Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Global Ultimate Growth - Ultimate in India and Beyond - Part II

Here's the rest of the interview from this last post with Jordan Bower.

4. What type of bigger initiatives should Ultimate play in the world?

First, we need to be conscious of how Ultimate subversively teaches leadership and life skills. That’s been my experience as I’ve moved up the ranks: as I get better, I feel more responsibility to be a good example (not that I always do it well!). In learning and applying the rules and spirit of the game to in-game situations, you are almost obligated to become a better person and a better leader. It’s a really special part of Ultimate that doesn’t exist in any other sport. And because it’s fun and fitness oriented, you can sell it in such a way that it doesn’t come off as dorky leadership training. We’re going around saying “hey, come play this great game” and in the course of doing it, we’re helping new players go farther and be better. There’s something really powerful about that.

I think it’s time that we became conscious of how that differentiates Ultimate. As I teach this game in dusty lots covered in cow paddies or try to sell it to government officials, I realize that there are no other sports where someone would dedicate his time to this type of grassroots growth effort with no expectation of compensation. Can you imagine a badminton player traveling the world trying to convince kids to play? Or even soccer, basketball, football? Our passion for Ultimate and the positive change that it can aspire should certainly be a major strategic focus. And there are lots of people out there with far more passion for Ultimate than me. Imagine if we could mobilize hundreds of fanatical Ultimate players to share their love with the rest of the world! That’s kind of what we’re trying to do. We’re also well-placed to do it: Ultimate players are disproportionately represented in the foreign service and in development work. We have an opportunity to take this game and use it to spread some really important, holistic ideas about life. If we all committed ourselves to this together, we could create something really special and unifying.

The truth is that it’s already begun: the Johannesburg (South Africa) league organizes regular coaching clinics for disadvantaged youth in Soweto; I read that the Soweto team recently won their national tournament and represented the country at Worlds in 2003. Also in South Africa, the national body (SAFDA) has teamed up with a major HIV/AIDS awareness NGO called Lovelife (www.lovelife.co.za) that was so taken by ultimate that it chose it as its flagship sport for a series of regional/national sports tournaments: through arts, dance, and sports, the NGO reaches 4000 schools and impacts 3,000,000 kids per year. I’ve also heard of programs in Thailand and Colombia that tie together Ultimate and Development. I’m sure there are more out there. Hopefully talking about this will bring them out of the woodwork.

5. Why would Ultimate be a better ambassador sport choice than other sports?

There are a handful of straightforward reasons. It’s cheap, it’s easy to learn and organize. It unconsciously promotes integration, leadership, maturity, and fitness, just through the design of the game. It already has a passionate advocacy group through a well-developed community. And there’s a sense of inevitability: ultimate players are traveling and working abroad and they all want to play a great game at the end of the day. In India, there are teams in a handful of major cities and growing. I’ve got no doubt that growth will continue over the next few years, especially with what’s happening here in terms of economic growth.

We need to overcome two challenges as we grow. The first will be getting access to quality field space. The second is producing high quality, inexpensive discs. Both will be gradually addressed as we grow, but they effect how we strategize. Recently, we’ve diverted our efforts to focus on the upper class and the university students, because those groups have easy access to fields and can afford to buy discs. We are still looking for other, creative ways to address these problems.

6. Do you have any thoughts on how the established Ultimate community might help?

We have learned that Ultimate needs to be taught by experienced coaches who love the game, because it loses itself in translation. As an example, my first day here coincided with the national Flying Disc of India tournament (sanctioned by WFDF and ostensibly a qualifier for Worlds). There were about 200-300 coaches, players, and officials, and no more than a handful had ever seen a knowledgably played game. The governing body had learned the game by reading rules on the UPA website and had instituted its own interpretation, with referees, traveling, odd defensive rules (like, for any attempted D where a defensive player contacted the disc but didn’t catch it, offense retained possession – yes, seriously), and lots and lots of contact. It turned one team picking up the disc and hucking it at their tallest player standing in the endzone, the disc inevitably being dropped, and then the other team picking up the disc and hucking it back. It sucked. One of the side effects was that our captain (who had a comparably better idea of what was going on) made a bid on a disc, was pushed, and tore his ACL. This was a great stage to promote some high ideals, but poor implementation compromised the effort.

The folks in South Africa have said the same thing: teaching the game requires that new players need to be quickly infused into an already established community in order to fully digest the spirit rules. Growth of the game will rely on the committed involvement of current players. If that part is missing, it just becomes another badminton.

Through Indicorps, we’re looking to create a global community of organizations using Ultimate to create change. The community should be a vessel for conversation about development, sourcing discs, trading teaching tools, drills, strategies, and for sharing opportunities: we’re all in this with the same goals, so we should find ways to work together. It’ll also be important for giving current players the opportunity to infuse themselves in international growth – either through short-term volunteer work or longer term organization and planning. We need all the help we can get and will welcome anyone who wants to share their love for the game.
This idea is just starting to take form, but interested people should contact us and check out our websites: www.ultimatefrisbee.org.in

and ultimate.indicorps.org

7. Should North America be worried about another country becoming another competitor?

There are 10 year olds here with better forehands than guys I toured with. I’m talking 40 or 50 yard throws, minutes after learning. These are the kids who loved ultimate but didn’t know it.



