There’ve been a lot of positive developments in the ultimate world lately. While seemingly unconnected, they all share a common underlying theme – they are all about communities taking care of their own business. First is the news that the NY men’s scene is going to unify into a single system ala Seattle. The initial benefits of this system are obvious: less politics and a cleaner tryout process for all. However, it is the long term benefits of this system that are really powerful. Unification like this can’t happen without an increase in organization. This organization can then be used to build increased playing opportunities through tournaments, leagues and coaching. Again, we can look to Riot as a model – they’ve used their organization to leverage coaching from the high school to elementary levels, a women’s only winter league and more.
Last weekend we had Cascadia Conferences up here in the far corner of the country. In addition to being an absurd tournament from the competition standpoint (Five Top 20 teams) there was some really awesome developments for the division. The Spirit Circle movement begun at NW Challenge continued and was really successful. (I saw on Twitter that Tufts took them back to the NE, so props to Ewo!) The games we were involved in were consistently Spirited, so there wasn’t much need for serious and in depth conversation – they were more about building connections. We did have a contentious stretch in one game and it was discussed in the circle afterwards. The basic message from both sides was, “Hey, that got chippy, that happens sometimes, we still have total respect for you and your game.” That 30 seconds of conversation is key to deescalating a situation and avoiding grudges.
Also like NW Challenge, there was a discussion group that happened Saturday night. The discussion group from NW Challenge (organized by Kyle Weisbrod and Gwen Ambler) was a great starting point, but it was pretty sparsely attended. One of the things we decided at that meeting was to have another meeting over Conferences weekend. Because this was a new group, the meeting this weekend was really a first step. It was very informal, lots of conversation and discussion; the best things to come out of it were connections and a commitment to continue. The big themes from the discussion were a big need for greater development and more playing opportunities within the mainstream college division and also within the developmental and juniors divisions. Oregon junior Jesse Shofner has a pretty big vision for what can happen through this group: “I want to make this happen, to [have it] become national, to have regional chairs and to be productive.” At the end of the evening, there were three action items – to meet again at Regionals, to organize a meeting at Nationals and to make a list of everyone who wanted to continue to be involved. Everyone present signed up.
The common thread to all these developments is each division and community taking care of itself. This is the path forward for all of us. If we wait for someone like USAU or Without Limits to come in and save us, we will be waiting a long, long time. Despite all the good work they do, they can only do so much. There are big, big challenges ahead for this kind of organizational work. For NY Ultimate and all other combined communities the question is whether or not they can leverage their organization for more than a couple of tryout dates. The question for the college women’s division is whether or not they can build community, vision and tangible goals all while losing their best leaders to graduation every year. Still, despite the difficulties, this is the best and only path.
As much as I hate to recommend anything associated with a Monkey, this piece by Alex Davis is excellent. This is a very familiar path to me – I walked it myself with Sockeye and probably 90% of my work as a coach is helping players through this process. What Alex assumes but doesn’t explicitly say is that you have to have the drive. He is taking for granted that you want to succeed bad enough that you’ll put in the work that’s necessary. Where most people fail is that they aren’t willing to put in the work – I’m not talking about running track and lifting and all that huff-and-puff work – I’m talking about the brutally hard work of challenging yourself where you are weakest. Alex is right that this work is mental. So before you start down this path, have an honest conversation with yourself – are you willing to do what it takes?