Johnny Bravo 2022: Culture, Adversity & Swagger by Brummie
I spoke with Bravo coach Mike Lun about the philosophies behind their 2022 campaign
“We have a young team, so we focus on creating a culture that failure is ok, and that players have the freedom to fail. We also ensure that we show what success looks like, demonstrating & showcasing the behaviors we want. We aren’t shy about talking about where things have gone wrong either; we really try to avoid false positives. Just because we got away with it doesn’t mean it works at a strategic level”
“However, rather than pointing out what went wrong and what should have been done, instead we find examples where the team did what we wanted to do, even if we ended up losing the point or game. We know that our strategies are sound, and we’re interested in shifting the percentages our way, so just because we (or our opponents) got away with a low percentage play doesn’t mean we want to repeat it, and the same philosophy applies if our high percentage plays fail occasionally”.
I comment on how impressed I was that Bravo seemed to keep playing without fear or any ruffled feathers, even when they were so close to going out in pre-quarters. “I think that’s something that people just gloss over with teams that win. All teams have internal struggles. All teams have moments of adversity. It’s about how you face those challenges as a group that defines your cohesiveness. During one of the elimination games at Nationals that we won, some players were getting so annoyed that one actually took off his cleats and said he was done playing. One of our veterans went over and spoke to him, and he was encouraged to get back into the game which we won.”
“We came through the adversity and it helped galvanise us. I wouldn’t trade those bruises along the way for anything.”
I wrote in detail on Bravo’s deep game and asked for Mike’s views (article here: Trust: Johnny Bravo’s Long Game)
“We were nearly 100% on hucks in the final. We try to isolate space for them and did a great job of throwing to isolated cutters in lots of space”.
“Resets were our top focus though. We spent so much time on resets that Cole Wallin (one of Bravo’s main handlers) actually said during training that we should be practicing hucks more.
We don’t want to just swing the disc around to static players. One of our offensive philosophies is that resets have momentum. It is so much harder to guard a reset if that person has never stopped moving.
For instance, in a typical give and go, someone throws and runs after it. They go from static to moving to static. Each time, the defender catches up, gets position, and exerts pressure. Instead, we think about how to bounce the disc around so we don’t stop moving. It is much harder to guard a moving target. We can usually beat our player upline just because we’re starting those cuts at pace, rather than from static.”
What about offensive formations? It looked like you used a variety of vertical, horizontal & side stacks. What were your main offensive plays?
“In terms of X’s & O’s, we try to keep it simple. Even if we come out from the pull in different looks (side stack, horizontal, vertical etc), we often aim to use a dominator or isolate a deep cutter. In fact, we often use these different offensive looks to disguise our offence. And while we never really focused on training a 1-6 vertical stack, we often ended up in that set because our defensive units spent so much time shutting down traditional handler sets that we just organically got used to sending the dumps into the stack to remove that poach option.”
“Overall, there was a shift of offensive focus from ‘don’t turn over’ to knowing we would make some mistakes and being prepared to play excellent defence if we did turn”.
For more on Bravo’s 1-6 vertical stack, read this deep dive: 1-6 Vertical Stack
“Our defense was all about narrowing windows, shifting the percentages to favor you over time. In particular, we had specific systems for guarding handlers which mostly focused on forcing back towards the other reset defender and switching on handler cuts to contain small ball offences”.
“The exact distances and angles that we mark & guard handlers are also important, with specific timed poaches. As a team, we know where that help is coming from and what the strategy is: when to body a reset, when to sag, and how far”
Read more on Bravo’s handler switching defence here: Johnny Bravo – Handler Switching
Fielding the pull
I noticed that Bravo invariably caught the pull. In most of the games caught on film, the pulls weren’t particularly deep and so were quite easy to catch, but even when there was some risk involved, Bravo felt that catching the pull enabled them to get the disc moving before the defence could get in position, putting them on the front foot.
“Catching the pull can give put you in a powerful position; our offence works better if we can get the disc moving” explained Mike.
There’s a trade off with catching pulls though: a drop could be disastrous. However, they obviously thought it was worth the risk, so much so in fact that they were willing to make some tough catches just to get the offence moving quickly
Sometimes the pulls were deep and often coming out of the sun, making them harder to field. Here’s one that Bravo didn’t catch, resulting in them being stuck with the disc in their own end zone:
Bravo adjusted to this by making sure that a second player was in position to field the pull if needed:
“We should always have a backup if the pull is dicey; Machine were pulling so the disc came out of the sun, crosswind, trying to keep the disc on the high side.”
What about pull plays? What did you do straight off the pull?
“Often it was just a case of having Ben Lohre throw to Cole Wallin and then right back to Ben, with them taking whatever they wanted in that space. It got their defense to move, offered more time for our downfield guys to run a set or to make what they were doing less obvious.”
