on. Speaking of video…
“…it wasn’t realistic for team to film their own games on a regular basis-now it’s standard practice. This newness means that we are all still learning how to go about watching videos.”
In early 2012, this piece offered a quick and dirty introduction to video analysis. Regular access to game tape was very new in 2012 and we’re still working on how to get more if it easily today. One of the strengths of Win the Fields was delivering a humble, but informed opinion that guided others in a learning process. For those looking to start studying game tape, this is a great place to start.
It’s also one of a number of Win the Fields posts that helped other analytical minds into the next phase of Ultimate strategizing. The exponential increase of connectivity and expansion of easy video and editing tools have begun to revolutionize the way teams compete and this column is a signifier of that expansion. When Ultiworld talked to coaches about next-day matchups at Nationals, more than one admitted that players would be going back to the hotel and purchasing footage to study up. Burruss was working at this level in 2012.
“Teams and individual defenders don’t want to be embarrassed by Beau and so they back him. This may help an individual defender’s stats (“He never scored on me“) but is detrimental to the implementation of an effective team defense.”
Even before video, Win the Fields gave us a public forum in which to read and discuss strategy. Before Doublewide unseated Revolver in 2012 and GOAT surprised us all in 2014, Lou took to the web to decode Revolver’s game plan.
“Just win, baby!”
Full disclosure: there’s math in here –a fair amount of it. Nonetheless, the ranking algorithm is still debated every year and I’d suggest taking pen and paper (if not a graphing calculator) with along for this multi-column ride. This is a must read for anyone digging into this hot-button issue. I’m with Lou though, just win!
“When it goes wrong, it can go really wrong. When it goes right, no team experience is better.”
Even if a Win the Fields wasn’t describing your exact team demeanor or attitude, Lou’s Clown Tent philosophy was and is a must-read for team leaderships that are struggling with identity and managing it. I’d recommend that all player-coaches take a long hard look at themselves and consider what Lou has to say here. You don’t have to use it, but the stories in the second part of the piece should still be instructive for just about any captain or coach.
5. Force Middle
“…you are already playing force middle some of the time.”
I couldn’t get away with a Top 10 review without including a really solid Win the Fields post that included at least one question from readers. While this is also an excellent breakdown of a more nuanced defensive strategy, it’s also emblematic of the service that Lou was doing for the community. Anyone can wax poetic about strategy and the like, but can you respectfully and thoroughly answer tough questions from your readers?
4. I Guess I’m Getting in… and five more pieces on the restructuring of club ultimate.
“Recent events have inexorably pushed me closer and closer to coming clean on all this stuff, so I’m getting in the water no matter how cold or nasty it might end up being.”
In six posts between late 2012 and early 2013, Lou took on a mighty task: making a clear and legitimate case for choosing NGN Founder Kevin Minderhout’s proposed Nexgen League as the best club structure for our future. It’s not how things shook out, but the the thinking in these pieces encompasses pros and cons for each possible future for club: the Triple Crown Tour, the Nexgen League, the AUDL, and the MLU. More than a year and a half later, we have two years of the TCT under our belts, two years of the upstart MLU, and a quickly expanding AUDL. This “Sign of the Times” type series is still relevant and a great starting place for thinkers looking to join the conversation.
“So much of playing defense is situational. In fact, once you move beyond the basics of sticking with your assignment, forcing, and some rudimentary footwork, all defense is specifics. “
Trying to break down junk and help-man can be a nightmare for offenses on the field, but these schemes are fast becoming the future of Ultimate defenses. What’s better than one elite defender covering one elite cutter? Two elite defenders on that same cutter. This series is knee deep in the strategy that teams are adapting on defense and it’s fascinating. This is Burruss’ strategic mind at its best.
” I believe that today Spirit of the Game is healthier than it has ever been. Ever.”
Amidst all the analysis, all the questions from readers, the team philosophies, and more, I still had to choose this piece for my number two. I’m not that far removed from my days of labeling anyone who spiked the disc a jerk, thinking that having a coach was “too serious,” and charging around the field in a skirt I got from the field hockey team’s old closet. I held more disdain for Ultimate at the highest levels in college than I did respect — the sport seemed to lose its innocence and very few people were smiling in-game. That was 2009-10.
Reading through Lou’s reflections on College Nationals in 2014 must have been a breath of fresh air for a lot of folks – I know it was for me. A lot has changed in the last five or so years – much of it due to players learning the rules early at the youth level and good coaches rightfully explaining how important it is to know them.
I chose this piece because, although it was not his last, you can read Lou’s words here and sense that things had changed since he had started writing publicly, and for the good.
1. How to Cheat to Win (Without Cheating), the series
“Sportsmanship is the ideal of playing within the rules (and the customary understanding of them) because it is the right thing to do. It is concern and respect for your opponent. Gamesmanship is looking at the rules in a lawyerly way, analyzing them and finding opportunities to exploit them.”
Alright, this was a predictable choice for the top slot, but how could I not?
In five posts from his original blog, Lou showed us how to cheat to win…so that we wouldn’t. Admittedly, for those looking to win at all costs, this series is an excellent guide on how to win at all costs in Ultimate — to game the system. Yet these thoughts get at the very heart of Ultimate and all the hubbub about altering and/or preserving the self-officiated nature of the sport. No rehashing here, just read the lot of it and then take some time to reflect on how Lou’s thoughts affect your own Ultimate mentality. It’s potent stuff, whether you agree with his endgame or not.
Lou, thanks for all the thinking. It was an unmatched contribution to the growth of Ultimate and I loved reading it. Good luck, be well, and don’t forget to write.