Friday, December 22, 2006

11th Edition

Someone on RSD requested that the blog folks express their opinion about the UPA's proposed 11th edition, so I will jump in. First, however, I wish everyone a happy holiday season. I will take next week off from posting, but I will resume posting on Jan 2, 2007.

I can sum up my thoughts about the 11th very quickly: I think you should vote to approve it. This is not to say that it is perfect or that everyone will like all of it. I really like the cap language, but I am not a huge fan of not having to acknowledge a goal. I think this edition does a pretty good job in further defining marker fouls....which is not an easy task. Overall, I think the 11th is characterized by streamlining and removing redundancies.

I think the biggest reason to approve it, though, is that the process was transparent. The creation of a Google discussion group was a good idea, and the Rules Committee can't be responsible for some folks communicating as if it was RSD. If you wanted to be part of the process, or had questions or concerns, there were clear opportunities to participate and get your say in.

This is a chance to move out of the comfort zone of what we are "used to". The 11th does not solve some of the gnarly rules issues that we have inherited, but it does clear up many inconsistencies and redundancies. Thanks to Peri and the SRC for doing a lot of hard work on our behalf. I think their efforts deserve a vote of approval.


Monday, December 18, 2006

I or D Part 3-Media & Technology

Before I launch into my usual weekly diatribe, I just want to congratulate Jim for winning Peter McCarthy's Woman of the Year Award on RSD. I am sure he will get teary during the acceptance speech.

A good place to start with imitation or differentiation is, hopefully, Ultimate and media and technology. Technology and the media have, obviously, played a crucial role in the development and popularity of sports. In my previous post, Blaine discussed the importance of the development of Youth Ultimate in terms of growing our sport and tied the increase in popularity of sports like football and basketball to the increase in kids playing those sports. I am not in disagreement that a robust Youth initiative could lead directly to growth in our sport, but I think the exposure that the Big Sports gained via the media could be equally, and perhaps even more, responsible for the surge that has happened over the last 30 years.

It could be argued even further that media has played a defining role in the popularity of sports. I think it is not a coincidence that baseball, which in my opinion translates better to radio than other sports, had its "Golden Era" (say 1925-1956, roughly) during the time of radio's peak (in terms of market share) as a media outlet. The emergence and domination of TV as a media outlet also coincides with football's (and to a lesser degree, basketball's) dominance in the media marketplace. It does seem like a case of one hand feeding the other as well as some synchronicity. In the case of baseball, the pacing and movement limited to the base paths translates very well to the spoken medium and our ability to abstract without visual aid. Football, while somewhat cumbersome in its stop and go nature in the live setting, translates very well to TV as there is plenty of time for instant replay and, of course, commercial interruption. All of the above sentences speak only to how a sport translates to a medium and ignores many other factors, such as great athletes, great stories, and the cycle of increasing money, that have also gone into the growth of our highly saturated sports market in the media.

It seems hard to imagine that Ultimate will benefit, in the near future, from some kind of technology change as significant as the change from the single dimension of radio to the two dimensional world of TV (like football did). The screens might get bigger, crisper, and flatter, and the sound might get louder and more "surroundy", but until someone figures out how to place me in some kind of virtual reality where I experience being in the Sockeye horizontal O ("Poach!") while sitting in my living room, looking at a screen is going to be where it is at for a while. It seems to me that many discussions of Ultimate and the media assume, with perhaps a sense of....resignation(not quite the right word), that content delivered to my TV in the "traditional" manner (meaning network or cable provided predetermined programming) is the ONLY way in which I will be able to experience our sport when watching a screen. However, this ignores obvious technological advancements that, while not being as significant as "virtual reality", could possibly be a springboard to a higher media presence for our sport. The ability to control and distribute content via the web has already drastically altered the media landscape and could leave cable and network providers gasping for air, much like the traditional record companies of today. We would be foolish not to exploit any advantage available to us. I think there seems to be a certain sense of desperation when talking about getting Ultimate on TV, and desperation is a common attitude of those that do not have options. To have options is empowering, and, as such, I think it would be prudent if both paths (web and TV) were explored. Now, my point is not to say that one path (distributed content via the web) is better than the other(getting Ultimate on TV). While it seems, at first glance, that Ultimate on TV is inherently Imitative and web content will be a means to Differentiate Ultimate, I think both tools come into play in both paths.

