On the weekend I had the opportunity to attend the first home game of the Toronto Rush at Varsity Stadium. With a large crowd of 2293 it was the largest crowd at a Professional Ultimate game and amongst the largest at an Ultimate game in recent memory. I have had the opportunity to reflect upon the event as well as speak to many in the community from novice players to veterans. Many of their thoughts are reflected below but they are ones that I share. I shall attempt to approach the event from three perspectives: an Ultimate player, a fan paying for entertainment, and an Ultimate player who’s a fan. Of the three categories I am in the latter but I do see the game from all three perspectives. There are both positives and negatives below and some are mundane but they’re worth mentioning because they play a big part in what’s happening next.
I arrived at the game about 20 minutes before 1900 (7pm) and found a few long lineups. The lines were not as long as I expected and The Rush had sent out plenty of information ahead of timing indicating that the lineups would be there. From all perspectives it was pleasant to see so many people and so many faces that I had not seen before. However, in line, I recognized almost everybody and that points to quite a bit of support from the local community bringing their friends and family to the event. I was fortunate that somebody pointed to a shorter lineup and that there were in fact 4 Will Call windows rather than just the two that most were lined up at. While the first day seemed to be quite busy it would be helpful to have somebody directing the crowds and in general giving me information so I can get to the stands sooner rather than later. The mood was generally excited and it was great to see the faces that I did recognize. Having stepped off of the touring pedal the last few years I don’t get to Toronto as much as I’d like to and it was good catching up with folks.
Once into the stands the game started fairly late, 30 minutes by my account (I sent a tweet to the Rush on that). Generally the crowd was boisterous but I saw more than a few people looking at their watches. Nonetheless, this isn’t an issue as opening day can result in delays. The sheer volume of people that entered after I did (and I was fairly close to game time) must have been massive as it went from ~500 folks to over 2000 in that short period. Not an issue aside from the crowd not kept up to date. Eventually Mark Lloyd appeared to give the go ahead and the opening ceremonies started with the team intros and national anthems. I certainly hope the singer that sang returns as she did a great job and the crowd appreciated it.
Speaking of Mark Lloyd, he had a beast of a game and demonstrated why he’s one of the best players in the world. I am very happy that not only did he hear me heckle (just once) but that he did acknowledge that he heard it to some degree. I had spoken to him a few weeks ago at the Rush Press Conference and he’d indicated that he wasn’t going to be at the game as Team Canada tryouts were happening this past weekend (congrats to Mark for making the team). As a player, fan, and a fan/player I was impressed that he was at the game. Watching him score the first point and bring the crowd to their feet I imagined that must have been one of the best moments in his life; Mark, I hope it was.
After the first few points it was obvious to many that it would be a lopsided game. In general the talent on The Rush draws from a pool where there isn’t competition from others and there’s also great talent in the region. Once Rush had a large lead the crowd started to drift and while there were some exciting plays it was disappointing. There is no doubt that Toronto is the best team in the AUDL (early prediction) and that there is likely to be little resistance in their march towards the championship. That makes for a boring season and that’s where my concern lies. I spoke with a number of young players in the row behind me and they all commented on the sloppy play. They questioned whether the hucks were being thrown simply to create excitement. As an Ultimate player I found the early game to be played well while the later stages were sloppy. As a fan I was confused by the lack of communication surrounding what the referees were calling. As a player/fan I understand and am being patient. I am being patient because I know that first outings are always tough. That the product being presented shall be refined. That everything I’ve said above and more was noted by the Rush management and they’ll be working on it.
There is no doubt that the product shall improve where the staff can make changes. The league shall also improve as the teams understands the atmosphere and fields they’ll be playing on (for instance, the Varsity field is very slippery, turf shoes?). However, will the other teams provide enough competition? Nothing but the best is expected from players each game and there will continue to be lopsided victories. That is perhaps the most pressing issue in my mind and the minds of many. The three perspectives I note above are the three audiences that Toronto needs in order to survive. The Ultimate player itches for excitement but a technically good game. The fan looks for excitement and heroics. I am looking for both.
