The Huddle, Issue #30: Using The Sideline Voice

Posted: January 20, 2011 03:45 PM

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Using The Sideline Voice

Thursday, January 20th, 2011


Huddle Issue 30    

Double game point at nationals, and your team is on defense. The players on the field might be making the plays but its the information from the sidelines that can win the battle. It’s all about the power of the sideline voice and the following helpful tips and tricks will allow you and your teammates to improve your own voices.

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Issue #30: Comments/Discussion Thread


  • Keep It Calm
    ArticleBlock Avirgan

    • Assuming there are other essays that discuss the importance of having one sideline voice using simple language, I'll take a slightly contrarian approach to the topic: there's not much you can really accomplish from the sideline during a game. Put more accurately, the best you can hope for from your sideline is to help remind the players on the field of what they already know. Defensive blocks are created by players executing the strategy they decided on before the point. Sideline information rarely generates a block and, much more often than not, can actually serve to undermine the preexisting strategy. There is little hope that someone on the sideline can "joystick" a player on the field into a block; but he/she can certainly joystick a teammate out of position.

      Take, for example, the mark, which is where communication from off the field is standard. As far as I could tell, 2010 was the year of the rotated mark. On Team USA we employed it all the time, shifting the sideline trap mark at stall 5 or so to take away the dump, then having the dump defender play the upline cut. On PoNY we saw this defense all season, and really only figured out how to beat it on Sunday at Regionals. It's a very effective strategy when everyone's on the same page.

      And when was it less effective? More often than not, when the mark would jump back out of position because someone on the sideline was giving them too much information.

      So, what did successful sideline communication look like in this case?

      Stall 1-5: "No break...No inside...No around"
      Stall 5: "Rotate!" or "90!" or whatever term you have for the mark taking away the dump
      Stall 6-10: (Calmly) "Hold it...steady...take a step foul"

      The unsuccessful version?

      Stall 1-5: "No break...No inside...No around"
      Stall 5: "Rotate!" or "90!" or whatever term you have for the mark taking away the dump
      Stall 6-10: (Frantic) "NO LINE!!! NO INSIDE!!! EVERYONE FREAK OUT!!!!"

      If the sideline starts to flood the player on the field with too much information, and information that's out of sync with the overall strategy, the mark gets jumpy, gives us a cheap foul, and all of a sudden the thrower or the cutter can find a bail-out for him or herself at the last second.

      The point is, trust your preexisting game plan, the one you developed when everyone was calmer and more reasoned. Don't expect a player to be able to process your information, stray from the strategy, and make a play all in real-time. If the wing in the zone's number one priority is to take away the line as it swings, just make sure that you're reminding them to do so. If you've decided to front a particular player on the other team, spend the point telling his defender "front...front...front". Keep it simple, and keep it consistent. It may not be the most enticing way to communicate from the sideline, but it'll pay dividends over the course of a long game.
  • Two Things Durings A Point
    ArticleBlock EasthamAnderson

    • When you find yourself on the sideline, there are two obvious things to do during a point. You should serve as an extra brain and pair of eyes to help them execute the team’s strategy, and you need to encourage them to keep putting in effort. I’ll skip over these two aspects of sideline help (which I hope others will cover in more detail), and focus on one aspect which takes place after a point is over, and one aspect which is believed to be helpful, but is frequently not, and should be discouraged.

      A mistake/learning opportunity during the middle of a point is hard for a player on the field to capitalize on their own because they were thinking about the 50 other things which happened during that point. However, a teammate on the sideline is in a much better situation to recognize, remember, offer perspective, and therefore help teammates improve. If you have trouble remembering, write it down. If you’re not sure how a mistake might be corrected, or if a mistake was made at all, talk to a more experienced teammate. In my opinion it is better to watch one person the entire point, as opposed to many people. Not only can you help that person in real-time, but you can also get a feel for what that person was trying to do, instead of taking one mistake out of context.

      Finally, just because the point is over doesn’t mean you need to stop encouraging the teammate you’ve been watching. If you didn’t notice any mistakes, praise their effort. In fact, even if you did notice something they could improve upon, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the rest of the point where they were playing well. Give praise where praise is due.

