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.

For the first five years of Women’s Ultimate at CUC the championship was won by a team from the east, the first four by See Jane Run (Toronto) and then Horizont’elle (Ottawa). All that changed in 1994 when Guests of Oprah (Vancouver) won four years in a row taking a break in 1998 (no Worlds in 1999) before Prime (Vancouver) took over in 1999. In 2000 and 2004 the Women’s team from Vancouver formed most of the Canadian team that went to WUGC. Despite the strengths of Stella (Ottawa) and Lotus (Toronto), they each won a gold and silver at CUC in 2005 and 2006, neither team could stand up to Vancouver. So in 2007 the top talent from each of the teams formed to create Capitals and stand up to Vancouver. They lost in the finals to Traffic (Vancouver).

The formation of a strong provincial team is not uncommon. For such a team to exist beyond a single year is rare, especially after a loss, yet that’s what the Capitals did. Despite them not reaching their goals in 2007 they stuck together and kept getting better. They played in the USA Ultimate Club series and finished 2nd in 2010 and 3rd in 2011. They got better with each tournament and by 2011 their record against Traffic was a 3:1 ratio in Ontario’s favor. By the time the teams met in again at the CUC 2011 finals, in Ottawa, the Capitals were the favorites and wrested the right to pick Team Canada away from the west for the first time in 15 years.

This year at CUC 2015, in Winnipeg, there was an expectation that the Capitals and Traffic would meet again in the finals. That didn’t happen. Iris (Québec) stunned them with a victory in pool play and as a result Traffic and Capitals met in a semi final from which Traffic emerged the victor. It was an incredible turn of events and wholly unexpected by many, including me.

Looking back my initial question is not a fair one. It’s not fair to use the results from one tournament to judge a team and program. It’s not fair to use a stumble and say that one cannot walk. It is fair to question why such a system exists and the necessity for it.

The result is simple: success. Since forming the Capitals have become one of Canada’s most successful teams and moved Ultimate farther forward than would have been possible without them. By providing players a higher level to compete at the development of the sport in Ontario has grown by leaps and bounds. That the season extends to the USA Ultimate Club Championships and that the players are consistently there means additional knowledge and capability that is then available to the next generation of players.

The reason why is a bit more complex: population. Looking at whom the Capitals compete against also gives an indication of why pulling talent from a larger region is important. Aside from the North West Region almost all elite Ultimate teams come from regions with populations greater than 7 million people. Larger populations mean more available talent and no greater city region in Canada has such a base to pull from. In order to compete, and stay competitive, teams must pull from as large a population base as is possible. Small market teams are falling behind quickly or have already sent players to the larger population centers. A Capitals breakup is a move back to a smaller market and we’re unlikely to see positive results.

The model that the Capitals have has also been replicated successfully in Québec. Whereas the Ontario teams did it without the help of the PSO in Québec the FQU has a province wide initiative to create stronger teams. Iris is an indication that what the Capitals did and are doing results in success. That Iris shall stick around also points to a much stronger presence out of the east that can compete with both Ontario and BC.

So it’s not so much a question of whether the Capitals should continue their program but one of how can we formalize it and support it to a greater degree. If pulling players from a larger region is important how large a region can we pull from? For International tournaments we pull from the full country so why not a combination Ontario+Québec team for CUC? Or is a provincial team the largest for the near future?

The reality is that while some may speak of a breakup of Capitals we need to support it as best we can. It was innovative and it’s now the model for how Canada needs to operate if we are to produce the best teams and be the best in the world. Our teams need to play in the USA Ultimate Club series, we need to send strong teams to WUCC, and we need to find a way to travel globally. All of these are expensive prospects and the teams cannot do it without the support of strong Regional organizations.

While provincial support in Ontario is a distant possibility there is a reality that is much closer to today. We’re about to see the two programs from Ontario and Québec face off at North East Regionals this weekend in pool play. Regardless of the outcome, regardless of whether Capitals have a good tournament or a bad tournament, regardless of how the players may feel afterwards, regardless of the feelings of players in Toronto and Ottawa that are not on the team, the Capitals program is the model for the future and the team that all players in Ontario should aspire to play on.

7 thoughts on “Rematch?

