Category Archives: All levels

Review of softer discs for youth ultimate in 2017: Aria and the flexible-Jstar

Aria discs as they arrived as Kickstarter rewards.

Two notable new discs flew into my coaching bag in 2017: the Aria Ultimate (175 gram) disc as a reward from the Aria Kickstarter and a soft version of the Jstar (145 gram) disc being tested against the USAU disc standards.  Both offer some exciting advantages for youth ultimate players. After throwing them alongside our teams’ standard quiver here are my initial impressions.

The new soft Jstar is super-flexible! (So I’ll refer to it as a flexi-Jstar to be clear I’m not talking about the harder, stiffer earlier Jstars.)

Softer, more flexible plastic

Both are remarkably sticky and pliable in comparison to the discs that I’ve used in coaching for past 5 years (Discraft Ultrastars and Jstars). This means that they are easier to grip and much less painful when they hit you in the face. Both benefits are a big deal in elementary ultimate. On a cold day the stiffer, more slippery Ultrastars or earlier-model Jstars can be tough for 3rd or small fourth graders to grip and throw. And kids will REALLY appreciate the softer, more-rubbery material of the Aria or flexi-Jstar when they happen to D a fast throw with their lip or ear on a cold day (a common, tearful occurrence — even with fewer players on the field in the 5v5 games we’ve adopted in Seattle).

To give you a strong impression of how much softer these discs are than the current standard, I had my 14 year-old handler-son throw our whole quiver, one-by-one GENTLY at face level. I could not will myself to take a hit from an Ultrastar, but I toughened up for an Aria hit. It was still painful, but MUCH less than the hits I’ve taken from Ultrastars (mostly during middle school practice, and mostly involving a lot of blood or muffled cursing). The Jstars offered a better comparison.  There’s a very obvious difference in the pain levels that you’re likely to experience from a facial hit by the old, harder Jstars and the new, flexi-Jstar. I think you’d need to pay me somewhere between $1 and $5 to put my face in front of the old Jstar, but I’m willing to demonstrate a hit from the flexi-Jstar anytime for free!

The softer plastic seems to come with one possible cost for youth players, though. It seems to be a little harder to catch, possibly because it tends to bounce a bit as it hits your palm. So if you don’t close your fingers on it quickly, the more rubbery material may cause you to drop the pass. This cost to the receiver may be outweighed by the disc not hurting as much when catching a hard throw on a cold day. In any case, it will be interesting to test these new materials during play in the colder Seattle winters, as well as the hottest summer days on a turf field…

Impressive aerodynamics

You’d think that the softer material would also come with an aerodynamic cost. Yet both discs fly extremely well! Both the Aria technology innovators and the Discraft engineers seem to have found an youth ultimate optimum between aerodynamics, grip, and safety. The flexi-Jstar flies remarkably straight, whereas many adults and youth have noted that the old Jstars tend to fall off as they lose speed, causing curved, less-predictable flights — especially on windy days.  The Aria also flies great; both my son and I were able to throw the Aria and Ultrastar similar distances with similar accuracy.

Both of the softer discs feel novel in the hand. It’s both strange to be able to deform the disc with your standard grip strength and satisfying to feel the extra spin you can get with the stickier plastic.

Implications for youth ultimate

Overall, I think the Aria and flexi-Jstar will be great additions to the equipment from which youth coaches and players can choose. If they were both available now in the bulk quantities of discs typically needed by youth ultimate teams in Seattle,  I’d upgrade my Ultrastar/Jstar inventory immediately. The gain or no-net-difference in aerodynamic performance is already compelling, but the potential  of these new discs to improve throwing mechanics and reduce injuries for our youngest players make these discs a very exciting development.

As of September, 2017, Aria is offering a handful of fun prints for $12 per disc.  It’s unclear what their bulk pricing will look like (I’m inquiring), but the Aria FAQ says they do offer some sort of deal. A coup would be if Discraft produced the flexi-Jstar with an option for custom printing. My kids are getting tired of the red, white, blue/gray options in the old Jstars…

Aria approved for highest levels of play

Great shot of Aria disc in play during the 2017 U.S. Open in Burlington, WA.

The reviews of the Aria disc by USAU must have been consistent with our positive experience, because on Aug 29, 2017, USAU announced that the Aria disc is approved for Champion level play in USAU competitions. This means it is also approved by WFDF for approved for elite ultimate play worldwide.

