You’ve probably heard of Ulticards. The company has a slew of products geared towards the beginning ultimate athlete, the experienced veteran and coaches with the goal of teaching them the game of ultimate, from the basic and rules to diagramming strategy and drills. The tools have particularly caught on in the educational setting, as the cards have been adapted for the CUT Camp in Chicago, USA Ultimate, the AUDL, NexGen, and many other organizations and languages! As the company has shipped products further and further throughout the world, their 1.5 year anniversary came up pretty fast, with a lot of new products on the way to keep the good times rolling. Skyd sat down with founders Evan Phillips and Nick Fothergill to discuss the company so far, their future plans, and everything else.
Skyd: Looking back, how did Ulticards all start?
Ulticards: Well, it started with a few good friends who had a shared passion for Ultimate. Amidst all the conversation and discussion and debate about the best players, the best teams, etc. we had about the sport, a few themes kept popping up: how could we improve the game? How could we take the experiences we’ve had and translate them into easily-learnable material for today’s new players? If we could go back to when we were beginners, what do we wish we had that would’ve made us even better? From this dialogue came the idea for UltiCards. It took us about a year thinking, questioning, discussing, and tweaking stuff before we officially released our first product, and since then we’ve been churning out more and more learning materials. It’s been an awesome experience creating new products, drawing up plays, thinking up drills, and generally talking about Ulti every day.
What is the company doing to celebrate its 1.5 year anniversary?
We’re pretty excited at hitting the one and a half year mark, so we’re celebrating in style – every product in the store will be on sale until the end of the summer. The ultimate community has been so supportive and helpful by using our products and providing excellent feedback, so this is just one way we can give back to the community.
Did you see the company expanding as much as it has?
We knew that Ultimate was only going to expand and gain in popularity, and we were aware there would be a need for learning materials. So far no one had produced anything that could be used on a widespread scale by players looking to improve their game, so we stepped up to fill that void. But we really didn’t foresee all of the great opportunities and partnerships with top ultimate organizations like Ultimate Canada, USA Ultimate, Five Ultimate, VC Ultimate, the AUDL, RISE UP, NEXGEN, CUT Camp, and many more that have occurred in the past year.
With this being ‘The Digital Age’, what separates the products from a video which may teach the same thing?
You can learn a lot from watching a dvd/video-streaming/etc., but it’s not the same as having a tangible object in your hand from which you can study. Having our products actually on the ultimate field during a practice allows for our material to be easily-translatable to players, while the proximity of the field provides an efficient reference point (as opposed to watching a video, taking down notes of what you learned, then bringing those notes to practice and hoping that you didn’t forget anything, or that your players will be able to understand your notes and/or the material being taught). In fact, UltiCoach printed products and video are very complimentary – which is why we’re super excited about our partnership with RISE UP. RISE UP and UltiCoach together will be able to provide the perfect educational Ultimate package.
Also, with written material we’re able to create fun and engaging tools for youth Ultimate, which is one of our major focuses.
Ever find a time when you’re out on the field, that you wish you had a deck on you?
We’re constantly test-running every drill, card, deck, and product we have to ensure that players are getting the best, most efficient materials possible, so we’re familiar enough with our products to the point where we can draw them from memory.
But we do on occasion forget a card or two while we’re playing, which is why we’re stoked about our newest product: the iPhone app. Yep, we’re releasing all of our material as an app so that if you do forget your cards, you can whip out your smartphone and have everything at your fingertips.
How was working with Brodie Smith to develop his ‘Signature Series’ deck?
We had an awesome time working with Brodie. He brings such a passion for spreading the sport of ultimate which resonated with what we’re trying to do with UltiCoach. We love his mission of simply ‘giving everyone a chance to try ultimate.’ His deck was super helpful in providing a more in-depth look into his throwing techniques, practice routines, and just generally becoming a better thrower. We definitely learned a few things from him!
Recently you debuted UltiCoach Pocketbook, what inspired the product?
We always had a plan for releasing books, and it was just a matter of timing. Some of the feedback we have received requested for a larger format than what was provided with our cards, so we decided to get the disc rolling with this format. First up was the pocketbook which, while still small enough to fit in your bag to be carried around, allowed us to enlarge the content for easier reading.