The team also needs to survive because it’s good for Ultimate in Toronto. TUC was represented at the kick off conference and Jason (TUC GM) stated that anything that helps promote Ultimate helps them. The best way to grow the sport is through visibility and it must be through large events like we saw on Saturday with large crowds that draw more to the sport. By having regular high level games that kids can attend you encourage them to play throughout the week as they want to soar, layout, and huck. We should be confined to parks and fields on weekends where we are watched in passing but rather in the downtown core of one of the largest cities. The Rush is an important part of the fabric of the community even just one game in and their importance cannot and should not be underestimated.
So despite all of the flaws that I have noted and all of the ones that I missed I shall return to watch more games. Partially because I love the game and supporting it, partially because I have always looked to help fund (with what I can) players and friends, partially because I want to see my friends play, but mostly because if I don’t then I am admitting that Ultimate isn’t worth watching. If I’m not there in the seats watching, cheering, heckling, and applauding then how can I expect that of anybody else? Without us being filling the stands it’s just another game of Ultimate being played on a field with strangers glancing over in passing.
So despite the two hour drive (each way), rain or shine, I’ll do my best to be there. Except Gender Blender weekend; you folks pooched the schedule there.
Hello visitors! Ultimate Canada has announced that we’ll be streaming the 2013 Canadian High School Ultimate Championship finals on Sunday May 5th live. You can find the stream on live.iamultimate.com
In the Northern Hemisphere it’s tryout season! (I’m pretty sure you folks in the deep south are about to start your Fall and Winter training, why not come visit us up here and play a few tournaments?)
I’m often asked questions about tryouts and how one should prepare for a tryout or tryouts. It’s important to understand how tryouts are run and what you can do to improve your chances.
Firstly, most of the team has been decided upon before the first tryout. There are a small number of spots open for the team and those spots are what you’re fighting for. How few? If you really think about it then for an Open or Women’s team it may be four spots and for a Mixed team it’ll be two spots per gender. You’re also fighting for a spot on the team and not the starting lines on O or D. Should you make the team you’ll get to play in the less important games and you’ll still need to earn your spot on the starting lines. However, that’s another conversation and we’re here to talk about how to get on the team in the first place.
As I said in my previous post: “You are always being watched.” That means how you play, and more importantly practice, all year around reflects on you. If you are bad at making a particular throw then learn how to throw it when you’re warming up or when you’re out throwing with friends. You need to do that throw when you’re doing drills that are designed to teach that throw. The repetitive practice in a small time frame is very important. What you should not do is try to learn it during a practice scrimmage, game, or even a league game. Why? First, you’re not practicing the throw you’re learning it. During scrimmages, games, or league games you’re supposed to be practicing decision making and teamwork rather than throwing. If you cannot make a throw during a game and you do it anyways then what does it say about you? At what point can others trust that you’ll make good decisions? For goodness sakes, learn your throws before trying to practice them in a game of any kind. One caveat is when it’s pickup or a fun game. If you’re playing a low level game then you must try to take the edge off of everything you do. You should fool around but your responsibility, as a touring player and ambassador of the sport, is to provide opportunities for others. So in a fun game you will actually be the most consistent player and you should be passing to others so they can pass the most. But beware, the line between fun and competitive is crossed earlier and earlier as the numbers in our sport grow.
Thirdly, attend as many tryouts as you can. That means go to all of the tryouts that you can even if you’re not trying out for the team. In my part of the World we have several high level Women’s, Mixed, Open, and Masters teams. I always suggest going to all of the tryouts for the experience and also for the evaluation. By knowing where you stack up you can now work on defined targets. You also receive feedback indicating what you are doing well and what you’re not doing well. You also receive yearly measurement sticks of how you compare to the field and whether your hard work in the last year has paid off. Do not underestimate the experience of tryouts.
Fourthly, ask for help. Engage team leaders and coaches. Get better by throwing with them and cutting against them. Watch how the best players get open and emulate that. Recognize that your body type gives you advantages regardless of your body type. There are successful people at the highest levels of the sport with all sorts of body types. The only thing holding you back is your mental game. Your mental game is what tells you to keep training after the season ends rather than taking it easy. Your mental game is what tells you not to make a throw. Your mental game is what gets you up early on weekends to go out and throw for a full day. Watch the best players, they are always working hard year around. They have a game plan year around and in many cases they have game plans going out for four year cycles.
