The 2018 Ellipsis WUCC campaign was one I’ll never forget. It was special, inspirational, and a hugely rewarding experience for me personally. From a purely on field perspective, we had a good, but not great, result. We played well, and came away with some strong wins and close losses that the whole team could be proud of, but ultimately we did not place as high as we would have liked.
Why? In Australia, our club has enjoyed a relative strength over the last few seasons. A culture that facilitates a strong work ethic and a commitment to continual improvement has seen us ascend to a level of play rarely seen at our national level. Even when we don’t play our best, and indulge in bad habits and broken structures, we are often still athletic enough to muscle our way to a win.
In the pressure cooker that is WUCC, these poor habits emerged at key moments in big games and players resorted to what they knew best. When facing the best in the world, there is no room for minor faults, like clogging on offence or lazy poaching on defence, and we were punished for it.
This World Clubs campaign reminded me how important it is to practice good habits every single time you step out onto the field. Ellipsis needed to train with the world standard in mind, but this same concept can apply to every level of team looking to improve. Not only does this prepare you as well as possible to perform at your peak when it really matters, but it also significantly lifts the level of those around you.
“Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”
Here are some examples to encourage us all to maintain good habits, regardless of our opposition or playing level.
Being a good defender is all about committing to your team’s plan. This might be to shut down the open side under cuts, it might be to bait long shots then go for blocks, it might be to try and handblock every throw. You might think you’re more effective doing your own thing and this may be true for one point or one game or one opposition team. But across tournaments and across campaigns, the teams that win and the players who are the most valuable are those who can consistently play the team defence.
In my experience, this mentality tends to go out the window as soon as people play on a lower level team than they’re used to. We see poaching, lazy under defence, poor footwork, bad marking...and on these lower level teams, good players can get away with all this. Their player probably won’t get open anyway, and if they do, they won’t make a damaging throw.
Playing this kind of defence is a waste of time. It will not make you a better D player, and it will not prepare and condition you for playing at a higher level. If you have aspirations to improve as a player, a good starting point is to practice good defence every single time you step on the field. Hold yourself accountable to this.
The most noticeable takeaway for me from WUCC was in regard to our cutting patterns. In general, I noticed a distinct lack of cut shapes and angles when compared with other elite teams at the tournament. Rather, our team tended to rely on our speed and athleticism, primarily using foot races to get open.
This was effective at most levels of competition, but not effective at the very top. As such, we hadn’t practiced the fundamental skills we needed to get open against a more athletic opponent and we struggled with this when it really mattered.
It’s easy to fall into the habit of foot racing your opponent when you know you’re stronger and faster than them. For players who want to strive for the next level, focus on cutting patterns within your teams and, as with defence, personally think about this every time you step foot on the field. Don’t be satisfied by getting open because you’re more athletic than your opponent - be satisfied by getting open with smart, aggressive cuts. A great way to get better at this is to watch vision of elite teams and to learn from the techniques these players use to get open.
Throwing habits are primarily developed in throwing sets rather than game play. This is where we get most of our reps in and this is where I see most value in improving how we do things. Throwing in general has been covered well in previous WUCC IOU articles, so I will focus on a few quick reminders.
Make every throw count
Throw like you throw in games. Wear cleats. Fake. Pivot. Get tired. Don’t lower the level of your throwing practice because of an inexperienced throwing partner.
Practice self assessment
Before every throw, know what you want it to look like. Will it get there fast, slow, curved, flat, high, low? Have a picture in your mind before you make each throw, then, after the throw, assess how close you came to this picture. This cycle of self assessment should be a constant part of your throwing sets.
Work on your short throws.
Work on your break throws.
Get comfortable throwing uncomfortable break throws. Push yourself at training to throw through marks, around marks, under marks. If your mark is too easy to break, come up with ways to make it harder.
Expand your range of throws
Mix up the completion rate you aim for. Practice at 100% completion rate to fine tune your control and game day throws, then practice at 70% completion rate to expand your throwing repertoire (distance, release point, shape, speed, marking pressure).
The best players in the world are those that can quickly and effectively adjust the way they’re playing to suit a range of different situations (weather conditions, score, field position, opposition, teammates…). These players are in control of the choices they make on field and are constantly reassessing what is needed from them as games go on. This is a learnt skill and playing with a variety of teams and skill levels is a fantastic way to practice it.
As an example, playing against a less athletic team means that often, deep shots are able to be completed purely due to the athleticism of your receiver. While this can be a great tactic to exploit at times, it also provides an opportunity for you to practice not throwing to tempting deep options. I know as well as anyone that a tall, athletic receiver running deep gets the throwing arm twitching and it has taken years of practice for me to develop control over whether or not I throw this throw.
Playing with or against weaker players allows you to artificially create more situations that test this decision making ability, which can be a useful learning tool (provided you actually exhibit decision making control, rather than just reinforcing bad habits against weak opposition).
“It’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light”
The way we train and play needs to be appropriate for the level of competition we want to compete at. If your goal is to play at the next WUCC, or with your state u22 team, or on a Division 1 nationals team, you need to train like players on those teams, day in day out. When you play league, or go running, or do a throwing set, don’t let the quality of your session be dictated by the people around you.
Dictate it yourself and train like the player you aspire to be.