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 their 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.