Friday, May 06, 2005

Trends in ultimate the last ten years

I've been playing this game since 1983, and it's been good to me. I've seen a lot of changes, but because of my own changing place in the game, I'm not sure whether the changes are Lagrangian or Eulerian (does anyone understand what I mean? Surely there are some mechanical engineers or physicists out there.).

Here are the top trends that I've noticed:
  1. The spread of strategy
  2. The spread of training
  3. The explosion of College
  4. The shift to Coed
  5. The change in the season
  6. The professionalization of ultimate
  7. The more things change, the more they stay the same


The spread of strategy. Everyone has it now, so that you have summer league teams or beginning college teams playing junk defenses and spread offenses. They might be using technology that's five or ten years old, but they've implemented some form of it. Probably the rule of thumb is that a team's playbook is 2-3 years behind the playbook of a team at the next higher level (let's call that a generation). Going back about 10 generations, the original "Fundamentals of Ultimate" did not mention the concept of a stack or a force (other than an implied straight-up).
Along these lines, I'm going to put some blame on Godiva for holding back women's ultimate, which should be better than it is. Their 1980s style offense and conservative defenses do nothing to further the game, and other teams that try to copy them don't improve the game at all.
The spread of training. It's the same deal. Everyone is doing plyos and track workouts now, whereas only some of the top teams did them fifteen years ago. In this case, the middle levels might actually be caught up to the top levels in the frequency and relative intensity of the workouts, but the top levels have better athletes and players.
The explosion of College. For several years now, a majority of UPA members pay college dues. And, as much as I hate to say it, Mike G is probably right about college being more exciting than Club (although I think he uses the word "better", which is clearly wrong). The games move a lot more quickly, there's less certainty in who is going to win (compare the year-to-year turnover in nationals qualifiers in college vs club), and the newness of it for the players makes it seem fresh. And with the next-10-years trend of youth ultimate exploding, college play will only get better. Not to be forgotten is the explosion in coaching, which I am categorizing as a trend for the next ten years (future post).
The shift to Coed and the change in the season. These are tied together. It used to be that there were a lot of semi-serious or recreational tournaments in the spring and summer for men's and women's club teams. These tournaments have either changed to coed or else been replaced by new coed tournaments. At one time, Fools was a high-level tournament with a few reunion teams, then the theme teams started creeping in, until in 2005 an aptly-named ShortFatGuys almost takes the crown. Poultry Days is now unofficially coed. All summer leagues are coed. The season is different, too, at least in the East. Teams used to go to tournaments beginning in April and continue straight through until Nationals in November. Now the season is shorter and there are more practice-only weekends. Maybe this is part of the graying of ultimate, and older players who have been doing the scene for 10 or 20 years are less willing to commit their teams to five straight weeks of travel.
The professionalization of ultimate. The UPA has five or six full-time staff and does a lot of things online. Tournaments start on time, have lined fields, programs, and food and water. Uniforms match, are made of high-tech fabrics, have numbers, and look good. Players aren't hippies, are serious little whiners (yeah, I'm looking at you), and buy extremely well-written, informative books on Ultimate Techniques and Tactics. There's the Score-O-Matic, Tournament Reporting Tool and ranking systems, formats manuals, etc.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same. I don't think someone from 30 years ago would have a hard time recognizing the game or following the action. He might be confused as hell if he listened in on the line ("Al pull, Nathan hitch, play is Jim to Forch, yous are fills, clam for 3 to flick on the turn, running 'Chainsaw' off a stoppage"), but he would recognize the flow and all the action. The biggest change would probably be in the non-play related things covered in "professionalization" above. Or possibly in the inability to score some weed.

21 comments:

Alex de Frondeville said...

I was actually thinking the Fundamentals of Ultimate was the book to own but I probably wouldn't be able to get a signed copy of that one...

1. The sheer athleticism of the other women's teams has caught up to and surpassed Godiva, so hopefully things will change in the women's game, as there are new models to emulate.
2. Oh, for the old days of just practicing during the week and going to tournaments on the weekend.
3. I think I caught the wave at the right time. Now that college teams have A, B, and sometimes C teams, I'm not sure I would have been willing to gut it out to move into the elite. It didn't take as much work back then...
4/5. If I were a younger player, I would be aggravated at the lack of quality spring tournaments. I don't know if this is an East Coast thing only, and the West Coast has a competitive Open spring, but spring in the East had definitely faded in importance. I remember we used to have practices and at least 5 quality tournaments in the spring, whereas now we're luck to go to 3, and that includes the home-town Boston Invitational. On the other hand, as a grizzled veteran with 4-yr old twins, I relish the shortening of the season, because I would be divorced or out of the game otherwise.
6. Fundamentals of Ultimate, again...
7. Blah, blah, blah, weed.

luke said...

