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Gunning for Goliath

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So my last post was about how to approach games where your team significantly outmatches your opponent. But the more interesting question is what to do when your opponent is significantly stronger than you.

If your team is one of those teams that takes themselves seriously, then you probably have goals.  And if those goals are appropriately high, then you probably have a team ahead of you that you need to beat (unless you play for Fury or Revolver). Maybe your goal is to make the second day of Regionals or make Nationals or make quarters or win everything. In all divisions, those teams on their respective bubble are wondering how to knock off that team just ahead of them.

Maybe you’re Rhino trying to defy the odds and finish top 2 at Regionals. Maybe you’re Scandal and you draw Fury in quarters at Nationals.

Now don’t get me wrong; maybe you’ve played them tight a few times. Maybe you’ve even beaten them at a summer tournament. But how likely are you to beat that team in an elimination game when it matters most and when both teams are focused and peaking?

In games like this, your “A” game can’t beat their “A” game.  Maybe your “A+” game can beat their “A-“ game, and if that’s the case and your teams are that closely matched, then maybe you take your chances and hope things break your way.  But if the disparity is more extreme, then your measures need to be more extreme if you’re gonna bridge that gap.

Going toe-to-toe with a team that has better throwers and better athletes is a sub-optimal strategy. You need to get the other team off their “A” game.  This should be obvious, but how many teams out there all seem to have the same offensive strategy of try isolate their receivers to make vertical cuts while their handlers dink it back and forth… defensively, it’s man-force flick. There are plenty of good strategies in there.  Unfortunately there are a bunch of teams out there who are better at it than you are.

Every year in Sarasota, if there’s significant wind, there seems to be a Cinderella story of some team that beats their seed on the back of their zone defense. Florida in 2000? Fury’s comeback in 2008 in the finals down 10-1.

Didn’t the Condors take down DoG in 2000 thanks in large part to bringing back the out-of-fashion straight up mark?

Don’t let them have their first option all day long.

Defensive adjustments are the most obvious way to try throw a kink in an opponent’s plans, but there are offensive looks that will force the other team to adjust. Maybe you run a split stack. Maybe you send your deep cuts from the dump position. Maybe your incuts down the lane clear laterally to a break cut.

One of my most rewarding ultimate experiences was as the 8 seed in the quarters of British College Nationals and upsetting the 1 seed by running a German offense and a 1-3-2-1 zone (Shout out to the Sussex Mohawks!).

Flip the script and make them think about how they play you.

Take risks.  You’re not gonna get enough wide open cuts against a superior opponent. Throw some hammers. Get your team used to throwing hucks that tail to the far corner. Hang discs to the endzone rather than take a marginal dump throw. Jump out early on a team, have fun doing it, and let them know you’re having fun doing it.

Which brings me to my last point.  There’s a certain level of gamesmanship that can knock an opponent off their game. I don’t necessarily recommend all of these tactics, but being loud, talking trash, marking hard, getting physical… even making a ton of travel calls… they’ve certainly been a part of more than a few upsets. Most teams out there have a narrow comfort zone.  Play outside of it.

Good luck to all the teams in the Series.

From Brian Lo’s ultimate frisbee blog:

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