Frank Huguenard said...

This is such a ridiculous joke, unless you're not talking about sockeye, jam, revolver, furious, condors and whomever else played at cal states.

None of these players were even playing by the rules, but I guess that's ok as long as everyone is setting a good example and being a good citizen.

Jeters said...

I knew the day would come when Frank would join us in commenting. So, before I join in the wit and banter of intellectual battles over a medium that means we never face each other, as Plato would do, can you clarify before I waste my time.

"This is such a ridiculous joke, unless you're not talking about sockeye, jam, revolver, furious, condors and whomever else played at cal states." is in relation to blogging about Ultimate? There is a blog post on that topic, though I'm sure you've seen it.

"but I guess that's ok as long as everyone is setting a good example and being a good citizen." is this sarcasm?


Frank Huguenard said...


Bottom line is this. I fervently disagree with the assertion that Ultimate subversively teaches leadership and life skills (unless you consider unintentional cheating via lack of awareness a life skill).

If you put referees on the field with a rational set of rules, all of the teams at CalStates would have been seriously crippled. Most of the players would have fouled out and there would have been so many turnovers, teams would have a hard time scoring. Both offensively and defensively, from a tactical and strategic standpoint, most of the things that teams do would instantaneously be obsoleted.

My comment was beyond sarcasm. How can you suggest that ultimate players are good caretakers/citizens of the sport when they don't even follow their own rules. It is insane.

I saw some incredibly fantastic plays on Sunday. Just amazing. The athleticism of today's player is higher than ever. However, in about 5 hours, I only saw about 12 such plays (and I was watching two games at once much of the time in between fields). That's not exactly a very good showcase. As phenomenal as some of these players are, their skillsets remain mediocre and this has come as a direct result of a screwball set of rules and what is claimed to be 'lifebuilding' skills.

This simply couldn't be more wrong. Ultimate is an incredibly misguided game. Great people, no doubt but the game itself does not promote excellence, it promotes mediocrity.

Jeters said...

As for the first statement: “Ultimate teaches leadership and life skills (unless you consider unintentional cheating via lack of awareness a life skill)”, this is a point of view. One counter example is Ultimate helps you learn how to end an argument without coming to blows. If that example isn’t good enough, then maybe an example like Ultimate helps you learn how to attend regularly scheduled events, which is a form of organization (a good life skill). Ultimate is probably not the best medium for teaching these skills.

I won’t go into “unintential cheating” since I’m not good at debating paradoxes, and I agree that Ultimate is not a fun sport to watch in most situations other than a few exceptional moments (though many have argued with me that the same is true for many other sports including both NA and European versions of football, ice hockey, basketball, and cricket/baseball). My belief is watching sport is mostly about the unfolding story more than the actual event, and I’ve seen many bad stories (in Ultimate and others).

I’m most interested in the last paragraph. The thing that bothers me the most is which activities promote excellence. Those who are religious might argue that a devout religious life in the form of a spiritual leader is a pursuit of excellence. Let’s leave that thread alone and define pursuit of excellence in athletics. Still, I believe the definition is too broad, since we might discuss a body sculptor’s pursuit of a body image or a high-jumper’s pursuit of the highest jump. That leaves us with pursuit of excellence in a team sport. The pursuit of excellence is then being a better team within the rules (as flawed as they may be) than any other team.
What I would say to you Frank, is I really appreciate that you bring up many of the flaws with Ultimate. The aggressive approach sometimes turns me off, but to each their own. Your purpose is useful to all of us since it will push the sport to evolve. Claiming Ultimate is perfect, the best, or anything along these lines would be ridiculous, but is an expected exaggeration made from any group that loves the sport or activity they regularly engage in.

I think that Ultimate will provide benefit to many people in many different walks of life. It is also bad for some, and I’ve argued in the past some of my concerns. The same can be said for a range of sports and activities, but I don’t, currently, write about those things. I’m sure they have blogs and forums.

I’m wondering one thing, and I wish we could talk in person. Maybe when I’m back out in western USA, I’ll make the effort to meet up. The question I have is what is your motivation for actively discussing Ultimate. I think people would like to know and I’d be glad to make it a separate post (jamieson.peter at gmail.com).


Fryjol said...

Mr Huguenard,

I disagree with your opinion. I'm from Colombia, down here in South America, we are a country with a strong violent legacy, you won't see what movies show about my country, that is for sure, but we certainly have a difficult time having arguments that won't translate into a fist fight that is a deep feature in our culture.

In my personal case, I live in a very small (425K people) city from my country, development is not strong here, sports don't even have a place to be played, and believe me, young people hve thousands of activities to look for before sports. Well, I started playing with 8 guys a year and a half ago, now we have 3 teams with more than 150 players, my team on its own have 90 players divided in 3 teams, including one women's team. Every single one of them is learning things that prepares them for their future.

We have problems too, Ultimate is not perfect for sure, we are debating if we should include observers or not, but my friend, Ultimate has changed a lot of lifes in my city. My players are more leaders, more responsible, they are slowly becoming realcitizens.

Any way, I would like to read your point, because I have looked for it on the web and it is a "not so easy to understand" point.

Best Wishes,