Category Archives: News

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.

USA Ultimate’s 2017 Vision Tour in Seattle Tues 4/4

In an effort to acquire input from the growing ultimate community across the United States, the national governing body USA Ultimate, is in the middle of their “2017 Vision Tour” in which they are holding meetings at city’s across the nation.  They are coming to Seattle next Tuesday (4/4) and your chance to influence the direction of the sport in the U.S. will be from 6-8pm at the new ultimate gym — Ren Fitness (1404 NW 49th St, Seattle, WA 98107).   You can pre-register online.

Agenda and attendees

USAU’s CEO and a few members of the board of directors will present something like the following agenda (from the Mar 23 tour stop in Pittsburgh) in effort to hear from Seattle area players, coaches and parents about our region’s hopes and dreams.

  • Welcome, brief outline of the evening, goal of the Community Conversations (5 minutes)
  • The ultimate community’s hopes and concerns about the future of ultimate (10 minutes)
  • A look back: ultimate’s history (5 minutes)
  • A look forward: ultimate and USA Ultimate in the wide world of sports (15 minutes)
  • Q&A (10 minutes)
  • Considering our next steps: Group exercise, facilitated in six small groups. Then, led by facilitator in large group (60 minutes). Topics and facilitators include:
    • AUDL: Henry Thorne, USA Ultimate Board Vice President
    • Elite Level Play: Josh Murphy, USA Ultimate Director of Member Services & Community Development
    • Equity & Diversity: DeAnna Ball, USA Ultimate Board President
    • Olympic Dream: Tom Crawford, USA Ultimate Chief Executive Officer
    • USA Ultimate Brand: Stacey Waldrup, USA Ultimate Manager of Communications & Publications
    • Youth Structure: Kathy Hendrickson, USA Ultimate Board of Directors
  • Guest Speakers: (10 minutes)
    • Sarah Lemanski: Gender Equity and Disparity
    • Marcus Ranii-Dropcho: Club ultimate vs. semi-pro
  • Close, Appreciation and Rating the Output (5 minutes).

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

2016 Youth Ultimate Coaching Conference (YUCC) theme: Developing Girls’ Ultimate

The new Executive Director of the Bay Area Disc Association announced in his 9/30/15 welcome letter that the theme for the 2016 Youth Ultimate Coaching Conference (YUCC) will be “Developing Girls’ Ultimate.”  The conference is to be held next March (2016) in the Bay Area and plans to “convene inspirational role models from around the country like Qxhna Titcomb (All-Star Ultimate Tour founder and World Champion) to present…”  Watch their youth ultimate event calendar for further details.

In anticipation of learning more about how to coach girls, here’s a related presentation from the 2015 YUCC by DiscNW’s Heather Ann Brauer entitled “Giving Girls a Voice: Tools for empowerment and confidence on and off the ultimate field” with my notes appended —

1:05 Asked 7 girls and 7 boys why do you love ultimate

  • girls: community, spirit, friends, athleticism, fun
  • boys: similar themes (though also + layout, callahan, greatest, aggression, intensity)

2:00 More important than these differences is how we approach the off-field culture and connectedness of the team.

Girls (and women) often under-rank themselves

How do you empower them?  CLEAR

  • Culture – giving girls tools to create a culture they want to see in their team
  • Language – e.g. not saying “sorry,” saying “person-defense” instead of “man defense”
  • Emotions – talking about empathy, connectedness; being able to be where you’re at and valuing those emotions
  • Agency – giving girls a voice or say, adds to the buy-in they have in the team
  • Role models – getting women to be role models, but also giving girls a chance to be role models themselves (e.g. GUM clinics)

4:55 Tips and tricks

  1. Create a team charter
    1. How do you want to feel as an individual (at practices, at games)?  [Challenged to learn; happy and social; enthusiastic, excited; valued; accomplished; improved/better; successful]
    2. Narrow down to 4-6 words and create actionable items, e.g. for “confidence” the high school girls came up with: “We will consistently attend practice and hold one another accountable.  We will not say “I’m sorry.” We will be stars.  We will give one another positive feedback. We will give each other high fives.  And we will conduct ourselves with the utmost swagger.”
    3. (11:55) Establish a buddy system
      1. Usually not established friends
      2. Check-ins throughout the season; ask buddy if you missed practice; share personal goals
    4. Coaches can help create tangible goals (e.g. 50 completions in a go-to drill) and remind team of the goal, especially if they are straying away from the key-words of their charter
    5. Attendance at practice went from ~8 before charter to 12-14 afterwards because they felt bought-in
  2. (15:40) Check-in/Check-outs
    1. At beginning of practice let each player say one word describing how they’re feeling (or using thumbs up/down/sideways)
    2. Check-out? [presumably the same process, but at the end of practice…]
  3. (17:35) Interactive warm-up
    1. Variation of team USA U23 warm-up
      1. (19:30) Demo of paired, interactive plyos
      2. hi-5s are the most important part!
  4. (22:35) I’m a star!
    1. If a player makes a mistake and says “I’m sorry”
    2. Teammates say “What did you say?”
    3. And player jumps up and says “I’m a star!”
    4. To which teammates respond “Yes you are.”
  5. (23:35) Collaborative challenges work really well
    1. Try to meet a goal.  Each time you make it as a team, reduce your 10 planned 40-yard sprints by one.
    2. Create drills that have progressions to create challenge: dishy pass + look to huck + add defender + a fake + under pass…
    3. Supportive drills: e.g. 3 or 5 lines with people cutting towards you.  By saying names and making eye contacts, you make a social connection every time.

 

 

Jude LaRene is new youth director for DiscNW

Jude in action (from his public FB photos)
Jude in action (from his public FB photos)

Congratulations to Jude LaRene who will be the new Director of Youth Operations for DiscNW.  Jude is a talented, serious player (who was on my pod in the 2013 Masters Hat League) who in a game often takes the time to lead strategically or offer guidance to newer adult players (like me).  With his extensive experience playing and coaching with DiscNW, and running small businesses like Izilla Toys and Velocevelo, I hope he will improve how youth ultimate is organized through DiscNW and continue the impressive growth accomplished under the outgoing Director, Wynne Scherf.

The news on the DiscNW site (posted Aug ~12, 2014)
The news on the DiscNW site (posted Aug ~12, 2014)

Jude’s DiscNW history shows that he’s been actively playing and coaching in DiscNW leagues since at least 2006 and has captained the teams “Tofu” and “Vince.”  He has coached the Washington Middle School “Dawgs” since at least 2006 (along with Pam Kraus, Autumn Tocchi, Adam Roca, and Noah Boudra) and coached an elementary mixed team in 2011 (Montlake Epic).   The Dawgs participated in Spring Reign in 2013 and 2014.  He coordinated a USA Ultimate coaching clinic in 2011 and generally seems deeply dedicated to and steeped in the sport.