Friday, February 09, 2007

My Turn - Part II of IV - There goes our second chance

How should ultimate grow? Well, in the last post I said that the sport will inevitably grow, and that growth should be at the grassroots level by ensuring the next generation is taught by people who want to maintain the best parts of Ultimate. Your comments were interesting. Now, in this post I'm going to talk about where I believe the sport belongs or at least a strong niche that we are potentially giving up.

I'm not sold on the concept that Ultimate should be brought into the junior levels at high school and even younger. I'm not even convinced that college is the right level, but I think it is. I know, I know; many of you are outraged by this concept, so I'll lighten this "non junior statement" later in this post, but for now, let me give some reasons why I believe this.

Pictured Above: More fun in the snow. We were doing some shots for a bid to a tournament.

I guess this is all linked to why I play the sport (and this might shed light in the errors of my thinking), but Ultimate came to me as a second sport. After I had peaked at basketball I lost touch with competitive sports for a few years. Then, Ultimate came along and offered a new game with new skills to learn and with fun people and good times. I caught the bug, and that bug took me deep into the sport.

There are very few sports that have this, as I call, second chance. In Canada, unless you live in a major metropolis (million and more) you can't learn a sport like hockey, basketball, or soccer as you get older. These sports do have competitive adult leagues, but they are competitive leagues for the aging athlete. Even if you live in a major city, it is very difficult to be taught the sport and then proceed into the competitive levels after the age of, arguably, sixteen.

As Ultimate, at the junior level becomes more and more entrenched in competition and focused development, this second chance accessibility slowly disappears from the sport.

Not only is one of the major strengths of Ultimate it's second chance nature, but the second key strength to the sport is its quality as a coed game. This is probably another point that many of us cringe at. Many of us, including myself, push the fact that Ultimate is great as a pure Women and Open game. Also, the thought that people just play Ultimate to meet that special other person is just simply wrong. But again, Ultimate, in my experience, is one of the only sports where I've seen women and men join forces in a team based sport and equally contribute to success (removing zone defenses would probably balance the sport even more).

These two aspects of the sport, older sport and coed meeting game, are two significant strengths that I believe have been a major impact on the present day game.

So, I'm saying that Ultimate should be grown as an older sport. I'm still for grassroot growth, but I feel that growth (if it is going to happen) should be made at the second chance older level. An adult sport, if you will.

Having stated this, as much as I wish Ultimate would remain a second chance sport, the decision has almost already been made. Junior's are there, and we're getting to the point where there is a clear advantage to playing high school ultimate and making it in higher levels of Ultimate. College teams are going to push for it, and high school kids are going to push for their inclusion in the sport. I just sense, that this will slowly push Ultimate into the realms of a young persons sport. Not that this is necessarily bad, but it probably means some other hobby or sport will fill in the "adult" niche currently filled by Ultimate. The loss of this second chance niche may actually hurt Ultimate as the sport will eventually be competing with every other sport, and as much as we all love the game and place it on a sporting throne, it sure has the flavour of get said object to said place by using said players - that most other team sports have.

Earlier, I stated that I would lighten my view that Ultimate shouldn't be in high schools. Well, I do understand that Ultimate as what I would call a counter-culture sport (in which people play for the sake of playing) is a fine sport for high school students who don't really fit into other ultra-competitive sports. Even as a second chance sport, Ultimate still has its counter-culture ties. For many, Ultimate is their first competitive sport started in College or at a later age. I, also, see the value in physical activity at all ages, and Ultimate fills this roll well. I guess my position is that we may be giving some of the strengths of the sport in growing it at the wrong level.

In the next post, I'll make my last few comments on Ultimate growth. This time I'll switch hats and put on my let's make some money hat.



gapoole said...

