Tom Crawford on Athlete Development Models in the U.S.

CEO of USA Ultimate, Dr. Crawford, discusses athlete development models in the United States in this talk given at the the 2015 Youth Ultimate Coaching Conference, thankfully archived by the Bay Area Disc Association and Skyd Magazine’s YouTube playlists.  Below you’ll find a talk outline (with time stamps) and a few notes I took while watching the video…


3:46 — Serving on a Council at the US Olympic Committee which is studying an American Development Model  (led by USOC, NCAA, Nike, coordinated by Aspen Institute) and is about to initiate a major push to implement it.  Ultimate is being held up as an example for other sports to learn from…

5:25 — Has worked with many professional sports and believes that when sports are done right, they can enhance the human experience.  When they’re done wrong, they don’t.

7:30 — How does ultimate fit within the framework of sports in the U.S.? [first slide]

  • Structure of sport in the world
    • Top: International Olympic Committee (IOC) works through
      • National Olympic Committee (in the U.S. that’s the USOC = our Ministry of Sport (including a family of organizations like NCCA, YMCA, JCC, CYOs, Boys & Girls clubs, and now USA Ultimate)
      • International Federations (for ultimate that’s WFDF [pronounced “whiffdiff”], the World Flying Disc Federation)
      • Those bodies work through National Governing Bodies:
        • USAU, Ultimate Canada
        • US Tennis Association, USA Hockey…
      • which facilitate athlete development, e.g. USA Ultimate is trying to work though
        • Affiliates (Bay Area Disc, Disc NW)
        • Chapters
        • Youth Service organizations (JCC, CYO, Boys & Girls clubs), so expect an influx of 1000s of kids!

17:45 — The aspects of ultimate that are most attractive to the IOC , USOC, and ESPN (and parents!) are:

  • Spirit of the game
  • Self-officiation

17:56 —

“The reason ESPN has the observers miked up is not because they want to listen to the observers, it’s because they’re trying to figure out how to get that discussion between the athletes clearly on the ear — in a way where it becomes a unique element and makes the sport totally different from other sports.”

19:30 — the American Development Model (ADM)

  • Built on the Ultimate Canada’s LTAD model
  • Translated the Canadian development periods into US grade and age ranges:
U.S. grade & age levels associated with stages of the Canadian Ultimate LTAD model
U.S. grade & age levels associated with stages of the Canadian Ultimate LTAD model


  • Note: no specialization in single-sport until high school!
    • 3 sports for 9-12 year olds
    • 2 sports from ages 12-16 years
  • Sports are applications of fundamental movement skills (run, leap, throw…)

23:15 — Differences in the U.S. relative to other countries

  • We have parents that think $25k/yr investment in worth it to get NCAA scholarships or success professional sports.  There is early specialization inertia that we’ll have to overcome through education and marketing.
  • Kids get more exposure to sports and opportunities
  • NCAA, NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, Pro Soccer, Winter, X-games, Olympics, Triple Crown Tour
  • School based system (27:25 — V/JV tradition with only 15ish kids per team drives the steep drop-off in sports participation at ages 13-15…)

25:10 ADM Statement and 5 stages to a better sport experience:

  1. Discover Learn Play (0-12 years)
  2. Develop and Challenge (10-16 years)
  3. Train and Compete (13-19 years)
  4. Stage 4 has two modes (13-15 year, when most attrition happens)
    1. Participate and succeed (15+)
    2. Excel for high performance (15+)
  5. Thrive and mentor (for life)

27:27 — Ultimate’s big opportunity is receiving those kids that didn’t make the J/V cut in other sports!

28:55 — Key principles that will drive the ADM

  1. Universal access (USAU Foundation: raises $ to allow everyone to play; e.g. GUM aspiring to have 70% girls and 30% boys!)
  2. Develop motor and skills thru appropriate activities (teach parents and teachers to create opportunities)
  3. Encourage multisport participation (economics makes this tough: e.g. US Tennis [$200-250M/yr operating budget] is bigger than the USOC [US Hockey (30-40M$/yr)] and employs many professional coaches who don’t want other sports.  They want year-round participation!  This means a huge opportunity to create economically-viable multi-sport facilities.)
  4. Fun, engaging, challenging atmospheres (not just “good job,” but “this is how you can be the best that you can be.”)
  5. Quality coaching at all levels (Coaching is the delivery system of sport.  [SV: What if it was just peers through play, e.g. neighborhood pick-up?]

38:45 — Key outcomes

  1. Grow general pool of athletes and pool of elite athletes (Olympians)
  2. Develop fundamental skills that transfer between sports
  3. Appropriate avenue to fulfill athletic potential (maximize potential; not get a scholarship, or play in the NBA)
  4. Create a generation that loves sport and physical activity and transfers to that passion to the next generation (Nike’s involved because there’s a huge drop-off in youth participation.  Why?  The focus on winning, lack of fun, and increasing injury.  “My coaches are teaching me how to cheat!”

44:50 — Next steps for USOC and ADM

  • USOC get support from all NGBs and logos on ADM site
  • Aug 2015: Workshop to implement ADM/LTAD concepts through US NGBs
  • Continue to support research and awareness

46:00 — interlocking finger model of sport (one hand players, one hand coaches)

48:00 — Exciting stuff!

  • USAU just moved to Colorado Springs where we had meetings that suggest ultimate can get onto Olympic Program way earlier than any of us dreamed
  • IOC just finished 2020 reforms (Olympic program will change to be by discipline, not limited by sport, and will illiminate sports that are no longer played and replace them with hip/cool ones that are also inexpensive [facilities, easy access, entertaining=ESPN, and mixed gender])

52:00 Q: How to increase access?

Youth serving agencies are putting us on their menu and then delivering those kids to us!

  • CYO = East coast sports organization plans to introduce ultimate to their 7,000 player basketball program
  • Boys and Girls clubs
  • JCCs

USAU Foundation

  • Help us find donors
  • Highest priority: Build network of entreprenurial partners who deliver the coaching!




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