      The one thing I’ve never been a fan of is a sideline voice that tells me to do something which is the right play in a vacuum, but is contradictory to the team’s strategy. Practically speaking, the chain of events which must take place is often way too slow to be helpful. A person on the sideline needs to recognize what’s going to happen, figure out the appropriate response, communicate it to someone on the field, who then needs to recognize and react in a way they weren’t anticipating. Furthermore, the principle of playing on a team and having a cohesive strategy is undermined every time someone freelances, and is made worse when your own teammate is encouraging you to do so.

      Every time a player does something unexpected, there is almost always a trade-off which weakens the approach a team is taking. A prime example of this is a strike call on a sideline trap. You hear this call quite a bit, but acting on a strike call does two things. First, the marker is giving up the portion of the field the rest of the team is expecting them to take away. Second, it helps out a defender who was beat to a position of the field that was their responsibility to take away, not the marker’s. So, not only is the marker rewarding that one defender who was beat by trying to cover for their mistake, but by changing the mark they are screwing the other five defenders by letting off an easy break mark throw. This isn’t to say strike calls are bad. But your team needs to decide that occasionally stopping that throw is worth the mark abandoning the portion of the field for which they are responsible.
  • Standardizing A Team Way Of Communicating
    ArticleBlock Husak

    • Different teams have a very different approach to the role of individuals when they’re on the sideline. Some teams like to give the players on the sideline a chance to rest and have them sit in the shade to recover for their next time in the game. Others, especially in the college ranks, can have countless players making tons of useless noise from the sidelines. I think the best teams find a way to keep players involved in the success of the team when they are not one of the seven guys on the field. There are countless ways to do this.

      Offensively, teams usually have a set of phrases that may define their offensive objective. Things like "swing" (the disc), "keep cutting" or (move the disc to the) "middle" are keywords that remind players to look for specific throws or cuts within the context of the offense. These cues can serve as helpful ways to influence the play on the field, while not over-coaching or distracting the players from doing their things. In zone offense, there is a possibility for even more talk from the sideline to help position players or point out something that a thrower might be missing. However, I’ve generally thought that offenses are better left to work without the distraction of a lot of sideline input.

      Defensively there is a much greater opportunity for the sidelines to contribute to the onfield performance. The most basic is to give players "up" calls when the disc is in the air. Putting a name on the end of that up call, is the next step for helping the individual who the disc is going to. The next step is for the sideline to be aware of the defense for that point, as well as the general defensive philosophy. Does the dump defender overplay the backwards pass, or protect against the dump going upfield? Is the marker pressuring a backwards pass, possibly at the cost of giving up an inside-out break throw? If the sideline knows the defensive priorities they can instruct both the dump and the marker about a subtle shift in positioning to work within the defensive concept. Telling the marker where that dump cutter is with predetermined words ("left", "right", "45", "flat", "strike") can make the marker much more effective with simple phrases.

      In the zone there is an even greater chance for the sideline to help. Because of the nature of zone defense, it is possible for a sideline player to talk to a single onfield player for the entire point. Effective sideline communicators will keep a continuous stream of talk to help the player stay with that voice. I’ve also found that a name, followed by an instruction is a much better way to communicate than just yelling instructions. For example, "Greg drop, Greg right, Greg you’re good" tells Greg to drop, move right, and then stay where he is. There are a number of phrases that can speak to specific actions, but each team may have different terms for those. However, the continuous flow of information from the sidelines to the field will help players be their most responsive to sideline communication.

      Finally, sidelines can do a lot to pump up players on the field, or similarly, contribute to the mood of an ugly game. Condors had a simple rule that you don’t talk to the other team’s onfield players from the sideline. If an opponent made a bad call, telling your teammate that he made a great play gets the same message across as telling the opponent he is a cheater. However, by doing the former you are pumping up your team while possibly creating doubt in the opponent, while the latter overlooks your teammate’s play and may inspire the opponent. Sidelines can also do well in creating an intimidating presence with strong communication and forceful encouragement. Just the act of knowing that a teammate is watching me is usually enough to make me give maximum effort and do my best. With seven onfield players channeling that energy, a team can be lifted to a higher level of play.
  • A Strong Sideline Voice
    ArticleBlock Kinley

    • Most offenders will tell you that yelling instructions to them on the sideline when they're on offense is annoying, if not worse. When you're on offense, sideline chatter is best saved for positive encouragement and celebrating a goal scored.

