Thursday, November 17, 2005

In The Trenches

Well, I just finished another year of work as the Youth Educator for BUDA. I gave a spring summary in this blog this past May, so I will try not to repeat myself.

If you ever want to feel good about yourself and want to give back to the sport, spend a day teaching Ultimate to 5-6 high school gym classes. A humbling activity if there ever was one. I most certainly need my nap when the classes are finished, and I wonder how teachers do this day in and day out.

It is my understanding that this program is one of the few outreach programs in the country. We face a large task in that we are trying to get into as many schools as we can in the Metro Boston area. Our big successes are Newton North High School and Lincoln-Sudbury High School. In both cases, the faculty has bought into the value of the sport. Both schools now offer Ultimate as part of their curriculum. We provide the clinics and a Teaching Kit (10 discs, cones, rules, literature, etc), for free, and in the case of Newton North, the faculty has said that they now have more confidence to teach the sport correctly. Both schools are welcoming to me as a visitor and do not carry themselves with a sense that I am treading on their turf.

The clinic agenda is short and to the point. I go over the basics of both throws, the kids practice the throws, and then we play. As I said in May, there is a lot of skepticism about SOTG. I think, when framed as it means to be respectful and that it empowers the players as referees, that they sort of get it. I hope that, for the most part, they feel that it is a real sport by the end of the clinics.

A lot of girls stand around in a clump, and the boys try to throw it as far as they can. At Newton, though, I had one team (the teacher divided the kids up into teams for a week long tournament) that realized that if they played real defense that they would have success. They had one good thrower, and two girls totally pumped to shut anyone down. The team rolled through everyone, and they were fun to watch.

When you stand in a gym with 30 loud teenagers, it feels like we have a long way to go. I think we only have the option to keep chipping away at the iceberg.


LittleOrphanAnnie44 said...

I think it's great what you're doing for youth ultimate. Nice to see ultimate get accepted more by the faculty at Newton North High.

But you do realize that Newton North used to have a great program? You do know that North was fielding competitive teams and traveling outside of MA to NY, PA and wherever HS Nationals would be held that year, right?

While I'm totally in favor of veteran players getting involved in phys. ed. classes and teaching ultimate to a broader audience, I'm not in favor of high school coaches who leave behind their teams with little direction or a system to sustain them.

Youth Ultimat suffers largely because there are too many teams that have uncoached players that are forced to reinvent the wheel, year in and year out. And where schools and teams are lucky to have a coaching presence, they too lack stability if their coach happens to land a greater job opportunity elsewhere.

So my question (and unfortunately I offer no maybe I shouldn't have commented to begin with) is this: how can we (uh, UPA?) support both these uncoached and coached teams? How can we supply youth teams with coaches and how can we give coached teams the stability so that they can survive in the event of a coach's departure?

Will all the Newton North alumni please stand up?

gcooke said...


Thanks for your comments. I actually was an assistant coach for James P in 2000 (the year they beat Amherst in Semis), so I am aware of the history of the school. One of the things I talk about in my NNHS clinics is the history of the program. I talk about Andea, Ben, Sam, and what they have gone on to do.

While I think that clinics for the masses is positive, it does not address the disconnect between most athletic/PE depts, and the coach for the Ultimate club team. As a side note, this occurs at the college level as well. At Wellesley, the trainers cannot treat our athletes, as they play a club sport, due to liability issues. I agree with you that most high teams suffer from lack of stability due to lack of funding for a coach, lack of recognition/respect for the sport, and, as you say, having to rely on underclassmen to reinvent the wheel as the seniors move on.

I think that UPA is making efforts as they have created the coaching certification program. The material in the seminar does address issues that obstruct the stability of an Ultimate program. Honestly, though, I think that this program is a bit too ahead of the game. I am nor convinced that what high school team's need is certified coaches. I think more efforts could be made to try to deal with some of the issues that you bring up.

In terms of stable coaches, I think we need to look to what has worked. I think the successful model is that the coach also works for the school. There was just a post on RSD about paid coaching positions at the NW School. It helps when the AD is an Ultimate player. Tiina Booth talks often about the early 90's when she would stand out there in the rain with 3 kids who couldn't throw a forehand.

The main thing for me (I am in my 4th year at Wellesley) is that I find coaching extremely rewarding. I also work for myself, so I am able to create the time to able to do things like coaching, and it doesn't hurt that Wellesley has reasonable compensation for the time I put in.

So, if you are thinking about coaching, do it. It is a great experience. One that is the worth the financial and time sacrifice.

sevens said...

James never worked for Newton North, he came to coach us after work because he liked the game. His successor Matt Anderson is a physics teacher at the school who played some in college. Blaming the recent failures on a lack of a coach, or on a coach who isn't connected the school, is probably wrong.

There was a rough transition when James moved because there were a couple of people who were used to a certain method of coaching and resisted change (what can I say? We were 14 and 15), but now the institutional memory is gone and Matty, a great coach in his own right, will be able to set up a dominant program again.

A lot of NNHS decline is also due to the improvement of other teams - we weren't much worse my senior year (when we didn't get invited to nationals) than my sophomore year (when we finished third), but every other team in the state was significantly better. We used to be able to force forhand against most teams and win via unforced errors, but now I think that would only work in gym class.

I think the gym classes are great, but can't think of anyone who joined the team after BUDA introduced them to the game. However, it was nice to have an AD who took us seriously, which was basically a result of the gym teachers being impressed by George being professional and good.

I should probably know this, but who is Andea?

NNHS '04

gcooke said...


Thanks. Nice to see so many NNHS alums lurking around the blogworld.

I was shifting around between speaking generally and specifically, and I think you are correct in addressing the issue of other schools getting better. Obviously, with Matt working at the school, it bodes well for NNHS. I was just saying that, in general, many athletic depts are not that supportive of club Ultimate...even when the coach is a member of the faculty.

It is probably a bit much to ask that kids will be so wow'd by the sport that they would join immediately after one of the clinics. I think that when you (meaning members of the club team) helped me out in teaching the clinics we had the best shot of getting some recruits. Hopefully, by continuing with the program, we will be able to better integrate Ultimate into NNHS's culture. I can't think of a MA schoool that has better potential in terms of history combined with administrative support.

Andrea (my typo) graduated in the late 90's, went to Wellesley, then played for CTR and Brass Monkey. I forgot to mention April and the Berkely Brothers as well.