Joined: 23 Sep 2003 Posts: 288 Location: Portland, Oregon, USA
Posted: Wed Feb 28, 2007 11:42 pm Post subject: Conan's Commentaries #5: Learning How to Win
In my ongoing effort to help make this forum more interesting and useful for newer players, I am continuing my series of articles on footbag net training and competition. The point of this is to pass on information and generate discussion, so your comments are always welcome, no matter who you are. Commentary #1 was Offseason Conditioning, Commentary #2 was Consecutives Practice, Commentary #3 was Defense, and Commentary #4 was Spiking. This article will focus on Learning How to Win.
"Footbag net is addictively difficult." This is what I tell people when I describe the game. Most people simply can't play. And it's not just a matter of people not being exposed to the game. At this point in our history thousands and thousands of people have played at least a little over the net. The game is just not easy, and this combined with the lack of teaching pros makes footbag net not very accessible for most. It takes a huge commitment of time, energy, and resiliency to see even small improvements in tournament play. But, if you are reading this, you just might be crazy enough to get good at this game.
Is footbag net all about winning? No, it is possible to have great fun in the park without winning. But, if you compete in tournaments, you will probably not have much fun unless you win some matches. Is winning important? Sure, it is nice to get some positive results as payoff for hard work. Plus, if you are winning, it means you are doing something right. Just remember that each event only has one winner. Losing is a major part of competing. It does not make you less of a competitor.
Why, then, does it take so long to learn how to win in footbag net? Why are the veteran players able to consistently post good results while younger (and perhaps quicker) players often struggle to break through? It takes even the "prodigies" in this game 3-5 years to achieve a consistently high level of play. It is not simply a matter of years of experience, although experience is a big plus in this game. Rather, it is developing the mental, physical, and emotional tools you need to win matches and tournaments.
Here's what I have learned in 12 years of "open" tournament play and 26 footbag titles:
Train enough to get better. This is the single hardest part, as we all have busy lives. Very few of us can practice more than 1-2 times a week. There are people out there playing 5-6 times a week, but don't let that scare you. If your skills are stagnating, it doesn't matter how much you are playing. Focus on maximizing the time you have. Do lots of drills to increase your reps. Stay in shape. As tournament time approaches, your practice sessions need to be higher intensity and maximum quality. So that is when you need other good players to practice with. Otherwise, the burden is on you to improve.
Treat your practice sessions like tournaments. This is most important in the weeks leading up to a tournament. Focus mentally and visualize specific plays you will execute. Spend extra time thinking about how you will correct some of your weaknesses. Kick consecutives and stretch the day before. Don't party too much the night before (blasphemy!). The margin for error is very small in this game and even losing .02 seconds of reaction time will cause you to miss some shots. There are very few athletes who can play at their highest level with a hangover.
To be consistently successful at tournaments you need to develop a consistent schedule and routine for everything in your footbag world. All the little things - sleeping, eating, warming up, even putting on your shoes - can be seen as rituals you go through in order to be at your best when your next match starts. Remember that if you are winning there is always a next match to prepare for. Be ready, not by over-thinking what you need to do against your next opponent, but by confidently going through your preparations and being emotionally, intellectually, and physically prepared to win.
Emotionally - Don't get too far up or too far down, you need to go a looooong way to win. One point rarely makes or breaks a match. Stay grounded and confident.
Intellectually - Adapt defensively to your opponent's style (WAY easier said than done, but the best defenders don't get beat by the same shot repeatedly). Play efficiently - use good shot selection to keep your consistency up and the burden on your opponent. Know how to keep the speed of the game comfortable for yourself (e.g. timeouts, time between points, choosing serve or side)
Physically - Knowing what your body needs to play at peak:
physical endurance (train enough to play well on last day of the tourney)
recovery (can you really play every event at your peak?)
Tournaments take tremendous focus. A tiny lapse in concentration can make you miss a shot, which can make you think too much about the next shot, and suddenly you are in a slump. But this is footbag, and everyone misses shots. So focus also means the ability to control yourself and maximize your percentages:
There are lots of books available on sports psychology. One book that helped me is "Toughness Training for Sport" by James E. Loehr. One of his basic arguments is that a winning athlete must achieve an Ideal Performance State. One way to do this is to think of yourself as an actor. When you step onto the court, you become the ideal footbag athlete that you know you can be. All of your movements and interactions with other players and the crowd are products of the character that you are playing. The best footbag actors can win almost through sheer force of personality alone. Chris "Gator" Routh is probably the best example of this I ever saw. I personally watched him win many matches against equally skilled opponents by wearing them down with his talk and personality. He was something to behold! Think about the demeanor of Manu or Kenny on the court. You can feel the drive to win coming out of these guys. Quieter guys like Florian Goetze, JF Lemieux, Andy Ronald, and Danny Borsky also assert their personality on the match through their cool in stressful situations.