I am not going to spend that much time on the Ultimate on TV subject. The challenges here are pretty familiar and well known. I will say that Imitation of other sports will be largely present if Ultimate is make it on TV, and we should expect that compromises will be needed. The place where the line is drawn will be different for each of us, but there is clear precedent that compromise is a fact of life when Ultimate takes steps out into the "real world". For example, the decision to not air full games on CSTV could be considered a compromise. I am sure there are many folks who feel that the decision to have Mixed for the World Games is another great compromise. To be clear, I am not being critical of these decisions as I think both ventures are positive for the sport. As I said before, a clear understanding of the cost vs benefit analysis is needed for these decisions. I do think it is possible to consider that differentiating ourselves could be an asset when it comes to selling our product to TV interests. There are certainly plenty of examples of successful programming that was viewed as outside the norm when initially proposed. Here is just a random list of some interesting possible issues/questions:

-Would the Ultimate season need to be altered so that games could be shown during times that don't conflict with other sports?
-What is the best camera angle or method to film our sport?
-There are complaints about the time between pulls in a live game...might not this time be of interest to TV folks in terms of commercial time?
-Folks arguing? People seem to be pretty interested in that on TV these days........
-What about team names? I know the MLU created, shall we say, trite names for its teams. Do we respect the history, stories, and geographical alignment of the UPA club teams....or do we start anew?

The above list is not meant as a demonstration of anxiety or an attempt to set up roadblocks by creating "problems". I just think the issue is highly complex.

I had a conversation about 10 years ago with a musician friend, and I asked his opinion as to when music would be distributed via the internet. We discussed it, but the conversation was never "if", it was "when". We are at a similar place now when it comes to video and there will be an opportunity to control and broadcast content at some point in the near future. Ultivillage and the UPA/CSTV initiative are taking the initial steps down this path and I think this bodes well for us. I think the opportunity to differentiate ourselves and break some new ground, on our own terms, is staring us in the face. Here is what I would like to have:

-Full screen, high quality, streaming video
-Games presented in their entirety
-A library of available games with a reference database

Want to see the semis of Nats from 2005? No problem. NYNY in its heyday? That is there as well. How about when you need to teach the 4-person cup to your team? Simple, just stream the 03 Riot-Fury final. Scout your first round opponent at Nationals? Got it. Want to see the growth of Chase S-B as a player?......type in a query and you can view Chase playing in high school, college, club, and World Games. Etc...Etc.

I would probably stop blogging and spend all day just watching that internet content. Getting me to stop blogging has got to be an incentive for someone............

So, I think it easy to view media exposure as some kind of panacea. Perhaps it will turn out that way...I certainly don't know. The potential paths that the sport will venture down will offer us an opportunity, via Imitation or Differentiation, to examine what makes Ultimate what it is to each of us. I hope that many of us jump into the fray and offer up our opinions.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Whiptails: End of Semester

We had our last practice of the semester yesterday, and overall I felt like it was a very productive first half of the year. Our captains, Jess and Langdon, did a great job of handling the difficult task of coping with our large numbers this year. In addition, they showed great leadership and focus.

I think our primary goal of focusing on fundamentals was successful overall. It is a challenge to give enough individual attention, and, as such, it was great to have our assistant coach, Pete Zuraw, as he showed a remarkable willingness to spend individual time on the details of the forehand....or backhand...or whatever else was needed. Clearly we would not be as far along if not for his involvement.

There was a ton of improvement on the part of the girls over the course of the semester. Many girls went from no throws at all to a good command of the forehand and backhand. I think a number of the girls really "bought in" to Ultimate as well. Many of them attended practice diligently and showed a desire for working hard.

Of course there is lots of work to do. We are still too easy on ourselves ("I think you were in", "Sorry about that foul"), so we need work on holding each other to high standards. We also still feel like the dump pass is done as an emergency as opposed to trying to gain an advantage. We will continue with trying to keep the disc moving and gaining confidence in our ability to possess the disc.

In general, we get much more done in the fall than we did several years ago. I think our indoor practices are much more effective and this contributes greatly to being better prepared for the spring. Our ability to focus and concentrate over the course of a practice is improving and we will continue to develop this come January.

So, we have a long break until the beginning of February. I think it will be a good time to recharge the batteries.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Imitate or Differentiate Part 2- Goals

Last week I discussed Imitation or Differentiation as "modeling" tools for framing possible processes for moving our sport forward. I received some interesting comments. Thanks to those that took the time to write in. The comments made me realize that I had put the cart before the horse a bit and while it is good to discuss Differentiation, I needed to think more what purpose Differentiation or Imitation serve. Really, it is simply a goal discussion. So this post will discuss some of the goals brought up in the comments I received. I think I need to be clear that the goals discussed are not comprehensive nor meant to suggest a specific plan or set of priorities.

As these posts come in the context of the UCPC panel discussion, I am sure that it will come across as overly convenient that perhaps the best way to frame a discussion of goals for Ultimate is via the means offered by UCPC's keynote speaker, Dr. Alan Goldberg. I have talked quite a bit in this blog about the difference between outcome and process goals, so I spent some of the past week thinking about goals for Ultimate in terms of Goldberg's definitions.

