Happy New Year (2016)

Alright folks, you’ve recovered from last night/last year and are ready to start things afresh. This is an exciting year and there’s a few things I’m looking forward to.

First is WUGC at St. Albans in England. This is an important benchmark event that allows the program in each country to measure their progress. The past four years have seen a major transition in the top tier within each country with the legends giving way to the, relatively speaking, youth. The new faces we saw four years ago are now the leaders driving and implementing strategy. I think we’ll see the same top contenders that we’ve always seen but the ranking outside of that is very uncertain which shall provide for plenty of excitement.

In Canada there’s a split in CUC with Open/Women’s happening in Edmonton and Mixed in Hamilton. It’s an off year so it’s a good time to see whether it works and what logistical issues there may be (I expect few to none). We’ll likely see 7 or 8 teams from Ontario, if not more, as the West decides that this year isn’t worth attending. We may also see fewer teams from Québec as they focus on sending a large contingent of Women’s teams out West.

Speaking of Women’s teams: the FQU Iris program has had a phenomenal year and it’ll be interesting to see whether they continue the trend. In 2017 teams shall look to qualify for WUCC and with CUC likely in the East they’ll want to get as much experience this year as possible. While sending more Mixed teams may seem attractive from a cost perspective it’s likely in the interest of FQU to send as many of their Women’s teams to Edmonton this year. An invitation to the US Open is also in the cards (if they haven’t already received it).

I’m looking forward to what the Capitals do this year. Last year was tough and many have been quite critical of the program. There’s a push to move them back to city based programs which I think is the opposite of what needs to happen. There’s complaints about lack of development which is something that a strong provincial body can assist with. Basically, Ontario needs to get it together and unify in their Ultimate development otherwise we’re going to see waning results going forward.

With 2016 starting off it’s worth thinking forward to where Ultimate is going to be in Canada in 2019, the next CUC that decides who forms Team Canada in each division. Actually, will that still be the way we do it? I’ve received plenty of feedback and comments that we should select All Star teams with tryouts. The advocates point to the US model of picking All Star teams (this model is use in other countries as well). I’m still leaning towards our current model as we have seen greater openness and the stars are quite well known. Picking an All Star team is not like picking a team that shall play over a single season or multiple seasons. You want to pick the best team that shall perform as well as possible at a single tournament. Those players need to be able to handle the mental and physical demands every moment that they’re both on and off the field. The US can do it because they have hundreds of star players; the rest of the World, not so much. So we’ll see how that selection conversation turns out but it’ll certainly start up this year based upon performance of Canadian teams at WUCC.

Back to 2019! Open shall remain focused out of Toronto and Vancouver. They’re major population centers where there’s a higher concentration of the type of smart team player that plays elite Ultimate is based out of. Before anybody snaps my head off, those players exist across Canada in major cities and villages, it’s the GTA and Vancouver that have the highest concentrations needed to make winning teams.

For Women’s we’ll see Vancouver, Ontario, and Québec all contend for the title. I’m saying Ontario rather than Toronto or Ottawa as I hope that players and coaches figure out how to put together a great Ontario based team. We’re going to see some great players out of the east and prairies as well but they’ll likely move to and play with a Vancouver or Toronto team.

Mixed is a strange conundrum given how Vancouver/TFP operates. There shall likely be some sort of TFP team, yet again. Their closest challenger is likely to be out of Québec as players cycle out of Open and Women’s to form a strong Mixed team. While Ontario has some strong programs we’re going to need some elite Open and Women’s players to shift to Mixed to put up a strong fight for gold. But I see a resurgence in Mixed from Québec in the next few years.

For Open Masters the focus is going to be between Vancouver and Toronto. The matriculation from Open to Masters at a fairly young age should be a sign to the rest of Canada that this division is now population center focused. There is a steady stream of players in each region that shall now graduate to the Masters division from Open.

The same could be said for Women’s Masters. The division is healthy now and shall continue to remain as such. The power center is currently in Québec but Vancouver and Toronto are close on their heels. In the next four years we should see a team outside of Vintage win CUC. In 2019, though, there’s going to be some very strong Iris players moving on up.

Finally, I foresee a Mixed Masters team and an Open Grandmasters needing to be selected in 2019. I don’t see either of them getting divisions at CUC within that time period.

