Tuesday Tips: 5 Non-Athletic Things to Do During Winter to Improve Your Game, Presented by Five Ultimate

Not all offseason preparation work requires a trip to the gym or the track.

Photo: Christina Schmidt -- UltiPhotos.com
Photo: Christina Schmidt — UltiPhotos.com

The article is presented by Five Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Five Ultimate!

Winter is here.

In much of the United States, ultimate has grown increasingly difficult to play in the last few weeks.

Even in an El Nino year, with far less snow than the past couple of seasons, most forms of serious ultimate have shut down due to cold, rain, muddy field conditions, and the darkness that descends so early on.

This period — where it can be difficult to find time to throw, let alone play an organized game — is enough to drive even the most seasoned veteran mad, as we ultimate junkies are denied our favorite athletic drug.

Winter should be a prime time for preparing your body physically for the seasons ahead, and a strong off-season workout program should be the number one goal of a serious player.

However, even with the best training system in place, there are still many long, dark hours without the competitive sport that many of us need to stay sane.

Here then are 5 non-athletic things to do during the winter to improve your game:

1. Study Film

As ultimate grows in popularity, one of the greatest off-the-field advantages that has arrived has been the surplus of quality filmed games.

As a point of order, keep in mind that this is footage of large segments of actual gameplay, not highlights. Highlight reels are great to keep you excited and pumped about the sport (although they can often deepen that madness of ultimate withdrawal), but should not be used to improve your game as often an exciting play is the result of an imperfect ultimate foundation.

Instead, seek out footage of entire games, preferably done by a professional crew with a wide view (to see a large portion of the field), or even better, try to find or obtain film of yourself playing.

There are two ways to watch film productively.

First, and best, is to watch yourself.

Unfortunately, for most players, there are very limited (and usually not well done) instances where games we have played in have been caught on film.

When you do have the opportunity (or even if you have to create your own opportunity by convincing someone to film you or your team), the possible results are truly enticing. Here is the very best path to correcting small mistakes in your game, tweaking your technique, or improving your strategic skills.

Remember that it is easy to berate yourself for getting beat or making a mistake from the Monday Morning armchair; instead, try to relive and remember the feeling of each particular point you watch, keeping in mind that fitness and mental focus are keys to live response.

Still, even putting your fitness or focus aside, oftentimes you can find habits that are easy to course correct. Examine your throwing motion and your decision making skills. Do you see where your turnovers come from? Are they reoccurring in a particular situation or with a particular throw? Watch your defense and try to anticipate where you get beat and where your positioning is flawed. Is it primarily fitness? Are you not giving enough cushion? Watch how you react to your teammates and to the disc flow as well, to see greater opportunities for you to contribute.

Don’t forget about the moments where you play really well; find those and see what you did right to try to replicate them and make sure they aren’t one-and-done instances.

Many times you may walk away from a film session realizing that you have several takeaways and possible routes to improvement, perhaps even little changes that can get you the disc or improve your defense.

In other instances, you may have to dig deeper and perhaps compare your own game with players that are similar to you to improve.

The second option when watching film is to watch someone else play.

There are two reasons to do this. First, is to scout, a skill that is extremely valuable, but undervalued in the sport of ultimate today.

Watching a common opponent of yours for trends, strengths, and weaknesses can help you and your team better counter your enemies. However, scouting often works best in a more immediate situation, where you can identify matchups, strategies, and plans on a broader team and game level. Sometimes, therefore, scouting isn’t as useful during winter months when things may end up being drastically different by the spring.

Instead, find the second reason to watch others play, and that is to find ways that you can improve.

Begin by analyzing the same way you would analyze your own game. Seek out the other players’ weaknesses or opportunities to grow (this will help you find things to keep in mind for your playing or training).

Next, find exemplary play, and here is where you should spend most of your time; pick out a player that has a similar game to you and watch what that person does well in any given situation. Mimicry is the easiest way to learn; watch any young child or player, and you’ll see they copy those older than them in terms of behavior.

Watch your target throw, catch, cut, play defense, and also watch the little things, like the way they clear, rest, see the field, communicate, and more. Then do your best to write it down, or draw it, or capture it in your head, so that you can revisit it when it’s your time in that situation.

2. Work your Weapons

A receiver’s greatest weapons are his or her hands, and we are all receivers in the game of ultimate.

So often we focus on training our bodies by thinking in terms of our big systems, of making our muscles stronger. This is, naturally, good and proper to train and focus on because these systems run our fitness. However, there are other weapons that your body utilizes all the time in a game of ultimate that don’t get trained.

The primary one of these, in a non-athletic sense, are your hands.

Take care of your hands during the off-season; it is very easy to find simple ways to make your hands stronger and more comfortable with the disc (possibly the most important baseline for any good thrower).

Use hand strengthening balls, wrist turners, bands, and of course the disc to make your hands better. Even something as simple as squeezing a tennis ball in front of a computer screen while studying can make a subtle impact on your ability to snag a disc.

Similarly, playing with a disc, switching grips, squeezing it with your fingers, and tossing it up to catch at weird angles can build muscle memory and instill confidence when the disc is near your hands, making your body far more likely to know what to do when the time comes.

