How to Watch Game Film: spotting patterns (2 of 4)

Categorize Errors

During film sessions, keep a full-size notebook on hand. When you notice a mistake during play, take the following notes:

  • elapsed time during the game
  • your field position
  • what mistake was made
  • what skill the mistake is related to
  • the two players on either side of your mistake
    • either the player who threw you the disc and your intended receiver OR
    • your match-up and the player who threw to them

Try to keep your list of skills succinct. In your first film session, perhaps stick to forehand, backhand, and overhead throws; receiving dumps, cutting under, or going deep; marking or field defending; fouls; and a loose “other” category.

By tracking the context in which your errors occur, you will notice trends.

Pattern: In a nine-game tournament, do you consistently throw poor flicks in the second half?
Correction: At practice, work to fatigue-proof your forehand.

Pattern: After turns, do you get smoked by your match-up when they go deep?
Correction: At practice, put a hand on your former defender after turns and play them close.

Pattern: Are you too deep to gain yardage with a reception when your team is stuck at a mid-field sideline?
Correction: At practice, come in uncomfortably close and see if that improves momentum.

These are tactical decisions. As a player working to upgrade your performance, you know the tactics of ultimate far better than I do. My point is to document what you are doing wrong during games and to create specific objectives at practice so you prevent those mistakes in the future. The better your notes are, the clearer your objectives will be. Clear practice objectives lead to bigger improvements in execution during the season.

Recall the Intended Strategy

Every time the disc is caught by a teammate, pause the film. Take note of the stack that should be set or the play everyone should be running. There is always a larger strategy intended for various field positions and lines of players. Perhaps there was an audible (an on-field change of plans) or perhaps there was confusion. Use this time to remember what was expected of you during every moment of possession, then play the film and evaluate your actions against those expectations.

This has two effects:

1. you are actively reviewing the playbook

2. you are visualizing how to operate perfectly on the field

When pulling plays from memory, resist the temptation to actually look at your playbook! To learn your playbook well, you have to “interrupt the forgetting” of its contents. (That phrase is borrowed from Peter C. Brown’s Make It Stick, an excellent how-to text on learning complicated topics more effectively.)

Struggling to remember the active after the first pull of the second half and how that play was meant to flow improves your ability to remember plays, even if you misremember during this film session. Your playbook will always be available at the end of the session to review.

As you improve your knowledge of the playbook, the Xs and Os on the page start to seem more like moving poker chips in your mind. They change from being abstract descriptions of player position to being abstractions with names and faces–they become your teammates. But you start to see your teammates in a sort of bird’s-eye view while watching film. You are developing the skill to zoom out, which is seeing the bigger picture of a point instead of your normal ground-level view.

By zooming out mentally at the same time you watch your actual performance on-screen, you learn to evaluate your mistakes directly against the “ideal” flow of the called play. Over time, this vision of perfect execution improves your ability to read the field and sense the best timing for your cuts and throws.

Interrupting your forgetting of plays and zooming out will help blend your player’s eye with the elusive coach’s eye. As you learn to see both the forest and the trees, you will become a dramatically more effective player from any position on the field.


Next up: Why 30-second plays take 5 minutes to review — and how that helps you play smarter!

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