Here are the top trends that I've noticed:
- The spread of strategy
- The spread of training
- The explosion of College
- The shift to Coed
- The change in the season
- The professionalization of ultimate
- 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 These tournaments have either changed to coed or else been replaced by new coed tournaments.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.