Other weapons of your body that are often ignored: your lower back, your core, your flexibility. These are more athletically inclined, but many training regimes don’t spend the hours improving them. Stretching is something that is extremely beneficial and yet most athletes spend less than ten minutes a day doing it during the off-season. Stretch and do light body-strengthening exercises during your downtime in the dark winter hours inside.

3. Plan your Food and Fitness

Planning is something that you can do during the off-season to make your life much more efficient.

Plan your food! It’s not enough to simply say “I want to eat healthier”! How are you going to do it? Spend time during the winter researching and planning what you are going to do.

Be specific! Don’t just have general take-aways here, but write something down. Map out ten to twenty healthy meals or snacks, make grocery lists, or even better, specific weekly meal plans where you know exactly what you want to eat. This saves time at the store and makes it less likely you will cheat or eat out (after all, you put in the hours to craft and buy the stuff, might as well use it).

On a similar note, plan and learn how to cook even more than you can. Cooking is a skill that is really important to a serious athlete. The very best athletes carefully watch what they eat through the help of trainers, chefs, nutritionists, and more. We ultimate players have to be our own guides in this matter and so we have to learn how to go about doing that.

Spending time at a cooking class or watching cooking “How-To” videos during the off-season is time well spent.

Planning your workout regime is equally important and another great time-saver. Rather than walking into the gym and milling around, wondering what you are going to do that day, have a written plan or agenda that drives your fitness.

Again, spending time mapping these out, day-by-day, week-by-week, even a month or two in advance makes it more likely that you will stick to the plan (as you feel guilty for breaking it).

Record what you accomplish (both in the kitchen and with your fitness) to hold yourself accountable. Keep a food or workout log (or both); it will hurt when you have to write in that you “went to Mcdonalds” or “watched Netflix all afternoon” and didn’t hit your goal.

4. Read, Write, Think

Everyone agrees that a smarter player is a better player.

So don’t forget to work the most important muscle of all: your brain.

Be reading (or writing) about ultimate on a weekly basis to help improve your game. Check out Tuesday Tips or go into other resources or older classics for ways to think about ultimate. Even reading articles or books that you consider “basic” or “entry-level” can help you and your mental base. Some very smart players out there read the rule book every day and make it a point to discuss interesting rules with their teammates (nerdy as that sounds).

Writing-wise, start a blog, a discussion thread, or sign up to write articles. Not all your reading, writing, and thinking has to be on the self-improvement scale. Sometimes it is fun to read about past events, journal, recap, or blog about your own experiences, or discuss or predict what will happen in the future.

Some of the most fun you can have during the off-season can involve getting into ridiculous debates about matchups (past or present) or in reliving moments from the past. Reflecting and writing about your early rookie tournaments, just like reading about the 2006 National Championships, can help make your brain well-rounded and keep you interested and fresh during the long dark of winter.

5. Visualize

The importance of visualization cannot be overstated.

There have been numerous research studies done over the years to prove that training smarter is often better than training harder.

We can all relate to ultimate daydreams of glory and greatness, but when you visualize, you are training your brain and you need to do it with a goal and a purpose.

Start by visualizing smaller things like your own physical training, or easier aspects of the game like making a perfect swing pass, clearing hard, catching smoothly, or more.

Break it down and think about the entire world of your visualization, the teams around you, the sights and smells, the feeling of your hands and legs and face. Imagine yourself doing each move perfectly and feel your body getting stronger, your mind more confident, your skills even better.

Spend 5-10 minutes (at least) each night visualizing different aspects of your training or playing; the results will come, no matter your doubts.

Dedicated visualization can help you reach your goals far faster than you think.

*             *             *

If you are bored or over-eager for ultimate to come again, try to accomplish these things on a weekly basis. Remember, you spend time practicing during the season, so have your own “practice or improvement” time during the off-season. Set off a few hours a week to improving.

Work your body, mind, and soul to help self-improve your playing abilities to reach your maximum potential.

  1. Alex Rummelhart

    Alex "UBER" Rummelhart is an Ultiworld reporter. He majored in English at the University of Iowa, where he played and captained IHUC. He lives and teaches in Chicago, Illinois, where he has played for several ultimate teams, including the Chicago Wildfire and Chicago Machine. Alex loves writing of all types, especially telling interesting and engaging stories. He is the author of the novel The Ultimate Outsider, one of the first fictional works ever written about ultimate.

TAGGED: , , , , , , ,

More from Ultiworld
Comments on "Tuesday Tips: 5 Non-Athletic Things to Do During Winter to Improve Your Game, Presented by Five Ultimate"

Find us on Twitter

Recent Comments

Find us on Facebook

Subscriber Exclusives

  • Deep Look LIVE: WFDF President Robert “Nob” Rauch, College Confregionals
    podcast with bonus segment
  • Inside the Circle LIVE: Jonesboro Open Rapid Reax
    Subscriber podcast
  • The Line: The Seven Deepest Teams in College Ultimate
    Subscriber article
  • Out the Back: College Regionals Draft
    Subscriber podcast