The Planned Obsolescence of USA Ultimate in High School Ultimate

by | March 19, 2013, 1:13pm 0

Figuring out the future of high school ultimate is tied into the future of youth ultimate as a whole because high school is the pinnacle for competition for the vast majority of athletes and also the mark of a sport being mainstream That leads to the following question: what is the goal of USAU when it comes to youth ultimate? Obviously, the answer should be to grow the sport to mainstream status among the youth sports. Thing is, in many ways it is already. The problem is that the strategy to capitalize on it hasn’t been effective. High school ultimate is not recognized by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) nor are there any states that have ultimate as an official sport in the high school athletic/activity association. There are also very few high school leagues that recognize ultimate as an official varsity sport for member schools.

Ultimate is more mainstream with young athletes than most people think because it is so prevalent in PE classes across the country.  Certainly there needs to be some credit given to the Ultimate Players Association: under the leadership of former Executive Director Sandie Hammerly and Youth Director Kyle Weisbrod as well as numerous volunteers throughout the country, ultimate was advocated for at physical education conferences and inserted into developing teaching curriculum. . The key to the success of this effort is that there were no membership fees and very little cost. It was mainly information dissemination and providing small affordable equipment supplies. This is the way high school ultimate should be grown.

The goal for high school ultimate should be to get the sport listed as an official high school sport in every high school state association. Doing so will give younger players a higher level to aspire to as well as provide a level of accessibility and support that currently does not exist.  The only national organization that will matter to those state associations is their national governing body: the NFHS. In other words, USA Ultimate needs to plan and advocate for its own obsolescence.

USAU, then, should change the focus of their business model away from organizing high school ultimate. Instead of spending the time and effort organizing state tournaments they should teach state organizers how to run their own. Instead of offering regional tournaments that are superfluous and are quickly becoming irrelevant they should be advocating for the creation of leagues similar to other high school sports.  Instead of trying to get membership money out of people USAU should be showing organizations how to create state constitutions, policies, bylaws, and guidelines. USAU should be creating common tools for all states to grow HS ultimate.

Certainly this is not a sustainable business model for USAU. The plan for USAU should be to do everything they can to grow high school ultimate as quickly as possible as a traditional one season sport while at the same time growing (and making money on) youth club ultimate to serve the players who are not yet in high school and/or who want more than high school can offer. This is the model that youth soccer has used to become so successful.

The best way to proceed right now is to develop the tools to run youth club ultimate. Develop a useful web presence, low cost insurance, state club constitutions and bylaws, and local club constitutions and bylaws. Teach the local clubs how to capitalize on camps which are the true cash cows of youth ultimate. Offer these tools to the growing HS associations at cost or less until they can seamlessly merge into their state HS athletic associations.

The tipping point (thank you Malcolm Gladwell) for high school ultimate is closer than people think. Very soon, the more organized states will be able to get their insurance issues figured out and then the main need for USAU to regulate high school programs will disappear. Hopefully USAU recognizes this and will embrace a plan for planned obsolescence for USAU high school ultimate.

Feature photo by Christina Schmidt –

Comments Policy: At Skyd, we value all legitimate contributions to the discussion of ultimate. However, please ensure your input is respectful. Hateful, slanderous, or disrespectful comments will be deleted. For grammatical, factual, and typographic errors, instead of leaving a comment, please e-mail our editors directly at editors [at]