Thursday, June 03, 2010

USUA Nationals


Coaching a college team has come and gone for me (for now). What a blur. On one hand, I'm thinking a ton about what I would have done differently, what I could do better, suggestions for the team next year, etc. On the other hand, I'm enthusiastic about just being a player again.


I can't help but think that this was a down year for college ultimate, talent-wise. I never saw a team dominate a la mid-2000s Hodags or Tim Gehret's Florida. It seemed like in a group of 6-7 elite teams, and the team that had the best few days any given weekend could win that tournament. The weekend of Nationals it was definitely Florida. Top to bottom, it seemed like they rallied around Brodie extremely well. Also, props to Chris Gibson for being the workhorse of that team, guy was always guarding the other team's best player.

My coaching performance:

Overall, I was pretty happy with it. I had a couple of players tell me that I seemed to grow into the role more at this tournament than at any other. I feel like in a couple of our wins I suggested some strategic adjustments that contributed to our success in those games.

One interesting idea that I came away from the games with was the unique way in which the overall amount of time on the field associated with ultimate affects coaching performance. As a player, the way that muscle fatigue over the length of a day, then the length of the weekend affects your ability to sprint, cut, and throw is pretty obvious.

What became clearer to me this weekend is the toll that playing 2 games a day for 3 days takes on your mind and on your voice. As a more vocal coach, I was unable to speak above a squeak on Sunday. More importantly, following an emotional and high-adrenaline win over Oregon on Saturday, I had trouble staying zeroed in on what was going on against Cornell later that day. As players, we tend to eat well, drink, stay in the shade, etc. to keep our bodies prepared for more exertion. I'm curious whether there are good ways to fight mental fatigue over the course of the tournament (this is of course relevant to both coaches and players.

The tournament itself:

The layout, schedule, format, facilities, and amenities were top-notch this year. I was impressed with how observers handled games, Player packs were actually full of stuff people wanted, which I'm sad I can't say is true of my only opportunity to attending natties as a player last year. I thought this year's nationals represented an awesome step forward for the sport and that Madison, which is full of ultimate enthusiasts who were fantastic as volunteers all weekend, was a great venue. I think future championship sites based in ultimate 'hubs' (ATL, Pacific Northwest, Minneapolis, Boston) would be wise choices.

Coaching certification:

Travis and I attended the required clinic for coaches who wanted sideline access during semi-finals (a credential we wouldn't end up needing, sadly). Overall, I thought that the most useful aspect of the meeting was an opportunity to get to know the other coaches that were at nationals and to learn a bit from the ones with more experience. We were generally in agreement on most subjects and I think having met some of the other coaches sets a good precedent for cordial interactions when teams meet in tournaments.

The material we covered wasn't all that interesting, mostly common sense stuff. I understand the necessity from a liability perspective, but I wasn't floored by the amount of depth that the USUA (still weird) was able to present in a shortened session.

What bothered me most about the presentation of the coaching clinic was the guy responsible for presenting and what appeared to be a "one-size-fits-all" approach to coaching. What we were presented with was clearly geared toward high school coaches and I don't believe our presenter had ever actually coached any level but high school. The presenter had this obsession with the "soccer parents of the future," an assumed demographic of moms and dads who are hyper-controlling and obsessed with their kids' well-being, even after they have left the nest and started up with college ultimate. I have yet to see one of these parents in an ultimate program I have been associated with. Moreover, I haven't seen many infringe on college activities generally.

To me, there are some obvious differences between age groups in question including, but not limited to: a) athletic ability, b) competitiveness, c) capacity for rational thought. What resulted was a program that was less geared toward players on clubs that have a lot more autonomy. The bulk of responsibility for both Georgia and Minnesota fell on the captains. I'm not totally sure that the University of Georgia's administrative folks even had an awareness that Trav and I were involved with the team, aside from spillover from when Trav dealt with them as a player/captain. I think presenting as though we have some kind of liability/responsibility related to the University proper is a bit silly, honestly.