The reason you’re not on a particular team is because of your mental game and that you’re not in a competitive mode all year around. It can be an imposing expectation to always be in a competitive frame of mind year around but that’s the new standard. If you’re not preparing year around then somebody else is and they’ll take your spot on the team.
I know all of the above sounds rather cynical and many would say that’s not for them. I agree with that. I’m a transient player and my concentration is in other places these days. However, there are many of you that want to play high level and there are realities that you need to live with.
But, if you’re intending to tryout for a team this spring: you’ve been trying out since you started playing Ultimate. I find it difficult to understand the decisions that players make in league play or during the regular season (I sometimes find my decisions difficult to understand as well). If you play with me then perhaps you now understand why I tend to question my decisions. Or if you encounter a conversation between myself and Geoff or Rahil or Greg Lang (happy birthday) or Elliot or Bryan or Alex (congrats on putting the ring on the correct finger) or really anybody that plays high level Ultimate you’ll understand why we constantly discuss game situations. You’ll also understand why I’m so open for criticism and why after a bad game you must play five good games. Why? Our seasons are too short to tolerate bad decisions (in competitive markets) and therefor a tryout is not really a time where everybody has an equal chance.
Regardless of what you hear, tryouts are not equal opportunity for selection but rather equal opportunity to demonstrate skills to the selection committee. Rare is it that the selection committee does not know who you are, how you’ve played, how you’ve developed, or has not coached you. This is terribly important for you to understand and recognize but also implement. That means if you have a bad league game you must have a string of good games. If you constantly make a throw just because a player is there but you cannot execute that throw then you are adversely affecting your resume.
So what’s my advice? Stop making bad decisions. Really, just very simply, stop making bad decisions. Get better at throwing and for goodness sake: Learn how to dump or swing early in the stall count. You are not at a league game, you are not at just another skills clinic where it’s ok to throw things away, you are constantly in tryouts. Constantly.
I offer this small bit of advice not to stop you from playing league (you won’t get any better if you stop) or going to skill clinics or to tournaments. I offer it so you stop being frustrated when you get cut from teams. I have gone through the same process, been cut from teams, because I did not understand that you’re always being tested. We are no longer playing a sport where there are limited opportunities or players. There are hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of players competing against you for a limited number of spots and it’s only going to get tougher. The above is what competitive elite players already know and that’s why even in a tournament that isn’t worth anything they’ll go hard and try to play their best.
So before you get any ideas: dump or swing; your competitive season is riding on it.
WCBU 2011 was great fun and quite a bit of work. The Blockstack.TV crew filmed and we broadcast some games from some interesting conditions. It was exciting! Those games have been a long time coming but I now have permission to release the videos and you’ll find them on YouTube in a convenient playlist. We learned from our experiences and you’ll notice that our latest videos are much better quality (HD).
Special thanks to Patrick (BULA), Matt (BULA), Tom (BSTV), Steve (BSTV), a cameraman who has a name that I have forgotten, Patrick F-M (Dubai, it was awesome to meet you), and Rose (she directed it all from the laptop).
Part of the reason that I haven’t written in quite some time is that after WUGC 2012 I wanted to write a recap. There didn’t seem to be some clean way to wrap up what had happened and to properly describe what I felt. I bring up feelings because WUGC was tough to watch as a spectator. It was tough to watch TC lose in the semis and finals. It was tough especially watching the Open and Women’s teams as at some point in each game it became obvious that our heros suddenly looked very old and tired. Players that many of you have always known as the best and who have always been the best were worn out from being on the pedestal for too long. Left in their places was the brashness of youth that was now skeptical and no longer implicitly trusted their team.
Twenty twelve was an interesting year with many major changes. Things were busy and have gotten even busier but I suspect I should make the time to write about things that I may know a bit more about. I think I’ve also been spurred on by the series of articles by Lou Burruss over at SkyD. I’ve had conversations about exactly the things that he has mentioned over the past few years by all of the movers and shakers. I’m privileged in that I know many people and they’re candid with me and I’m not going to betray that trust. At the same time I’m going to voice my opinion more freely simply because of a number of changes in the past year.