Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tournament mode

I'm only about 12-13 tournaments old in Ultimate and every single one of them has been a learning experience. I'm no expert, but over time I see certain points surfacing as common

a) Peaking at the right time - Everyone has cycles in their form. There are ups and downs all the time. It's important to hit the tournament in the best of form. But, here's the cool part. Over time, I've realized that you can control when you peak in form, and time it to coincide with a tournament. Not just yours, but your teams too!
It's important to understand your body, your capabilities and your thinking and experiment with them to figure out how to time it perfectly.

b) Spectacular plays during tournaments - We always see these spectacular moves: amazing throws & hucks, mind-blowing diving catches, layout defensive plays during tournaments. Everyone is in awe of these things and think that its a spark of brilliance or natural talent or that the player tried something new and pulled it off. That's a myth. There is no such thing as "I tried something new and clicked". In my mind, there is no experimenting during the tournaments. Everyone wants to win, and by that, making less risky plays. No one would "experiment" in a tournament unless that's the sole purpose of their tournament. Behind every spectacular play, is a LOT of experimentation and hard focussed effort in getting the basic mechanics of the play right. For example, if you see a nice smooth Inside Out backhand huck breaking down all the defenses, you can be pretty sure that the thrower spent a lot of time visualizing how to throw that, how the disc would fly, when to throw it. He/She has spent a lot of time picturizing the scene in the mind! An equal amount of time was probably spent trying to throw it!

c) Adrenalin levels: Channelizing your adrenalin is key to tournament performance. I don't know the scientific explanation behind adrenalin. But from what I understand, it's that rush of blood that hits you in a big-stage scenario like a tournament. Adrenalin has both positive and negative effects. On the positive side, adrenalin can give you that extra 1 inch on your vertical jump required to make that tough catch. Adrenalin can pump you to perform in spite of your injuries! Adrenalin can bring about an energy level in your team like never seen before.
The negative side of rushing adrenalin is that you tire out. When the adrenalin rush drains out (typically at the end of your first game).. you're going to be SO drained out, you'll wonder why you're so tired after a 1 hour tournament game, when on regular practice days you are capable of playing 2 hours continuously without a break! Adrenalin rush also makes you make impulsive / hasty decisions. It increases the risk taking capability in you. You start making risky throws and hence cause more turn-overs giving away the game on a platter to your opponents. Adrenalin rushes also don't help you think straight. You'll be "caught-up in the moment" many a times without you realizing it. I also find myself more snappy & short tempered when my adrenalin is pumping. This is detrimental to my team performance. It never helps any of my team members if I'm screaming at them during a game!
I get my best performance when I keep my adrenalin levels in control on offence.. and let it run high on defense. When on offense, I calm myself down, take deep breaths. I try to make sure my mind is focussing on the point, and not getting carried away with the thoughts of spectacular plays. When on defense, I pump myself up.. saying that I can defend any one no matter how fast he is. I pump myself saying I'm smarter, faster, more agile and more experienced. I pump myself by visualizing spectacular plays and then my body automatically follows when the situation presents itself.
This is also one of the reasons why I avoid picking up the disc after I have just performed a good D. I'm high on adrenalin and if I pick up the disc, I tend to throw it away back to the opponents. I'd rather "go-through" and rush into the end-zone after performing a good defensive block than pick up the disc.

d) Hydration, sugar/salt replenishment and lactic acid buildup: I have had a few tournaments where I have cramped out in crucial moments! I had let my team down when they needed me the most. I learnt the hard way that I need to consciously stay hydrated. I start having more water than I usually do, one day before the tournament. I also avoid alcohol during tournament days 'cause I end up dehydrating myself even with the little social drinking I do. My body reacts that way I guess. But prevention of cramps is more than just having water. It's more about replenishing the body sugars and salts that get used while creating the energy required for your muscles to operate during the game. I also consciously make sure during the game, I force myself to drink lots of electral / Gatorade / 100 plus. It's amazing how these health drinks have really helped me to keep my body salts and sugar levels up. I have definitely noticed a difference between games where I don't have my body salts and sugars replenished.. and the ones where I do.
Drinking a lot of water also helps me wash down the lactic acid which builds up during the games. This lactic acid is formed as a result of breakdown of sugars in the body (basic chemistry). The lactic acid also absorbs nerve impulses sent by the brain to the body parts (once again basic chemistry of acid absorbing electrons in the nerve electric impulses). This makes the body parts respond sluggishly to the brain's commands and hence it makes you feel like your body is tired and not responding as well as it did during the first game.

e) Massages: I've become a big fan of massages after tournament games. This helps get rid of some of the lactic acid buildup by pushing it back into the liver where it is reused again to create energy by some mechanism that I don't understand. (The same effect is achieved by wearing compression shorts / compression shirts / skinz or any other tight performance wear. They prevent the lactic acid buildup by keeping the body parts compressed and hence pumping the lactic acid back into the liver).
These days I try to get a back release between tournament games just before I re-enter the field.

f) Stretching: This is the most fundamental, mandatory task in tournament mode (or even otherwise). When you haven't stretched, your muscles are shortened and stiff. So any vigourous movement which needs the full stretch capability of the muscle is performed, the muscle tears near the joints. So, definitely you don't want to injure yourself. Also, when you're warmed up & stretch enough, you use only half the effort to perform a particular task than what you would have if you hadn't warmed up. So, a fully stretched body uses almost half the power less than one that is not. So, this is a great way to conserve energy during tournaments.

Ofcourse, all the above is moot if your game itself is flawed



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