Schteattle Schtick: build ultimate skills in a fun game with 75 youth & 25 discs

Ok, here’s how Seattle kids play Schtick.  We’re gonna call it Schteattle Schtick and it’s best played with 10-75 youth players (assisted by their coaches and/or parents) and lots of discs — at least 1 for every 3 players.  (If you have more players and discs than this, you should play Galaxy Wars instead.)  Either way, you’re in for a lot of fun and intense aerobic conditioning (even if there are minor inconsistencies with developing good fundamentals, e.g. you’re allowed to run with the disc)…

Schtick field schematic (from http://schtickdisc.org/official-rules/ )

Here are the basic rules of Schteattle Schtick — forged on the first-mucky then sun-hardened grass fields of the DiscNW summer camp fields.  The main difference from standard Schtick (described below) is that there is no stoppage of play upon scoring (in fact there really isn’t even any “keeping score” amid the mayhem), and there are no pulls — even at the start of the game.  The Seattle variant simply adds these stipulations:

  1. The game cannot start until all players and all their discs (half the total available which must be at least 10) are packed inside the scorebox they will be defending.  Everyone must be ready to rumble, and silent (ha, ha).  The coach (or some responsible person) yells “go,” or whistles, and everyone runs amok.
  2. The only way to win is to get all discs out of your territory (across the middle line (hint: always keep at least one in reserve to counter stockpiling).  You get a billion bonus points for getting all discs not only over the middle line, but also within the scorebox you are attacking (it’s never been done, BTW).
  3. Dimensions may vary based on team size and field space available.
  4. Follow the rest of the standard rules (see box & links below).

Local variants:

  • If you have even more kids, you can add scoreboxes, e.g. two boxes per side!
  • Played with a 2×2 box and a triangle half that size. Triangle worth 2 points. But we never really keep score of course!
  • If you have way too many kids, try Galaxy Wars…

What is (Schtandard) Schtick?

From http://schtickdisc.org —

  • It is played with 2 or more discs (AKA “Frisbees”) simultaneously.  Usually you play with about 1 disc per 2.5 players. (see official rules)
  • It is way more fun than most sports.
  • It can be played on grass, sand, or snow, and has many cool variations.
  • Players may run with the discs (unlike ultimate).
  • The playing field consists of a middle line which bisects the globe into the 2 teams’ territories. On the ground within each territory, about 20 meters from the midline, is a 2×2 meter scorebox.
  • 8-80 players are divided into 2 teams. Each team is assigned one territory to defend (like capture the flag).
  • Scoring occurs by getting a disc to rest on the ground within the scorebox in opposing territory.
  • Players with a disc who are tagged by an opposing player in opposing territory must relinquish their disc.
  • In practice, the play of Schtick is flexible enough to permit people of widely different disc skills & athletic skills to legitimately face off on the same field.
  • It is imbued with a spirit of the game that is rarely paralleled in a sporting world otherwise geared for jocks only. More important than athletic prowess is a flexible mind & willingness to try.
  • It is fun for every player almost every time. See what people are saying.

The Northwest Challenge: free inspiration from the best of college players

Tomorrow night (Friday 3/24/2017) the exhibition games for the Northwest Challenge will begin at 6:30 pm with the women of the University of Washington’s Element facing off against Syzygy from Carleton College.  The men’s game immediately afterwards (8:30 pm start) will showcase the UW Sundodgers vs BYU CHI. These free games in Seattle’s Memorial Stadium will be a great chance for local youth players to get inspired.  More information on the Northwest Challenge Facebook page

If you’re busy Friday night, there are also a bunch of games happening at the UW’s IMA fields in Seattle on Friday, and then up in Burlington at Skagit River Park on Saturday and Sunday.  All these games are free, so you should consider volunteering for a couple hours (they’re still looking for help over the weekend).  Here are schedules and game locations for the women and men (Tier 1 | Tier 2).

According to Ultiworld’s “Power Rankings” for college teams, UW Element is ranked 20th and will play rank 16 Carleton Syzygy.  For youth spectators in Seattle, here are the other women’s games that will be played tomorrow (Friday):

Fri 3/24 10:00 AM IMA 1 – # 2 Dartmouth (1) Washington (19)
Fri 3/24 12:00 PM IMA 1 – # 2 Dartmouth (1) Pittsburgh (9)
Fri 3/24 2:00 PM IMA 1 – # 2 Carleton College (12) Michigan (14)
Fri 3/24 4:00 PM IMA 1 – # 2 Pittsburgh (9) Michigan (14)

Similarly, the men’s exhibition game has Power Rankings of 16th for UW Sundodgers and 12th for BYU CHI.

DiscNW Executive Director job opening, leadership history, & investment in youth

Last week the lead post on the home page of DiscNW was the announcement that the current Executive Director, William Bartram (aka “Bunny”) will leave the organization and the search is on for a new leader.  The announcement (text appended) included a job description (archived PDF) which referenced the 2016 strategic plan (text also appended).

What does this mean for youth ultimate in the greater Seattle area and the Northwest region?  I offer a few inferences from materials posted on the DiscNW web site, as well as some historical perspective gleaned from the organization’s annual financial reports (Form 990s for DiscNW, 2002-2014).

