Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Spirit of the Game Committee

I have been crazy swamped lately trying to get ready for Nationals. I have been watching video obsessively and trying to tie up the loose ends in the other parts of my life so I can go with a clear conscience. I'm going to avoid predictions and speculations about Nationals beyond saying that there is a ton of parity. A ton. When the dust settles on Monday, we'll anoint a champ and anoint the 'good' teams and the 'bad' ones, but if we've learned anything this year, it's that one tournament doesn't mean much.

However, I do have something totally unrelated that I want to talk about before I leave for Boulder on Thursday morning. USA Ultimate has decided to revive the Spirit of the Game Committee and I was asked (by Meredith Tosta) to serve on it and I agreed to do so. Here are the other members:

Meredith Tosta
Will Deaver
David Barka
Jim Schoettler
Leila Tunnel
Catherine Greenwald

I am posting now because I'd like to solicit feedback on what people's thoughts are. Nationals is a great place to network and talk about stuff because it's one of the few places where we are all together. I am a little unclear on our mandate. Will and Meredith are swamped organizing D-III Nationals, D-I Nationals, Easterns and Westerns so there hasn't been much work or discussion yet, but I imagine it will pick up post-Nationals. I am beginning to work on ideas and thoughts about what can and/or should be done. I am trying to keep my ideas pretty general at this stage. There's no point getting detailed before there is any overarching vision.

Here are the two main ideas I am mulling over:
1. We need practice to back up theory. I teach middle school and we use the PBIS (here) model to instruct behavior. People need specific directions to learn behavior. Right now, the USAU's Ten Things You Should Know About Spirit are the most specific instructions in existence and they are still very general. What would more specific instructions look like in ultimate? How could it be delivered?
2. Focus on coaches. More and more college teams are driven by their coaches. As our sport matures and coaches begin to outlast players we will see more and more programs like the Stanford women where two and half generations of women have passed through with the same coach. Those coaches have a profound impact on their team's culture.

What are your ideas? You can comment them here, email me directly (louburruss@gmail.com) or find me in Boulder. I am not sure how much down time I will have, but I'll have some and I'd love to talk shop.

PS - I am quite aware of the irony involved in my membership on this committee. I'm not quite sure what else to say about it, but I thought I'd better mention it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Heat and Sideline Safety

Here is the text of a letter I sent USAU regarding heat, sun and player safety. I will add this: if you are playing in Boulder Memorial day, you should have a plan to deal with the heat.

Will, Beth and Jeff,

I am writing you all in an official capacity because I have concerns about athlete and coach safety at Nationals in Boulder. This will be my third trip to Boulder as a coach for college Nationals. (99 and 08 were the other two.) In each of those years, my team had a player suffer from serious heat and/or altitude sickness. The player in 99 was sick to the point of vomiting and should have been hospitalized. (I wasn't informed until well after the fact.) The player in 08 was hospitalized and missed the last day of play. Although I don't know the details of hospitalizations and missed games throughout the tournament, I know that heat stroke was a major concern last year as well. I banished my own team to the tent during play to get them off of the sidelines and out of the heat and sun, but ended up suffering heat stroke myself and spent three hours in bed under cold towels on Saturday after pool play.

There are two policies I would like you to adjust and reconsider.

The first is the limit to two sideline support staff. With most teams at 20+ players and at least one coach, it is unrealistic to expect that 2 people can support 21 throughout a full day, let alone four full days. While it is important to keep foolish alumni under control (I am a CUT alum after all...) I think that this could be accomplished in a way that still allowed an appropriate and safe level of support for the teams. Please consider raising this limit to 4 non-players.

The second is the shade tent policy. It is unrealistic to fit 20+ people into a single tent, unless you squeeze them in, which defeats the purpose of cooling shade. Each team should have the opportunity to access two tents.

Thank you,
Lou Burruss
Oregon Fugue

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Regionals Recap

I wrote one for USAU here. I've gt just a couple of comments that didn't make the general report.