“If things don’t flow immediately, let’s make sure that Ben still has the disc, the disc isn’t static, and on the high side (vs Machine or other teams trying to trap us)”
“Sometimes we’re guilty of thinking a plan for one team will work against another; we had some issues against Rhino and they were largely my fault. I’d setup our offence as if we were still playing Machine (from the previous round). Rhino were trapping on the high side and switching really well. We struggle against that in the first half. We shifted to attacking the break side in the second half, and fortunately our defence got a few breaks.”
I also want to highlight some individuals on Bravo, and how they added their own contribution to a team victory. I rarely do this, as it can sometimes feel like the other players are less important, but failing to highlight some of the most noteworthy players would feel unfair. For me, two people stood out: Alex Atkins & Quinn Finer.
Pride of New York coach Bryan Jones once said “Show me your superpower”, i.e. what is your one skill that elevates you above the rest? Atkins did a phenomenal job for Bravo in the handler space, but the one thing that immediately stood out to me was his high release backhand. He often had a flamboyant forehand fake first, then a quick step and popped the disc out over his marker’s shoulder. It’s a great example of how to use your release points to good effect, and with Atkins’ long frame, it proved virtually unstoppable in the final against Truck Stop.
Funnily enough, I rarely saw him throw this during the other games. When I asked Mike about this, he said “Atkins said the wind conditions were ideal for the high release backhand, and he just felt it was the right throw to use. Its not something he uses all that often, its just a good example of selecting the right throw for the occasion.”
Atkins can play defence too. In the first offensive point of the semi final, Bravo threw away on the first pass, and Atkins got a block in the end zone to save a break. Up 14-10 against Machine in quarters, Atkins threw away. Machine immediately looked to their talisman Joe White going deep. Who was it that skied White for the block? None other than Alex Atkins.
Atkins made a similar play in the final too, skying a Truck player to get the disc back for his team. He distributed the disc, hucked effectively, and came up with some big blocks at important times, playing with a flare that seemed to demonstrate everything Bravo were about: playing at the edge of their abilities and loving every minute of it.
“We had lots of personnel changes throughout the season. Alex Atkins was injured the entire season until Nationals, so we wanted to take care of him and make sure he got through each game healthy. We tried to use him based on his defender’s abilities; for instance, if guarded by a quick reset defender, we sent him downfield.”
“Atkins is a showman, who rubs people the wrong way sometimes. I’ve coached him since he was a freshman. He’s matured a lot in those years, and spending time playing with Lotus helped him loads. He spends 100% of his day thinking about ultimate.”
Quinn Finer is a human highlight reel, bringing down seemingly impossible catches against the odds. His speed, vertical, superb ability to read the disc and time his attack made him a nightmare for opposing defenders. To make things even more challenging for them, Finer has a flick huck to make anyone envious, and his ability to put the disc anywhere on the field with an incredibly quick release meant he was just as dangerous coming under as he was going away.
“Quinn was the main guy all tournament. During the final, we decided to use him as a decoy to lure Truck’s best defenders (and poaches) then hit other options. Despite that, he still scored 4 goals.”
It was somewhat fitting that the final pass of Bravo’s entire season was an Atkins high release backhand to Quinn Finer (which is almost a carbon copy of the clip above)
Read more about Bravo’s long game, including plenty more examples of Atkins & Finer in action: Trust: Johnny Bravo’s Long Game
Also in Coaches Corner:
- Coaching Fundamentals
- Coaching a Team: Get Organised
- Sports Psychology
- What makes the ultimate leader?
- Creating a team identity
- Goal setting in sport
- Fostering your team’s identity
- Attention and concentration
- Shared leadership
- Anxiety & stress management
- Building relationships with your players
- Motivating Players
- Positive Imagery & Visualisation
- Building Team cohesion
- Getting out of your head and into the game: Navigating the challenges of Ultimate with a flexible mind
- Preparing for pressure
- Technical Discussion
- Improving Decision Making in Ultimate
- Teaching Forehands to Beginners
- Learning a Good Forehand
- Controlling Backhands
- Learning to throw with your off-hand
- The Around Backhand – Why and How
- Fast Break Principles
- Train Like A Champion
- Fury 2018: A Veteran’s Perspective
- Fury 2018: A Rookie’s Perspective
- PoNY 2018: Show me your superpower
- PoNY 2018: Building a Championship Winning Team
- Ireland 2019: National Camps
- Ireland 2019: Solo Training
- Ireland 2019: Coming from a small community
- Ireland 2019: Making the mental Switch to Winning
- Ireland 2019: During the tournament
- CUSB 2019: Building a community
- CUSB 2019: Scouting was the difference
- CUSB 2019: Working with La Fotta
- CUSB 2019: An insider’s view
- Ellipsis 2021: Solo Training through a pandemic
- Ring 2021: Booing & Building a Team Culture
- Ring 2021: The Best Ability is Availability
- CUSB 2022: No Greater Victory
- Johnny Bravo 2022: Culture, Adversity & Swagger
- Johnny Bravo 2022: Defying Expectations
- Ranelagh 2022 – Building a team culture
- France 2023: SHOCK
- France 2023: Training Focus
- Nutritional Advice for Elite Ultimate
- Burn out
- Breathe Better
- Why Injuries Happen
- Treating injuries