Reading through the announcement, job description, and overview of the strategic plan, there’s not a crystal-clear vision for youth ultimate.  After all, youth programming is only about 1/3 of DiscNW’s annual efforts.

The documents, however, do contain a few hints about where DiscNW may take youth ultimate in the next few years.   The announcement rightly applauds Bunny for increasing “youth participation from about 1000 to 4000” players per year, and for establishing the “Youth Development Fund now in excess of $130,000 annually.”  The job announcement seeks candidates who will “direct industry standard youth programming” and “ensure gender equity and accessibility.”  I’m not sure if “industry standard” means that the board considers the awesome programs that Bunny has grown to define the industry standard, or if DiscNW intends to emulate some other regional or National programs (e.g. the Canadian LTAD model).  It could also be an allusion to the LTAD benchmarks and re-vamped coach development program (CDP) that USA Ultimate has been working on for the last year or two, or to the roll-out of State chapters by the National governing body which began last year…  The call for gender equity in both the job description and the strategic plan, combined with the emphasis on promoting gender equity in the recent DiscNW coaching clinics, suggests that the organization may be seeking leadership that could incorporate new structure (e.g. the GUM middle school girls curriculum) into the DiscNW youth programs and coach development.

It’s exciting to consider who will lead DiscNW for the next era, especially when you look back through Bunny’s long run (from ~2004-2017), the evolution of the administration, and even into the early leadership.  Here’s a Google spreadsheet that characterizes the history of DiscNW with an emphasis on the organization’s “youth activities.”  It’s clear from the associated graphs (below) that DiscNW has grown consistently over the last 15 years, both in total revenues and in its expenditures on “youth activities” (which according to the IRS documents includes youth leagues, tournaments, camps, clinics, and total youth players served).

Youth expenditures were less than 10% of revenues when they were first reported separately in the 2004 Form 990, but in the next few years they rose to ~30%.  They have remained near 1/3 of total revenues since then, though there was an interesting (yet to be explained) dip in 2012.

Administrative costs (also as a % of total revenue) have also risen.  In 2002 when Mike Keran was the E.D., administrative costs (compensation) were about 10% of total revenue.  The percentage stayed pretty constant until ~2008, about the time the organization’s staff started to grow.  In 2004-2006, the E.D. changed from Mike to Bunny, with Morgan Ahouse serving as an interim E.D. as first Wilma Comenat and then William Bertrand (Bunny) were hired and trained, with paid assistance from Mike for Wilma.   Then in 2007, Bunny brought on Frank Nam as the first Youth Director.  The next year Wynne Scherf was hired and paid along with Frank (who presumably brought her up to speed).  About the same time (2008), Jeff Dairiki began being paid to help maintain the web site which he’s continued to do since, with some help from Mike in 2010-11 and a concerted paid effort (to rebuild the site?) in 2013.  Finally, in 2011, Elizabeth Brown was paid as an Operations Manager, a position which switched to Rusty Brown the next year.

The growth in adminstrative staff has brought total compensation to about 20% of total revenue.  This seems quite reasonable (for an organization that doesn’t maintain a central office and has staff living in Seattle where expenses are high) but it would be interesting to compare to other comparable regional entitities, to the extent that the exist.  Perhaps the Bay Area Disc Association (founded 2008) or Minnesota Youth Ultimate (founded 2003)?

Know of any other organizations that might be comparable?  Leave them in the comments!


Archived text of the DiscNW home page announcement:

Message from the DiscNW Board

Our Executive Director (ED), William Bartram, has recently informed us that he will be leaving our organization.

Bunny, as he’s known around the community, has graced us with his leadership for the past 12 years. In an organization like ours, this is a lifetime. Bunny has brought to DiscNW a sense of wisdom, patience, and caring instrumental in helping us grow into the tight-knit community we are now. Under his tenure, DiscNW has experienced extraordinary growth, in many dimensions:

  • Increased youth participation from about 1000 to 4000
  • Established Youth Development Fund now in excess of $130,000 annually
  • Expanded adult league participation by more than 60%
  • Led budget growth from $220,000 to more than $1,100,000
  • Grew from one employee to four full-time staff, hundreds of volunteers, and several contractors

The board thanks Bunny for his work, love of the sport, and commitment to our community. We are lucky to have a resilient organization with dedicated staff members, who will continue to provide excellent programs to the community as we begin recruitment for a new ED.

The job description is now available and the position is open for applications — please spread the word if you know of a motivated, sport-loving, non-profit leader. Bunny will continue in his position in the interim, and will work with the new ED to transition his responsibilities by early summer. For questions about the position, contact jobs@discnw.org.

