Lessons, Learned and Relearned, from Club Nationals 2023

Tiina Booth is back at Club Nationals.

Club Nationals 2023. Photo: Jeff Bell — UltiPhotos.com

This article is presented by the National Ultimate Training Camp! Learn the game and build relationships that last a lifetime with players from all over the country and beyond. More info at www.NUTC.net

The last time I flew on an airplane was early March 2020, when I returned home from the Smoky Mountain Invite. Russell Wallack and I were coaching UMass Zoodisc at that point, and it had been a successful tournament for us. We were looking forward to seeing the same teams at Easterns in a few weeks. Until we weren’t.

It took me too long to decide to go to Club Nationals this fall. I was still apprehensive about contracting COVID, as well as making all the necessary arrangements. I allowed myself to become overwhelmed with logistics, something that had never tripped me up before. The pandemic had replaced confidence with inertia and grief.

Clearly, I worked through this and predictably had the time of my life in San Diego. I learned and relearned a lot of lessons, both big and small. After recovering from catching COVID, here are some of the highlights.

Lessons Learned

1. I spent much of the tournament with my friend Louie, who founded Boston Ladies Ultimate, the first women’s team in Boston. BLU was the predecessor of Lady Godiva. I introduced her to some current WMPs from Boston teams. Hannah Baranes of Slow White looked at Louie and simply said, “Thank you.”

2. Jesse Bolton from Seattle Mixtape told me that Thursday morning in the parking lot was an EVENT. Friends across teams reunited as they waited for permission to take the field. Hope and possibility were in the air. He said in many ways it was better than the Saturday night party.

3. New engagements “Congrats,” new babies “Awesome!” and new divorces “How are you doing?” I’m lucky to have friends from many generations as they experience life’s benchmarks. 40+ years of involvement in ultimate plus 23 years of NUTC gives me a wide view and full flight of friends in all stages of life.

4. Players are way more athletic than when I last went to Club Nats in 2018. I noticed it most in sideline undercuts where the disc popped up, and I expected a turn. More often than not the cutter would leap to make the catch. Athletes are definitely springier.

5. The PoNY/Ring quarterfinal felt like a steel cage match. Fast, furious, and reckless. The field actually seemed too small. Not small enough to change to a larger field, Heaven forbid, but the level of play felt dangerous from the very first point.

6. I finally figured out a workaround for the USAU website. I was very pleased at how well it worked #oldschool

Lessons Relearned

1. I don’t know if there is a word for this but I love when people reunite after years apart and then immediately fall into familiar patterns. I attended a family reunion this summer, after years away, and experienced this with my closest cousins. I also saw it happen often at this tournament, with me and with others. Sharing memories and laughs immediately with old friends is a gift.

2. Damn. San Diego is expensive. Food, gas everything.

3. I watched both Division I and Division III College Nationals from my couch last spring, and I thought that the overall quality of play looked ragged. We have not recovered from the pandemic and that is reflected in our sport. Too many unforced turns, bad choices and miscues on the field. It felt the same in San Diego. Few teams looked crisp and well-practiced, probably because finding time to practice and play is challenging. Forces compete for the time and attention of players: weddings, family events, injuries, and other playing obligations. I wonder how many teams didn’t have all their players in attendance until Nationals. I think this pace is unsustainable.

4. No one is more tired than I am of hearing my rants about pulls going OB. (Note to Ultiworldlive Tweeters: calling it an offside pull does not make it more legitimate.) Since a video is worth a 1000 words, take a look at this 350 ft throw by fellow Estonian Kristin Tattar below. If she can land a golf disc on a spit of land, pullers can be more precise. And, yes, that’s our very own Charlie Eisenhood on the call.

Tattar Approach Shot

5. I have won a lot and lost a lot. Since I haven’t coached in awhile, I thought that I would be more emotionally distanced from the results in San Diego. Untrue. Watching the competitive drama was a ride. Within 30 minutes on Friday, I saw Brute triumph over Flipside, PoNY sustain some harrowing injuries, and Dig rip defeat from the jaws of victory. Or Truck rip victory from the jaws of defeat, depending on your perspective. As always, to those who still feel sad today: It hurts this much because it matters so much. And caring is never a bad thing.

6. I am not the audience for the pageantry of the open division. I wasn’t back in the early ’80s when discussions about calls lasted well beyond 20 minutes. And I was not the audience for the Bravo/Machine antics of the semis. Things that bothered me in the past barely register now. Maybe this is because of the pandemic or my age or my focus on things that matter more. Maybe Zoo broke me. Whatever the reason, I think top open division teams need some serious introspection on how to compete and how to treat each other. The influence of their behavior on college and high school players cannot be overestimated. This is not a plea for spirit by any means. You all can figure it out.  I am more interested in leaders having reasonable off-season conversations about major and minor aspects of competition. I know those leaders are out there. I know there are ways to make the competition cleaner and less derivative of other sports.

***

WBUC looked beautiful on the beaches of California while I hunkered down in cold and rainy western Massachusetts. Soon, I will be joining the coaching staff for UMass women, a thrilling new opportunity to work with young athletes. I will try not to harp on pulling inbounds until the spring.

  1. Tiina Booth
    Tiina Booth

    Tiina Booth is the founder and director of the National Ultimate Training Camp, as well as an assistant coach for the University of Massachusetts women. She founded the Amherst Invitational in 1992 and co-founded Junior Nationals in 1998. In 2006, she published a book about ultimate with Michael Baccarini, entitled Essential Ultimate. She has coached teams to numerous national and international titles. Her ongoing passion is running sports psychology seminars for coaches and players, mainly through the Global Ultimate Training School, which she founded in 2020. More info can be found at www.NUTC.net.Tiina was inducted into the Ultimate Hall of Fame in October 2018.

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