In any case, I welcome feedback and dialogue. I was happy to hear from you on the Women’s article earlier as I gained quite a bit of insight. Hope you all have a safe 2016 that’s free from any major injury but enough bumps and bruises that you feel like you left it all on the field.

2015 USA Ultimate Club Championships Thoughts

I’m lucky to get three seasons of Ultimate each year; the first is a European tour that starts/ends with Paganello, the second is the Canadian series (read thoughts), and the third is the USA Ultimate series. This year was interesting due to the level of competition but more importantly the level of frustration. I’ve waited a week to see what would happen and I’m a little disheartened with a lack of momentum on some key issues. Let’s get started.

The number one topic was, and should be, the TMFs for swearing. Without rehashing too much you can get penalized, through significant field position changes, for swearing even when you’re injured. While there is still some discussion ongoing I’m more interested in action. Action is needed immediately in order to ensure that the passion that we have for our sport is not contained in nice little neat boxes. What I’m disheartened by is that players debate back and forth and put blame on the USA Ultimate staff. The staff is not to blame, we are to blame. We elect the board of directors and they set the direction. We can make real change by contacting them. When you do please take a few minutes to ensure that what you send them is legible and polite.

The second topic was the format of the tournament and how some teams appeared to be sandbagging. Conversations with players had mixed results with teams that didn’t meet expectations wanting a format change and those that did better mostly ambivalent or supportive. From the sidelines I miss the setup that we had in Sarasota where there was constant activity leading up to the Masters finals. There was a build up in energy to Saturday afternoon that was a true display of passion for our sport. We’re not going to be able to go back to those days and the feeling is that we should change the current format. The question is what format to go to that aligns with ESPN. There were also questions, from the players, as to the value of ESPN at the tournament. Regardless, this is probably the second issue that deserves attention in the next few months.

How did I not know about Rudy’s BBQ until this trip? I guess I’ve spent so much time at the fields and stayed away from the venue that I preferred eateries closer to the hotel. Unfortunate but good to know in case the tournament returns to Frisco. I hope the tournament does return there someday much like I hope it returns to Sarasota for a brief visit, even if it’s a tease. Returning to Frisco is more likely though.

Next year the tournaments in Rockford Illinois. Chicago Ultimate is running it with Gail Reich (we first met at Gender Blender) the TD. D3 championships were held there so the team already has experience. Gail was in Frisco shadowing and learning from the team. While USA Ultimate bring some staff there is a huge local volunteer presence required. The location of Rockford is interesting given the distance from Chicago (about an hour) and it should result in decent crowd sizes. No doubt we’ll also see plenty of supportive fans from surrounding states. Plenty of players were wondering about the weather as it could be great or it could be cold. Definitely a risk that USA Ultimate is taking with this one but they should be safe considering that it’s in September.

It was a great tournament and both USA Ultimate and the Dallas Ultimate Association deserve credit. The staff were always friendly and they have improved each year. The weather helped with only one “off” day with some rain. Generally speaking it was good weather and the wind, while it played a part, wasn’t the story like some years in Sarasota. I’m looking forward to a year in Frisco at some point in the future.

The general energy of the players seemed a bit more subdued than in past years. Not sure what it was but it wasn’t quite the same celebration of the season that we’ve seen in the past. I can’t quite put my finger on it but the players seemed more cynical and perhaps the TMF issue and the schedule issue had collectively caused players to be more subdued than usual.

Level of competition was good with relatively few flaws. Players are getting better and better. More coaches on the sidelines as well with some teams have three or four coaches/support tracking and assisting full time. Many were concerned about the program and experience that their players were gaining which means that they’re focused on not being one and done. Some teams were concerned that they finished too high, in Elite flight, and the travel costs would be prohibitive so they’d decline the placement.

Capitals made it to and played at Nationals with 18 players. Think about that for a few seconds. Input from players was they did well and need more depth. What cannot be argued is the incredible skill and ability that already exists on the team. They came in seeded 13th and left 13th after a tough tournament.

Traffic finished 5th over Scandal on Universe point in a very exciting game. The sideline had many spectators and when Traffic won they fell absolutely silent; it was an interesting experience. Traffic did have some issues against Riot in the quarter finals at the start but were on the path to recovery in the second half. Still things for them to polish before Worlds next year but they’re looking strong.

