Continuing the grand tradition of being invited to broadcast CUC we return for 2014! This time from Waterloo, Ontario and for a full week (weather permitting)!
You can watch our live stream as well as chat here: live.iamultimate.com.
Yes, there is a plan to live broadcast the second weekend of Ontario Regionals. You can catch it on: live.iamultimate.com
It’s about that time of year, a time when after a hiatus I feel like writing again. I’ll get a few articles out the door before something else will come along and require my time and attention. However, time is what has passed and it’s been an interesting year for Ultimate. I’ve had the privilege to sit on the edge of the field as yet another year of Ultimate has played itself out. So it’s time for a recap and also for predictions for the next year. I’m going to break this series into multiple posts. How many in total? I don’t know as of yet, let’s see where this path leads us. These posts shall involve quite a bit of rambling and little to no editing, I’ll try to make it a cohesive read but you may have to keep up and/or read the full post to see where I’ve been.
As always, the topic may not be adequately covered due to a lack of time so I’ll try to touch upon important points which may paint an incomplete picture. That incomplete picture is not a criticism but touches upon, as mentioned, what I believe is important.
Let’s start off with some Canadian Ultimate and Furious and GOAT in particular. The route that the teams took this year were significantly different and the results indicate that to some perspective. Furious is in a transition period with the old guard giving way to the new; close to half the team are rookies and do not yet have the fire that the team is known for. GOAT, on the other hand, took on relatively few new players and is by far a more mature team. The rosters of the teams are important now as we need to look forward several years.
Furious gave their rookies a few big tournament experiences as well as a big game experience (CUC finals vs Phoenix). They’ll be heading to WUCC where the players will, once again, need to be able to play strong and focused against some strong teams and quite a few weak teams. They’ll face different styles of Ultimate and will need to deliver in plenty of elimination situations. They’ll need to perform much better than they did at USA Ultimate Club Championships (UUCC) where they finished 14th. The tournaments and timing are important because the roster we see now is very likely the roster we’ll see in 2015 for World’s qualifications. There are maybe 3 or 4 big tournaments before CUC where the players can learn and perform under pressure before that time. It’s experience they desperately need. The team I saw this season was a chimera. The veteran players had the focus and character of the Furious I’ve known for the past few years. In Texas Andrew Lugsdin was on the sideline and trying to impart his values to the new players. What I saw was a group that lacks the confidence and the drive to overcome a deficit. After all, isn’t that what we’ve seen from Furious? The ability to overcome, the ability to score four or five in a row and win on Universe? But most importantly a desire not only to win but more importantly to not fail. I don’t see that just yet from the young players. Of course, they haven’t had the trial by fire as of yet. There was a bit of it at CUC but no real pressure that builds character. But is that what’s best? Is there a character of their own that the players will imbue into the team that reflects a different style of play? WUCC will be a big test but it’ll be just that, a test. The real prize is in 2016 and Furious isn’t alone in chasing that dream.
GOAT is the other big Canadian team (in case you’ve been in a hole or watching trick shot videos) that is currently a favourite to win CUC in 2015. It may seem to be a bit strange to be making my predictions for favourites this early but let’s face reality: population makes a difference and both Toronto and Vancouver have a substantial advantage. Unlike Furious, GOAT has not radically reshaped their roster because they simply don’t need to. The average age of the veteran players on the team is in the mid-20s with plenty of experience and a core that is capable of winning tournaments. While they had a tough time at UUCC their result of 7th/8th is nothing to scoff at. Now if only they’d gone to CUC then they could have used WUCC as a tune up; but it’s probably not needed. Mentally the team is tough and even when they play terribly they can pull out a win to save face. An example of that is their aforementioned finish at UUCC. I have not seen GOAT play worse than the Thursday in Texas and the players know it. Perhaps it was the difficulty of playing together as a full team or it was that some players are now past their prime. In any case it was eye opening and I can conclusively say that they lacked concentration. There are certainly a few players that will be cut but that won’t change the character of the team. Toronto has a large talent pool of experienced players that are in their mid-20s that are far better than most of the up and coming players. The team we’ll see in 2014 will be leaner and the team we’ll see in 2015 should be virtually unchanged in character.
It’s inevitable that we’ll see these teams clash in 2015 and they’ll be vulnerable in different ways. Furious shall be more vulnerable from a mental perspective but physically they will be dominant. GOAT’s offensive strategy is too easy to decipher and they’ll have to figure out a new way to play in the next few months; they were stifled at UUCC and their plays seem quite mechanical. That’s not the full story though and I’ll talk about why they had issues (in a broad sense) in an upcoming post.
