A lot of us coach people to play ultimate, but how many of us are taught to coach?
The answer to that question is going to greatly impact the development of our sport’s next generation. Just like having a coach has, in recent years, become a near requirement to be competitive, having a coach that knows what they’re doing is becoming just as important. Coaches that know how to structure a lesson plan and present it in an engaging way as well as how to interact with each member of their roster are the ones who maximize their teams’ potential. And as much as playing experience can influence good coaching, it’s hard to build and sustain success without paying particular attention to pedagogy.
Mario O’Brien is doing just that. The founder of RISE UP Ultimate and a frequent NexGen Network commentator, O’Brien joined this year’s NexGen tour to run its youth outreach clinics and call its broadcasted games. And while the NexGen bus has always stopped to run clinics along its tour— this year it’s Baton Rouge, New York City, Toronto, Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland, and Seattle— this is the first year that an organizer has been devoted specifically to the cause.
“Part of my plan for RISE UP is to cultivate leadership in the ultimate community as coaches,” says O’Brien, an educator by trade. “I don’t think anyone is pushing that area of the sport and I’m happy to.”
I recently coached for O’Brien at RISE UP Amsterdam, a three-day ultimate camp and conference attended by players from all over Europe and beyond. The planning leading up to camp was extensive and the level of organization once they started was impressive. Coaches exchanged countless emails about best practices, reviewed curriculum, and compared notes, all to maximize the learning experience for campers.
“I put care and intentional effort to making sure we’re all on the same page with the teaching process,” he says of working with the NexGen crew. “I had guys set specific goals on good coaching and teaching practices, and my goal is by the end of the tour to have everyone grown as coaches.”
Dylan Freechild, who recently won the Callahan and is taking part of his third NexGen Tour, says O’Brien’s deliberate approach is helpful for making him and his peers—a highly skilled bunch of players—more effective coaches. “He sat us down at the beginning of the camps and told us goals to use like how many times we used a kid’s name or how many times we repeated something. He told us how to be a little more personable and how to teach a bit more.”
“This group of people on the tour are the next generation of leaders in the sport,” says O’Brien. “I’m really interested in helping these guys develop as leaders and as coaches.”
RISE UP and NexGen are, of course, connected by a business partnership that means mutual monetary benefit for both companies: a better product for NexGen and greater visibility for RISE UP. But investment in the sport, particularly in a coaching product, is a good thing. It shows that O’Brien is confident in ultimate’s potential for growth at the ground level and, even better, that he is willing to pour his own time and energy into being a part of that growth. Hard-fought games of ultimate are a constant reminder of the benefits of dedication and effort, and I’m personally excited to see that same vigor being put into RISE UP.
O’Brien says those who have tried his product affirm its quality. “From the feedback we’ve gotten, we truly believe that our product is one that when you find out and know about it, you feel like it’s some secret you wish you had known about. People either don’t know about it, or they love it.”
Freechild says that he’s optimistic about RISE UP’s future because his experience on the tour tells him that kids are paying more attention than ever. “Every single year it’s become bigger,” he says. “People want certain players to teach them things and they run to certain players after the game. Last year a kid asked me how to throw high release forehands, and people ask Simon all the time how he throws his backhand. They’re obviously keeping up with what’s going on outside of NexGen.”
RISE UP’s NexGen clinics are three-hour sessions that rotate attending players through stations coached by NexGen Tour players. There are stations for throwing, cutting, defensive footwork and positioning, and miniature ultimate games, which illustrate games that improve ultimate skills without requiring the space or numbers for a full field 7-vs-7 game. The model lets attending players to focus in and improve on specific elements of the game and allows coaches to continually work to perfect what they’re teaching. O’Brien is happy to promote quality across the board.
“When people think of RISE UP, I want them to think of a company that legitimately wants to help strengthen the ultimate community.”
Feature photo courtesy of Mario O’Brien.