Putting together a freestyle routine is rarely the same as jamming. There are few players who can translate the excitement and unexpected thrills of jams into competitive formats. What that means is you’ll need to put in some time to create your routine.
Every time you create a routine is different. Every routine is a different journey. You’ll have more fun by not focusing on the 5 minutes you will have to perform the routine at a competition but on enjoying the hours of creativity and comraderie that will get you to that competition.
If you decide to enter a competition and want to put together a routine, it’s useful to think about a few questions:
What are your goals? Your goal may be to have fun. It may be to pull off a certain move in competition or to demonstrate a style of play you love. It may be to place at a certain level, to make the finals, to win. Your goals, and the goals of your teammates will shape the way you create your routine. Without articulating your goals for yourself, you may encounter more frustration than you need to when building your routine.
For instance, if you are playing a theatrical routine at a beach shred competition, you should know whether your goal is to place well or play your style. If your goal is to place well, you should be aware that your style may be a handicap to your goal. If your goal is to demonstrate your style of play, your final placing won’t be a big factor for you.
Take a moment to identify your goals. You may have a few. What’s most important? What’s less important?
What style do you want to play? The sport is freestyle. The moves are the same, but each player combines them in their own individual way, creating an infinite variety of play. Knowing your style of play and your style of competing can make your routine planning more successful and enjoyable.
Are you interested in more spontaneous play in competition? I am not an expert on spontaneous routines, but if you play this style you probably won’t want to bother mapping out elaborate co-ops to distinct music cues. Your time is better spent jamming with your team, learning each others’ games and getting hot.
Are you interested in a highly choreographed routine? If so, you’re probably going to have to limit your jamtime with your team because you’ll need to spend more time working out co-ops and practicing the routine.
How much time can you commit to putting the routine together? Whatever style of routine you choose, it’s important to work out with your teammate. If your routine is choreographed, you’ll want enough time to put the routine together and practice it. If your routine is unplanned, you should play with your teammate as much as possible. The more you know each other’s games, the better your interactions and improvised co-ops will be.
I’ve had the luxury of living in the same city as my teammate and the further luxury that the city had awesome weather. Dave Lewis and I could play year-round. We did not work on routines year-round, but we worked on our games and improved our team play in jams. Our situation is extremely rare. It’s more likely that you will have only a few practice sessions with your team.
Whatever your situation, budgeting your time is important. If you get together at a tournament and have an hour to prepare for the first round, use that hour wisely. It’s probably more important to work out some co-ops than pick out uniforms. It’s probably more important to pick music that every team member can jam to than to work out intricate choreography. Do what you can for the first round. If you make the cut, you have more time to flesh out your routine and pick those perfect matching outfits.
Even if you practice year-round, it’s essential to use your time effectively. There have been many years that Dave and I spent more time worrying about our song choice than putting good co-ops together. If you have 10 weekends a year to prepare for a tournament, and the weather is so good on 9 of them that you just jam, that leaves you 1 weekend to prepare. You’ve just lost all the advantage of living near each other.
YOUR TEAM AND THEIR GOALS
Who are you playing with, and what are their goals? If your teammate has different goals, it can lead to tension. If you want a shred routine and the rest of your team wants something more theatrical, you may have a problem.
Because freestyle allows so many styles, you can probably work things out in a way that each member of the team gets what they want. For instance, the theatrically-minded player could get a choreographed section and the shred player could get unstructured time for individual combos and improvised co-ops.
Find out about one another’s goals early. If the conflict isn’t resolved, it may be a bumpy ride.
ENOUGH WITH THE PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTIONS
Once you answer those philosophical questions, it’s time to put together your routine. The following suggestions use the assumption that you are interested in putting together a routine that places you as high as possible, a routine that is a great showcase for your freestyle wizardry, a routine that has the greatest chance to wow the audience.
What song will you use? In most competitions, you can choose your own routine music. Sometimes in early rounds, music will be randomly selected, but at the world championships you are allowed to play to whatever you want in all rounds.
Choose a song that everyone on your team likes. It may not be either player’s first choice, but it’s important that the song inspires you to play your best.
Choose a song that reflects your style of play. If your routine has lots of choreography, think about whether the music has enough changes or breaks to highlight what you do. It’s more effective to catch choreographed co-ops on music breaks than at random points in a song. If your style is flowing, an aggressive song might not convey your game. Same if you are an aggressive, on-the-edge player. A Celine Dion ballad may water down the presentation of what you’re doing.
Don’t feel censored, but take the judges and audience into consideration when choosing your tunes. Choose a song that the judges and audience can handle. It’s great to find a song that both people on your team like. If you want to make your team more competitive, also consider about what the judges and audience will think.
Judges aren’t allowed to judge your music, just how your choreography meshes with your music, but music choice can factor in at the judging table. If the judging panel cannot get into your music, it may prevent them from getting into your routine. That may affect your General Impression score. If they cannot get past your music, they may not see all the great moves you are doing to the music. That can affect several scores, including Music Choreography.
If the audience isn’t moved by your music, they may not be as excited by your performance. You can never predict what a judging panel or audience will like, but if your tastes run to extremes, take a moment to think about whether the music you love is a good complement to your routine.
Even a dropless routine is filled with errors. They may not be the kind of errors an execution judge will notice, but the routine will stray from its plan. The wind will play with the disc. A set will be off. Someone will forget the next co-op. One teammate’s confidence won’t be there for an important move. What do you do when things go wrong?