      However, on D, the sideline is an incredibly powerful tool, able to create momentum on your side, stop momentum for the other team, and create blocks that otherwise wouldn't happen.

      Now, a good sideline voice has a few characteristics.

      First, the voice has to be heard. Duh, right? But if you've got five teammates on the sidelines all yelling at you on the mark, you hear them all and none of them at the same time, and any usefulness is lost. Having individual players talking and listening is crucial.

      Second, the talk itself must be clear and concise. One syllable is best-- "Up!" is quick and immediately recognizable. ""Heytakeawaythebreakside!" is not.

      Finally, you must create a team language and practice it. If you say "Looking break!" to a mark, do you mean an inside-out or an around break throw? Which should he take away? You must decide upon, teach, and then practice sideline voice for it to be effective, but if you do, it can do wonders for a defense.

      Next, what situations are best aided by help from the sidelines?

      The major help comes when your field of vision is limited, and the sideline can inform you of what is happening in areas you can't see.

      The mark is the easiest example. You are facing the thrower, and cannot see what he is looking at. The sideline can tell you what his options are, or instruct you what to take away, ie "No inside! No around! No huck!" I've toyed with the idea of practicing an active sideline voice helping the mark to the point that there is no force, simply a sideline instructing the mark what to take away and making every throw a "break" throw. Certainly not a go-to D, but maybe a good stunt to mix things up and create some chaos.

      Downfield defenders' field of vision can also be limited in a hard man defense. Often if a cutter is being face-guarded (defender staring only at cutter, never checking to see where the disc is), a savvy cutter can move this defender into a place far out of position once the disc has moved, and create an easy opportunity to get open. While the defender should check to see the disc's position, this is an opportunity for sideline voice to be incredibly effective, informing him when, and where, the disc has moved and letting him reposition without taking his eyes off the cutter. Of course, this information must still meet the criteria above (heard, clear, concise, and practiced), but it can be done.

      One caveat-- don't tell the defender where to go, tell him what to know. Yelling "move left" is nearly worthless, but yelling "not looking" as his man cuts deep to tell him that the thrower is staring backwards at the dump and the huck is not a threat is very useful.

      Finally, how do you encourage sideline involvement?

      After creating, teaching, and practicing your sideline voice, you still gotta have guys do it, and after your offense grinds out a long grueling point with multiple turnovers and are absolutely gassed and your motivation is lacking because you're down 3, how do you bolster the energy?

      First and foremost, the effect of sidelines needs to be made clear and important by the captains. A good captain knows how strong a vocal sideline voice can be, and by encouraging it positively (it will helps us) rather than negatively (come on guys what the hell we need to be louder!) you will see the best results.

      Second, good sub-calling that involves the whole or most of the team early on goes a long way in engaging the entire team. If a guy hasn't played in the game, it's tough for him to engage as much as he could. If he is subbed in early on, not only does he know he's getting crucial PT, but he is excited for the rest of the game on the sideline.

      To conclude:

      A strong sideline voice can be the difference between a near-block and a block. It must be heard, concise, and understood quickly through practice. There are many defensive opportunities for sideline voice to help, often by seeing what the on-field defender can't, and communicating only the most useful information. Remember, don't tell him where to go, tell him what to know. Finally, instill an appreciation for the importance of sideline voice early and often, and involve people early in games to help create energy from everyone.
  • Tangible vs. Intangible
    ArticleBlock Matzuka

    • As cliché as it may be, it is true that the sideline can equate to the eighth man (woman) for a team. However, I would say the sideline can mean much more than just an eighth man. The sideline can be a symbolic representation of the morale and demeanor of the game.

      Most speak of the sideline and the tangible benefits of using your voices to motivate and push your teammates in the heat of battle on the field. Everyone that has run track or cross country, or even a conditioning practice with your team, knows how much harder you work when you are being encouraged by your brethren. The benefit of taking your mind off the pain, struggle, and fatigue you are facing and being granted a mental distraction to refocus all of that defeat into a positive- that you are doing it for your teammates. This has immediate benefits and is the very least a sideline can do to influence the success of their team without stepping on the field.

