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.


blaine said...


I went home this weekend thinking about the use of legitimacy once again. The use of "legitimacy", as was stated earlier, is often done so in relationships of power and authority (I think I said that earlier). For example, non-profits that rely on state funding will mimic their organizational and institutional models with what the state sees as legitimate. Additionally, we see emerging states conform to specific nation-state models (creating a constitution or an airport prior to having proper roads) because the UN or OECD views these institutions or technologies as legitimate. All of these have relational power in common. Power over another (state over non-profit, OECD over emerging state).

However, legitimacy can also emerge under conditions of uncertainty and survivability (which the later is typically used on our instance). When outcomes are uncertain and an organizational or institutional model emerges that looks successful others will mimic and imitate that model. Regardless of inefficiencies and externalities. People think that for Ultimate to prosper or become "popular" we need to copy ourselves after other sports models. Thinking about it, the current conception of our sport is not at a point where we’re thinking about surviving. If our numbers were on the decline that would be something worth considering. However, our current model is on the up and up where other sports at the youth-level are generally on the decline (if you include video games as a sport then no).

But, you made a point about Ultimate wanting to be sanctioned by other organizations. If they want to sanction us we will need to meet certain requirements set by them. In that regard, that is the only time “legitimacy” should be an issue. And, if “legitimacy” means to alter the organizational structure or change our constitution or something then that’s fine. Organizations sanctioning us really don’t care how the sport is regulated, however. Right? What they care about is the numbers of people we have playing the sport and if there is a demand for it. In that sense, legitimacy is not driving the future of the sport, a simple market mechanism is. One way we can make the hand visible is by creating our own demand. Targeting the youth like I said earlier. That is how baseball, basketball, and football became so popular. The most popular sports in the 1930’s were baseball, boxing, and horseracing. Football wasn’t a popular (or “legitimate”) sport at the time. It was played by Ivey Leaguers and it definitely wasn’t America’s past-time. Doesn’t that sounds familiar. Now, however, football is eclipsing baseball as the sport of America. Football did it by having a thriving youth program. Create a demand. Our current system of regulation is not the issue. It is the one thing that delineates our sport with just about every other sport and something we can offer on the supply side that will garner people who are currently discontented with other sports.

What attracted me to this sport was the flight of the Frisbee and how each individual has the power to control the flow of the game. I don’t think we should change it. I’m not a traditionalist, but I think one of the selling points is exactly that, no matter how much people hate it when CSTV talks about it every time the college game comes on TV. Sometimes, however, I get the feeling that the SOTG is an Emperor’s Dilemma. People privately loath the system of regulation, yet publicly enforce and deal with it because the costs of implementing any wide-sweeping third-party enforcement system would be very costly for each individual involved and the organization. I personally think we need to maintain our current hybrid system of regulation and sell that. It’s a cool way of doing things and it’s innovative. I’m also very interested in the results of the survey the UPA recently conducted to see what is everyone’s take on the SOTG and refs. You only get bits and pieces of it on RSD and in personal conversations.

Thanks for listening.


gapoole said...

The difference between Process and Outcome goals is definitely something you have mentioned before, and I'm glad you brought it up again. Not only is it relevant to this discussion, but the reminder is good for me: I recently wrote down some personal goals, mostly for my winter conditioning program, and it is an important distinction to keep in mind.

As for the point of your post, I think "increase the number of participants" is a good goal that we can agree on, although I am not 100% convinced that it is a Process goal. I think I have enough thoughts to post on the topic myself, though, so I'll do that and wait for your ideas on how to grow the sport.

gcooke said...


It sounds like you have been thinking about Differentiation a lot. I think we are pretty close in terms of our views of legitimacy.

In terms of regulation, I think that Athletic organizations like the NCAA do care about how we regulate ourselves (if you mean officiating, which I think you do). You make a good point that commercial interests will not care...they just care about numbers. This is a pretty interesting dichotomy and speaks to how selling ourselves to various interest is complex.

I think one aspect that made sports like football more poular (in addition to encouraging youth growth) is the media...specifically TV.

You bring up a number of points that I am going to try to deal with in the next few posts.


gcooke said...


I agree that "increase the number of participants" is not as clean as it could be. I think that if we said that we need to have x participants by y date...then that might be more of an Outcome goal.

Perhaps this goal is kind of an amalgam and the real process goal would be something like establish High School Leagues in all 50 states.