Bring It In will take the form of an expanded newsletter.
January 20, 2022 by Keith Raynor in Opinion with 0 comments
Bring It In is transitioning to an email newsletter. In its new form, it will be a biweekly newsletter about teaching and analyzing ultimate from a coach’s perspective and tackling issues faced by those who lead teams, influenced by and with the collaboration of some of the best minds and voices in the game.
In 2021, I started this column for many reasons. I wanted to share my thoughts as a coach, both because I believed they could provide some value to folks, but also that folks could provide valuable feedback to me. But perhaps most of all, I wanted further discussion of ultimate among coaches, from our unique perspective.
That conversation is moving to a newsletter for our subscribers. We felt this would be the best way to reach people and expand the dialogue.
But today’s issue — our first as a newsletter — has something for everyone, even those who have yet to (or have ceased to) reap the wonderful benefits of an Ultiworld subscription. This free preview will show you a bit of what I’m hoping to do moving forward. For those who are subscribers or will become one: first, thank you. Second, there’s some extra goodies in there for you that aren’t in this free edition.
Winning a national title is the precipice of the competitive side of coaching. Few of us will ever achieve a national title, but many of us will coach in championships, and all of us will coach in important events that signify reaching the competitive heights with our team. We all have our “big game.”
North Carolina Pleiades and Darkside, their women’s and men’s clubs respectively, pulled off the rare feat of winning a D-I championship in both divisions in the same year. (It’s just the third time it has happened, and first in over 30 years.) Pleiades coach Jessi Jones and Darkside coach David Allison are accomplished and respected voices. I asked each about the tough decisions they had to make on their way to a championship.
The Pleiades Path
Jones and Pleiades faced a pretty interesting situation that we at Ultiworld often talk about from our external perspective as spectators and analysts of the sport: when a team has a game during a tournament that does not have a structural impact on their path forward. Specifically, North Carolina met Georgia in pool play when UNC had secured the top spot in the pool and Georgia was unable to advance out of the pool. But North Carolina didn’t rest their best players — they not only utilized a normal rotation, they actually played some tighter lines at points in a game that turned out to be their closest contest at the College Championships.
Having seen UGA in the preseason, Jones suspected they could provide strong opposition. That’s exactly what she was hoping for. “We desperately needed a moment where we were forced to dig deep and go through adversity together,” she told me. “They gave it to us!”
Georgia went up two breaks to start, the perfect opportunity for UNC to feel tested, and best of all, without any actual risk of impacting their title hopes. The game was a battle, and Jones opted to bring Dawn Culton, an athletic defender with great stamina, to a few key offensive points. But UNC gave up another break, down 7-5 with half at 8, and managed to score three straight to take half, which Jones saw as vital, especially since Georgia received out of half.
In the end, the game was still very close, but Jones felt it was actually best to run the team’s normal offensive and defensive units in the final few points. “We were up one, on serve, our spot was secured as #1 in pool B regardless of the outcome, so it meant more in this moment for those two groups to get the highest-pressure reps to close things out with the game truly on the line,” said Jones. She squeezed some extra value out of those moments.
She also stressed preparation prior to the tournament to help smooth out the decision-making process. The team had spent the night prior doing visualization and discussing mental toughness. The coaching staff had plotted out the logistics and some of the strategic elements for various paths through the tournament. “Remove as much of the stress from things that aren’t on the field as possible for the team,” advised Jones.
Tar Heel Turn
Ironically, Allison also pointed to a decision he made against the Georgia men’s team as a pivotal one during the tournament. But the stakes were on the complete opposite end of the spectrum than Pleiades’ had been: it was the middle of the gold medal match. While Darkside was up, the crowd had firmly turned on them, rooting for Georgia to come back and upset his team. Fortunately for North Carolina, they had some experience with hostile audiences, a rarity in ultimate, when Brown’s raucous fans were vocal in the 2019 D-I men’s championship game.
“That energy definitely had an effect on how we performed in that game,” Allison reflected.
At halftime, with the negativity from the fans ramping up, North Carolina huddled and Allison pushed the team to find a way to use the energy directed at them to help them. My wife, who is a therapist, introduced me to the term “positive reframe”, and this is a great example of how to shift your perspective on something you’ve encountered.
“In a sense, I wanted us to appreciate the respect shown to Darkside by casting us in the ‘villain’ role,” said Allison. “It’s just as fun to be cheered against as it is to be cheered for.”
Obviously, it worked, and the team avoided the nervousness, tightness, and even fear that might have impacted their ability when they faced Brown two years ago.
That’s it for the free preview! You can get the full newsletter this week and going forward by subscribing.
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