The real power in defining goals as Outcome or Process is in the fact that these definitions can help to identify the things that are in our control. I think discussions of goals for Ultimate frequently involve external (uncontrollable) means of validation, so identifying goals in this manner is essentially empowering and also helps to identify areas that could benefit from tools such as Differentiation or Imitation.

One of the goals that came up in my post and the comments last week is legitimacy. Meghann, Glenn, and Blaine had questions about legitimacy, and I might stretch a bit to say that underlying many discussions about the future of Ultimate is our coveting of legitimacy. I think we could maybe add respect as an additional component. There actually might not be a better example of an Outcome goal than legitimacy(or respect...just ask the Chicago Bears). Clearly, being judged as legitimate is something beyond our control and places great power in the fickle opinions of others. I am not sure that I agree with Blaine that legitimacy is the wrong word. The primary use of this word has to do with conforming with stated rules (as Blaine mentions), but there is a historical usage, which I might guess informs its use in the context of Ultimate, which separates musical comedy from legitimate theater. I do think that this is appropriate, especially considering Joel Silver's comments that the sport was created as a spoof of real sports. I think we need to be careful when wanting legitimacy as a goal as there is no clear metric by which to define when Ultimate has "arrived".

Ultimate as a sport sanctioned by athletic organizations at the high school and college level is another goal that was discussed in the comments last week. I think this is another example of Outcome goals and, maybe, a case of "be careful of what you wish for". Without much effort at all, several examples of concerns with this type of sanctioning came up in the comments. My point is not say that this Outcome goal is a good or bad thing. It is just to say that we need to examine why we want this and what the pros and cons are. Ultimate on TV or the Olympics are also similar Outcome goals. Again, highly complex pros and cons involving money, integrity, and this legitimacy thing.

Growing Ultimate, or getting more players to play the sport, is a different type of goal in that it is a Process goal. It is a means to achieve the Outcome goals listed above (and other Outcome goals). This goal, as stated, is something we have a large degree of control over. I think it is somewhat clear that as our constituency grows, our ability to determine our own destiny also grows. There is a lot of work to do here, however, and while the sport is growing, we need to remain humble. I have been working at Boston College football games this fall, and I would hazard to guess that more spectators (meaning non-players) watched BC play Maine (a Div-1AA team) in the relatively small (44,500) Alumni Stadium than watched the entire UPA College and Club Championships combined. So, while there is a lot of work to do, there is no question that growth, even slow and small in nature, will be an asset for the sport.

So, in summary, I think it can be helpful to view goals for Ultimate as controllable or uncontrollable as this has the potential to enhance our focus. Next week I will continue with discussing some assets and opportunities that I think Ultimate has and how Imitation or Differentiation can help to leverage these in terms of goals like increasing the number of participants in our sport.


Friday, December 08, 2006

Feed is up and running

Idris had a few extra moments in his day, so he reactivated my feed to Ultimatetalk. I did need to go in and edit some of the incorrect timestamps, and on the ones I did changed the author to "Idris".

I left up a few of my recent posts so folks could catch up.

Now I just need to figure out why the first few sentences of my posts are not showing up.


Monday, December 04, 2006

Imitate or Differentiate

One of the interesting components of this conference I am working on ( is the panel discussion that Tiina and I are planning. The topic is "What is the future of Ultimate? Where should we go and how should we get there?” I think this topic (Tiina's idea) is timely and relevant. It happens to sit well with the UPA's Strategic Initiative, "Ultimate Revolution". I did do the survey. Maybe I will win the iPod. This post will be an introduction to a series of posts that will attempt to provide my views on developing a context for thinking about the future of Ultimate. Perhaps this will help in focusing our concerns at the panel discussion at the UCPC.

The purpose of this introduction is to try to lay out my perspective on defining how to think about our sport in terms of proceeding out into the future. I think there are two basic approaches to considering what our problems are, what our strengths are, and how we should move ourselves forward. These approaches are: imitation and differentiation. Practically speaking, these two approaches exist on a non-mutually exclusive continuum, and, as a result, any policy or opinion about the future of Ultimate will exist as a combination, or amalgam, of these two opposing methods. I will discuss each as a separate entity for this post, but it is important to keep in mind that both can come into play.