      The next most advantageous aspect is still more constructive. Unlike many other sports, we are blessed to be able to give active coaching throughout the entire point of play. We are not limited to coaching areas during the point as in basketball, punished for helping as in golf, or limited by time as in football. We are able to have players along the whole perimeter giving advice to players throughout the entire point. I find the best way to optimize this benefit is to allocate one sideline player to each on-field player so they have one voice to listen for. This is especially important in zone as a player can often get contradictory, or at least conflicting, advice during a point. Next, it isn’t about giving them trivial advice, information they already know, such as the force or who they are marking, but about invaluable info they are not able to obtain. For instance, on the mark, if they are correctly forcing forehand but the only real threat is a backhand, informing them to switch the mark for 1-2 seconds to the ‘technically’ wrong force. Because you are able to see the entire field much like the thrower, you are aware of the likely option the thrower wants to take and can inform your mark of this information to give them a level playing field. The ability to have a knowledgeable enough sideline to do this is usually worth a few Ds a game.

      However, though the previous was tangibly effective, the most advantageous aspect of the sideline is attitude. Although it is the least tangible, the best thing a sideline can do is be positive, optimistic and supportive of their players and each other. Most good teams are waiting for the opportunity to step on the opposition’s throat, which is keyed in on when they seem down and discouraged. If you never give them this opportunity, not only do you keep your team’s environment a positive and unified one, you can potentially leach the opposition’s confidence, giving your team an edge late in the game when it matters. A good example of this is Seattle’s Sockeye. They keep their mental state on the sideline positive and encouraging, keeping their players focused on the points ahead instead of mistakes that might have occurred that could lead to future mistakes.
  • A Constant Stream Of Specific Information
    ArticleBlock McIntyre

    • When I played in college especially, my team made a concerted effort to maintain an active sideline and to communicate efficiently from the sideline rather than simply being loud. That carried over in Club, where I played with many of those same players.

      When I am on the sideline helping teammates on the field, I like to select one player to communicate with and focus on two things: 1) conveying information and 2) being specific. Anyone on the sideline can be your cheerleader. As your sideline teammate, my goal is to help you play better Ultimate by providing you with an extra set of eyes and ears and a constant flow of information. In general, I talk more to teammates on D than O, and though my comments below focus on man defense, the basic theme applies to zone also.

      First, I concentrate especially on conveying information that you cannot easily obtain yourself. Generally, this means watching the thrower (and the whole field) and anticipating how the play will develop.

      • When your man cuts deep, I will tell you if the throw is coming up or not.
      • When your man begins setting up his cut, I will tell you how to adjust your position to shut him down ("get closer/tighter," "stay under," "go with," etc.)
      • If you are guarding the dump, I will let you know when he becomes a threat ("he’s looking," "Colin, it’s you!" etc.)
      • If you are marking, I will tell you what’s a threat ("inside/around/dump/swing")
      • If your positioning is perfect, then I will let you know, "yes" or "that’s good."

      Second, I try to convey information in a way that is specific, but concise. A little extra information can go a long way. For example, while "UP!" is a common call, adding one word onto that makes the call significantly more helpful, yet still quick to say, e.g., "Up – short/low/left/right/break/fast/floaty/hammer!" Similarly, "No Break" is less helpful than a more specific cue like "No swing."

      Finally, I have three rules to help make my contribution 100% positive:
      • I never yell calls by name. "He’s dragging!" is ok to yell, while "Travel!" is not.
      • I almost never yell "strike." I leave that to the dump defender, who generally knows if he’s in trouble. Also, as a thrower, hearing "strike" is my cue to throw a gigantic break.
      • I try to look forward to help stay positive. Obviously, "No Continue" is a much more helpful thing to yell than "No more breaks!"
  • Make It Useful
    ArticleBlock Parinella

    • Basic principles of sideline talk are fairly simple: make it targeted (say the player’s name first), make it specific (not just "c’mon, go, go"), and give information (not instruction). You may not know what the player already knows and is planning, so this lets him decide what to do and how to handle the info. (Sometimes, if the level of trust is high, off-field players can give instructions rather than information.)

      On each point, especially in zone D, establish a one-to-one relationship, so Tom and only Tom is talking to Joe (although occasionally Joe needs to hear from Fred on the other side of the field). On some occasions, a simple exhortation to try harder can be good enough, but don’t forget to throw an occasional compliment for a good defensive effort that results in nothing more than taking away an option.