First, the format issue is so weird. The USAU is trying to balance a zillion different concerns in their formats. Well, at least three. First, they are trying to get everyone a reasonable number of games which means at least five. (No matter that teams are forfeiting because they're worked over by the end.) Second, they are trying to determine the perfect quarterfinal match-ups entirely within the framework of the tournament. This often means exhaustive pool play and crossovers. Third, they love elimination games. (No matter that round robin ranks everyone.) There are some real advantages to this approach, particularly the elimination games. One and done is a nice way to settle the issue of who goes with some clarity. The real problem is the soft pool play. It encourages teams to throw games. The latest controversy emerges out of the South-Central open division, but teams have been 'throwing' games for a long time. (Quick aside: is it throwing a game to sit all your starters? Is it throwing a game to play equal playing time? Is it throwing a game to intentionally turf the first pass every possession?) The real issue is that there is fluff in the schedule. When there is fluff, people will take advantage of it.

Second, the 'coaching experiment' I referred to in my report was to play O and D lines. There are two dangers in playing O and D and we got torpedoed by both. The system only works as long as the O team is scoring consistently. (UBC went on an 8-3 second half run.) The split of O and D creates divisions within the team. Essentially, it creates two teams that are pasted together. Managing this division is one of the big personnel challenges on any team with an O and D split. Fugue needed only one day to discover that we hated it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Preview + ReStructure Thoughts

I wrote a preview for USA Ultimate which you can read here. There were a couple of things I wanted to comment on that didn't make it into the article.

I hadn't yet talked to Whitman when I wrote the article for USAU, but I had been curious about their decision to not attend D-III Regionals and Nationals. Here's what their captain, Kelley Hall said:
"There wasn't a DIII regionals this year with the restructuring otherwise our decision may have been different. Unfortunately DIII Nationals is very far away and very expensive, and just wasn't feasible for our team. In addition, we collectively decided that we wanted to take on the challenge of playing some of the best teams in the nations just to test ourselves and grow from the experience."

I really like the idea of D-III. I think it will take off in 4-5 years, but right now it doesn't seem to be hitting on all cylinders yet. There is a level of commitment that teams have to cross to be a nationally traveling team and most D-III teams aren't there yet. It costs a lot of money to run a season that features a 5-7 tournaments. This commitment has to be fed occasionally by a return on investment i.e. a trip to Nationals. Most D-III teams (outside of Carleton and the New England) haven't in a position to compete for D-I Nationals and so they have never built up the financial commitment for a big-time season. As D-III teams experience success at the D-III level, we should see a slow increase in stability and participation.

The other team that didn't make the preview (because they declined their bid) was Utah. I had a long conversation with their captain, Cricket, who had organized enough women to drive the 16 hours (!!!) for a one day, 4-game Conference tournament. Had they accepted their bid to Regionals they would have needed to fly or to drive 21 hours to Burlington. Put Regionals in Vancouver (which will happen) and that's a 23 hour drive and a border crossing. Ugh.

The restructuring process was very good at managing and anticipating growth in the east, where there are a lot of teams and look to be a lot more. It did a much poorer job of managing the size issues in the west (which isn't getting any smaller.) In a lot of ways, our region only works because there aren't really any teams in the Big Sky. Should they ever get enough momentum, then we suddenly will have a pretty big (sky) problem. The men are already dealing with this; Utah is sending a team to Regionals. The South Central's version of this problem blew up on rsd a few weeks ago as Texas A&M was greatly indignant about the addition of Colorado to their region. (I can't find the link, sorry.)

Within these regions, it is very difficult to have growth when a new team is looking at a 16 hour drive to play. It just won't happen. They'll get a little momentum and then - poof! it's gone.

Here's a simple solution:
1. Two new regions: Big Sky North (MT, ID, WY, AB, SA) and Four Corners (NM, AZ, CO, UT)
2. Twenty-four team Nationals
You fix the geographic problems in the Northwest and South Central. You provide the extra bids to cushion the expansion. And three extra bids to further cushion the inaccuracy of results that will occur from time to time. (CO is going to send a team 90% of years anyway.)