Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Trends for the next 10 years

And here's where I expect things to change most over the next ten years.
  • Coaching
  • Teaching
  • Stats
  • Youth
  • Mixed reaches a plateau
  • Mainstream
  • Some split (elite/not or US/world) or maybe some major consolidation (UPA sucking in all the clubs)

Coaching. This movement is already well in gear. An increasing number of colleges have coaches, so much that virtually every team that hopes to make Nationals has one. However, the number of coaches in the club game is small, and the college coaches are generally active club players who are passively recruiting for their club teams or else they're jonesing for the college kids. I predict that there will be more retired players as coaches, that more club teams will have coaches, and that possibly cities will have coaching staffs that work with players at all levels in a more formal farm system arrangement.
Teaching. Part of coaching is teaching, but by this, I mean that there will be more individual instruction, and that it will exist at the elite level. Hell, Tiger Woods has a swing doctor. Ultimate will see the rise of instructors who will be able to work with all levels of players to work on the mechanics of throwing, cutting, or defending. Golfers, batters, and pitchers do it, why shouldn't we?
Stats. Ultimate will begin keeping track of individual and team stats in large numbers, and there will be a central repository to record these for history. It's already begun with the Score Reporter, but in 10 years you'll be able to get a list of the 10 players who have scored the most goals in the current college season.
Youth.This movement started when I was on the Board, although I didn't really have anything to do with it, and may have even opposed devoting a lot of resources to it since there were so few of them out there (I remember voting to allocate $50K of other people's money to a dependent constituency even though there wasn't any plan on how to spend it and saying, "Now I know how a Democrat feels"). In 10 years, there will be more high schoolers playing ultimate than there are club players.
Mixed reaches a plateau. The quality of play in the Mixed Division has been steadily improving the last few years, but it will peak at, say, 60-65% of the level of Open/Women's. It may continue to grow in size, but a maximum of 20% of the top players will be playing Mixed (current estimate: 2-4%).
Mainstream. 10 years ago, if you called Joe Corporate to ask for minor sponsorship, he'd say, "Ultimate frisbee? Never heard of it. Get the hell out of my office." Now, he'd say, "Ultimate? Yeah, the kid down the street plays on the high school team. Nice game....Now get the hell out of my office." Leagues will have a much easier time competing with soccer and softball for fields, kids won't have to hide it from their parents, and 50% of Americans will know the game well enough to know not to ask about dogs.
Some split (elite/not or US/world) or maybe some major consolidation (UPA sucking in all the clubs). The UPA will continue to grow in size and importance, but this might cause a splinter. The UPA does offer a lot and it's responsive to requests, but the fact is that the members are a captive audience. If a highly-motivated, highly-organized, and highly-funded innovator came along to offer a pro league, I think players might jump. Yes, there is much more loyalty to the UPA than there used to be, but players will vote with their cleats and go where the action is.
The UPA is conscientious about trying to give value to each of its constituencies, and to expand those constituencies. Youth, Colleges, local leagues: each of these could become the dominant force under the UPA umbrella, just as the fall club series had been the major player for the first 25 years. Will some group decide that they're better off on their own? Or will the UPA even decide that WFDF doesn't represent the UPA's interests any more than the UN represents the US' interests, and tell them, "Thanks, we're all set." I don't know what, but something's a-brewing.


dix said...

Do you think the elite teams will ever have coaches? That would require an ex-player who is a) good enough to command the respect of the team b) unable or unwilling to actively play anymore and c) willing to go 'watch' people doing wind sprints in the rain and devoting every weekend to practices or tournaments. I don't know, it seems to me that elite players play until they're sick of it all/have kids etc and are unlikely to hang around.

Jon said...

"…possibly cities will have coaching staffs that work with players at all levels in a more formal farm system arrangement."

I can't wait for the Tacoma Skipjack.

"Ultimate will see the rise of instructors who will be able to work with all levels of players to work on the mechanics of throwing … Golfers, batters, and pitchers do it, why shouldn't we?

I've really wanted this for awhile now. There are lots of experienced players out there who can throw incredibly well, but very few who can look at someone else throwing and say exactly what they're doing wrong. As someone with decent basic skills, but who really wants to excel, I've sought people like this out.

Great teachers in any field are rare. People with a real knack for analyzing athletic mechanics (be it golf, baseball, or ultimate) are exceptionally so. I don't doubt we'll have better instruction when it comes to strategy and such, but I think ultimate will need to become a much bigger sport before you'll be able to find an ultimate teaching pro in your yellow pages.

One thing you didn't mention as a likely change is the name of the sport. I'm accustomed to the name, but I just don't think it will ever gain wide acceptance named for an adjective. Wham-O seems to be trying to win people back, so maybe it will legitimately be called ultimate frisbee, or some other frisbee-related name. A name with the word "disc" in it would be good too. Just so long as it's not called flatball. Ugh.

dix said...

I like the 'teaching' aspect. As a coach I felt I had a good handle on things like overall strategy but found it difficult to teach certain skills like breaking the mark, mainly because I was never that good at it myself. I invited Dennis out to Twister practice once to teach breaking the mark but he was a little overwhelmed by 15 women in spandex actually paying attention to him and had difficulty getting his point across.

parinella said...