      On offense, less is generally more. Telling a receiver "No one" (is making an effort to block the pass) or (beware of the) "man on" is about the only thing I like to hear on the field from the sideline. Please don’t call my name unless I really need to know something immediately. Another possibility is to stand behind the thrower in a trap situation to give the thrower an extra second sometimes to find the open guy.

      By now, though, I think the above might qualify as conventional wisdom, and there are some dominant personalities on each team that are going to control the sideline talk. As a quiet guy (despite the volumes of writing), I find that there are things that I can do, that the majority do not, that fit my style and can help the team.

      When we’re on defense, I will position myself farther downfield than any of the players. This way, I can see the hucks coming even before they are thrown, and yell at the defender to get him on his horse to catch up and then direct him once the pass is up (and even to be in position in an unobserved game to call in/out or offer advice on a foul call). One downside is that this isolates you from the rest of the team, but take heart in knowing that you can add a turnover or two per tournament.
  • Sharing The Work
    ArticleBlock Pendragon

    • Standing on the sidelines is, for many players, the hardest or most frustrating part of being on a team. Ultimate is special in the larger world of sports in that the sideline is a great place to help your team out. Where in other sports the sideline is not allowed to actively participate by communicating with their fellow players on the field, in Ultimate the sideline can work as an eighth player, one with position and focus dedicated to improving the outcome of strategies and plays being made my fielded players. Yet, being a sideline voice isn't a simple thing to master.

      A good rule of thumb to start with is to keep your help simple. Start off with clear and attentive "Up" calls and keep your teammates motivated on the field when they are tired. If possible, find positions with good perspectives on plays to help with in/out and up/down calls.

      The next step for me is pairing-off a sideline player with an on-field player. Pairing up is something that takes work and requires trust between players, but gives an added edge if done properly. It’s much easier for any player if they are allowed to focus on guarding or marking on defense, and having an extra pair of eyes to help reposition one's defense only adds to that. A clear example is when maintaining a mark, your buddy on the sideline who can see the field and immediate threats behind you can help you reposition to take away a pass to an oncoming threat. Calls to "strike", "no break", and "no huck" can build up your defense immensely. These players also help keep their partners balanced as well as focused on the team's own strategy by calling out reminders.

      The key to getting this right is to know the player you are assisting and have his trust. If you make a call that ends up going badly, it’s rough. So keep calls to what's simple, what you know, and to what you've practiced. Keep your teammates pumped; motivate them whenever you are not instructing.

      An added benefit of sideline pairings, especially on less developed teams with players at different levels of gameplay, is that it creates an organized way to help each other. Avoid cross-shouting instructions from different players on the sideline. If you have one voice to lock on to, then no one gets confused.

      Developing trust between players is key for this partnering to work, so know the player with whom you are working. Newer players to the team deserve some attention, but players with tough jobs during a point take precedence. Take time to develop the use of the sideline during practices.
  • Assisting The Visually Impaired
    ArticleBlock Pope

    • The impact of the sideline is most important when the team is on defense. In ultimate, as in most possession style games, the offense has a distinct advantage. The offense is in control of where the future will take place on the field and therefore offensive players are ABLE to be a step ahead of the defense at all times. It is the job of the defenders to constantly anticipate where the thrower would like to throw and when those spaces will be available, while at the same time making decisions to force blocks. The defender has a lot of responsibility. So how can you help this multitasker out?

      Tell your defender things that they can’t see.

      Tell the marker if the cutter is coming force or break side. Tell the mark when they should strike*. Tell the mark to deny a certain throw if a cutter is wide open. Look at the field and tell the mark about cuts that are coming from far away. Tell everybody the disc is up. Tell the defender chasing a deep cutter that the throw is not coming or that the disc was just swung to the break side. Tell that same defender that he "is up" when the next pass is logically coming to his guy. Tell a defender in the back of the stack, or deepest, to "poach off" or "look to help" if one of your teammates is getting beat deep. Tell a crafty defender to "poach off" when he is chasing deep but will run right by the next for sure in cut.

