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What Is A Role Player?

by Charlie Reznikoff

We've all seen certain players take over games, throwing hucks, getting lay out Ds, or getting open against good defenders. These players are revered. What is a role player? Everyone else. 

I avoid using the term "role player" because it implies a value judgment on those players who don't get the glory. The player who throws hucks isn't a role player. The player who uses his mark to stop the hucks is a role player. You might not notice the second guy but he's why his team wins games (instead you think the thrower "just had a bad game"). 

The year Sub Zero went to semifinals their offense featured a slow player with bad throws whose job it was to set the stack and burn poaches. He played every O point and most points he didn't touch the disc. Because of him the primary cutter had a cutting lane. Sub Zero acknowledged this guy's contribution in the huddle, even though to other teams he was a joke. Had he not gotten credit for his role, he might have gotten greedy for the cutting lane. On every team, a few players will garner the attention and draw the cameras. The rest of us need to find ways to contribute quietly. How a team treats the players who don't get the glory affects the team's performance.

Players should not be fitted to roles for strategic purposes. The role should be fitted to the player. Strategy in Ultimate and especially in college Ultimate is reactionary. In the 1990s almost all college teams played a vertical stack with two handlers. In the 2000s the Hodags brought the split-stack with three handlers and dominated. Today split-stack or some variant is widely used. People saw what worked and copied it. The thing is, split stack worked for the Hodags because it played to their strengths and because they understood it. As a strategy it is not in itself better than the vertical. As defenses adjust to the split and horizontal stacks, the vertical will come back. Every year 90% of college teams run approximately the same zone. A few teams did not get the memo, and they dream up their own zone. If these novel zones use the strengths of their players, they can surprise other teams. In Ultimate, roles are not platonic forms; they can be molded to the situation and to the player. A successful team uses whatever strategy best fits its players. 

One of my first captains saw me working tirelessly to fix my weaknesses. "Don't do that," he said. "Spend 70% of your energy improving your strengths." He was right. I'll never win a game jumping. But I might win a game marking. Every player needs to excel in something, even if it's something subtle. When the player deploys that skill, his confidence grows, he'll relax, he'll play within himself, and the team will benefit. What he does won't get him on Clip of the Day. But he has developed a strength that he can count on in big moments. To develop a player, make him focus on his strengths. Then create a role for those strengths. As a team, celebrate his strengths. When he gets called a "role player," he'll just laugh. He knows what he's contributing.

huddle Issue 15 Roles Players

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Roles Can Be Difficult To Observe
by Jeff Eastham-Anderson

Build From Versatile, Athletic Players
by Lindsey Hack

Needs Of The Team And The Individual
by Greg Husak

Use All Of Your Players
by Peri Kurshan

Roles From Necessity
by Kirk Savage

What Is A Role Player?
by Charlie Reznikoff

Using The Best Part Of Each Player
by Miranda Roth

Is There Any Hope For The Specialist?
by Seth Wiggins




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