Imitation could also be described as "modeling". Clearly, any vision of the future of Ultimate should incorporate the lessons learned by other organizations. There are constant discussions about how Ultimate compares to other sports. How do our athletes compare? How do we get sponsored and how have other sports attracted sponsors? Is Ultimate a good name for the sport? Why is poker on ESPN and Ultimate is nowhere to be found? Here is a big one: does the lack of refs in Ultimate hold us back from legitimacy? In the discussions I have read or participated in, the participants frequently cite examples of what other sports have done to become successful. It is hard to see, though, the down side of the cost of legitimacy. We see and covet what other have. I have one quick example that does not claim to indict imitation. It just speaks how a story has many sides to it. A few moths ago, I was at practice with the Whiptails when I noticed a woman standing on our sideline watching us. As is my custom whenever I see a parent, I go over and introduce myself and I did so in this case. When I asked if she was a parent, she said, "No, I am the AD for Wellesley". Now, like many schools, Wellesley's Ultimate team is a club team (like the debate team) and exists outside the realm of the athletics dept. We do not have access to trainers or support services that the varsity sports are entitled to. This does make sense to a large degree as there are the obvious liability concerns, etc. I think my girls would love just a bit of the support that the varsity teams receive. I had a very interesting conversation with the AD. She was very interested in how hard my girls worked, and she was very respectful of our efforts. She also indicated that she was working on ways to get the club sports access to the Wellesley trainers. She was quite surprised and impressed by the fact that we practice three times a week the entire school year. Then she made the point of this story. She asked me if I realized that if the Whips became a Varsity sport that they would only be able to practice 19 weeks a year (as opposed to 38), due to NCAA Div 3 regulations. My girls benefit greatly from having the freedom to practice all year long. I am sure that for every story like this that there is a contradicting example of how being like other sports would have nice perks. The point really is, though, that imitation, or modeling, takes an external point of view of our sport. While this can be positive, it is also important to realize the costs of success. I think another example is TV. I have said it before in this blog. Watching a televised football game live is like watching ice melt. The sport is so tailored for the TV experience that the "real" game, meaning the one occurring on the field, suffers in my opinion.

On the other hand, we have differentiation. While again an external point of view, differentiation seeks to examine and promote what makes our sport different from other sports. It can be hard to have confidence that non-participants will respond to the things that set us apart and that we won't just crash and burn in a failed social experiment. Clearly, though, this last sentence is overly dramatic. There is no end point in my opinion, worst case scenario is that things continue as they are now. Over the next few weeks, I will discuss some of the things that I think could potentially differentiate Ultimate. Essentially, what our "assets" are.

The discussion of the future of Ultimate incorporates assumptions about what legitimacy is and that our collective definition of legitimacy is something that we want. The purpose of this (and the following posts) does not attempt to impart my vision of legitimacy. It just seeks to identify possible tools that take us on different paths. Clearly growing our sport and making it "legitimate" (what ever that means) is a difficult task. As I have said before, when I started playing in the 70's, folks were convinced that Ultimate would be an Olympic sport "in 20 years". Well, "20 years from now" was 10 years ago and from my seat, it does not seem we are much closer. The idea of a definition of legitimacy is important because if we say that legitimacy is TV exposure then that limits us to roughly 5 sports all invented in the late 19th century when it comes to imitation. There are basically no role models for what Ultimate is trying to do (popularize a team sport invented in the late 20th century). As such, the primary focus of my subsequent posts will our differentiating assets as carving our own path might be the only choice handed to us.


What the Whips are working on at the end of the semester

The post-Thanksgiving period has been a tough time for us in terms of getting much done. Things get busy, we are practicing indoors in a basketball court, finals are approaching, etc. I think there is a natural tendency to relax a bit and let the end of the semester kind of just wind down. Over the past few years, I have really been encouraging the girls to actually ramp up a bit and try to get as much done as possible over these brief few weeks. So here is what I am working on:

-Continued focus on fundamentals: throwing and catching. I stopped by a ARHS game at Regionals in Oct to see how Tiina was doing. She said to me that the boys were struggling with throwing and catching and until they got it together that she "had nothing for them".

-Better decision making. One thing I have started to do at our indoor scrimmages is to make passes over head height a turnover. This does a couple of things: makes the players the think about their throws and forces them to exploit only the two primary lanes (open side or break side via dump/swing).

-Focus on executing "away" dumps: This is the dump pass in which the dump cutter cuts away from the thrower and into the middle of the field. The thrower throws it out into space. This is hard, especially when done as a forehand.

-Mental focus. We continue to work on improving our concentration. I will stop the scrimmages for a break when we lose focus. I am also working on the basics like "focus on the things you can control". I have been lucky this year that we have had tremendous interest in the Whips, and our numbers are up to over 30. Usually, by now, I might be in the low teens. Unfortunately, there has apparently (my captains keep me blissfully unaware of the social knot) been a bit of consternation about how our potential A and B teams might break come the spring. This is a perfect opportunity for my girls to work on focus. Not only is the spring many months away (the first snow of the season is lazily coming down past my window as I type), but I am not even thinking about A and B teams at this point. The goal remains the same: team-wide work on fundamentals. Come January, we will sit down and discuss goals for the spring. The viability of separate teams can be dealt with then.


Friday, December 01, 2006

UCPC: Registration is now open!

Early Registration for the UCPC is now live and open! Information about registering for the conference can be found here:

I have also updated information about the Conference Hotel. That information is under the "Hotels & Directions" page.