Following up on a post from a few weeks back, I recently had a chance to catch up with Dr. Tom Crawford about the US National Teams. I’ve been musing about the issues of competitiveness and selection since traveling to Osaka this summer and the split decision in Dublin was further evidence of a larger trend: the world is catching up. After dominating the 80s and 90s, the US National Teams are a mere 9 of 19 since 2000. (That stat includes Open, Womens, U-20 Boys, U-20 Girls and World Games.)
I knew that the US National Teams were a focus of USAU’s soon-to-be-released strategic plan and I was curious to hear some of the details. I was also curious to hear what Tom had to say about some of my own thoughts about the US National Team. From the opening of the conversation, Tom and I agreed that the standard for any US National Team in international competition should be gold. Working from this agreed point, our conversation ranged back and forth over a number of different topics. Rather than try to relate it directly or transcribe it, I’ll go idea by idea.
I am becoming more and more an advocate of a true US National Team instead of representation by club champion. This isn’t any guarantee of success, but done correctly, it increases the US chances of winning. I would add Southpaw as the latest piece of evidence demonstrating just how difficult the double peak can be. Priorities are an issue as well. For Revolver or Fury or Sockeye or Condors or whichever club is representing the US, Worlds is a second priority to winning Clubs in Sarasota. I guarantee it was Team Australia’s number one goal. They sent their team to ECC a year in advance to prepare! I guarantee that it was Hirai Eri and Team Japan’s number one goal.
Another important step for shoring up the USNT is permanent coaching. USA Ultimate is currently sitting at 13 staffers and looking at adding a fourteenth, but not a single coach. Historically, this hasn’t been a part of USA Ultimate’s mission, so no complaints that there aren’t coaches right now. But the logical next step would be to hire Open and Womens coaches to coach those teams and also to oversee USA Ultimate’s coaching programs and U-23 and U-20 coaching staffs.
I am also a proponent of expanding the existing 6-month cycle for the Juniors and World Games teams to an 18-month cycle or even continuous cycle. The selection process should extend its goal beyond mere choosing to improving the participating players as well. An extended process would allow for more coaching, more competition and more cohesion. The international competition is already operating on a multi-year system. What would this look like? More camps and a longer “try-out” process that would be much more focused on team improvement and player development. Only toward the end would a final selection be made.
Throughout our conversation, Tom generally agreed with my assessments and thought my ideas were good ones, but he wasn’t able to commit to anything specific. A lot of that has to do with the timing. The Five Year Plan developed in 2008 is due to expire and the new one is on the verge of roll out. This forthcoming Six Year Plan will identify the US National Team as a priority, but because the details haven’t been worked out yet, Tom was reluctant to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ He did have some interesting insights into where we are as a sport. He compared our progress internationally to basketball’s. For years, international competition was an afterthought for the US. After 1988′s bronze, the US came through with the Dream Team and has continued to take Olympic competition seriously. He also really pinpointed improved coaching as essential to the development of players and the sport. Finding ways to improve coaching through training both internally (by other frisbee coaches) and externally (non-frisbee coaches) will be a piece of that development. Coaching is already a big priority for USA Ultimate and I think we can expect to see that increase. Regarding my idea of a permanent coaching position with USA Ultimate, Tom said that wasn’t something currently within the organizational budget, but it was something we might see in ’2-3 years.’
In response to my suggestions regarding selection and the length of the training cycle, Tom was supportive in a general way without committing himself to specifics. He said that USA Ultimate would examine the selection process and that whatever was chosen should be “fair, open, transparent and well done.” As for the training cycle, Tom agreed that moving toward a continuous system (like US Soccer uses) would be great, but that a program like that is incredibly resource intensive (my words). The U-23 campaign in Toronto this coming summer is on the 6-month plan. The World Games team, as well, will have to be on the 6-month plan; currently the coaching staff is still in the selection process. Tom did say that the selection and training process for the World Games in Colombia might begin a ‘transition’ to a longer process.
I want to close with the most encouraging two words of the conversation: ‘sustained excellence.’ The Six-Year Plan will call for ‘sustained excellence’ from the US National Team. From the team, that means gold. From USA Ultimate, that means resources.
(Feature photo by Neil Gardner – NZSnaps.com)