Identifying and fixing weaknesses can be a difficult -- but rewarding -- task.
April 4, 2017 by Alex Rummelhart in Opinion with 0 comments
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Every ultimate person can watch a pair of players and make a judgment, fairly quickly, about which of them is “better.” The more difficult task, by far, is to articulate exactly how and why, then figure out how to close the gap.
Whether you’re making adjustments on the fly in games or practices, trying to steadily improve a specific skill, or meticulously plotting out a long-term plan to becoming a stronger overall player, accurately identifying, assessing, and correcting weaknesses is the very best path to success.
This process is easier with the help of a group or insight from a veteran leader, captain, or coach; ideally most ultimate players would have some help to move along the process of improvement. However, the reality is that ultimate is still a small sport, often short on experienced eyes or people with the time to help. And so, much of the primary change has to be done independently.
This task of identifying and assessing your own weaknesses is a difficult one, but can also be rewarding. To truly improve your own weaknesses, or those of your team, it will take a grinding effort of grit, but it will also offer a chance for drastic gains over a short period of time.
Here’s a five step guide to assessing and overcoming your own weaknesses.
Step 1: Define success before looking for failure.
Before you go looking for the flaws in your game, look at what other teams or players do to be successful. Don’t just track the end result — that team scored 15 points on us, that player caught ten goals — but instead key in on the process: What are they doing well? How are they able to win so decisively?
This can be a comparison of you to others on your team, to others you compete against, or to players and teams around the game you’ve only ever seen from afar. It can be done in that ten second huddle after you got scored on or in the long winter months of watching film. It’s a simple, but important, first step.
Don’t overthink this process! Sometimes the answers aren’t complex motions of advanced strategy, but instead simple fundamentals that are being executed perfectly.
Did a player just cruise up the field in flow with her team on offense? Maybe she is breaking the mark consistently.
Big hucks and skies raining down all over the place? Maybe that team is spacing and timing their cuts and throws perfectly.
There are a multitude of little skills in ultimate that can be executed well or can be executed poorly. The more you watch and — consciously or unconsciously — mentally catalog examples of success, the more you’ll be able to recognize which particular skills can have the biggest impact and think of examples of who executes those skills well.
Step 2: Search for the critical moment.
Now that you recognize and can articulate the sources of success in others — whether they be opponents, teammates, or someone else you’ve seen and hope to emulate — you can turn your focus inward. Why aren’t you able to do what the examples of success are doing? What is the critical area of weakness that is holding you back from emulating that success?
Rather than looking big picture at all the ways you differ from a player or team you’re trying to emulate, search for your individual moments of failure. Find the most specific point where problems occurred. This is important because it usually is the lynch pin of your weakness and success, that critical point where you go from doing something well to doing something badly.
If the problem is offensive, look at the turnover. Where and how did it happen? If you got blocked, why? If there was a drop or turfed throw, look at the specific causes.
On defense, the same principles apply. Where was the big cut or throw that opened up the point? Where did you or the team gets scored on and why?
Again, don’t overthink things. Chances are, you or your team have a weakness and it isn’t something terribly complex, but rather devastatingly simple.
An important caveat here: don’t make excuses. The number one way to ensure a lack of improvement of weakness is to cop out or cast blame. Don’t pin everything on someone being more athletic, smarter, or just “better than you.” Don’t pin your own weakness on the teammates around you, the weather conditions, or the opponent. Dig deep, with brutal honesty, to compare yourself. Analyzing in the harsh light of honest truth can reveal a weakness and identify a lot of good starting places to fix it.
Step 3: Find ways to overcome the barriers.
If you’ve found a critical point of weakness, it is time to think about the factors contributing to it and the barriers that need to be overcome to fix this problem.
For example, let’s say on offense the critical problem is that your team consistently turns it over on a high-stall hucks. Look specifically at the fundamental elements of what is happening at the moment of failure and compare them to the things you know correlate to success. Little details matter.
In this example, there are several potential problems. Are the cutters not getting open early in the stall count or are handlers not hitting open receivers under? Can throwers not break the mark to hit open breakside cuts or are they simply not looking there? Was the dump and swing set up incorrectly or did the thrower just not turn soon enough?
Here again, you should be specific and brutally honest in your analysis. Focus in on which one of the problems is the most critical or is the biggest and most consistent barrier. Then decide how to overcome that barrier.
The good news is that there are always options. Every barrier, no matter how difficult, has a few ways around it or over it. The key, once again, is not to deflect blame or to give up with excuses.
Another example might be on defense: you are consistently getting beat deep. There are several options available to you to overcome this barrier to your success, some better than others. You can reposition yourself to give more cushion, you can get more physical, you can use a help defensive system, and more.
Find options, several ways around or over the barriers. Pick the one that works best for you and your team — remember ultimate is always, no matter how you slice it, a team game involving cooperation from squad mates — and then do it.
Step 4: Name and complete action steps.
As with most thing in life, there is no shortcut to overcoming barriers to success on the ultimate field. Once you’ve identified a solution, you need to lay out and execute a plan to achieve it. Period.
Pick two or three little things (or little steps) that can be done to improve, rank them in the order of what would work best for you in any given situation, and then start doing these action steps. Sounds simple, but obviously it is not. Some of these will be hard. That’s to be expected. It’s one thing to say, “we need to break the mark around more often” — it is another thing to execute it.
Do it anyway! You have to put your action steps into practice in order to improve; changing nothing gets you nowhere. Be conscious of what you’re doing in practice. Standing in a basketball court shooting hoops lazily for an hour won’t make you a better basketball player; the same is true about lazily tossing for an hour. If your goal is to be able to break the mark, make sure that even outside of practice your tossing isn’t casual, but working on each little step you need to improve.
Some action steps and routes around barriers won’t work well right way — they might even fail miserably — and you’ll need to try something else. But failing is just a necessary step in learning and improving.
Sometimes fears or apprehensions are the biggest barriers on top of other barriers. They pile up until it seems like an impossible mountain to climb. Just because you’re facing a good mark or you aren’t a strong thrower doesn’t mean you can’t adjust in a game and do the hard thing to break the mark. Throw in that fake, pivot around, and throw to space. Putting the steps in your head can make the impossible task a little less intimidating. Start small, but definitely start, and you’ll be on the road to success.
In the wise words of Master Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
Step 5: Rinse, reassess, and repeat.
Once you’ve put your steps into action, you have to reassess.
What changed after I changed? How do I need to respond further? What other steps can I take to further minimize this weakness?
It’s a constant process of evaluation, reflection, and improvement, but that is how the best players become the best. Ultimate is a dynamic game and the process of assessing weakness will need to be pretty continual until you and your team are achieving what you want.
Constantly fine-tuning a throw, challenging yourself by doing new things, finding your weakness and then using specific practice to get better at it, using grit over and over… well that can change a whole lot. No excuses, no doubts.
Take an honest look at where you stand. Find the moment that is holding you back or making you fail. Distill it down to individual elements that can be improved. Plan your work and then work your plan. And most importantly of all, never stop.
Assessing your weakness is at the core of all improvement and there should be no reason not to get better.