Proudly sponsored by

BE Ultimate Jointworks Chiropractic

Labor Day Championships


There's no "I" in labour, but there should be a "U."

Preparing for the Big Test

The last tournament of the USA Ultimate regular season is almost upon us. This weekend, we commute to impossibly sunny (and equally foggy) Santa Cruz, California, home of the famous Labor Day Ultimate Championship.

With these last games against mostly western and mid-western heavyweights, Furious hopes to clinch a strength bid for the Northwest region. The NW has always been a competitive crucible, and 2012 has been no different, providing close matches among Sockeye, Rhino, and Furious George in the early season. Rhino, especially, continues to impress, coming back every year with bigger upsets over bigger foes. In a perfect world, I envision all three teams qualifying for the USA Ultimate Club Championships in Sarasota, Florida. If all three of us play well enough this weekend, that dream has a chance.

Friends like to scoff when I speak this way. “Real champions don’t care how many bids they have; all they need is one!” they protest (often with a kind of bravado that I suppose implies they are real champions). Okay, point well taken, but hear me out. I happen to think that the construction and timing of goals is interesting. So I have a story to tell.

In 2008 and 2009, Furious had to rebuild. Try as we might, the competition in the NW edged us out. The annual objective turned away from the club championships and onto qualification for the club championships. In 2010 and 2011, we clawed our way back, and we twice qualified out of our region for the Show. But in so doing, we peaked early. Unfortunately, when your goal is to “make it,” and you invest everything you have in the pursuit of that goal, you almost invariably struggle with the next obvious step. There are plenty of examples, not just in ultimate, of course, but in sport in general. And in our case, in the last two years, we predictably struggled. We did not bring the requisite ferocity to the fields of Sarasota to compete with the best.

2011 is a favourite example of mine, because we had 4 strong teams in the region (all 4 ranked in the top 16 in points, including the defending champion), and only 2 bids to qualify for the championship. It was, by a wide margin, the highest bar anyone had to clear for qualification. The Northwest Regional Qualifier thus necessarily became our season target. And we threw everything we had into the preparations for that tournament. We set our sights on Sockeye and on Rhino, and we dedicated nearly six weeks of practice to study their offenses and defenses, to develop countermeasures, even to physically condition ourselves for certain unfamiliar manoeuvres. On a personal note, I was informed who my match-ups were going to be, and I was instructed to be prepared for them.

To make a long story short, we accomplished the mission in characteristically hair-raising fashion, and Furious George accompanied Revolver out of the Northwest. But then what? Psychologically, a lot of our team had been mentally and emotionally wrapped around Regionals. After such a peak, there typically comes a trough — it seems only human. And pragmatically speaking, the team had just invested over a month of practices into specifically gearing ourselves to defeat specific teams that . . . were not in Sarasota. We had eliminated them. Sarasota represented something completely new, and we did not adapt in time.

Now, if you can somehow manage to make the qualification process less stressful — if you can “make it” with less than your absolute best (a la Usain Bolt, e.g.) — then it’s far easier to time your peak for the Show. You can psychologically, physically, and practically prepare better for that final test. In the history of Furious George from 2000-2006, it’s worth noting that no matter how bad the Monkey looked at Regionals, they brought their A-game to Florida.

I happen to believe that the Fish would have done better than the Monkey in Sarasota in 2011. I don’t say that because they are inherently better players of the game, but because they would have been better prepared. I suspect they had strongly believed they would beat Furious and Rhino. From what I can see, they had trained with their sights set on Revolver. I think they were training to win the championship. But our goal was more immediate and more desperate, and we had prepared to eliminate them. It was a cruel scenario.

So this weekend, when Furious George goes to Labo(u)r Day, I don’t think of the goal being to “just earn a bid.” I dislike that mentality. We’re playing with a plan to bring our peak performance to Florida.

Alex Davis

Comments are closed.