Thursday, April 03, 2008

Tournament Play - Victim of Its Own Success?

This is more a bit of a ramble aimed as the southerners than fitting into our Brisbane Ultimate remit, but what the heck.

I note with interest that the April Fools 2008 tournament has practically folded due to lack of interest (except from three women’s teams), despite the best efforts of the fine folk of Canberra.

It’s a bit frustrating for me, as it was only 12 months ago that the AFDA Board was taking a heap of flack for the perceived lack of tournaments for Open and Women’s teams.

Fools 2008 was going to be an Open/Women’s tournament which acted as a high level warm-up to Nationals. But it seems nobody wanted to go.

What’s going on?

A bit of history first. Back in the day April Fools in Canberra, along with Seeds of Doom in Sydney and the Border Classic at Albury, were the key tournaments of the Open/Women’s season leading up to the climax of Nationals.

Back in 2004, 13 Open and 12 Women’s teams attended April Fools.

Two obvious and two less obvious things have happened since then.

First obvious – NUFL. A few years ago the elite end of Ultimate got big and hairy enough to come up with the idea of getting just the cream together to play hard and fast – NUFL 2005, NUFL 2006 and NUFL 2007 have been the result. For various reasons, these tournaments have been held during the January-April time period, and the drawing away of the top 200 or so men and women from other teams lessened interest in organising and attending the traditional tournaments.

Second obvious – Regionals. Around the same time Nationals started to grow beyond its capacity and so Regionals were introduced in 2005. Back in the day if you wanted to go to Nationals, your attendance at Nationals was assured, so warm up tournaments could happen right up to the weekend before Nats. But with the need for an organised qualification process and the uncertainty of not qualifying, Regionals has taken up centre space six weeks from Nats. Other nearby events of seeming lesser importance have withered.

Before going further, I should note that I (and I think most people) reckon these two things are excellent. NUFL and Regionals have really cemented themselves as great elements of the Australian Ultimate scene. Regionals I think will keep growing and establish a strong history and brand and it won’t be long before we see more teams not qualify for Nats than do qualify, and more teams going to Regionals with no real intention of going to Nationals. Regionals will be the climax of the Open and Women's seasons for many people.

But I wanted to also note two less obvious things that have happened.

First – training. With the need to qualify for Nationals and the growing formal coaching scene within the sport, teams and clubs are now training much harder and better and more regularly. I suspect the top ten clubs in each division at Nats this year will have had periods when they’ve trained twice a week for a few hours a go, with a proper session schedule and such, going back to at least November last year, in addition to multiple opportunities for local league play.

It wasn’t that long ago that training for Nats involved a few disorganised sessions in December-February, plus maybe weekly session for the six to eight weeks before Nats. In some ways, in the past, people just wouldn’t really turn up regularly to training. A few years later, I think a lot of people are enjoying training. I think this is where warmup tournaments came in. The players then preferred “to play” rather than “to train”. Training used to be what you did until someone insisted “let’s just play a game”. So to get ready for Nats you got everyone to a warmup tournament and played together.

Today you’re already spending heaps of your time training at home, and the training is so good, so why travel to a tournament? So where you’d think people from Sydney and Melbourne and surrounds would be queuing up for April Fools, instead they’re thinking that they’re already doing heaps of prep for Nationals, so why bother with all that getting organised to travel stuff.

Second – growth. All this comes together when you think about how much Ultimate has grown in the last few years. Intuitively perhaps you’d think with heaps more people playing Ultimate, there’d be heaps more and heaps bigger tournaments. And yes there are in some ways. But if you think about it, tournaments are what sports have when they don’t have enough local legs to play regularly at home – so you have to travel to find quality opposition. Martial arts, horse-sports – stuff like that. Ultimate used to be like that. Back when there was only a thousand or so people playing regularly in Australia, maybe a hundred in your local area and maybe only a dozen or so in your skill range, you were really keen to play with some different people, and the only way to do that was to travel and have tournaments.

Today there’s multiple leagues in most capital cities with lots of people you don’t know, and an increasing number of people at each skill level. Open players in Brisbane get a cracking run every Thursday, plus opportunities to play Mondays and Wednesdays and train in addition. Why go to Sydney or Canberra or Melbourne then?

So April Fools couldn’t garner the interest in my mind for a few reasons, nothing to do with the fine Canberra folk. Because people are already training hard and enjoying that training – they don’t need a warm-up tournament. Because they have access to heaps more Ultimate than they once did, and the elite players also have NUFL - they don't need it. And Clubs focus on Regionals instead because its about qualification these days.

So what’s the future for tournaments?

Really good actually. Tournaments still have one great thing going for them. FUN.

And this is where, while perhaps Open and Women’s tournaments have dried up over the last few years, the University and Mixed seasons are the ones getting more and bigger tournaments.

Aussie Ultimate players like their fun, and at the moment they connect that with Mixed and Uni Ultimate. Tournaments themselves, with the chance to catch up with old mates and make new friends, with the partying and the travel and the mixing of the boys and the girls, will remain popular, and if anything I reckon we’ll soon start to see mixed tournaments leaking into the traditional Open/Women’s season, to fill that space below the elite an the qualifiers.


Johnny Mac said...