What about the rest of Canada’s Open teams? There shall continue to be a great divide between the elite tier of Furious/GOAT and everybody else for the next round. The issue is one of Juniors development and growth. The Juniors coming out of Vancouver have been phenomenal in the last few years. The same can be said for Winnipeg, Québec, and to some degree Toronto. The problem that the smaller markets face is a migration of their best talent to larger markets like Vancouver and Toronto. At the same time many young players move out of province to play at schools in large cities they may eventually end up there. As Canada’s population continues to move away from the east and towards large cities like Vancouver and Toronto we’ll continue to see dominating performances from teams in those areas. That doesn’t mean all is lost but that’s a topic for a future post.
Happy New Year and all other pleasantries. Like a grumpy groundhog I am poking my head out to look around and I am not liking what I see. Well, that’s not entirely true. What I’m seeing is articles where Women Ultimate players (note: Women Ultimate player, not Women’s Ultimate players) write about their experiences and then, this is the part I don’t like, are derided by men. Seriously, this is how we’re starting 2014? Guys, you realize that this is now the topic of the year? I’m glad that the detractors have come out because now we can spend the whole year and the next, and the next, and let’s just say the next decade ensuring that we can keep Women’s Ultimate at top priority sharing the spot with Youth Girls development.
Do you know why we need that? It’s because of us guys thinking of ourselves as hot shit because of that one time we laid out and caught the disc or we toed the line. Time and time again I have to explain to people about the intricacies of the Women’s game. Time and time again I have to explain to them that the Women’s game requires far more skill than the Open game. I said it: Far More Skill. You can quote me on that and I’ll say that to anybody that wants to hear me say it to their face, especially all the bros that think superiority is something that can be measured. To them I ask: What exactly makes you superior? Ultimate is a mix of skill and athleticism. Like any game that involves a mix of those two if you change the mix in either you change the game. As Emily wrote in her article: “Women’s sports are an entity in their own right.” and we sure as heck don’t understand that.
The above paragraph has been my understanding not only of Women’s Ultimate but of Ultimate. My understanding may be flawed but where I believe I have clarity is that there is no superior form of Ultimate. I don’t know what to say other than the response to Emily’s articles highlights some serious problems that we have. Very serious problems that cannot be hidden nor should they. I’m not putting up with it anymore and I’m calling out everybody on their shit. Heck, if I ever seem like I am in any ways falling into complacency then call me out.
And another thing, don’t you dare try to create divisions or sides on this. I am absolutely furious about this. When I see phrases like “biological disadvantage” being used it leaves me utterly dumbfounded. What exactly are we measuring? You know what we’ve measured? The level of ignorance within the Ultimate community is far too high for my liking. So what can you do? Change it, in a positive way. My reaction here is excessively negative for my taste but it should spur a few into action. Engage in conversation, understand perspective, and then continue the conversation. Change will not come overnight but will come bit by bit one conversation at a time.
Schedule for streaming is as follows:
Wednesday August 14th starting at 1600 PDT for the Juniors finals, possibly earlier at 1400 with a semi final.
Saturday August 17th starting at 1600 PDT for the Masters finals.
Sunday August 18th starting at 0900 PDT for the remaining finals.
Perched above field 3 at York University I had a unique perspective on a number of games at U23 World Championships. In one day I alone I watched, filmed, live streamed, and commented on five games in a row. Plenty of long days also led to a number of thoughts that I’d like to share with you.
Firstly, Ultimate is healthy and we should expect great things from our youth. While not everybody was able to make it there were a substantial number of teams from around the world and the growth of Ultimate in South America is a good step forward. The continued strength of the Australian and European programs is also an important indicator that Ultimate continues to be strong.
I tend to be a technical player and also watch the game from a technical point of view. I saw great displays of patience, excellent disc movement, and great awareness of the nuances of the game. From our youth these are things that we should develop and great progress is being made in these areas.
At the same time the follies of youth were on display with drops and throw aways due to poor decisions but mostly due to poor execution. Over time the numbers shall get better as the players refine themselves and in there is a heavy matter. Will they improve themselves?