  1. This is a completely narrow-minded view of the Canadian system. How is the Canadian system going to evolve and become more competitive if its players are picking and choosing which CUC to attend? Or prioritizing the USAU Series over the Canadian? The problem with the Capitals program is that it is strengthening a limited number of players. Many of these players never return to their home cities to play on their home teams because they (as individuals) are trying to play higher and higher and higher. While I completely support players wanting to play at their best, the reality is that Capitals is not it, and players move on to compete with teams like Traffic, QUB/Iris, Union, and even American teams (e.g. Scandal). The thought process that Capitals as a whole is strengthening Canadian ultimate is a fallacy. Traffic comes from a population smaller than Toronto and they can consistently perform as a city team – why can’t we?

    • A program is never perfect especially when it starts out early. By formalizing the structure and accepting that the city teams feed into a top level provincial team the path for greater interaction is created.

      It’s also ok for players, individually, to aim to play at a higher and higher level. That’s the point of such systems and what every competitive player aims to do.

      What we need to avoid is the thinking that if it isn’t perfect then let’s abandon it. We need to work on creating paths and connections between various systems.

      As for why does Traffic do well? Juniors program, immigration, historical successes, and close rivalries locally and cross border. The entire region has invested heavily in that for decades.

  2. For International tournaments we pull from the full country so why not a combination Ontario+Québec team for CUC?

    Because the CUC rules didn’t allow it. You can only have a few players outside your region.

  3. I largely agree with your post. Pushing it a bit farther, we need to think as a country whether this model of the winning team forming the next team canada for worlds is really working. Yes we require 5 out of region players but is that enough? Are we really putting the strongest team forward at worlds? The U.S. I believe has moved away from this model where now they are building true national teams. Looking at the women’s division (cause that’s what I know best), the U.S. And canada are struggling to come up on top of the japanese in recent world events. After WUGC 2012- it was clear that the national Japanese program had succeeded and was maybe a better way to go. Maybe this is not a proposition that anyone wants to hear but if we really want to win on the international stage, we should consider it. Now I know people will say that you need a core of players who know each other well and have worked in a program together for some time before they can succeed. I completely agree. I think teams need to form more than one year ahead. When caps won nats in 2011, the core had been together largely since 2009 and certainly since 2010 when we went to Prague together and came second at USAUs. This year, I think Iris had that strength having gone to Italy. And traffic always being together is an advantage. But I think what we are seeing is that we need to build a stronger team canada, with more talent across the country with that team playing together longer in advance of the big show. My 2 cents.

  4. I know the womens system extremely well. This post seems like a fairytale idea. Capitals is an amazing team and was successful but that doesn’t mean that it will stay that way. When players start to play on a large region based team, there are way less practices, less chemistry, and less team bonding. The players are unable to develop as a team and as players. When Caps originally formed the players were coming out of systems where they had a chance to strengthen and develop in the system for years before joining an “all star” provincial team. Now younger players are joining and missing out on the critical learning and developing years that local teams give. As the original caps players leave, it becomes harder and harder for the team to survive. This is why I believe Iris is so successful now. They have worked to develop over many years and now can support an “all star” team. As for Traffic, they do have a strong youth program but I actually believe people most of the players didnt play in it. They also have a couple out of region players. The team is older, experienced, and has finally come into their own over the past 2 years. They were definitely a strong force at CUCs. I think cities like Toronto and Ottawa can definitely make equally strong teams. I think that would be better for player development, better for the ultimate in each city, and better for canadian ultimate competition. The regions also have way stronger junior systems than they did in the past. Maybe then after a while when another worlds year creeps in, they can considered joining forces again. But for now, I think its important to focus on making each community stronger.

  5. There are 7 cities in North America with larger metro area populations than Toronto’s 5.6 million.* The highest ranked women’s club team from these 7 cities is BENT at #14. Many of the cities with top womens club teams are substantially smaller than Toronto (e.g., Denver, Seattle, Vancouver, Raleigh/Durham, Madison, Portland).

    * https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_North_American_metropolitan_areas_by_population. These are clusters based on commuting patterns. If one uses larger statistical areas, then Washington area rises to 9.3 million, San Francisco/San Jose areas combined are 8.4 million and greater Boston area is 8.1 million. It is not clear how large Toronto’s population would be under similar analysis.

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