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A Winning Mentality

What is the ultimate goal for a team? To win games? To play well together? To have fun?

When I’ve ran clinics, I always ask people why they play ultimate. The answers vary but one answer that’s common among everyone is “to have fun”. What I tell players who are new to the game or who have been playing for a bit but are still playing in a lower league is that being a good player is fun. Being able to pull full field is fun. Being able to sky someone for a point is fun. Catching the disc is fun. Laying out for a D is fun. Winning is fun.

But, playing poorly is not fun. For those of us who play on touring teams and spend thousands of dollars every year to play the game we love, it’s a huge commitment. To look back without being able to say that we played well or that we didn’t improve – now where’s the fun in that? If we play well and lose all of our games, we can still have fun. If we play poorly and win all of our games, that won’t be much fun. Not playing to your potential, not playing well or not improving isn’t fun. We start to feel like we’re wasting our time. We start to fight with our teammates. We start to lose our passion for the game.

While it’s important to learn how to win, it’s more important to learn how to play well. Winning is the end result but the method to get there is to play well.

The problem about playing well is that it’s not as easy to track as it is to track wins & losses. How do you go about tracking if you’ve played well in a game or in a tournament? There are 2 ways that I can think of which would benefit a team:

1. Set Goals

Based on your goals, look back on each game or each tournament to analyze how you did relative to those goals. For example, you could set a team goal of no less than 10 turnovers per game, 1 bricked pull per game and no more than 10 points scored against your team per game. Obviously those numbers will have to be adjusted accordingly per game/tournament. You could definitely set different numbers per game and go into the game with those expectations in mind. The first few times you set goals will be a learning period and will become the benchmark from which you set future goals.

2. Keep stats

There are multiple ways of doing this but the key point is to develop a method that works for your team and stick with it. Find out which key metrics you want to keep track of – play time, catches, points, assists, d’s, # of throws, etc, and then figure out a way to quantify those numbers to help you determine if you are improving as team and if you are playing well as a team or not. It’s easy to track stats but it’s hard to interpret those numbers into learning points.

Even after you do all of this, it’s important to keep in mind why you did this in the first place. It’s important for a team to learn how to win. If you are facing a team you should beat 15-0, then beat them 15-0. Letting them score points on you when they shouldn’t will only teach your team bad habits. Learning to close out a game and save energy by not letting them score more points on you than they should will go a long way to becoming a championship team.

The men’s team I played with for 5 years never learned how to win. We learned how to play well but not when it mattered. Every time we went into a game being the underdog, we lost. We were up numerous times on some of the best teams in the world – Rhino, Jam, Furious George, but ultimately, when the game was over, we had come out on the losing end. What was hard about losing those games is that we didn’t play well when it mattered. Had we played well and lost, it would have been easier to move past it and learn from it. But playing poorly and losing sucks.

So learn to win. But more importantly, learn to play well.

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