Al pull, Nathan hitch, play is Jim to Forch, yous are fills, clam for 3 to flick on the turn, running 'Chainsaw' off a stoppage"),

are you ever going to change your playbook?

Alex de Frondeville said...

Damn, is that why we don't win anymore?

parinella said...

There's a story about the vintage Celtics having only five plays that they called 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, and everyone knew it. The players complained to the coaches that other teams knew the plays as well as they did, so he said, "Ok, for this game, 1 is 2, 2 is 3, 3 is 4, 4 is 5, and 5 is 1." So, the point guard would call "2", and some guys would correctly run play 3, some would get the shift wrong and run play 1, and some would just forget and run play 2. After one half, they went back to the old style.

btw, "Chainsaw" predates Alex and me (and DoG, for that matter), although not by much. It was 1991 or 1990 when it was introduced, and was originally any power tool. Eventually, everyone just called "Chainsaw" to indicate "go long and I'll huck it".

Marshall said...

That first pass might have been trouble last year without Nate on the field...

dix said...

"Along these lines, I'm going to put some blame on Godiva for holding back women's ultimate, which should be better than it is. Their 1980s style offense and conservative defenses do nothing to further the game, and other teams that try to copy them don't improve the game at all."

When I coached Twister (#2 Boston women's team) in the late 90's occasionally a player would move up to Godiva. I would often get complaints from the Godiva women about how they had to get that player to unlearn many of the things I had taught like using the dump, switching D, clam, etc. Godiva at that time had the best players and would have won no matter what strategy they played.

Marshall said...

Dix, fighting for the future of women's ultimate...

Thinking about the shift in season that you mention: it does seem there there are fewer tournaments played by regular club teams, at least here on the East Coast. Perhaps some of the reason is that players are graying, that they are enjoying playing with their reunion team/spouse/SO/crush/whatever, or that some of the tournaments disappeared because of fields lost or TD's busy. However, I also get the sense that power has become ever more concentrated at the top. Top teams don't go to tournaments in part because they don't expect there to be any competition. Is this just a NE thing? Is this how we decide what's a "quality tournament" in Al's words.

I'm not sure it's just a spring thing, either. In the fall, top teams go to Tune-Up or the West Coast for competition against other elite teams. Clambake? Not anymore.

dix said...

yeh, but I lost. If the growth rate in number of teams is larger than the growth rate in number of tournaments then if the average tournament size is the same, any individual team will go to fewer tournaments (also known as the 'duh' theory). In college we would go to a tournament every weekend and often have to choose between two. About half or so of those were either at Purchase or UMass, two sites that are rarely if ever used anymore. I wonder if there are any tournaments in the Boston area today. 40 degrees, 40 mph wind, driving rain. Those were the days.

gcooke said...

Dix's comments about the reach of the Godiva "ideology" are interesting. I interviewed for the Brown women's coaching job in 02 (Ted got it), and the gals were very clear that they wanted to move away from the rigidity of the Godiva structure.

Same goes for Wellesley when I got the job. They wanted something looser. We graduated 14 seniors in 03, so we started all over again in the fall of 03. After 2 years of work on fundamentals, we are just getting to the point where we can break the mark, have long throws, and reliably dump and swing. Developing those skill sets has started opening up the door for more options and, I guess, a looser overall approach.

I have been very appreciative that my gals are not satisfied with only playing "huck and play D" (bad women's Ultimate I believe someone called it). They are absolutely focused on learning how to run an efficient offense that is confident in possession. This has cost us some short field goals, but for the long run, I hope, it will be positive for them.

parinella said...

Godiva's offense seems more appropriate for a high-school team, or possibly for a team of players who don't have any field sense and need to be told what to do. I guess that at the time it was invented back in the '80s, it was all the rage, but I really think that once you have good players, you need an offense that allows them to be good and to exercise some judgment on what to do.

dix said...

That's the dilemmea with coaching a young team with undeveloped skills. 'Huck and play D' will win you more games than 'work it the length of the field'. As a coach I always felt a responsiblity to teach the game but I wanted to win as well. In practice with Twister we would do the offense 10 consecutive possessions from our own goal line thing and would be lucky to score once. When I coached Milton Academy HS we could have done that all night and never scored. Throw in a little wind and forget about it. However, if I tried to institute the huck and D strategy the players would have been dead set against it because it wasn't as fun and just seems like a "we're losers" strategy.

luke said...

the kids i coach, and the city league team have totally bought into hucking near our own goal line, and work it in near theirs. i don't know if their apparent acceptance is because of my charisma, my incomparable ability to explain myself, the inescapable truth of math, or the fact that i just won't shut my mouth long enough for anyone to reply...

Anonymous said...

If you're gonna include a link to your website, you might as well frickin' update it!

Also, when will DoG ever come out with a new website of its own?


- Long Time Reader/Fan

Edward Lee said...