Iris had a great tournament and are a team to watch. FQU has made the right move by focusing their development on a provincial team. The team in the US series had 10 players from the CUC series which shows the availability of talent in Québec. Even so there were a few players that clearly got more touches and were much more talented than the remainder of the team. We’ll see how they develop over the next few years but the program is looking good.

Not a great tournament for GOAT but they finished well. Mentally they were also looking good at the end of the tournament despite key players on the sidelines. They were also missing a few of their stars and combined with injuries they managed to improve upon their 15th seed to finish 11th.

It’s a joy to see CLX play and tough to see them lose in the quarter finals; they play with an amazing intensity and consistency that I hope to see in the finals sometime soon. The Mixed division, as a whole, didn’t get as much attention as the other divisions. Also many grumbles from players about seedings being out of whack. It’ll be interesting to see who makes the Mixed National team considering the talent and egos present in the top tier.

Amazing defense by Brute Squad throughout the tournament but especially in the finals. They won 15-12 vs Riot; the team that came closest after that? Iris: 15-11.

Periscope is amazing! I was shooting from the sidelines on a few games and feedback was that it provides a good experience. I’m looking forward to seeing games from that view.

Heartbreaking to see Bravo lose the way that they did. The team was defeated for the rest of the tournament, you could feel the spirit wasn’t there any more.

15th place game in Open was ridiculous with players playing in street shoes and not taking the game seriously at all. I’m not sure what to make of it as they clearly didn’t take it seriously…but isn’t that the point of this? All of this?

Rematch?

In a previous post I wondered about the survival Capitals as a team that draws talent from a large geographic area. My wondering received quite a bit of private feedback both in support of the current system as well as in support of a breakup. Both sides were quite passionate but for different reasons and it’s important to understand the landscape as you consider forming your own opinions.

The history of the Capitals is one of success, at times mixed, but an overwhelming success. Even after changes in leadership and a major changes to the roster the team has had great success. Managing a team across a large geographic region is difficult enough, to become, and stay, a globally recognized elite team is extraordinary. So, why even form such a team? Vancouver.

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CUC 2015 Thoughts

Well then! The quadrennial event of teams competing to form the selection committee that represents Canada at WUGC has passed and a number of important outcomes should be discussed. I have a few thoughts from my armchair that I’d like to share with you.

First, it’s the last time that we’ll have a large combined CUC barring one of the big cities stepping up and hosting both gender specific CUCs and Mixed CUCs together. From the sounds of things it went very well and congratulations to all of those that made it or participated in the series. Even if you don’t make it you’re an important part of the community that develops and moves our sport forward.

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CUC 2016

Ultimate Canada has announced the two locations for CUC 2016. Juniors, Women’s, Open, Women’s Masters, and Open Masters shall be played in Edmonton. Mixed shall be played in Hamilton. CUC was last held in Edmonton in 2001 while Hamilton has never hosted before.

Along with this announcement there have been concerns about splitting the Ultimate community. These concerns were acknowledged in April when the split was announced but it’s worth mentioning a few things. The number of competitive teams is growing in number and as such creates opportunity for a larger championship and/or larger championship series. The number of communities and venues that can host a larger series is limited in number. Tournament hosting fatigue is a real thing and it takes communities half a decade or more to recover sufficiently to host another CUC. Consider that in the next few years we’ll see 100 teams across all divisions at CUC it’s is very difficult to find space and cities to host.

By having all divisions compete at the same venue or community would limit CUC to a handful of locations. Ultimate Canada has taken a step towards resolving the issue. Venue and field pressure is already a problem so the change is perhaps a little bit late in coming. What’s important is to recognize the opportunity that it creates.

Survey: Injury Management in Club Ultimate

Head on over to the survey.

Rebecca Chang is a first year medical student at McMaster University and in her fourth year of playing Ultimate. As a part of her studies she’s doing advocacy project on injury management in Ultimate. Having toured with Lily, McMaster, and Lotus she’s well aware of the wear and strain that a season puts on our bodies. Many of us play with injuries caused either by overplaying, overtraining, or lack of preparation. What we need to understand is how to prevent injuries in the first place so that we can play our sport for a longer period.

Where we, the players, can help is by providing her with plenty of data for her survey of 10 questions. It’ll take a minute or two of your time and you’ll also have a chance to win something from VC as they’re sponsoring the survey.

Head on over to the survey.