It’s the Time Cap, Stupid
One mistake I see some coaches and captains make managing their teams is not doing a good enough job planning in advance of time caps (particularly hard caps).
There are a number of issues that need to be managed with regards to caps (especially in ‘must win’ games). A couple of the perhaps more obvious examples are:
- Using timeouts to delay for the cap if your team is ahead
- Minimizing time between points if your team is behind and the cap is looming
I wanted to discuss two situations in particular I have found many teams mishandling when running into caps in must win games.
Your team is behind a few points and closing in on hard cap (which happens very fast after soft cap, faster than most seem to realize) and you need a quick strike goal. Often the situation is that hard cap is a few minutes away and your team is pulling, down two points. If the hard cap goes off and then you convert the break, you still lose (using USAU cap rules). You must score before the hard cap. Doing so allows you to pull being down only one point. If you convert that break, the game is tied and a final point is played to break the tie.
It is possible to come up with a plan for a ‘quick strike goal’ on the fly if you need to, but you have to minimally be aware that you’ll need it. Preferably you have a huck play (or several) that could give your d-line a good shot at a quick goal. However, what you really need to have in place is an audible to tell to your field captain that you need to score, and score fast! From what I’ve witnessed, many teams are lacking this capacity.
If you are playing in conditions where points are taking a long time to complete (lower competition levels, high wind / high turnover games, etc.), your d-line will need to know this audible well in advance….maybe even before soft cap. Yelling ‘we need to huck it now!’ to the player picking up the disc after a turn is obviously not optimal. The defense may already be aware that this is the situation, but no need to tip them off if they aren’t.
One way to communicate succinctly is appending a number after the audible to signify the time left before cap or the number of passes your d-line has before you need them to score (“Winter 60”, or “Winter 6”, or similar). Also, be aware that you may need more than a basic huck play. As this situation becomes more commonplace with the equalization of talent in our sport, your opponents will likely implement a ‘prevent’ defense in this situation to deny deep throws and let the clock run out.
Many teams have DGP and other ‘must score / must break’ lines that they use when caps kick in or late in games. The mistake I see often made is not thinking about the time left in the game until the second half. This doesn’t often bite teams in the foot, but there are times when games drag more slowly than team captains/coaches realize (especially when they are ‘in’ the game emotionally). When this occurs, caps can sneak up on teams and they may start playing their tighter personnel packages too late.
One example of a game that ended up with a lower score than may have been anticipated is the 2014 USA(PA)U club national championship pre-quarter matchup between Ring of Fire and Machine (yes, that game is obviously forefront in my mind as a Machine fan). That game was 8-7 Ring at half (15 points played) and there would only be six more points played before the game ended at 12-9. The rest of the pre-quarters (for comparison) had winning scores of 14 or 15, and 23 or more total points played (21 in the Ring / Machine game). The second half of this game had less than half the points completed in the first half.
One way of keeping an eye on ‘cap creep’ is to track how your game score matches up with the score at a similar timeframe in a non-capped game. In other words, how does your game’s points/minute compare to non-capped games.
If, in the Machine / Ring example above, it was a 13-11 game to 15: what lines would Machine (or Ring for that matter) be playing at that point? Or, more importantly, what lines would they be playing if it was an 11-10 game to 15 (analogous to the 8-7 ‘game to 12’ that ended up occurring at halftime). Were these analogous lines played coming out of half?
Many teams get stuck planning playing time and personnel as if the game is to 15, until it is ‘too late’. I have no evidence this was the case with Machine and they had chances to win that game with the personnel on the field as they are well aware. However, this situation can definitely be an issue for teams, particularly those that have less depth.
There is still an ongoing debate in high level ultimate about how much a team can get away with relying on tighter lines and not run into issues of exhaustion, and there are certainly a lot of variables at play that affect this issue (fitness level, weather, etc.). Regardless of one’s philosophy, it is at least worth knowing where you are relative to the cap.
Oh yeah, and if you don’t make sure your watch (you are keeping time, right?) is sync’d to the tourney clock, none of the above really matters.