In a word: communicate. Talk. Bark orders. Claim responsibility. Give each other the evil eye. Every team communicates differently, but success depends on having a language to communicate what comes next. Teams who have been together for a while may not even say a word. They can communicate with motions or facial expressions. At some point in a routine, teams have to talk. The best time to figure out how to talk to each other is in practice.
Shred. Choreographed. Aggressive. Fluff. Theatrical. Technical. We label teams and routines all the time based on what we perceive they are doing. Forget those labels. Whatever you plan for a routine should be makeable. If you plan moves that are beyond your comfort level, you risk distracting yourself. You may be so worried about that big move in the next co-op that you drop the previous co-op. Always push your limits and show the biggest disc skills you can, but be honest with yourself about what you can pull off when it counts. If you are building in a big theatrical section, make sure you can keep your concentration and get back to doing the moves. If you are creating a diff routine, be sure you can pull everything off.
Co-ops are sequences that involve more than one player. They can be planned or unplanned, sketched out or planned to the second. You’ll want some co-ops in your routine.
What makes a good co-op? Risk. Visual style. Pacing. Inventiveness. Flair. Most importantly for you, a good co-op is one that fits your game and you can learn well enough to pull off almost every time.
How do you put a co-op together? Start with your money moves. Money moves are tricks you are known for. They are the moves that are hard for others but easy for you. They are the moves that get you a big response from the crowd or the judges. They are your favorite moves. Make sure your money moves are in your routine. If possible, try to combine your money moves with your teammates’ money moves for big, massive co-ops. Take advantage of what you’re good at.
Once you’ve figured out some of the money moves you want to perform, think about how to link them up. How can you go from your money move to set your partner up for his big move? Think of consistent yet interesting ways to pass to your teammate. Think of consistent yet exciting ways to receive passes. Figure out how many interesting passes you can do before the spin runs out. Now think of a way to end the co-op with a big catch. Remember, it’s generally more exciting for one teammate to set up the other teammate’s catch rather than one guy to set to his own catch.
Do that, then repeat 10-15 times. You will need between 10-15 co-ops for a competitive routine.
CREATING THE ROUTINE
Once you’ve got 10-15 co-ops, you’ve got the raw materials for a routine. It’s time to put them into order. If you’re doing a choreographed routine, you should have an opening sequence of around 3 co-ops, an ending sequence of around 3 co-ops, and some sequences in the middle. For some teams, the order of co-ops is the order the team thought them up. You can get good flow from co-op to co-op that way, but if you are open to rearranging them you may find some more interesting co-op sequences.
Think about these things:
Throws and catches: The player who catches a co-op will probably throw the next throw (this may not be true in a multiple-disc routine), so if Player A catches a co-op, the next co-op needs to have Player A throwing. Sometimes you’ll have to tweak co-ops to make the throws and catches mesh. It’s nice if each player catches about the same number of times. If each person is carrying an equal catching load, the pressure is not on any one player and you can work better as a team.
Music: Some co-ops will work better with certain sections of the music. You may have created some of the co-ops to the music already. If not, try to visualize which co-ops will work well with which parts of your routine music.
Balance: Routines can get unbalanced if you do too many co-ops of the same style. Are you always working close together (or far apart)? Is everything flat (or angle/windgame/turnover)? Is everything high spin? Is everything one spin? Your routine’s impact is reduced without variety. Things will blend together into a brain-deadening mush. Mix it up a little and your most important sequences will stand out.
Flow: It’s not enough to have killer co-ops or a cool theme. Your routine needs flow. Even if each player flows well in their individual combos, even if the co-ops themselves are crisp, even then the routine can be rough if the transitions between co-ops are sloppy. For good transitions, try to minimize re-positioning or awkward pauses between co-ops. The catcher should end up in a place where he can throw the disc. His teammate should have already re-positioned to the ideal catch-receiving spot. Some believe that the catcher should not even re-grip the disc. If he catches it with a wrist flip grip, he should throw with that grip. That’s a very high standard of transitioning, so don’t get too hung up on it before you dot all your other i’s and cross all your other t’s.
No matter what your routine, you have a theme. It might be Swan Lake or Spare Change. It might be “we’re going to go out there and shred like no one’s ever shred before.” It might be “we’re a new team and we’re not really serious about this.” It might be “this routine is falling apart and we don’t know how to save it.” You send a message with every performance. The key is to send the message you intend. If you want a theatrical routine, it’s going to take some extra thought to make it a special routine. If you want a choreographed diff routine, you better practice hard so you can pull everything off in sequence. If you want an improvised shred routine, it’s going to take some extra hot play to stand out against the commercial appeal of the theatrical routine and the precision of a choreographed diff routine. Whatever you do, do it well.
Freestyle is a geographically diverse sport. It’s not always possible to work year-round on routines. Teams sometimes have only one or two sessions to create something special. Whatever time you have left over should be spent practicing. You can practice the co-ops to figure out how to pull them off. You can practice the sequence of co-ops to memorize the routine. You can practice the whole routine to build your physical and mental endurance. You can practice jamming with your team to learn their game, improve communication and build a team bond. To succeed in competition will require practice. The good news is that you can find a kind of practice that fits your style and goals as long as you bring intensity and commitment to each session.