OK, how about some specifics? Well, as I said at the beginning, this is a very difficult game. So, the question "How to Win" is more easily answered by asking "How to Lose?"
How to Lose:
1. Miss serve receptions (this will end your match in no time!)
2. Overset (setting your opponent is bad)
3. Miss spikes
4. Be consistently inconsistent
How to Win
1. Serve aggressively
2. Dig (over and in is good, up on your side is better)
3. Hit your shots
1. Get that serve up in the air!
2. Limit unforced errors
3. Win every point, don't get discouraged
Consistently solid defense is what it really takes to win. This is why the veteran players still win. Maybe they aren't making the diving saves they used to, but they are making the routine plays, and that is what it takes - confidence and consistency in the face of adversity. See my article #3 Defense for more ideas on how to improve.
Serious athletes utilize a year-round training schedule broken up into different training cycles. This is called periodization. This will be the topic of one of my next articles.
Finally, remember to be philosophical: For some of us, winning feels nice, but losing eats at your very soul. Try to maintain balance. Exalt in Victory! And try not to beat yourself up too much for losing. Use it as motivation to train harder and get better!
Comments? Feel free to respond, even if just to say, "What the f**k do you know about winning Conan??" After all, I am only the holder of one *world title.
Joined: 01 Jun 2005 Posts: 187 Location: Ellenville, NY, USA
Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2007 2:58 am Post subject:
chris all these articles are great, too any intermediates reading this I have to admit that "THE GIG IS UP". If you can acheive half of what chris has talked about in all his articles not only should you get by me, you will be skilled enough to go pro in half the time it took chris. Chris, only holding 1 title is exactly why and what qualifies you to write these artilcles. You write them with the hunger inside to reach that elusive title. I don't see kenny(love ya kenny), menu,(love ya too), or any of the recent or way older former champions writing about things that can help people beat them. These are the things you have done or haven't done that have brought you closer too more titles. In sports it is unusual to see players who play at the highest level teaching other players how to play better and possibly beat the very person who has taught them. Usually it is a coach or some older former champion that produces these types of articles, but by then the feeling for the hunger is gone, and they are writing about how they remember how they felt. Well everyone knows that memories arn't always too accurate. Chris I do not have that hunger to be the net champion of the world, but I do share your desire to spread the word on what a great sport this is. I think of myself as of coarse the GATE KEEPER but also a teacher. Since 2002 I have satified all hunger of wining, so I find satifaction in teaching as I play. I am a intermediate player and a professional fan. thanks for sharing your thoughts on how to play and win at the game of footbag net. ted f
COULD SOMEONE PLEASE MAKE THESE WRITINGS A STICKY SO THEY DON'T GO AWAY!!!!!
Joined: 18 May 2004 Posts: 87 Location: Aurora, IL USA
Posted: Wed Mar 21, 2007 7:42 pm Post subject:
Great stuff, Chris, thanks so much for sharing, and taking the time to write and document all this stuff.
A couple of my thoughts.....awfully long, sorry....
I think I saw the greatest improvements in my ability when I reached the phase of actively working on my mental game. From about 1997-2003, I played a LOT of footbag net, as much as I could fit in. I may not have been playing regularly with world champs or the worlds' top players, but it was the people that were available to me. I felt I was getting better, but I consistently turned in poor tournament results, year after year.
around 2004/2005, I stepped back and analyzed myself, and my game. I was playing less frequently (ya know, life getting in the way), but I knew I was still hitting Worlds and some other tournaments, and I set high expectations for myself, and wanted results. I actually read "Toughness Training for Sport" book, and a few other things and started developing my mental game.