      Much of this takes practice on both ends. The voice needs to practice efficiently getting your point across, anticipating the next logical offensive move, and knowing who on the field is willing and ready to listen and quickly react to their information. (Not sure how to assist the hearing impaired) And practice this at practice because it is a skill to speak and to listen. Both necessitate reactive timing only achieved through repetition.

      I personally play better when I know my teammates got my back, are watching me, and are using their precious energy reserves to help me help the team. It’s a powerful thing.

      *Strike- A code word often used to inform the marker that the next open side throwing motion of the thrower will be for real and BITE heavy for the handblock.
  • It Takes Practice
    ArticleBlock Rifkin

    • Like any team, Death or Glory had its own mythology. As a green twenty-year old, very few tales of the past loomed as large for me as Paul Greff’s block against the Condors in 1998. It seemed told and told again: as the deep in the zone at a critical point, Paul hears someone on the sideline telling him to drop and he does, without looking, just in time to get a game saving block. The message was clear - sideline voice won DoG a national championship - and I was hooked.

      Effective communication from the players on the sideline can be a crucial advantage for a team. Sideline communication can improve your team’s level of play by allowing defenders to respond to more than they can see. The sidelines can remind players of strategic goals that get lost in the shuffle and can bring a team together in a new way. I think sideline voice is something I’m very good at. It’s something I’m as proud of, and work as much at, as any more visible part of my game.

      However, I think it’s very hard to do effectively. Playing Ultimate is physically demanding, and having a second job to do when you come off the field is often overwhelming. Most teams are unsuccessful when it comes to sideline communication – you’re reading this, aren’t you? Becoming successful requires a shift in team mentality, hard work, and practice time just like any team concept.

      I would argue that the majority of team’s difficulties comes from players not knowing what to say, or not being compelled to put in the work. On DoG, participation from the sideline was a given. It was woven into what it meant to be on the team. On Sockeye, we spend practice time talking about our goals and strategy for communication. I know that the prompt for this article has to do with how I talk on the sideline, and I’ll get to that. But I think it’s most important to focus on how to lay a team-wide foundation.

      We’ve changed things over the years on Sockeye, but have recently found that it’s effective for each player on the sideline to have just one or two people that they are always responsible for. When Skip or Reid are on the field, I know that I need to talk to them, and they can expect to hear my voice. Everyone has a small group like this. This is a little less daunting, I think, than the amorphous sense that I should be talking to ‘someone’, and allows me to learn what sorts of things these two players need to hear and how to best communicate with them.

      Once we have our posse, each year we spend about fifteen minutes talking about the "why and how" of our sideline communication. By talking about why we do this, why it’s important, we are helping everyone to buy in – nobody likes working hard on the mark, but we do it because we all understand why it’s important. The difference with sideline voice is that it’s not as visibly clear why you need it…but you do.

      I mentioned before that not knowing what to say can be the biggest impediment to talking from the sideline, and so we work hard to define as a team what sorts of things need to be relayed from the sideline and how to do so. We keep our vocabulary simple – ‘in’, ‘out’, ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘no break’, etc. – in the hopes that it becomes easy for everyone to open their mouth and easy to respond to what is heard. The goal here is to take the thinking out of yelling and listening.

      From there, we walk through what each point will look like from the sideline’s perspective. The vast majority of our sideline talk happens when we’re on defense, either pulling or after an offensive turnover. We expect everyone to know the defense we’re playing. We use a simple code for relaying this information, believing that it’s more important for us to know the defense than it is for us to hide it from the other team. In practice we emphasize the importance of everyone understanding each defense as we work on it, even players who will never play it. I can’t remember the last time I was on the field for a zone defense, but by understanding the role of a wing in our 4-man cup, I can help communicate in the way that he needs.

      From there it’s up to me, as an individual, to follow through. Before the point starts, I make an effort to verbally connect with the person I’m talking to ("Skip, I’m your voice"). Much of my success on the sideline depends on being heard amidst the other yelling, and I want him to hear my voice and know that that’s what to listen for. Throughout the point, I try to make sure that he won’t lose that thread, and that means continually saying something – "Skip in, Skip in, Skip you’re fine, Skip you’re good, Skip left, Skip left, Skip mark, Skip mark!" – while staying as close to him as I can. It means following him up and down the field on the sideline, and means resisting the urge to watch the play to see what happens.

