As a leader on my Ultimate team, I spend a lot of time talking to my team mates. I get to hear out their complaints, their joys and everything in between. All these conversations got me thinking about what makes someone feel like an integral part of the team, where they are making a meaningful contribution.

Metrics to measure contribution

How do we measure our contributions to the team. What do we look at, to tell ourselves and others, whether we have made a contribution or not? I’m still trying to make sense of this, but here are a few metrics I found.

Highlight or Debacle reels

A lot of us tend to remember things as highlight or debacle reels - we make stories out of these events. If you got that layout grab or D, you tend to remember it and that leaves you with a feeling of satisfaction. If you’ve more highlights to remember than the number of debacles, you feel like you made a positive contribution.

But, I think games are not as “eventful” as we think [citation needed!] – especially when a team is playing good Ultimate. When everyone is making good decisions and executing them well, the game is quite uneventful. The credit for the success is distributed over the team, rather than one or two individuals. Are we capable of identifying this, acknowledging it as a meaningful personal contribution?

Tiredness

When we are done with a day’s play, we only have a few moments stuck in our memory. What remains as a physical manifestation is how tired we are, physically and mentally. A lot of us tend to use this metric, probably even subconsciously.

But, with a big enough squad that is being rotated well, I’m not sure this is a good metric.

MVP awards

At the end of every game, teams have a spirit circle where they discuss each others' play, and pick a player in the opposition who made a difference to the game - Most Valuable Player. Being identified the MVP is definitely one of the easiest things that is used as a metric for contribution. Only one person gets it in a game, and often, the same person gets it in a few matches over the course of a tournament.

Sure, the MVP played well, but what about the dozen others? If you weren’t the best player, doesn’t mean you didn’t make a difference. Would not being identified by the opposition make you forget those contributions? Is there something the team can do to help recognize and identify them?

Being Challenged

When a game was very challenging, win or loss, people tend to feel happy and satisfied about it.

Just being challenged to their limits seems to make people feel like they have contributed. Or may be just makes them forget about asking this question.

Contributing in other ways

If I’m not having a good day, or I’m injured, I don’t mind filling water bottles and taking it easy. If I’ve been able to alert someone from the sideline and they make a difference, that’s a contribution I’m making.

Better metrics

Stats

Stats might help in a small way. For instance, just using a rotating scheme for calling lines, a lot of the not-enough game time problems seemed to go away. Just being able to assure people that there’s a system in place to ensure they get enough game time, took their minds away from it.

The usual kinds of stats - scores, assists, drops, etc. - might actually only end-up reinforcing the outlook of highlight and debacle reels. But, it may help with triggering some faded memories, which might alter the story we make up from the events recorded.

I wonder, though, if there can be other kinds of metrics that might help bring out some of the “grind” aspects of the game, rather than events. These stats will be harder to collect, but would there be a way to reward someone on how well they made space for the next cutter, or how they shutdown the person they were defending and took them out of the game?

Culture

I am beginning to think the problem is primarily cultural. In a world where we care so much about the number of likes and retweets, I think it’s just hard to remember the “grind”.

Sarah Griffith shared an interesting idea that she calls Glue players - players who just do the basics right, and aren’t necessarily involved in spectacles like a layout D or a super difficult throw.

Matty’s shout outs are for glue plays - reliable fill cuts for big yards, or somebody who committed to fronting their matchup because that was the game plan even though it’s scary as heck to give that cutter the chance to go deep on you.

And anyone who has ever played for Matty knows that these shout outs are a coveted thing, because you know that what you’ve done was selfless and helped the team succeed, and that’s an honor.

Matty Tsang is a great coach who has some revolutionary ideas on how to play and coach Ultimate. I’m not surprised the idea of glue plays goes back to him.

But, as a team without a non-playing coach, I wonder how to bring about this culture of identifying and encouraging glue players. May be having a handful of players who make it their job to do this for a few weeks or months, will set the ball rolling.

Sarah has some advice on how to go about doing this in her article.

When you’re holding tryouts for your team, look for who is facilitating scores even if they’re not always catching them. Look for who’s eliminating their person from the offense with great positioning rather than bidding all over the place on D. Look for who shows up, and who you can count on. And then let other people know. Celebrate it. Glue playing is contagious - make people aware of when it’s happening by calling it out and focusing on it, instead of the glory plays.

The idea of “Glue highlights” replacing the (figurative) highlight reels seems like a very promising idea. I’d like to give this a shot, as a team!


Thanks to Tariq, Tejaa and Shantanu for being excited reading drafts of this post, and encouraging me to publish it.