I'm not sure it's just a spring thing, either. In the fall, top teams go to Tune-Up or the West Coast for competition against other elite teams. Clambake? Not anymore.

The reason Clambake isn't an elite tournament isn't because elite teams have boycotted it. It's because Clambake will take any team that donates $2000/cleans up after dinner/serves breakfast in drag/etc. The Harvard college team (+1 ringer) won in 2004.

parinella said...

The reason Clambake isn't an elite tournament isn't because elite teams have boycotted it.
Boycott is too strong of a word. I've only seen a couple instances of a boycott in ultimate's history. One year, at least 15 years ago (I think it may have been 1988), someone was upset that the Fools organizers were attempting to make a small profit on the tournament, so they tried to organize an alternate Fools to protest such capitalistic excess. And there may have been teams that attempted to boycott the NUA to protest the use of refs. But that's about it for true boycotts.

All tournaments seem to have a finite life at the elite level. Boulder, Easterns and Tuneup were once "majors", almost on par with Nationals in terms of field strength and prestige. But Boulder is just a grassroots tournament now, and while Easterns and Tuneup still exist as big tournaments, no one would confuse them with Nationals. I think it's just a natural cycle.

Marshall said...

Clambake used to pull in teams like DoG, Snapple/Roq/Darkhorse, Boss Hogg, NY, even Philly, and at least the upper bracket on Sunday was competitive. Then again, Saturday, at least in the last 8-10 years, hasn't been very competitive for top teams. (Of course, in years past, Harvard was a quarters team there, not a championship team, but that's tangential - it's not just about Clambake, which would hardly be of interest to Jim's national readership.

Perhaps Jim is right that it's simply cyclical. Perhaps in the NE it's partly because there just isn't a huge concentration of top teams anymore. Perhaps we in the NE have to get used to the idea that getting real competition means traveling more than 2 hours by car more than once per year, just like west coast teams have been used to doing.

Anonymous said...

Reasons for attending fewer tournaments:

1. More can be accomplished as a team during practice than can at a tournament. You don't have to worry about winning practices. Also, a full weekend, or even one full day of practice is a much more strenuous workout team-wide than a tournament.

2. At Nationals, there are no chump teams. At most tournaments, there are chump teams. Playing against these teams is a waste of time for most Nationals-calibre teams. It gives you a round of rest and time to play your greener guys, but that doesn't prepare you mentally to fight hard in every single game for three-four days.

parinella said...

1. More can be accomplished as a team during practice than can at a tournament.

Top teams did not use to feel this way. Have the tournaments changed, or did the teams change their opinions?

Another reason for this may be the expansion of rosters (if indeed they have expanded, as there were some big teams way back in the day as well), which made all-out weekend practices a little more viable. With 14 or 16 guys, 3 of them nursing injuries, you probably get a better workout and more game-level practice by going to the tournament, assuming that most of your games are not 15-5.

2. At Nationals, there are no chump teams.
This is an extremely recent change (say the last year or two), occurring well after any shift in the tournament circuit. And it's not true for the Women's Division, where roughly 1/3 of the games (I think) continue to be blowouts.

luke said...

blowouts... Although, at some point, 15-10 is a blowout.

practice... i guess i've grown up somewhat from college when i'd hide the frisbees at practice because i hated drills so much, i think in general, tournaments are just more fun than practice, easier to 'get up for'... etc. but, man they are getting expensive.

death of spring tourneys: while i disagree with roster limits, maybe a spring series centered around smaller team philosophy (kind of akin to the rugby 7's tourneys... well, actually, that's more like 4 a side ultimate)...anyway, maybe like tourneys w/ a 10 person roster, games to 9 ish.. the big frisbee towns could probably have a 'league' of this... certainly you could have a couple of tourneys...

you'd have to make it cheaper though, this should not be one of those $675 potlatch deals.


luke

Anonymous said...

Roster size has definitely had an impact. Specialization has had a large impact as well. Players who play mainly offense against man and zone, and 10-14 man deep d-lines means more quality players on any given team which leads to more teams having a deep enough roster to truly push each other hard at practice.

I know very little about women's ultimate, but yes, there are chump teams at Nationals. I was speaking mainly about open, and I should have specified that. I was unaware of the timeline of the changes such as non-chupification of nationals and shrinking tournament attendence-- thanks for clarifying.

gcooke said...

Going back to the important discussion that Dix and I were having......

This year at Sectionals and Regionals, I decided to give my O line two chances to score. If not, then I put in a line that was more D oriented. We would huck it off the pull, and then play D. I think this was a pretty good balance, and set clear expectations.

My captains were savvy this year and realized that if we were going to run a possession offense that we would have to be able to throw. As a result, they were relentless in drilling and allocating time for throwing. Guess what...it paid off. We actually could break the mark this year.