Most importantly it also gave us the opportunity to hit that next level of coaching materials and provide detailed practice plans based on the drills and skills covered with our cards.
College and club teams are typically taught by the older students, with little outside help. Do you have any plans for increasing the use of your products in the college or club divisions?
We envisioned creating our products for those types of players – the college students thrust into the role of captain/coach without much outside help. So our products are targeted to these kinds of players facing these situations. But we also wanted to make sure that our products aren’t exclusive to a certain type of player or situation. We made our products to appeal to all sorts of players, whether they just picked up a disc or recently won club nationals. No matter how good of a player you are, you can always improve your game. We think our products can help you reach that next level, no matter how good you are already are.
How do you envision products like the Pocketbook and Playbook being used?
The Pocketbook is an excellent practice and practice planning tool. Coaches and teams can use the Drills Pocketbook to build complete practices or simply grab a nice pre-game warmup drill specific to any area of focus. The Skills Pocketbook contains clear and detailed references to skills from fundamentals to more advanced throwing techniques. This is a great book for anyone looking to improve their mechanics and understanding of defensive and offensive skills.
The Playbook is really cool. It is a professional level playbook similar to what you would find on a football field. It is at the same time very detailed while being easy to follow. If you simply want to choose a play and run it, the diagrams will give you what you need. If you want to go deeper into organizing your team into ideal positions in the plays, based on skill-sets, you’ll find that information as well. This first playbook is ‘Split-Stack Offense’, but expect many more to follow. Also, the Playbook is dry-erase so you can grab a marker and write your own plays on the blank fields provided.
How do you go about translating a deck of cards to another language?
Each translation we undergo operates through a different process, but they all begin from the same point: finding a player that is fluent in both the respective language and English as well. It’s absolutely imperative that the translator be an ulti player so that he or she has a solid understanding of the terms we use.
And from there it just becomes a process of daily communication to ensure that both we and the translator(s) are on the same page in terms of what is for the French we worked with Ultimate Canada.
Recently I’ve seen a lot of promotion of the CUT camps, how did you get involved in this? And how do you think this has impacted the success of the product?
It just seemed a natural fit to work together. The CUT Camp and UltiCoach missions align perfectly and together we’re able to help more players learn to play better Ultimate. Java’s a great guy and is very passionate about what he does with Ultimate. We love to partner with organizations that that supporting and encouraging the growth of Ultimate, especially on the youth level. Having Java, his coaches, and the CUT campers test out and use UltiCards in has provided us with invaluable feedback. CUT Camp is the place to be for any young players looking to seriously improve their understanding of the game, and have a great time while doing it. And…you’ll get some UltiCards too!
What’s been your favorite product to create so far?
Hmm, this would be like picking your favorite child if you’re a parent. The playbook definitely has a special place in our hearts, and we love the Drills pocketbook with it’s practice plans. We’re definitely stoked about the upcoming UltiCoach App. It’s tough to chose just one, we’re pretty big fans of all of them.
What’s next for UltiCards over the next year?
Our iPhone app is a big one. Then it’s more material and more partnerships. We’ll be working with the AUDL, UXtv, RISE UP, Brodie, Ultimate Canada, USAU, JUF, and many more. Our biggest focus is youth Ultimate, so look for more youth related initiatives and materials.
Rapid Fire Questions:
Song most likely to be playing at UltiCards HQ?
• Scarlet Begonias by the Grateful Dead or I believe I Can Fly by R.Kelly.
• We’ve send decks to Iceland, Korea, Russia, South Africa and more, but Brunei had to be the most unexpected order that came across our desk.
Movie most likely to make the crew cry?
• Point Break. Inspired cinema.
Person (or company) you’d most like to create a deck for?
• Rachel McAdams. We’ve heard she’s played some ultimate.
Favorite show on TV?
• The Wire. We pretty much stopped watched television after it ended.
Dream UltiCards product?
• Joel Silver’s “Silver Linings Playbook”
Be sure to check out the Ulticards 1.5 year anniversary sale, which does not include any hats but definitely should.