From a Firestorm perspective, Share The Love and April Fools were both simply announced too late for us to include them in our planning. Would we have gone if we knew earlier? I don't know for sure, but there definitely would've been a chance.

I love tourneys and hope they continue to grow in number and strength. BPL is great, but it's not a replacement by any means.

Jangles said...

Well personally i porbably couldn't have afforded the cost of the tournie. I know it is only in canberra but with rising living cost and a already streched student budget, any interstate tournie has to be big and worth my money ie NUFL, Uni games and Nats.

simontalbot said...

I agree with what John said - teams are starting to lay plans ahead a lot more than they did back in the day. Going back a couple of years announcing a tournament two months in advance was enough - now it isn't. Ballarat already have their year mapped out - if we get invited to a tournament in Sydney in June, that'll be too late for us to plan for it.

Tournaments need to return to being annual affairs - same weekend/location/name as the year before - so they can be incorporated into teams' plans. This is happening in mixed - Halibut and Shenanigans are regular fixtures, and the likes of Stampede and Ridin The Western will eventually be the same.

If the Canberra folk were to set a date for next year's April Fools now (say, first weekend of April), then they might find there will be more interest next year.

simontalbot said...

Actually, a look at the AFDA Competitions page (the rego section) reveals very few upcoming tournaments. Take out the two on this weekend, Nationals and Worlds...and there's only one!

(Ok so the calendar has a few more but that's not my point dammit)

Chris said...

I'm with Jangles on this one. Even if Firestorm had planned to go to "April Fools" or the like, I probably wouldn't have gone.

Frisbee unfortunately is one of those sports that is fairly cheap to play socially, but very expensive to play in higher levels once you factor travel, accommodation and extras. As such in the future I'll personally be looking to play more locally and commit myself only to the major tournaments. Especially seeing the way leagues like BPL are not just growing but strengthening.

And as JDR was saying, the strengthening of local leagues is definitely detracting from the NEED to travel to get "better competition" and more and more I'm looking forward to a point where BPL might even be a divisional competition with teams fighting for promotion and to avoid relegation as part of the season. And further reducing the NEED to travel to get good experience.

Also the other thing about Frisbee that we have seen a lot of in the last year or two which makes the desire to travel tough, is the club's transistional focus between "winning" and "development".

Obviously with Firestorm splitting in to two X/Y teams this year means we are focusing on "player development" rather than "winning" Nationals, whereas if we were playing with an A/B team setup we'd probably have a good chance to make the semis and an outside chance of making the finals.

With that said, I completely understand and agree it is better for the club for future years, but at the same time requires those that otherwise would have been in the A team vying for a medal at Nationals to keep their egos in tact and look toward the future rather than focus on the short term sacrifice.

Though with that said, there is only so much you can ask of someone to put the club's priorities before their own, before that individual draws the line, and says I'm not getting enough out of this for it to be worth the time energy and money. I know that sounds selfish, but I think it is the reality for most people. So when it comes to traveling to tournaments like April's Fools in years where Firestorm is taking a "development" attitude, I think it is asking a lot of people.

On the flip side, it is interesting to see that in the years where teams aren't opting to take the "development" route rather are looking to "win", like Fyshwick and HoS, both of who could have arguably opted for the X/Y approach this year, but didn't, both actually chose to go to NZ Nationals as part of their campaign.

It would seem, as is understandable, that people's desire to attend tournaments is always higher (even when travel is involved) when they know their club is going to be representing with it best team.

megzz said...

I agree... tournaments need to be announced early and advertised at key times - i.e. when teams are planning campaigns (and this doesn't mean just whacking it on the AFDA site) A team can only attend probably three warm up tournaments max... theoretically more in the eastern states as they have several regional options.

Also, one day tournaments aren't worth it for interstate travel. If tournaments aim to be national, then they need to run over the whole weekend. If they want to be local and have a larger volume of locals, then one-dayers are usually best, and Share the Love was designed that way - for Sydney, Newcastle etc and Canberra-ites.

JdR is right though, April is too close to Nationals, and there is a distinct gap in the schedule between regionals and Nationals that NZ Nats would be great for!

I think you'll find that Clubs years also add interesting kinks and changes in interest etc. This (plus the 5 year plan) and some concerted effort by NZ to get Aussies over there is likely why the boys are heading over there. (This is also potentially the reason why we are missing a couple of later events this year)

However... sending all the developing players with a couple of leaders/other people that want to go is in fact one of the best ways to improve players in the lead up to big tournaments and make selection decisions... and to include people and provide opportunities for players that may not necessarily make the Nationals squad but who we would like to see back... I know Sultry used BCI and Into the Wild for that in the past... no-one said everyone had to go... you only need 14, from a squad of 30 odd, that shouldn't be so hard?

NUFL is gone now and all the organic tournaments are coming back to fill the void, but we haven't quite made it all the way and there will be some adjustment before big X's (like BCI appears to be!!) are on the tournament calendar again that lure people to them... tournaments need to be big and high quality these days, and those that stay ahead of the regional curve (like BCI) can expect to continue to grow.

...and Jangles, since when are you still a student?

Pete said...

Megz he was still a student...back in April 2008 when this was written. But yeah, Jeez Janglez you should go back and modify all your comments to your current status of employment :P


BAHAHAHA maybe BUB should look at including the year on the time stamp on comments so Megz doesn't get too confuzzled