Assistant Coach reflects before the start of Junior Worlds

Posted: August 3, 2010 10:29 AM

This August, 44 of the best youth Ultimate players in America will be traveling to Germany to participate in the 2010 World Junior Ultimate Championships. But first, the Open and Girl’s teams will meet at Amherst College next week for a weeklong training camp hosted by USA Ultimate.

Five members of Team USA have agreed to blog about thier experiences for - Bethany Kaylor, Sally LandefeldMaddy RoorbachNick Stuart and Matt Barnes. Follow their progress here as they train, travel and compete throughout the next few weeks.

Our ninth entry comes from the USA Boys' assistant coach, Jody Avirgan, as he reflects on the first week of Team USA.

It’s the night before games begin for the 2010 Junior National Team, and I finally have a chance to take a breath and think about the past week’s events. As I was packing my bag in Amherst at the end of training camp, getting ready to travel to Heilbronn, I found two scraps of paper on my desk .


The first is a note I wrote to myself about what we coaches told the team during our first meeting. We began with Pauline introducing a "buddy" system, putting players into groups of three for all of training camp and the tournament. These buddies had each others back – whether it was reminding you to put on sunscreen or chatting with about your friends and family back home. Many teams do this, but this sort of controlled team-building is critically important when it comes to a group like this that is going to come together, compete, and disband all in under two weeks. Looking back at where people were sitting and who they were chatting with on the first night (East coast on one side; West on the other; sizing each other up), and what a typical team dinner looks like now (everyone talking with everyone, mostly about not-Ultimate) I’m really amazed at how quickly this group has become a team. A lot of that is because we talk very explicitly about having to reach this comfort level being a major challenge – there simply isn’t time to let it happen organically.

Next on the list is rules. Suffice it to say, travelling with a group of 17-19 year olds is a challenge, and I’ve been very impressed that each player has taken the responsibility and privilege of representing the United States very seriously. Nevertheless: rules; very important!

More than anything, though, the conversation about rules and restrictions affords us the chance to talk about the flip side (yes, that’s me: "good cop") of focusing on Ultimate and Ultimate only. If we do that, the message goes, we won’t have to worry about the rules and we’ll have a more rewarding experience all around. Most of us never get the opportunity to simply be Ultimate players for two weeks and leave the rest of the world behind. While everyone comes from a different corner of the country and brings a compelling story to this process, in the end they simply put on a uniform and become "USA #xx" – there’s a beautiful simplicity in that.

Okay, the rest of the note was basically logistics. Onto scrap of paper number two. This is pretty simple, a list of warmup exercises that we ran during the entire training camp and will continue throughout our tournament. You see butt kicks, high knees, tuck jumps, some light stretching, and a few sprints at the end followed by two simple drills. The point is, it’s just that – it’s simple. This has been the overriding strategic approach. With so many different backgrounds and so may smart, confident players coming together, we have had many opportunities to trot out my favorite cheesy sports axiom: "It’s better to be on the same page than on the right page." We’ve installed a very straightforward framework for horizontal, vertical, sideline, and endzone offense. A 1-3-3 defense; a cup zone; two simple variations on man (force under and force away); and one marking wrinkle (which I’ll talk about after the tournament!) That’s it. The goal of training camp was to quickly establish a pre-game routine and an in-game strategic familiarity so that we could bring that across the ocean, enter competition, and not miss a beat. Within that basic structure we want the team to not be over thinking but instead showcasing the athleticism, desire, and resolve that got them here in the first place.

This past week has been an exhausting run of two-a-day practices, chalk-talks, and sleep-skewing travel. We start from scratch tomorrow morning with actual gameplay. The training camp experience was rewarding, but it’s obviously not the real goal. The boys are ready to do USA Ultimate and their own hard work proud. Thanks for all your support and we coaches will be checking in regularly throughout the tournament.