On a related note, the whole thing was presented in terms of some kind of idealized world, what I assume to be the USUA's vision of the future. This vision projects a lot more control onto coaches than we are actually shouldered with. The requirements of coaches under this rubric such as full attendance at every practice and tournament and responsibility for good facilities were better suited to paid employees of university sponsored athletic teams. As of right now, we are volunteers (consultants really), whose role on the team is subject to decisions made by captains and officers of sports clubs that are on the periphery of a school's interest. In my opinion, it would be a lot more helpful for the USUA to provide coaches useful information based on the realities of ultimate (i.e. where we should hope to b with regard to responsibilities/administrative stuff/shaping our teams' behaviors) today than to prepare them for what they believe the future might look like (this isn't to say that investment in training ideas for this future is necessarily a bad thing...)

The UPA's new "brand"

I can see the appeal of the name/image change, but I think there are more than a few problems. Some of these are unfounded fears and opinions about what we might lose by abandoning the upa. One of my favorite aspects of the old organization was how much they talked about it being a "grassroots" organization. Admittedly, this cliche is pretty devoid of meaning, but in reading about the USUA, I haven't heard any of the old democratic rhetoric being thrown around. Of course, I didn't seen a ton of anyone's suggestions taken up visibly by the upa, but I least there was some indication that the intention was there. Second, and this one's a little more silly, I'm not sure if the creating a United States Ultimate Association will mean that Canada can't play with us any more. It just seems like they've got such a strong base of interest in the game (Canadians seem to love weird sports) and their teams have provided a lot of history to our competitive Series. Who knows if these changes will actually happen, but it all seems like reasonable speculation at this point.

Probably my biggest concrete concern with these new developments is the hiring of the new "CEO of ultimate" (his words, not mine), Tom Crawford. Of course, the discursive suggestion associated with that self-given title should raise some eyebrows, given that he also told us he doesn't know much about our sport. Given his admitted lack of knowledge of the game, I wish he'd be more up front with the fact that he's more in charge of changing the public image ultimate than ultimate itself. I wouldn't want anyone with such an obvious expertise deficit to presume that he has a role to play in changing the essential mechanics of how we play, but it seems like that could be a possibility.

I saw the new CEO a couple of times over the course of the weekend. What struck me the most was his interest in telling people about the 10's of 1000's of coaches he's worked with, rather than taking an interest in our community. Despite his 'deep interest' in coaching development, he left the clinic before the coaches started talking about their concerns, leaving little chance that we could glean much useful knowledge from his experiences with the olympic committee, nfl, mlb, nasa and whoever else he's worked with. He seemed to spend a lot of time driving around in a golf cart and not much time watching the game. During finals, he tossed out hats with his new brand on them rather than actually watching Florida win the thing.

Suffice it to say, I wasn't really impressed with the UPA's choice of a fresh take on leadership.


Really the worst ultimate I saw all weekend, with bad calls on both ends. Of course, this is a shame given the amount of talent on both teams. Chippy calls, long delays, and some less than sportsmanlike conduct made a lot of the vocal displeasure coming out of the crowd reasonable. I had watched both teams all weekend and they were playing with less unreasonable calls and unnecessary physicality in every other game. The problem of lesser sportsmanship in games of greater importance in ultimate remains one of the toughest things for me about the game.

I've been on teams with rivalries with both of these teams, so it was weird to be rooting for Carleton. I've never had much respect for the style of modern Florida ultimate and this year was much the same. Their calls and physicality really bothered me less than what I perceived to be their disinterest in the game. Brodie and a few other key players never seemed to put their full effort into working for the win (note that this is totally different than making the game seem effortless) and to me this connotes a general disrespect for opponents as well as the sport. Couple this with (limited) media exposure from CBS College Sports and I think their win was not great for the game.

From a spectating perspective, despite being able to relate to their feelings about the outcome of the game, I thought that the crowd booing Florida after their win was totally bush league. For everyone who is unfamiliar with ultimate, it makes the players who make up the majority of live audience seem like petty folks and sore losers. I honestly would have preferred crickets.

The big finish:

I don't think I'll post much more on this blog. Honestly, I meant to write more over the course of the season. If I get time, I may do a few small things on some stuff that occurred to me while we prepped for natties, but we'll see.

Thanks for reading. Good luck in club.