DiscNW will be posting occasional updates on our social media channels about our recruitment process. If you see Bunny on the fields this spring, please thank him for his years of service to our community!

Sincerely,
DiscNW Board of Directors


Archived text of the 2016 Strategic Plan

Strengthening Our Community – DiscNW Strategic Plan 2017-2019

In 2016 DiscNW developed a new strategic plan to guide the organization through the next three years. Through this new plan, DiscNW will strive to strengthen our ultimate community. The plan will allow the organization to be more nimble, and it will empower staff to take action. DiscNW will serve as a regional resource by being a model organization and reaffirming our commitment to the Spirit of the Game.

 

Prioritize building community relationships

  • Through improved and strengthened communications to our constituents
  • Through outreach to other coordinators and organizers
  • Through our business partnerships
  • Through messaging, branding, and promotion

Continue improving upon and delivering excellent programs

  • By emphasizing Spirit of the Game at the forefront of our decision making
  • By ensuring gender equity
  • By ensuring accessibility and inclusiveness
  • By developing and supporting high quality leadership and coaching
  • By continuing to focus on efficient operational procedures and best practice

Devote resources to organizational resilience

  • To provide the agility to address rapid changes in our regional Ultimate community
  • To grow the sport by more thoughtfully expanding regional services

Coach youth ultimate! (synopsis of the 2010 USA Ultimate resource guide)

Google “coach youth ultimate” in 2017 and the top two hits will be these PDFs from USA Ultimate:

  1. Coaching Youth League Ultimate By Carey Goldenberg
  2. PART 4: Teaching Ultimate

It turns out these PDFs were created in 2010 as part of a larger USAU document called the “USA Ultimate Resource Guide” (archived PDF, 08/09/2010 version).  The 2nd Google hit is Part 4 of the Resource Guide, while the 1st hit is one section in that same Part.  It turns out that most of the guide is still quite timely and useful — whether for coaches, team managers, or organizers of clinics, camps, or leagues.  There are even some sections about growing the sport that might be worth reviving — even in Seattle where youth ultimate is already big — like field acquisition, facilitating ultimate in PE classes,  and getting the word out.   Here’s the entire table of contents…

Table of Contents

  • PART 1: Ultimate Organizations
    • Organizational Structures
  • PART 2: Ultimate Leagues
    • Recruiting Players for Leagues
    • Timing Strategy when Starting a League
    • Field Acquisition for Local Leagues
    • Recruiting and Retaining Women
  • PART 3: Ultimate In Schools
    • 10 Simple Steps To Starting a School-based Ultimate Team
    • Starting an Ultimate Club At Your School
    • Starting a High School League
    • Traveling With a Youth Ultimate Team
    • Growing Youth Ultimate Through PE Classes
  • PART 4: Teaching Ultimate
    • Ultimate In 10 Simple Rules
    • Teaching the Spirit of the Game™
    • Teaching Self-officiating
    • Coaching Youth League Ultimate
    • Running a Youth Skills Clinic
    • Starting an Ultimate Camp
    • Ultimate Drills
  • PART 5: Getting the Word Out
    • Gaining Media Attention
    • Building the Ultimate On-line Presence
  • PART 6: Appendices
    • Appendix A: Sample Camp Application Form
    • Appendix B: Sample Camp Evaluation Form
    • Appendix C: Sample Medical Authorization Form
    • Appendix D: Sample Youth Chaperone Consent and Release Form
    • Appendix E: Sample Waiver/Release of Liability Form
    • Appendix F: Sample Player Information Form
    • Appendix G: Sample Press Release Layout
    • Appendix H: 10 Tips For Writing a Press Release

Things that caught my eye:

  1. The idea of getting some official discs for your school’s PE program.  I’ve meant to do this for years at Eckstein.  I bet just 10-15 discs would be a welcome contribution for a typical PE class.
  2. Goldenberg’s coaching suggestions are aimed mostly at high school, but her ideas of teaching defense first, and then letting a team find their own offensive strategy makes good sense.  I also noticed that when she lists off strategies that a (high school) team could consider, the list included not only horizontal and vertical stack, but also “dominator” and “chaos.”  This reminds me we need a historical list of all the offenses ever tried — just to show kids that they can be creative in how the create, defend, and claim open space.
  3. Goldenberg also mentions the compliment sandwich at the end of her piece… as “praise, comment, praise.”
  4. Goldenberg verbally describes a “straight-on throwing” drill which is diagrammed (with much less confusion for me) in the last section of Part 4 (Ultimate Drills).  The other two drills she describes are also diagrammed.
  5. There’s a historical depiction of DiscNW on page 14.  I was interested in the mention of their role in the “Magnuson Park upgrade” and the proud mention of their online tools: the DiscNW “bulletin board” (which still exists!) and photo/video sharing mechanisms (not sure what these were)…