Ultimate is a very young sport. Even though it was founded in America, the evidence of Ultimate’s infancy in the US is prevalent in its hazy recognition amongst the mainstream sport populace. But times are changing. Youth Ultimate is growing rapidly around the country as camps, college, high school and even middle school teams are popping up around the country. With emerging opportunities to play as a youth and an abundance as an adult, American players are privileged to experience a myriad of playing experiences at varying levels. But in countries far from where it all began, countries like Russia, where Ultimate has only just started taking root, opportunities to develop can be slow. But that’s something that makes the Ultimate community unique. It desires to share and spread and creates opportunities to do so no matter what the language barrier or what distance must be traversed.
When Skyd heard of Seattle Sockeye’s collaborative plan to run a 10-day Training Camp in Moscow this May, we were very excited to learn more. Sockeye’s Tyler Kinley connected us with camp organizer Kate Barabanova and we were honored to be able to interview her about the upcoming camp and to find out more about Ultimate in Russia.
Skyd: Please start by introducing yourself. Who are you? How did you get involved with Ultimate?
Kate Barabanova: My name is Kate Barabanova, but everybody knows me as Baritsa. I got this nickname about 12 years ago. I’m not very sure where it came from or what it means.
I was born and grew up in Velikiy Novgorod, a small town in the north-west of Russia. Now I live in Moscow and play for a team called Brilliance.
I started playing Ultimate in 2001. At that time I was studying at Novgorod State University and working as an administrator in one of the college sports halls, where Russia’s biggest indoor tournament, Lord Novorod, is held every year. I was looking for a new sport to replace gymnastics, which I had recently given up, and Ultimate found me right there in that sports hall in my provincial Russian town.
I was immediately fascinated by the elegance and beauty of the game. The atmosphere of the tournament appealed to me – friendly, fun and competitive all at the same time. It was so different from any of the other sports I had ever played, especially non-team sports like gymnastics. Soon, Ultimate players made up the biggest part of my friendship group.
And there was also a guy I liked…
What is Ultimate like in Russia?
Ultimate in Russia is much less developed then in the United States or Europe. It first took root in the 1990s in four cities – Moscow, St. Petersburg, Velikiy Novgorod and Nizhniy Novgorod. I don’t know for sure who started Ultimate in Moscow and Nizhniy Novgorod (probably some foreign students). But I know that Paul Eriksson (EFDF Secretary) did a lot to develop Ultimate in St. Petersburg and Velikiy Novgorod. There is a funny story about how Paul mixed up the names of Veliky Novgorod and Nizhniy Novgorod and organized a presentation in university in Velikiy by mistake, even though there weren’t any players in that city. But his blunder turned into a blessing: now Ultimate is thriving in Velikiy Novgorod and the biggest indoor tournament, kind of indoor Nationals, is held there every year.
Are there many leagues, teams/players?
Since 2005, teams have been springing up all across the European part of Russia (as far as I know, Ultimate hasn’t reached Siberia yet.) There are now teams in about 15 cities, such as Pskov, Kaliningrad, Ekaterinburg, Perm, Kazan, Krasnodar, Smolensk and Yoshkar-Ola.
There are about 20-25 open teams, 12-15 women’s teams and just 1 proper mixed club. Currently we don’t have a membership system, but we are trying to develop one based on the USAU.
The development of Ultimate in Russia is hindered by the country’s vast size and some of its laws.
We tried to organize two or three leagues a couple of years ago, but they didn’t work very well and many of our top teams needed the time and money to prepare and to go to WUCC, EUCS and other international tournaments, so we dropped them in 2010. I hope we will be able to restart our leagues next year.
How does Ultimate in Russia compare to Ultimate in other countries?
I don’t know much about Ultimate in other countries, so I can’t compare. We play the same game, use the same rules and play on fields that are the same size. We have some very competitive teams, who always fight for first place, and some party teams, who prefer just to have fun.
What makes Russian Ultimate, Russian Ultimate?
Unfortunately, I think one of the major defining features of Russian Ultimate is our interpretation of Spirit of the Game. Russian teams get consistently low spirit scores at international tournaments. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but we always try to make an effort to find out from foreign teams and, as a result, I think we have started to play a bit better. One of my first questions for the Sockeye guys (who won silver medals and spirit at Worlds) will be how can we play with good spirit and stay competitive.
Where do you see Russian Ultimate going in the next 5 years? The next 10?
It’s hard to tell where Russian Ultimate is going because there a lot of activists and big fans of the sport, but there is no real organization with a defined structure, strategy and goals. We need people who love the game but can look at the situation from a different point of view than a normal player , someone with organizational experience and a lot of will.
Hopefully the next generation of Russian Ultimate players will be lucky to have someone from the old generation running the show and helping them enjoy the game.
How did the idea to run a Sockeye training camp in Russia come about?
World Championships are an important event in the life of any player, myself included. Amid all the wonderful impressions WUCC 2010 in Prague left on me, the brightest was being able to watch the world’s top teams playing. Previously I’d only seen such high level play on video.
And I wasn’t disappointed! Perfect throws and unbelievable lay-outs, swift attack and impenetrable defense, neat tactics and incredible discipline. The players fought for the disk and for victory to the end, to the last inch between the disk and the grass. What’s more, I saw emotional involvement from every single player, for the entire 100 minutes of every single game.
Often I just stood on the sideline, frozen with admiration, watching the game and forgetting about the camera in my hands, although I really wanted to capture the moment to show others how beautiful Ultimate can be. But photos and videos are no substitute for seeing and playing the game. Deep down I knew that most of my fellow players would never get the chance to go to the United States to experience and learn from this high level of play. But there’s a solution to every problem.