Self improvement not only in ability, capability, and attitude. It’s the last of these that’s the most important because of what I saw. At the U19 level I expect tempers to flair and disagreements to arise as players are still in the maturation process. By U23 players should have developed character and an ability to compose themselves. This isn’t a league event, it’s World Championships and it’s bigger than you. Heck, every game of Ultimate is bigger than you and the game itself is more important than you. At least that’s my attitude and I try to live by it. Yes I may flare up but my first move is to try to calm myself (ok, maybe the second move). I do, however, always ensure I clear up the matter with an apology (if needed) and get on with the game. This is not life and death and winning poorly simply isn’t worth it. In fact, the win that you have fades quickly and only the memories of the altercations remain.
Let’s talk about a particular few events that stick out in my mind. I’d like to preface this with: I am friends with many of those that I’m writing about. I’ve known many of them since they were juniors and have played on field with them. There is nothing but respect for them and in that vein these aren’t criticisms but examples of areas of improvement.
A tough thing that players will need to recognize more and more is that a tournament is no longer a small community. Media is now more and more likely to be observing everything and we do not forget. So when a GB player throws a tantrum and I am on the sideline along with SkyD we talk about it. We talk about it because it’s important because of the context of where we are. Not only do we talk about it but we ask folks about and then we also try to get a sense of character in more subtle ways. Yes, we’ll come right up to you and chat with you. Unfortunately, that instance of your meltdown becomes the one thing we’ll remember about you far into the future. It’s like TC Open in Japan last year; they had a spectacular game against the USA but it’s not remembered anywhere near as much as they’re mutually hard-hitting fight with Japan.
Regardless, maturity is an important asset to have. I am perhaps most impressed with the maturity of Sam Bowen (also of GB Open) who made great plays and was very even keeled throughout the tournament. Players like Sam are important standouts and stars to watch. Moving forward we’re going to see a handful of players from each of these teams again on the World stage. Many will play prominent roles within their own countries and in continental battles but at the National team level they shall fade away. It’s a tough realization for many players that they’ll soon be entering the general selection pool with all of their idols and heroes. It’s tough to know that it’ll be even tougher to win a medal once you graduate. It’s even tougher when you put so much on yourselves and finish 4th.
Germany Open had one of the more interesting stories over the week. They started the tournament very well and battled throughout to enter the quarterfinals with a game against Japan. In a game described by many as one-sided unspirited they defeated Japan. Unspirited is an interesting way at looking at the game. The NexGen commentary (if you listen to it) was pointed at times and perhaps a little bit biased (Big Bear was generally quite fair). Many bystanders were not impressed with Germany’s behaviour but oddly the Japanese gave them a great spirit score. As outside viewers we need to reconcile what’s happening on the field with our own opinions. I happen to think of myself as unbiassed towards teams but biased towards wanting good games to watch (who isn’t?). I shall also demonstrate my lack of bias/favouritism shortly. However, back to Germany.
Earlier in the tournament I had watched Germany play a fantastic game with the Brucklacher brothers playing in tandem (and almost every point) in a fantastic display of what high level players can achieve. They played with an intensity and focus that I have seen many times in high level players and they coupled that with superb execution. In the semi-finals with Canada that focus was lost while the intensity remained. The problem with intensity with focus is that it can be misdirected. The result was large margin win by Canada and an outburst of emotion by the German players. It’s very difficult to watch friends cry but it’s also difficult to not achieve your goals and dreams. What they regained in the next 15 minutes was focus and they needed it as they faced Australia in the bronze finals. I wish it was not raining as I could have filmed probably one of most intense games of the tournament and also one that needed a spirit timeout. In my opinion it needed a second spirit timeout. Australia has done a great job in developing spirited players and ones that are fair as well. When the calls from Germany and physical play started getting one sided the Australians took a spirit timeout so they could calm themselves down. It was a good call by the coaches and it changed their attitude and focus back onto the game. Germany was in a commanding position and they came out of the spirit timeout with no recognizable difference. They followed it up with their half time pushing drill and made no attempt to hide that they were planning on continuing their physical game.
To Australia’s credit the second half they changed tactics and worked on faster flow that avoid the physical pressure. The game went to Universe and when the final point was caught it was Australia with a medal. For the Germans it was another tough loss and one that leaves me with many questions. Playing German players in the past I have always enjoyed our games and found them to be fair. Those teams have been influence by the old guard and in many ways the outgoing players in their system. The new guard has a very different character; where did that come from? Is it prevalent in the region? Is it only an attitude in big games? I ask because Germany won the spirit prize in the Open division. I’ll have a follow up article to this as there are other issues afoot in general.
