Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Toronto's past is not London's future

I saw and lived in the Toronto Ultimate scene for seven years. Now I'm living in London, England, and I've joined in the Ultimate scene here to a minor degree for about 6 months now. In this post, I'm going to describe some of what we experienced in Toronto, and how things are different now and how I would change them.

Pictured Above: Team Japan in the Guts finals. I loved taking these pictures.

I experienced what I would call a revolution (or evolution) in Toronto Ultimate in terms of Open Touring Ultimate. When I started touring, there was no tryouts or teams for the bottom end players, and I got on a team by talking to veterans to get a chance to play. There were a number of disjoint teams that made up the Toronto scene. That season, we didn't practice and attended a few tournaments. Still, that was enough to peak my interest.

At the same time, I had found the University of Toronto's Ultimate team, and was given some great experiences on the B-team. I met some veterans who were willing to teach what they knew to a eager developing players.

The next year, I decided to fill the gap in Toronto, with some friends, and made a bottom level team. The players on this team went on to influence Toronto Ultimate to this present day. Also, UofT went through a change, and I was given the reigns of the club with no or little real Ultimate experience. My basketball and hockey experience were, however, existent as I had coached and captained teams in the past.

Some key players came along at UofT and they made pushes in the middle levels of Toronto for a team that filled the gap between elite Ultimate and elite development. This team is known as Grand Trunk. In Grand Trunk's initial year, the talent influx we had turned heads at the more elite level, Goat, and soon there was a talent crossover. This combined group with lots of work had the insight to create the present Open system in Toronto where three teams (hopefully four in the coming years) provide both development and opportunity for the development of elite players.

Toronto has had varying success with this Open system, and that will be tested in years to come. Many people have thought about how to innovate and worked toward a common effort of improving the quality of Ultimate in the area. I've left the scene, but as long as improvement of Universities in the region continues and the local innovation continues, Toronto Open Ultimate is in a good place.

Experiencing this evolution/revolution from a city of disjoint efforts to a mostly common move forward makes you immediately wonder if the same can be done in a new city. London, however, has some differences.

The exciting things about London that excite me are:
  • Large diverse population
  • Lots of green space
  • Easy travel to tournaments
  • Many schools in the area
  • A country that loves sport
The similarities between Toronto of old and London are:
  • Disjoint team efforts
  • Little youth development
So, it seems like there would be great opportunity to establish something like Toronto's system in London. There is, however, one differing factor from Toronto. London Open teams are the top teams in the region, and therefore, there's little competition to force the city to evolve a system. The case here, is Europe offers a little competition, but nothing along the lines of the UPA club and college series that push Toronto to become better.

This lack of competition means that, as my previous post suggests, the rational costs in the game are different here. First off, the players in London, and to a greater extent the UK, need to decide what the goal is in terms of the top level of the game.

How do I think London should evolve its' Open system? Well, first off, my motivation would be to see the UK medal at the World club and national tournaments. To do this, all the teams in the region need to improve to raise the competition level.

My current thoughts to this end are, instead of concentrating talent and building a hierarchy like in Toronto, the city is better off in diversifying talent across teams, building a high-level league structure, and then concentrating talent for big tournaments.

A league? Yes a league. For some reason, a country that geographically is not the big, uses Tournaments as the main form of play. Individual matches, as mentioned in a post at the Process of Illumination, there is an opportunity as stated in the post, "Smaller rosters will elevate the ceiling in the game between the best teams".

Living in a high concentration of population suggests that a league structure makes more sense to improve talent as opposed to the tournament structure. I'm fine with the tournaments, but regular match play against local equal teams will lead to faster evolution and improvements than a few tournaments and internal training. London, itself, could support 4 or more strong club Open teams. That with the North would make a league of eight that would provide for faster development, higher quality Ultimate, and a potential setting for fans.

As an aside, I suspect that North American influence has lead to tournament play in the UK. The tournaments are great fun, but they make little sense at the top level. I'm surprised that leagues and regular top quality competition isn't intertwined with regular tournament play.

Tournaments still need a place, so that the teams here can acclimatize to the wars of attrition in tournament play, but that should not be the primary focus.

Some early initiatives are focusing on passing knowledge between club teams and college teams. This is great, and the college scene here needs to drive the club scene forward. Currently, I'm focusing on a few initiatives. My first focus is on college Ultimate in London with Kings and Imperial, and depending on my health next season, we'll see what other moves I make come the new year. As usual this will be fun, and another opportunity to learn more about this sport we play.



higy said...

and here I was thinking you were posting about CEUUC

Tom said...

I'm starting to think that a more regionalized system might work in Toronto as the level of interest in open touring grows. The talent level on Roy was not great, and a fourth team below Roy would likely be terrible. I think for both Roy and GT, tournaments didn't provide a lot of opportunity to play teams at the same level. Perhaps a GTA or golden-horseshoe league would provide better opportunities for quality competition and ideally all of the teams would feed into Goat. Teams could be merged or split from year to year to maintain a good level of parity.