Normally, insightful comments get featured in the Editors’ Blog, but this seemed worthy of its own post. Reader Long writes about the impact of the American Ultimate Disc League on youth participation and how NexGen might find that magic.
I keep hearing this case in favor of the TCT that it will hurt the growth of the sport and somehow youth ultimate in particular, and I just don’t understand this argument at all. Where is the leap in logic coming from — that because USAU controls the most youth resources that if the elite men’s teams ran their own circuit that youth development would somehow be undercut? Is it that the hopes are that the elite men’s teams will generate enough sponsorship revenue to support youth programs? Not likely since the other argument seems to be their is not enough money in this for it to succeed.
I’m a USAU state youth coordinator and also a member of an elite flight team, and while I generally like the TCT proposal its my belief NexGen would have a greater impact on helping youth ultimate. Youth players in my area find the sport by and large through outreach, then having those kids spread the sport to their friends back in school. One of the things I found amusing last year as a non-AUDL player is how many of these kids spread the word and got their friends involved in playing through the AUDL despite the obvious lower talent level. These are kids that lived miles away from any AUDL team, but followed them and had their favorite teams (decided by logos and names). They didn’t add any revenue to the league, but the league helped make them fall in love with the sport (to my disbelief).
How many kids did I hear talking about Ironside? Revolver? Doublewide (minus Brodie)? I assumed the AUDL would collapse but nevertheless I decided that even if it had, from the evidence I saw it would have still been a net positive for the sport, and this is in a place without a local AUDL team. It has led me to the belief that even if the elite teams try NexGen for a year or two and for any reason it doesn’t work, the sport will not have lost much momentum.
I’ve thought a bit why there is this divide. Elite club teams are focused primarily on one thing, winning a USAU Championship. There is no real benefit to them to run a professional website or maintaining a twitter. Yet these seemingly trivial things help younger kids connect to the sport once they find it. USAU seems to have their heart in the right place with the TCT in terms of increasing exposure, but I think they are going about it wrong (need smaller tournaments, more stadium like atmosphere ala AUDL).
The NexGen plan seems like the right call to me in terms of increasing exposure. However, my biggest concern would be if the teams are ready and capable to shift their focus on not just being ‘club’ teams that are focused on beating each other, but becoming brands and investing on building something larger than just championships for this thing to work. From what I’ve seen in my brief time in elite ultimate so far, that answer is probably a no, and furthermore I’m not sure there is a desire to do anything but compete.
And that is a shame, I think. Because to me at its core the NexGen plan is about the players taking control of where ultimate is heading. The alternative is the pro leagues continue to take form and bring more people to the game, and more and more the sport will be shaped by investors and owners who may possibly not have an idea about the aspects that ultimate such a beautiful sport. Or if they fail, the status quo in which youth ultimate continues to lag behind despite USAU doing as much as they can, in part because of the lack of outreach from elite players to build a real community throughout the sport as a whole.