      If this sounds like hard work, it is. It takes practice, just like anything else. Just like the timing of my cutting, I find that I feel bad about my sideline voice until around Regionals where I start to really hit my stride – but it’s worth it. When Skip or Reid get a block, I crow to my teammates "That’s my block!". False puffery, sure, but it’s also a reflection of the fact that I do believe that I contribute to their successes (and they tell me as much), and it feels great in the moments that the work pays off. It’s worth it.

      One last thought: we’ve all felt the ebb and flow of a game, and we talk on Sockeye as one way of having some control over the game’s momentum. Staying active from the sideline can feel easy when your team is cruising, but maintaining that same energy when you’re down a few breaks is when it really matters most. Turning the tide doesn’t just happen, and I think rising to meet that challenge from the sideline is one of the things that most teams ignore.

      I encourage you to treat the development of a culture of sideline voice just as you would any other part of your team. Set team expectations for sideline voice just like you do for practice attendance and hold your teammates accountable in the same way. Practice your sideline strategy and implementation. Set goals for tournaments and revisit those goals after each game. Try talking from the sideline (and responding to what you hear, which is another skill unto itself) at practice just as you hope to in a game.

      These aren’t revolutionary suggestions for any on-field skill, and I think they pay dividends just as much for sideline communication. Being good at this as a team WILL help you win games, and it WILL make the experience more fun. It’s not easy, but when you have twenty teammates yelling and high-fiving on the sideline of a sweltering tournament game while your opponents cringe in the shade tent, when you come home from tournaments hoarse and happy, when you respond to a voice to get the block that wins a national championship, you’ll see that it feels worth it.
  • Loud + Positive = Good
    ArticleBlock Roth

    • I think that sideline contributions are underrated in their worth by most teams and particularly by most great players. People who are great at team sports are not necessarily motivated to play well for themselves – especially in our sport, they are motivated to play well by their love of team, teammates and something bigger than themselves.

      In this way, I will stand by something I accidentally said in a huddle last year: "Loud information is good information." Now, of course this is a generalization, but particularly when you are teaching people who are shy or new to sideline talk what to do, first things first you must be loud! You must make an impact on your teammate’s game and if you are speaking quietly, your impact will be lost. No matter what you say, make it loud – cup your hands around your mouth, deepen your voice and yell.

      As someone who is mostly involved with women’s and youth ultimate, I can say that from the sideline, you should be darn close to 100% positive and informational. Especially on offense, cheering is the best way to help – it is difficult to react to direction from the sideline when you are doing your best to read the defense, thrower, and other cutters. On defense, "up" calls and talking to the mark are the most important but still you must be LOUD! Negativity will motivate only about 1% of the ultimate players out there so unless you know your player very well, stick to the positive and maybe provide constructive observations after the point.

      Effective sideline talk is a part of every great team’s success. If you talk well from the sideline you will feel more bought in, you will be engaged in every point (no loss of focus), and you will make a bigger positive impact on every game. Just a taste of what it’s like trying to be a good coach.
  • Provide New Information and Reinforcement
    ArticleBlock Rubenfeld

    • Sideline talk should make the players on the field more effective in two ways: it should help them make different decisions than they might make otherwise, and it should help them (re)act more quickly to game situations. In other words, the primary functions of sideline talk are to provide new information, and to provide reinforcement that cuts down processing time.

      'Provide new information': tell the player on the field anything they can't see that might- or should- change the way they play for the next few seconds or passes. Generally, this type of sideline call will mostly come on the defensive end, when your players are primarily focused on their assignment. The 'UP!' call is perhaps the most basic of these, and the absence of this call as a team habit is a hallmark of inexperience. Does your team use any of these calls from the sideline: "Broken!" "You've got time!" "Who's poached?!" ?

      'Reinforcement': In my experience, it's more difficult to provide helpful sideline talk to the players on offense. Most of the time, cutters know their job and cutting can be incredibly subjective, down to abstractions such as the number of steps you need to make your move, or the feeling of how close on you your defender is. Reinforcing talk that helps make decisions faster can cut down on offensive miscues and the awkward waffling that often happens at the transition between cutting and clearing. "Clear out" calls can help a cutter instinctively peel out of a lane instead of taking an extra three steps wondering if the disc will come. "Look dump", "swing it!", "move the ball!" et cetera can remind a handler of his obligations. Overdone, these can quickly become overkill, but used judiciously these reinforcing calls can facilitate your cutting system and keep the disc moving.