Finally I come to perhaps the most controversial game in the tournament: Japan vs Canada Women’s. Another Universe point game with long stoppages towards the end. I am impressed that the game got to where it did. Things I am not impressed with? It’s difficult to watch a team have a dance party at half time. Dancing to music is usually a method of relaxation and early warmup focus mechanics. To start the music and start the party with a big half time lead, Canada, is asking for trouble. Trouble is what Canada got as Japan brought the game right back. Things that don’t help? On field stamping of feet and wailing from Japan. Finally, strutting around on Sunday and cursing at Team Japan from the sidelines seems a little unspirited as well. Yes it was a tough game, and yes there were potentially many bad calls but you were not robbed of the finals; you had the disc and a chance to win.
Why am I being tough on Canada? As mentioned, lack of bias, and also because they’re not kids. They’re adults and representing our sport at a very high level. More importantly: we shouldn’t just expect great things from our youth, we should demand it. We should also show them the way and some of us have failed. No complaints about almost every coach at the tournament except perhaps a few.
The one coach that stands out the most as being somebody that makes things worse is Mr. Morri. Davide is an interesting character and one that I’ve had time to know better. Traveling to Italy he’s been somebody I’ve seen often and also somebody that, now moving to Toronto for the summer, I’ve seen around that city from time to time. He also has an interesting concept of spirit and coaching. No doubt he’s capable and when he’s focused he plays well but should he get angry then all bets are off. I have never seen anybody yell and scream at his own players and be as theatrical on the sideline in an Ultimate game as I saw during the Italia vs Colombia game. What I saw from the Colombians was extreme restraint and excellent ability to stay focused. Even more importantly was the ability of the players to work through the constant abuse until the end. Towards the end the theatrics involved more flailing and screaming while Davide’s character finally permeated the game. The end result in Italy’s favour will, I fear, enforce the behaviour we saw.
On the ground disappointment permeated most everywhere and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I too was disappointed. There’s one thing we need to realize though and especially the players need to as well: share disappointment is a good thing. Each team and player is not a standalone unit that achieved what they have alone. Every player has been coached, supported, and has been given opportunities to get to where they are. While we all hope and work towards a gold medal the failure to achieve it is not a personal one but rather a collective. Whatever the outcome there are two things to consider.
Firstly, we still care and don’t think less of you. In fact, the questions that I ask are what more can we do? What can we do with our youth programs so that we can continue to challenge the USA. The USA may have won three golds but it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t domination. If the finals had been blowouts then it would have been a domination but it wasn’t. It means that we have work to do and the gold is within reach next time.
Secondly: you are young, you are talented, you are the best that we can offer, you know what mistakes you made, you will get better, and you will have another chance. Don’t waste it.
Congratulations to the Toronto Rush for winning in their first year in the league with a win vs Madison 16-14. The Rush capped a perfect season 18-0 and a large point differential; and therein lies a problem. A problem that I discussed way back at the start of the season and one that remains one of the most critical issue to both Toronto and the AUDL.
Let me expand upon this by saying that I have been to almost every home game this season. I have sat through the cold, the rain, the heat, the sun in the eyes as it sets, and I have been the first to jump back into the stands after a lightning delay to cheer for my friends. The problem, my friends, is that you’re too good. Games are boring and lack drama. Any drama that does come is when an opposing team manages to make it past half and doesn’t wither under the pressure. I love that the Rush continues to play hard and doesn’t give up or doesn’t mind running up the score; that’s their job. The problem is that the league lacks the depth to challenge Toronto and that carries perils.
The AUDL already has their own share of issues. On a cloudy, cold, and rainy day Toronto has more fans, in less than ideal conditions, than their competition does at home on a great day. The lack of crowds leads to an unsustainable model and Toronto will face the real issue of a lack of any competitors.
A question that has bothered me from the start of the season is: If Toronto wins easily and without drama, what’s the point of going to the games? I stated early on that it was to support my friends and the sport. The problem is that supporting the sport is distinct in many ways. All of the players on the teams have a spot on GOAT or GT and the AUDL is supposed to be entertainment, much like other professional sports. Problem is that I’m not entertained. So I’m at a crossroads and it’s something that the AUDL needs to address. Fortunately they have the time and resources to address some of the issues I’ve brought up. The bigger question is: Can they?