I've read most of your posts from afar, but I feel like I have to comment on this one. I found Ultimate right before high school, and I wholeheartedly think that juniors is the best way to spread the sport. Teaching SOTG to young players is so much more effective than trying to get college+ players to buy into it. I think that you'll still have the "second-chance" aspect of the sport in league play, and even club for athletic newcomers. It is far more important, IMHO, to promote Ultimate to kids--you can't get much more grass-roots than juniors. Plus, I'm all for the increased competition and recognition that an expanded juniors level will provide.

Jeters said...

I agree with SOTG is better taught earlier. I'm just questioning if Ultimate wants to compete with every other young person sport. It's quite possible we'll get lost in the mix.


Anonymous said...

IMO, the way you describe Ultimate as a "second chance" sport undermines people who take it seriously and want to see it succeed, and it's even a little insulting. I also don't see your logic of how increasing younger participation will destroy the ability for older athletes to play...

To me, Ultimate characterizes everything that "sport" and "sportsmanship" should be about, including the very high level of athleticism that you see in the upper ranks, and your comments seem to indicate that Ultimate is not, nor can it ever be, a legitimate sport. - Baer

Sideline Engineer said...

I really liked this post. You make a great point that there is value in being a second chance sport. I'll try to give a couple examples of why this is good.

Right now, I'm playing league with a high level volleyball player who started learning Ultimate in September. He talks a lot about the difference in culture between the two sports. He loves volleyball and continues to play lots of it, but characterizes the general attitude of the sport as snobby. If you're not as good as another group of players, they won't talk to you. Ultimate is as far from this as you can get.

At the 2002 WUCC, I was sitting watching a Godiva game with a bunch of guys and they made a point of including me in their discussion of the game, and invited me to grab the last piece of shade under the shelter they had brought. It was only when the game ended and they stood to warm-up for their game and changed into their uniforms that I realized they were all DoG players.

This friendly and accepting attitude comes partly because those who have learned the sport as adults remember what it was like to be the person who didn't know what they were doing.In other sports, they would have been the last one picked when teams were made. Instead, in Ultimate, everyone was welcoming and encouraging, and even opponents would give them pointers. When you remember that experience, you want to pass along that culture.

Partly because of this culture, Ultimate tends to be a good entry point for solo sport athletes,or those with no athletic experience. These people are by-at -large uncomfortable with the jock mentality of other team sports (or at least what they perceive as the jock mentality). As a second-chance sport, Ultimate has a lot of players who haven't lived inside jock culture and as a result keep the sport outside of it.

Those without team athletics backgrounds aren't necessarily worse athletes. In many cases, they just didn't like the disrespect for your opponent that many sports engender, or they enjoyed the do-or-die pressure of solo sports.

If Ultimate is primarily learned at the middle-school level or younger, we'll lose two important aspects of the sport's culture, it's inclusive social culture and it's ability to attract solo sport athletes and non-athletes.

schmelz said...

Why does ultimate have to be either second-chance or juniors-driven but not both? Because of the inclusive environment, Ultimate is a good sport for young people, adults, and everyone inbetween, regardless of athletic ability. It seems that PJ and Sideline Engineer are both missing the fact that you can find whatever level of playing you want. You want casual, play in a league; you want competitive, play club.

It's not about "competing with other youth sports" or "getting lost in the mix". Just like with any other sport, kids will play and if they like it, they stay with it. If they like something else better, they will play something else.

Re Sideline's assumptions: Personally speaking, most all the players I play with have friendly and accepting attitudes and have played both team and solo sports. How someone acts while competing is almost always a reflection on them as a person and has little to do inherently with the sport they're playing.

Bottom line is that growth is good as long as you're fostering the important values to the sport, correct?

Sideline Engineer said...

Bottom line is that growth is good as long as you're fostering the important values to the sport, correct?

Correct. And fostering the important values is why we should think before pushing aggressively into the youth market. Learning a sport when you're a kid brings different values than learning it as an adult. It means that you are more likely to value skill over participation, and more likely to expect leadership to come from your coach than to lead yourself, both in terms of the athletic aspects and on-field behaviour.
These values have a lot to do with why we put so much time into Ultimate instead of other sports, so changing them is something to be considered carefully.