      On defense, reinforcing calls will largely bolster the willpower of the defensive player, and thus production. The player knows very well that he should play the open side of his man, but often he is tired, sore and unfocused. Staying in his ear when he's out of position will remind him that his job is important and appreciated and often provide the needed energy to finish out the point.

      The most effective sidelines will specialize sideline players. Instead of just watching the game and calling out things that you notice happening, assign sideline players to different onfield players or to different roles. Here are two sideline roles that I take most frequently:

      *Talk to Deep-- Have someone always talking to the deepest player; in addition to making sure no one sneaks out on him, you can also keep an eye on whether the thrower is taking notice of a deep cut. If I always know who's deepest at a given moment, or which tall fast guy can lend support, I can scream his name out the instant I see a big thrower start his windup or get the disc upline. The second that will give before everyone else yells 'UP!' can often mean two steps, a full commitment, and the D.

      *Behind the Marker-- My favorite sideline role is to take a position directly behind the thrower when the disc is coming in on my sideline. Talking to the mark, I can see everything the thrower can see. Its generally obvious from that position who the cutting options are and when the thrower's faking, and I can help the mark only shift the force in reaction to real threats. I use the calls 'left hand' and 'right hand' to cut down processing time, as opposed to 'no I/O' etc. A good pair of marker and caller can often take risks-- such as jumping the dump look on a higher count-- that would be foolish without a caller confirming that no one dropped an assignment on an open side cutter.

      Does your team emphasize sideline talk? Do you acknowledge this each point? How much of your talk provides information or confirmation?
  • The Zone
    ArticleBlock VanHeuvelen

    • In the moment of competition, I like my brain to be functioning on approximately the level of a caveman chasing a woolly mammoth. The biggest motivation to help from the sideline is that the louder I yell, the more primordial I feel, and the better I play. It’s the best way for me to get in and stay in "the zone."

      Here is a great description of the zone, which I recently read in a novel:

      "She felt a special private connection with the basket, always knowing exactly where it was and always trusting that she was its favorite player on the floor, the best at feeding its circular mouth. Even off the court she existed in the zone, which felt like a kind of preoccupied pressure behind her eyebrows, an alert drowsiness or focused dumbness that persisted no matter what she was doing."

      This "focused dumbness" is the goal of my training. My hours spent throwing, running drills, and scrimmaging are all designed to teach my brain and muscles to respond instantly without thought. When I’m competing, my conscious mind can only get in the way and slow me down. This is what we mean when we tell our teammates, "Get out of your head," or, "Get into the game": Stop thinking; just do it.

      The most vulnerable time for players, psychologically speaking, is when we’re not playing. That’s when we have time to think. Joe Montana said, "As soon as you know you’re in the zone, you’re not in the zone." Why is that? Because the part of your brain that can make that kind of realization is not the caveman part of your brain. (Sure, it’s possible to be both a great player and a great thinker – but not simultaneously.)

      My goal on the sideline is to leave no room for reflective thought by focusing totally on the game. I talk with teammates about what they’ve been doing well or what we’re going to do next point to respond to our opponent’s tactics. I yell team cheers. I pick a teammate on the line and shout specific information throughout the point. ("Big thrower"; "not a thrower"; "disc is swinging"; "no huck"; "all underneath"; "left hand low"; "last back"; etc.) Halfway through the point, I usually get distracted by another teammate who needs a good bout of yelling and I get in his ear.

      I yell the most specific and concrete information possible. General encouragement is great ("keep working hard"), but my teammate is less likely to have his mark broken if I’m yelling "stay on your toes" or "rotate no around". Also, the more specific the information I yell, the more focused I have to be on the game.

      I try to yell only positive things. Any time I say something negative, even under my breath, I allow the thought to enter my mind that "things aren’t going well." It’s not long before that thought ruins the useful illusion – which is a big part of "the zone" – that my team and I are unstoppable.

      If I’m successful on the sidelines, when I step back on the line to play, it feels like I never left the game. In other words, I’m still "in my rhythm." I’m sure the sideline talk has also helped my teammates but the biggest benefit is my own. I get another shot at playing in the zone.


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