Big day for ultimate (and even math related!)

Got a nice surprise this morning when two nice pieces about ultimate frisbee showed up in the national media.

First, Fury’s Genevieve Laroche’s diving catch in the semi finals of the US Open became the first club women’s ultimate highlight to make the Sportscenter top 10:

Hopefully more of that to come this season!

Next, the WSJ ran a fascinating article about “advanced analytics” coming to ultimate:

Sorry of this article is behind a pay wall. The article gives an interesting take on stats and ultimate which is probably best summed up with this quote:

“Teams that use these stats want to know how to adjust their offense or defense to help win more games,” said Charlie Eisenhood, the editor and founder of Ultiworld . . . .”

I agree with his assessment – carefully studying game statistics and making appropriate adjustments should improve your chances of winning. I’m biased, of course, since I do a lot of data analysis for a living. With data analysis becoming increasingly important in sports, I sometimes wonder what my life would be like had I known that you could actually make a living applying data analysis to sports back when I was graduating from college. Oh well, it’ll just have to be finance for now . . . .

Tracking stats isn’t really new in ultimate, of course – the most successful teams have been doing it for years. I learned to focus on turnover location from Steve Mooney in the early ’90s. This stat had a big impact on Brute Squad’s run to the club finals in 2009, too (more on that below).

DoG’s Jim Parinella focused on efficiency. He preached that you could make as many (if not more) gains from studying games than from going to the gym. Don’t know if it came directly from tracking stats or not, but the incredibly efficient zone O that Jim helped create and that DoG, Condors, Fury, and perplexingly almost no one else uses (or even seems to know about!) is one of the great innovations in ultimate ever.

Back to turnover location – in Brute’s early season matches in 2009 against the Capitals, we lost pretty badly (13 – 10, 13 – 8, scores like that). To the Capitals credit every single time we gave them a short field after a turnover they converted it into a goal. In fact, in all but one instance they converted that turnover into a goal in one pass. After taking through this problem, we did change how we were playing and ended up beating the Capitals to advance to the championship game. I give Peri Kurshan a lot of credit for understanding the problem and designing a fix.

Stats have also played an important part in the way Riot plays, and I’m glad that the WSJ included Riot’s captain and stat junkie Gwen Ambler in today’s article. When I first because working with Riot Gwen sent me her stats database that tracked every pass from the previous season. Goodness!! What an amazing treasure trove of data.

When Riot used Ultiworld’s stats app last year, it was fun to see the results. It was also nice to see Ultiworld use the information they were collecting to give credit to some of the players too. See the discussion of Sarah Griffith here, for instance:

Anyway, even if not all of this is new, I’m glad to see some folks doing work on stats in ultimate getting recognition. Hopefully their work will lead to more people recognizing the value of these stats. That would really help the game move forward fast!