The biggest change I made was changing my weekly net time from 'practice' into 'training'. I stopped playing so many games during each session. (up until that point, I was simply playing game after game against whoever happened to show up that day.) I started 'training'....doing drills, running sprints, penalizing myself for missing stupid shots by running sprints in the middle of practice games. Under the new format, we might 'play' for 2-3 hours, but we might only end up playing 2 or 3 games, spending the rest of the time training/drilling. I started kicking consecutives by myself on the off days. I drilled spikes by myself on off days. I changed my whole approach to the game, and treated it more like a high school football or wrestling practice. Warm ups, spiking drills, endurance activities, etc, etc. I approached it more as a professional sport, as opposed to just playing the sport that I love.
That 2004 season brought some great results due to my changes. I attended the East Coast regionals and partnered with James harley, and we were able to take individual games off of Chris & Kenny, and also a game from Eric wulff/Andy Ronald. It felt great, and even though we lost both of those matches, those 2 single game wins were probably my biggest wins in doubles to that date. It felt awesome, and I was able to raise a few eyebrows and was suddenly viewed as a legitimate force, as opposed to that person who consistently produced those poor tournament results.
In the 2004 worlds in Montreal, James and I were able to pull out the biggest upset of the tournament, and that was defeating Eric Wulff & Andy ronald in order to advance out of pool play as the second seed in our pool, behind the M&M's. Again, another tremendous victory, and again raised some eyebrows and pushed me higher in the legitimacy of the World of footbag net. I discussed this match a lot with both Eric and Andy, and they both agreed that the biggest contributor to that loss was the fact that they walked into our match thinking they had already won, and were already focusing on the next round. On our side....James and I knew we could win that match, based on our single game victory @ the East Coast regionals. The bottom line of that match came down to mental games. Eric and Andy had already moved past, and were not prepared for us. James and I were both very focused and the mental game for that match was sharp as ever.
James and I finished 9th in doubles that year, and that definitely a boost for my mental game.
@ the end of the 2004 season, I made the commitment to myself that I was going to attend Worlds in 2005 in Finland, and that if I were going to spend thousands of dollars on that trip, I wanted to play better than I ever had before. So, winter 04/05 I cross trained all winter, kept my endurance and cardiovascular up, and simply solo trained, trained, trained. Once the weather was nice enough, I started training outdoors, and just continued my solo trianing, combined with singles when other people were available.
The 2005 season treated me pretty well, and for the most part, I was pleased with most of my results. I had the most success @ the 2005 European Championships, unfortunately losing both my semi-finals matches in 3 games.....of which I was leading *both* matches in that third game @ the switch. Frustrating on one hand, but encouraging on the hand, showing that I could successfully win in singles against Flo, and successfully win in doubles with PT on the other side of the court.
2005 worlds....I feel that I could have played better, but I was generally pleased with my performance.
2006....i basically took the year off, knowing that I wasn't going to Worlds in Germany.
2007, training is in progress, and I've got my sights on Worlds. I'm expecting big things....so watch out!
Moral of the story? I don't know.....I just started typing, and here I am 10 pages later.
Mental game. Once you have the basics and mechanics of the game down, this is just a HUGE part of the game.
Grischa Tellenbach (grischa.tellenbach) IFPA Member
Joined: 18 Sep 2003 Posts: 323 Location: Paris, France
Posted: Wed Mar 21, 2007 9:21 pm Post subject:
I agree with Cory, if you want to win, you should stop playing these random games (… “playing game after game against whoever happened to show up”…) during training hours and work on your drills instead. Playing games is important, but only once you worked on your drills and thought about why you keep on missing certain shoots.
Joined: 23 Sep 2003 Posts: 288 Location: Portland, Oregon, USA
Posted: Thu Mar 22, 2007 5:35 am Post subject:
Thanks to Cory for replying! He is an excellent example of the gains you can make in tournament play if you train like a real athlete and improve your mental game. He is also an excellent example of perseverance. There are LOTS of players who have achieved "journeyman" status in the footbag net world. Unless you are a real prodigy, it takes a consistent, well-rounded effort to continue improving. Cory made the commitment, followed through (solo training takes the most discipline!), and now he is a legitimate footbag champion and world-class player.
And after our match at East Coast I heard Kenny proclaim Cory "the best blocker on the planet!"
