Practice versus Rehearsal – Part 1

Following on from a previous post about what we learn from highlight reels, and the suggestion that we should be making good, sensible throwing decisions instead of looking for glory, there’s an obvious question.

If we’re not pushing ourselves to throw things at the limits of our current capabilities, how are we going to get any better? How are we going to learn to make pinpoint hucks or great throwing decisions if we never do it until we know we can do it? It’s all a bit chicken-and-egg… at least, it is if your definition of practice is playing-to-win at 7-on-7.

There are 2 answers to how you get to that level without making all your mistakes in games – first, do as much as you can on your own, or away from team training; second, structure your training to give you better learning opportunities. I’ll split this into 2 posts I think – this one (about earning the right to start practising those big shots), and another on the type of training you want to do to get there quicker.

An analogy I like to use is that of a musician in an orchestra. They practise, on their own, the things they can practise on their own – being able to play the notes, getting the fingering and the tone just how they want it. But when they all get together, they rehearse. By this stage, every member of the group knows their own part, and what they’re learning are the things like timing that they simply can’t practise on their own.

The vast majority of Ultimate players do nowhere near enough practice, and that impacts really badly on the ‘rehearsal’ time they have with their team and ultimately on their team’s performance. A huge percentage of people only rehearse, and never practise at all. What’s more, they only do what we might call ‘dress rehearsal’, trying to play a whole game of 7-on-7, just as they would in a match.

Imagine if a musician spent no time learning to play except when in a room with 50 other musicians all trying to play together. Imagine, further, that the only rehearsing they did together was to play the whole piece, from start to finish, never stopping to repeat the tricky bits or to work on specific things.

That’s exactly what many of us do at training. We think that we don’t need to work on our throwing, or our sprinting form, or any other of the things we can make some headway on away from the team. We also don’t focus on the drills and the small-sided or rules-adjusted games where we could make real, quick improvements. We just turn up to play 7-on-7 and expect to get better, and expect everyone else to be patient with us while we mess everything up and kill the game for those more experienced players.

When you think about it, it’s pretty selfish not to practise. You’re turning up to training unable to complete the throw or understand the concept that is required, and that’s unfair on the more experienced or more practised players on your team. Learning to throw, in-game,  by hucking a wobbly bladey thing every time you get the disc, is not going to make you many friends. If you want to throw the big throws in games, go away and throw them until you’re consistent, and throw them in drills and specific huck-focussed scrimmages. Then you’ve earned the right to start learning when to throw them in rehearsal – which you can only do by making a few mistakes along the way. First, you’ve got to earn the right to make those mistakes. That is, if you want to be a good team-mate, at least…

You can only learn to make good decisions by making some bad ones – your team will forgive you some of those at training. But making a bad decision about a throw you don’t even have yet, or that you make one time in ten? Have a word with yourself…  😉

One really strong caveat: I’m talking about serious training, maybe with a club team, or trying to get onto your University first team. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have fun messing around, or that you shouldn’t make time for some more relaxed sessions – if you’re not having fun, there’s really not much point. But if you’re training with a squad and you want that squad to do well, you’ve got to realise how your training impacts on others. You’ll personally improve your throws by throwing at the very edge of your capabilities every time you touch the disc – but the rest of your team will only get better at defence…

You’re probably a reasonably serious player, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading a technical blog like this one. If you really want to be better, or make your team better, ask yourself – do I practise enough? Do I drill hard enough? Or do I just play? And is that what I want?

Fair enough if it is, of course…

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4 Responses to Practice versus Rehearsal – Part 1

  1. Anonymous says:

    Cheers Benji, i’d say this is a pretty accurate analysis. In a few teams I’ve played with, this has been our downfall. There is often a mentality of ‘throw what you want in training but not in a game’, which I personally disagree with. This results in you having to completely change your style of play when it comes to a tournament/big game, this means that your only real ‘dress rehearsal’ is during those games, a recipe for disaster (or at least capping your limits at plate final). Besides, you’re only going to throw that throw a handful of times in training anyway, it’s not really practise. That’s the time to learn how to adjust your previously practised throws to make them game ready, and build your confidence in them.

    You touched on structure of training sessions and I do think that’s key. There needs to be time for stretching your throws, increasing your limits and pushing your comfort zone in a game scenario BUT there also needs to be a time of competitive play. If the competitive section of your training looks very different to how you expect to perform on the last game on a saturday of a tournament then in my opinion, you’re doing it wrong.


    • Absolutely. I’ll talk more about some of this in a later post, but one thing that leaps out is something I’ve just been thinking about. You really do only throw a handful of times in rehearsal. I was putting together some advice for one of our players about what to work on over the summer, and I wondered how often he threw the disc in scrimmages. Turns out that the stats we’d collected over a few scrimmages gave him 15 completions in 33 points played – less than one every 2 points. Our main handlers had maybe 4 times as many completions, but that’s still less than 2 throws per point played (n.b. there wasn’t any zone offence in those stats). Between 15-60 throws in two hours is so vastly less efficient than a focussed drill that it’s not even funny…


  2. Pingback: Part 2: From Practice to Rehearsal | Understanding Ultimate

  3. maltodexterous says:

    I just wanted to thank you for this blog. All of the material is excellent.


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