Coaches Corner Improving Decision Making in Ultimate by Brummie

You’ve been practicing your throws for months, running shuttles, lifting weights. You’re in great shape and can execute on the field. Yet when it comes to the big game, you find yourself making bad decisions. No-one wants to be a liability with the disc, and we all admire those players who appear to have ice running through their veins, staying cool under pressure. How can we train to make better decisions?

In this module, we’ll look at two distinct methodologies for improving your decision making within real game scenarios.

Method 1: Increase your self-awareness by defining what counts as a good or bad decision for *you* and your team, looking at specific game situations, and tracking what decisions you make in each situation. By defining what actions you want to take in a decisions grid, you’ll become more aware of your ability to control the situation, leading to better decisions (and fewer mistakes).

Method 2: Learn how to adapt your decision making contextually to ensure that you can get the most of practices by knowing when to push your limits and when to reel it in. Using a gradient of possible decisions for each scenario, you will be able to choose different levels of risk acceptance.

With both methods, we will look at goal setting, how to judge success, and what exactly the decision making process looks like. With an eye on risk vs reward factors, you’ll soon be able to take control of your playing style, become more accountable to your team, and be more mindful of your play, and be more in control of your playing style.

With a strong focus on putting things into practice in real games, you can easily slot the homework assignments into your club practices.

This page describes a methodology which is largely about decision making for throwers, but you can apply the same concepts against other aspects of your game too. It is not about improving your throws, just about making better decisions with the throw you have. Of course, as your skills improve, so your decisions will need to change to reflect your skill base.

Goal Setting

What are you trying to achieve?

  • “Improve my decision making” is a really bad objective because it is so vague.
  • What scenarios do you make good and bad decisions?
  • What options would you like to make instead?

How will you measure it?

  • Increased self-awareness
  • Input from team mates

Judging Success

Try to avoid judging success in decision making based on whether your throw was completed or not. If you throw a perfectly weighted leading pass that is inexplicably dropped by a normally reliable receiver, that is not your fault and certainly not a bad decision. Likewise, if you throw a blade into a crowd that is blocked, hangs in the wind and is caught, this doesn’t make it a good decision either.

The Decision Making Process

Ask yourself: “can I reliably connect on this throw?” If the answer is no, then don’t even consider it. If you say yes, that doesn’t mean you should always throw it! These types of internal calculations are what decision making is all about. Consider each throw on a risk vs reward chart; an example below:

Of course, while we can sit and map out an exhaustive list of potential decisions, that’s not really how people make real-time decisions; we instead are creatures of habit. The act of writing down potential decisions is to highlight some actions we want to avoid, and some we want to encourage.

There is an exception, and that is when your objective is to improve your skills. In that situation, you would want to take on throws that you might not feel entirely comfortable with.

Method 1: Increasing Self-Awareness

The first step in making better decisions is becoming more aware of the types of decisions you make, what the outcomes are, and the context under which you make them. By keeping a track of where bad decisions happen, we can build awareness and build a framework for changing our habits.

  1. Increasing Self-Awareness: Week 1
  2. Increasing Self-Awareness: Week 2

Method 2: Becoming more adaptable and accountable

Part of decision making is learning how to tweak your decision making for specific circumstances. Would you take on the same options playing pick up as you might do playing a tournament final? Maybe… maybe not. With this second method, we will work on the ability to tweak your decision making skill. This can be extremely valuable if you find yourself playing badly and need to rebuild confidence by taking on some smaller, easier options, i.e. playing safer than usual. Likewise, when you are trying to improve on specific areas of your game, you can be more aggressive, taking on throws that you’re not 100% comfortable with yet. The aim of this next section of the programme is to be able to switch seamlessly between these different modes of operation, and for you to be able to play “safe”, “aggressive” or “normal” in any given point.

Why?

  • A player that never takes risks or pushes their limits will never improve
  • A player that constantly takes too many risks will be a liability and reinforce poor decisions making
  • We seek to find a balance; playing expansively in such a way that we can improve our skill level

Setting Expectations:

  • We are looking for tweaks on your current behaviour, not wild swings, or erratic behaviour. You won’t learn anything if you throw in an uncontrolled way as soon as you get the disc, neither will you learn by never taking on any throw other than a 2m backwards reset.
  • Bear in mind what your role on the team is when setting expectations. What is a realistic goal for a short term program of behavioural change?
  1. Becoming More Adaptable: Week 1
  2. Becoming More Adaptable: Week 2

Feel free to repeat this process as often as you like. You can repeat the same scenarios until you can control your decision making, then try changing scenarios. You can also try switching up between “safe” and “aggressive” on different points; this is more difficult as it can stop you getting into “the zone”, but will help you to improve your ability to analyse scenarios, select different options, and only take on the options that you want; all key actions in improving decision making.

You can read an interview with one of the top handlers for European Champion Clapham about decision making at an elite level here: The Anti-Cheat: Elite Level Decision Making

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