Joined: 18 May 2004 Posts: 87 Location: Aurora, IL USA
Posted: Fri Mar 23, 2007 10:18 pm Post subject:
I can say it surely hasn't been easy. As many of you know, there's not a lot of people around Chicago anymore to play with. I think in the past 2-3 years, we've only been able to have a handful of doubles games due to lack of people. NOT easy. Big thanks to Steve Smith for the continued motivation and desire to play singles with me over the years, and thanks to Scot Hansen and the ocassional Ted Martin for finding some free time in their busy schedules and coming out to keep me in shape.
However, I have a session planned for tomorrow in Chicago with a crew of beginners, and have intentions on making it a weekly thing, to hopefully get the active #'s a little higher and have more people to play against.
regardless of the difficutly, the road has been worth it. Can't wait.....
sorry guys.. ahvent been around a while.
i stickyed all the CC-series
in my personal experience the psychological aspect raised from 20% to 70% over the last four years. you really win games in your head... the body should just be executing your thoughts.. that why you gotta train. make your body capable of fullfilling your minds expectations.
Joined: 23 Mar 2004 Posts: 302 Location: Portland, OR, USA
Posted: Tue Jul 10, 2007 7:27 am Post subject:
Lots of people use different emotions to motivate themselves at tournaments. Some people are able to focus and channel their anger to spur them on to the next level. P.T comes immediately to mind , Mulder was able to do this as well. I, personally, (owner of ZERO world titles fyi) find I play my best when I am relaxed and at ease.
It took me 10 years of playing to figure out the one phrase that finally set my mind at ease in times of tournament stress.
"Its Just Another Day In the Park"
Joke around. Stay loose. Don't dwell on negatives. Play each point with intensity but make it enjoyable intensity. Encourage your partner at all times. When your opponent hits a great shot, tell them you thought it was great. Remember the CORE reason you are playing this game at all is that you find it fun.
Joined: 23 Sep 2003 Posts: 288 Location: Portland, Oregon, USA
Posted: Thu Aug 02, 2007 8:21 pm Post subject:
With Worlds in steamy Florida coming up soon, I have decided to post what I have learned about avoiding heat cramps. Heat cramps usually appear as muscle spasms, pain, or extreme tightness. Often dizziness and nausea happen too. They are caused primarily by dehydration, physical activity, and too much sun exposure: basically all the things we do at footbag tournaments
Just last weekend in Vancouver I was playing Andre Lemaire in the singles final. He was outplaying me big time. Unfortunately, the cramps caught up with him, and though he courageously finished the match, it seemed to make the difference in the outcome. Who can forget Manu vs. Kenny at Worlds 04? Manu won that match despite bad cramping, but had to scratch both the doubles and mixed doubles finals.
I offer my advice in the interest of sportsmanship. I like winning and physically outlasting my opponent, but, in the words of Tricia George, "You want your opponent to play their best, because only then do you know that you played your best!" I also want Worlds to be the best show possible. So, here goes:
1. Pedialyte: This is children's electrolyte fluid. Reed Gray turned me on to this. I was drinking a gallon of water and a gallon of Gatorade each day at tournaments and still getting cramps. Pedialyte is superior to Gatorade. I use Pedialyte for pre-hydrating and recovery, Gatorade elsewhere during the day.
2. Prehydration: Hydrating for a tournament starts the week before! You must drink lots of water and electrolytes each day leading up to a tourny to prepare your body's cells. This is probably the best advice I have learned, so use it!
3. Shade: Seek shade and avoid the sun when not playing. You will spend enough hours baking in the sun during your matches. Sun exposure steals hydration and nutrients even if it is not hot or you are not sweating.
4. Sunblock: The obvious one. Slather that stuff on early and often. Before you cook like a lobster, and even if you have a "base tan". It is your shield against the sun.
5. Stay Cool I have been to Florida many times in all seasons. It will be shockingly hot and humid. Take the hottest days in Frankfurt last year, and make them more humid. That's Florida in the summer. The air will feel thick. Shade is only marginally useful in such humidity. Stay indoors as much as possible if you have matches outside.
Also, understand that alcohol and caffeine are diuretics, which promote urination and thus dehydrate you. A little is ok, just remember not to count them as hydration.
Once the cramps start to set in, it can get really bad. I'm used to hamstring/calf cramps and have played through them many times. Once at East Coast, however, they spread throughout my whole body like I was having a seizure. Peter Irish did acupuncture on me that night, and with constant rehydration I was able to finish the tournament. But the soreness that week was unbelievable. Here's hoping you don't go through the same.
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