September 6, 2012 by Charlie Eisenhood in News, Other with 2 comments
When I was growing up, I played basketball. It was my very first sport. After graduating from YMCA leagues into middle and high school play, I realized quickly that I needed to get better to keep up with the guys around me.
So I bought some VHS tutorial tapes made by NBA player ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich, who was renowned for his ball handling, and got to work in the driveway grinding out dribbling drills.
Most sports offer products that teach techniques, tips, drills, strategies, and more to new and experienced players alike. Ultimate has had a few options in this realm (notably Zip’s Tips and The Huddle) but nothing you could take home and use — until now.
In late April, Evan Phillips and Nick Fothergill started UltiCards, a company that sells decks of cards that offer tons of content to help you play better Ultimate.
“The first thing we launched was what we call the Essential deck,” said Phillips. “You get different grips, throws, types of cutting, defending…About a month after that we put out a throwing deck.”
The idea is simple: every card holds a different skill, technique, or drill that you can learn and use at practice or in games. Their most recent deck is all drills, especially useful for team captains, coaches, and teachers who need new ideas to keep practice fun and valuable.
Perhaps their signature deck at the moment is the NexGen deck, one designed after the successful cross-country Ultimate tour by top college players.
“Each of the players from the 2011 tour helped us put together a deck,” said Phillips. “They each have a skill card — something they really excelled at – and that’s half the deck. The other half is all drills – [Callahan winner and Boston Ironside player] George Stubbs has a couple of swing sets.”
Both Phillips and Fothergill stressed the importance of younger players learning from the best in the sport, much like I did with my Pistol Pete tapes. “We like the NexGen deck because they can consume content…and learn from their new idols.”
To that end, they work a lot with teachers and schools, suggesting using their decks to help build a curriculum for a sport that is often taught with little knowledge about the sport. “The big challenge for teachers is to keep kids engaged,” said Phillips.
But is there a market for this kind of product? “Definitely. Yea, there is,” said Phillips. “We entered thinking, ‘Hey, let’s put this together and see what happens.’ It’s been gradually but very steadily picking up since day one.”
They drive some sales through advertising, but “a lot of it’s sponsorships. We just try to sponsor whatever tournaments we can. We were lucky to get to sponsor the [World Juniors Ultimate Championships] in Dublin. We did the [Canadian Ultimate Championships] in Victoria.” They are also sending some decks to the All-Ireland Ultimate Championships this weekend.
And they plan on continuing to grow. “There’s a ton of stuff we haven’t done yet,” said Phillips. “What we have is pretty basic…We’re gonna keep putting out content to cover every aspect of the game.” New products, like larger cards that can work through steps and more complicated drills, are in the works.
Although this is not yet their full-time job, they hope it can be. They called it “an opportunity to get back into something we love” after years of playing and coaching. They find themselves “constantly talking and thinking about Ultimate.”
They do look at this as an opportunity, though, to do something more for the sport. “To help these leagues and teams to improve at Ultimate,” said Fothergill. “That’s really what we’re looking for…The main premise of ‘When do we finish or release this deck?’ is when Evan and I say, ‘This is something that I want or would have wanted at some point in my Ultimate career.’”