After that, everything just happened by itself. Two weeks after I got back from Prague, Tyler Kinley wrote to me on facebook and, as we say in Russia, our dreams found each other! He told me that a few of the guys from Sockeye really wanted to visit Russia, but had never managed to travel there. So they found a good reason to come!
The general idea: In return for the Sockeye training camp, we pay for return tickets and visas for each trainer and show them Russia from a local’s perspective. We started with the plan of 2 coaches for 60 players.
I found two Russian guys Denis Taylakov and Aleksey Strigin, who made a website for the skill clinic and helped me to fill in. I asked two of my teammates, Yulia Volkova and Natasha Doff, to help me with translations to and from English. At the same time I asked everybody I met if they would like to take part in such a camp. Nearly everybody answered “yes”. Then I made a presentation of the camp at a meeting during Russian National Championships and opened registration.
We got 100 applications in the first two weeks and I wrote to Tyler to tell him and his teammates to start packing their bags. Now we have nine coaches and about 160 confirmed players, including 20 foreign players from Estonia, Poland, Switzerland, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, Britain and Turkey.
What will be accomplished at the camp? What’s the plan/schedule?
Full course: 10 days – 30/04 – 09/05 – balanced, carefully built process of training which is aimed at developing all the skills you need to play Ultimate at a high level.
First weekend – 3 days – 30/04 – 02/05
Before lunch: 4 stations – throwing, marking, cutting, defense. After lunch detailed work on defense, offense, zone (defense and offense).
Working Week 4 days – 03/05 – 06/05 – individual workshops on useful skills. Also two coaches will run a clinic for Russian coaches in two levels – beginners and advanced. The Sockeye guys will teach the main principles of coaching, how to make plan for one training session, and for a month in advance, how to prepare for tournaments and how to run your team through the tournament.
Training will be held in the evening. During the day we’re going to show our American friends Moscow and give them a few lessons of our own on how to have fun in Russia.
Second weekend – 3 days – 07/09 – 09/05 –
The eighth Moscow Flying Disc Festival (hat tournament) will take place during these three days and eight coaches will play in, coach and captain eight teams. They will also hold two training sessions.
We have also organized a second camp in Ekaterinburg (around 900 miles to the east of Moscow) called Sockeye Training Camp – Urals. Tyler Kinley and Ben Wiggins will run a two-day clinic there. Alex Belyakov, a guy who develops Ultimate in the Russian regions, came up with the idea after he discovered that there were some really promising young players in the region, who couldn’t afford to come to Moscow and pay for the camp there.
About 20 players will take part in Sockeye Training Camp – Urals from Ekaterinburg, Perm and Yoshkar-Ola.
The final list of coaches is:
1. Tyler Kinley
2. Ben Wiggins
3. Jaime ‘Idaho’ Arambula
4. Joe ‘BJ’ Sefton
5. Sam Harkness
6. Matthew ‘Skip’ Sewell
7. Spencer Wallis
8. Bailey Russell
9. Aaron Talbot
Why Seattle Sockeye?
As I said above, it was pure accident. I don’t know why Tyler asked me about coming to Russia (maybe you should ask Tyler!) Other than on facebook, we had never met and I knew nothing about Sockeye skills clinics. So the whole thing was just pure luck. But now I know for sure I’d never change my decision even if I could!
Now that I have read a lot about the skills clinics, I can see that we are very lucky to have such experienced players coaching us.
What are participants most excited for about the camp?
EVERYTHING! Those guys play very competitive Ultimate all over the world and we can definitely learn a lot from them. We can’t wait! After interviewing each of the coaches, I know that they are all very different and interesting people. We are very excited to meet them in person.
We want to get a lot of Ultimate experience and in return to show them Russia at its best. None of the coaches know much about Russia – except Ben Wiggins, who promised to read a lot of Russian books (in translation of course) before he comes and Tyler Kinley, who promised to learn all 33 letters of the Russian alphabet – so we’ll have a chance to surprise them. Be careful, guys!
What does having Sockeye coaches come to Russia mean for Ultimate players in Russia?
It is hugely important for us. Currently we learn everything from reading rules and articles in English and watching video highlights. We rarely get the chance to play against really strong teams and, when we do, we usually lose before we have time to understand what we are doing wrong. We have a lot of questions, which we can’t just ask by email or facebook, because we need to discuss them and be shown how to do it right.
What do you expect to be the biggest challenge of running this clinic?
When you start a big project like this, the main thing is break it up into many small tasks, make a plan, and start carrying it out step by step. It’s also important to find people who can help you, because you can’t do everything by yourself.
The biggest challenge so far has been to control the project when it started growing too fast and to make the right decisions at the right times.
I want to thank Tyler, he is a great manager. It’s very easy to work with him, even though we are on different sides of the planet. He is always ready to give me advice and explain everything. And all the other Sockeye guys are always so helpful, friendly and funny. I already have a collection of funny stories just from chatting with them over the past few months and can’t wait meet them all in person.
Who else has helped to make this project happen?
I want to thank my teammates and friends who have helped me organize this project:
- Denis Taylakov and “Aerocker” with sponsorship and PR
- Yulia Volkova and Natasha Doff (Brilliance) with translations and finding interpreters for the coaches
- Inga Ivakina (Brilliance) with accommodation for players and coaches
- Alex Strigin for making our website www.sockeye-camp.discore.ru
- Alexey Silin and Alexander Fomin (“Skydisc”) with sponsorship and organizing the tournament at the end of the camp
To learn more about the Sockeye Training Camp go to http://www.sockeye-camp.discore.ru/.