To your average good club ultimate player, coaches are like observers, in one sense. If the coach/observer is a good player himself, then he comes in with a level of authority and respect, but if he isn't, he starts out with zero respect and has to earn it over a long period of time. But you don't have to be a good player to be a good coach or observer (and it may even be a detriment if you're of the school of "I could do it, you should be able to just try harder and do it too"). As more college players graduate to club, resistance to coaches and that inherent lack of respect will wane.

Whether a team's top players will relinquish the reins depends on those players. I think it's fairly rare that your top players also actually like to do the coaching/leadership things, and that more often it's a substantial drain on them.

Re: teaching. I don't think I would enjoy coaching nor would I make a good coach, but I could go for being a "roving cutting instructor" or some such thing. Teachers wouldn't be listed in the Yellow Pages, but instead would just be known to the local communities and could come out to practices once or twice a year, or would appear at camps or tournaments. Hell, maybe tournaments will have "cutting clinics".

Marshall said...

There's no tradition of coaching established at the club level, which would be required for someone to establish him or herself as a coach that a higher-level club team would want.

Maybe successful college coaches can jump to the next level, but as you say, most of those folks are or have been established elite players. I think Dix is right about the time commitment being a drag on coaches who are essentially recently-retired players, though his point c may be less compelling because many elite teams are working with fitness trainers for whom that is their main/only responsibility with the team. [In other words, coaches might not have to watch as many sprints in the rain since a lot of conditioning happens away from practice.] I think another trend is the growth of trainers in the sport as the need to compete at the highest levels of athleticism becomes even more important. But I don't think that's as significant as the other trends Jimmy's identified.

Mostly, though, I think that commanding a very good team's respect in a strictly or mostly coaching role today virtually requires experience at a high level in the game. Something will have to change for top teams to want a coach who hasn't been there. Some of that change can come from recognition of success with creative strategies or effective teaching, but establishing non-player or less-experienced coaches is probably a generational change. Nonetheless, I agree with the prediction.

Idris said...

Jam had a coach in 98 and 99 (Mike O'Dowd.. "its a good long book") for a couple years. He did some good things, but in the end it wasn't a good fit.

The average age of jam has hovered around 27-28 recently, with only 1 or 2 guys 30+. So a coach/teacher type was a role that needed to be filled to help the young guys improve. Usually the captains took on such a role. I like teaching and stuff, so it was fun for me... but draining at the same time, like Jim said.

More recently (2004), there was an older player from the Tsunami/Flying Circus teams who helped out. "Consultant" is what he called himself.

But it seemed like the less skilled a player was or less knowledge he possesed, the more annoyed they were with him. His teaching/communication style wasn't the best, but had a lot of good things to say.

Dan Maidenberg is a good example of what maybe the future could hold. He played a lot of his college career on the Stanford B team and now is the A team coach. I have no idea if he knows much about ultimate, but Stanford has been playing well under him and I think Fury even asked him to coach them. He's only like 25 or 26, but I don't think he actually plays ultimate anymore.

parinella said...

Knowledge > skill > talent. Too often, players look at a coach's playing talent to see whether he should be listened to, when knowledge is probably the most important. And I use "skill" here to mean technical prowess. Similar to what Idris said on his blog, short fat guys might make the best coaches.

For an example of the future, we could just look to any other sport, which has a mixture of superstars, journeymen, and career minor leaguers among its coaches.

Marshall said...

Is there an issue comparing to other (major) sports where there is more established opportunity to learn the game as a coach? Perhaps this is an issue with the development of strategies. I think it was Jim (on this blog somewhere) who said that non-elite teams tend to be behind in the development of strategies, though that might be changing. Does a perceived lack of experience with strategies at the elite level impact the acceptance of coaches who have not played there? Or is the advancement of understanding in mid-level teams (all the way down through leagues, I suppose) developing that knowledge in people who, like Jim's short fat guys, couldn't ever play their way to the top level?

Marshall said...

follow-up: or perhaps the Dan Maidenberg example is evidence of that trend developing in the best-established programs in college ultimate?

Idris said...

non-elite teams tend to be behind in the development of strategies, though that might be changing.

I doubt this will ever be the case... since most development is based off of previous experience. So it is unlikely that a player/team that has never played at a high level will then be able to come up with strategies that are effective against elite-level teams.

When freshmen come to me with their "ideas"... i either point out somebody already came up with it... and then a subsequent defense for it.... or I simply point out why it wouldn't work. And they're like "oh". Not that there isn't the occaasionally good idea, but in general.. w/o a large knowledge base to work with, its difficult to innovate effect strategies.

as to maidenberg being the beginning of a trend in college ultimate... no. he's an exception at this point. college coaches are still based off of availabilty and desire to volunteer. dan is an local alum who is still interested in ultimate, even though he himself will most likely never play at any competitive level again.

i'm sure many teams have coaches that really aren't that stellar of players... in fact, i see opposing coaches in the NW all the time and I wonder "who is that guy"?

if maidenberg played at some crappy community college, and coaching stanford was his first taste of decent ultimate.. then that might be a sign of a trend.

dix said...

"So it is unlikely that a player/team that has never played at a high level will then be able to come up with strategies that are effective against elite-level teams."

uh oh, you might have just pressed Jim's Earth Atomizer button