A Dozen Pieces of Advice For Nationals

A dozen tips for success for nationals-bound club teams -- and anyone else who has a big tournament coming up.

Tiina Booth at the 2017 Club National Championships. Photo: Paul Rutherford — UltiPhotos.com

I resigned from coaching UMass men last month. There is no big story here. It was just time. The pandemic rearranged priorities for me. I, of course, wish them the very best.

An unanticipated result of not coaching a team anymore is that I still have a coach’s brain. I am unable to watch ultimate online or in person without critiquing and analyzing. I do the same for disc golf, although I have almost zero experience in that sport. Doesn’t stop me from having opinions though.

Club Nationals start next week and I have a lot to say and no one to say it to.1 I know that it will be a challenge in many ways, perhaps more off the field than on. But if I were coaching a team in San Diego, this is what I would focus on:

  1. Your last practice means nothing in regard to how you will perform at this, or any, tournament. I wish it did so that all those teams who managed to have a good practice would feel an extra boost of confidence. But there is no correlation. There is also no correlation if you have a good early game on Thursday. Each game is its own entity.
  2. Strategize for how the wind will inform your throws, pulls, marks, and defenses. Talk about it as early as possible. On Sunday at Northeast Regionals, the wind kicked up big. I watched one team immediately adjust their throws and continue easily with their offense. I also watched other players still use their unstable throws. If you deliver a high-release backhand with the spin of a balloon, don’t be surprised if it floats away.
  3. There will be more new players at Nationals than ever before. For some, their last major tournament was their high school state championships. The danger is the “Just Happy to Be Here” syndrome. This mindset is an easy emotional default but not particularly helpful. You all deserve to be there with your team who also deserves to be there.
  4. Almost every team feels unprepared in some way. This is understandable but the answer is not to teach more. While you will definitely tweak some things during the tournament, per usual, introducing something new and challenging is a bad choice. First, it probably won’t work. Second, it will shake some players’ faith in leadership. And if it happens to work, that still doesn’t make it a solid strategic choice. Doing fewer things deeper and more intentionally may give you a longer run in the tournament.
  5. Don’t cheat.
  6. Take care of yourself and each other. Every year at camp, counselors share their horror stories of dehydration. No one is immune from stupid choices. San Diego is warm and Nationals is loooooong. Someone reading this will end up in distress, either under a tent or at the ER. Don’t be that person.
  7. Beware of damaging narratives. Chances are you have someone on your team who knows the minutiae of your team’s history. They are dedicated to finding compelling patterns to explain results and predict future results. I understand this desire but it is a bunch of hooey. It has been two long years since the last Nationals with hardly any tournaments. Let it go and focus on the task at hand.
  8. It is also unhelpful when you harbor a grudge against a player or team from when you played them pre-pandemic. Really? You can keep a grudge that long? I know some players use these feelings as motivation. I get that. I also think that internal motivation is better because it is more controllable and lasts longer.
  9. Tip generously and don’t wreck rooms, houses, or rental cars. Or relationships.
  10. Energy from each other will not fix everything, but it will help you move on to the next challenge. Nationals is not the time to be shy about supporting your team or each other. Be the best teammate that you can be. I guarantee that you will have ups and downs. Try to focus on the process more than the outcome.
  11. Say only one or two things in a huddle. Or zero. Clear intentional instruction that can easily translate into action is always the goal. I will die on that hill.
  12. No one is that good. No player or team is that good. Would it be surprising for a low seed to beat a top seed? Sure. But that’s why we attend the tournaments. Take pride in your match-ups and yourself and your team.

I love the feeling of the days leading up to Nationals. Making plans, packing, and traveling can be exhausting, but at some point the stressors fade away. You just click into tournament mode and say, “Fuck it. I’m going to Nationals.” Enjoy the ride.

  1. I will be watching as many games as possible from my couch in western Massachusetts. I will be live-tweeting some of them. Join me if you’d like @NUTC_Amherst. 

  1. Tiina Booth
    Tiina Booth

    Tiina Booth is the director of the National Ultimate Training Camp and a co-coach of the University of Massachusetts men. She founded the Amherst Invitational in 1992 and co-founded Junior Nationals in 1998. In 2006, she published a book about ultimate with Michael Baccarini, entitled Essential Ultimate. She has coached teams to numerous national and international titles. Her ongoing passion is sports psychology, and she offers clinics to coaches of ultimate and other sports. Tiina will be inducted into the Ultimate Hall of Fame at USAU Club Nationals in October of 2018.

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