December 10, 2014 by Charlie Eisenhood in Livewire, News with 10 comments
Washington DC Truck Stop captain and experienced ultimate writer Jonathan Neeley started a compelling thread on his Facebook page about the new tryout-based Team USA for the World Ultimate Championships. Here are selected excerpts from Neeley, PoNY’s Jack Marsh, Kyle Weisbrod, Ironside coach Josh McCarthy, and Ultiworld managing editor Sean Childers.
Here is some background reading from Neeley’s coverage of the 2013 World Games and the East Coast tryout.
Neeley: Jeff Loskorn from Doublewide posted the other day in the Men’s Division group about why he and his teammates wanted the system to stay the same. He argued that a team with history and at least a season under its belt could very well be better than an all-star team with a few practice under its belt; that the camaraderie a team can feel when it works toward representing the US in a Worlds year is worth preserving; and that “USAU should be adding incentives for teams to compete together at Nationals rather than removing them.”
I thought it was an interesting take.
Neeley: I think pretty much everyone aside from the US and Canada is in a place where they don’t have too much choice but to send a practicing team to Worlds if they want to be competitive. We see over and over and over again that practicing together is more likely to mean wins than quickly compiling sheer talent, and most of the top players in “developing” ultimate countries play on the same teams anyway. England is a bit farther along in terms of quality teams and players, but the country is so small that they’re a tough example to point at either way. And while I mentioned Canada, the Worlds-level talent is pretty much concentrated in two cities/on two teams in both the Men’s and Women’s divisions, so even they’ve barely got the luxury of choosing to go the tryout/all-star team route…and before you say that Bravo won by quickly compiling talent, sleep on that thought.
Jack Marsh: I wrote this in response to Jeff’s post:
Quality of team — One of the big reasons for the move was that they felt that a hand-picked team would be stronger than an existing club-team even with its chemistry. The press release lays out some of the recent history there in support of this (granted that is across all divisions; not sure what it looks like for men’s alone). One of the big parts of USAU’s strategic plan was to win in international competition, and they believe this is the way to do it.
Camaraderie — The flip side of your point about camaraderie is that more broadly than camaraderie on an individual club team, this move helps promote camaraderie and community across the country. For one, Team USA members will be more geographically diverse — more local communities are more likely to get behind that team, generating more interest and support for Team USA heading into worlds. USAU’s job is certainly to create opportunities for club teams to gel and develop meaningful relationships as a team, but it’s also out there to create a broader community within the country’s frisbee community, and they believe this is the way to do it.
Incentives to play club — I think you’re right that this wasn’t a move done to incentivize playing for club teams or to combat the potential for people choosing to play pro instead of club. I’d note that one of the eligibility rules is that to be considered for the Worlds Teams you have to have actively played the USAU series in the year prior to and during the worlds year, which seems to get at some of these concerns.
To be clear, I don’t want to discount your concerns, but just wanted to provide the above counters to some of them for you to consider. Happy to continue the discussion on this (though obviously the decision is made) — I’ve found it helpful to at least get a full understanding of why moves are made, and I’d love to be able to help give as much perspective as I can. Feel free to respond here or via private email if you have any further thoughts/concerns/responses.
Kyle Weisbrod: I think Jack’s informed response is spot on. I’d add a couple more thoughts as well: (1) we don’t take the college champion for U23s or the HS champion for U19s or take the best performing city for the World Games. This was the last remaining team-based selection for the US. Imagine a move in these other divisions going the other way and how negative the response would be. (2) As for commitment to teams, I think Jeff makes a good point but the flip side is that only a small handful of teams had a realistic shot of winning a championship. This often drove player movement and consolidation of talent as players moved to the most competitive cities for opportunities to compete internationally. Now, top players are more likely to stay in smaller markets if the door remains open to them to compete internationally despite their team’s performance. Over time, I think we could see this drive greater development and parity.
Josh McCarthy: Kyle, I also think that this is a good move away from the current approach, especially over the long run, though I don’t really agree with your added points. The talent at the elite club level is deeper and more concentrated, certainly than any high school team (with apologies to your alma mater back in its hey-day) and even a well-rounded college program like Pitt, UNC, or Oregon. I believe that the overall talent on these teams is further removed than, say, Revolver or Johnny Bravo, or Fury or Riot, in terms of representing the very best of U.S. ultimate at that particular level; admittedly, a USAU club champion is very unlikely to comprise the same talent level as a hand-picked national squad, but I think the difference is a lot lower. Further, I can’t imagine a move at the college or HS level “going the other way” because it’s simply not realistic to expect any particular high school or college program (for a ton of reasons) to participate in that kind of massive endeavor; the comparison is apples and oranges. (There also is no competitive mixed division at the college level, for what it’s worth).
As far as commitment and player movement, I suppose this is true but I would like to see the historical evidence, as it is possible I am just forgetting. Is this really that big a problem (in a Worlds year in particular compared with other years)? Some individuals will still move to play for the most competitive club teams regardless. And player movement in a WUCC year is still a potential issue (if one wants to call it an issue), as multiple club teams will qualify in each division, but that has nothing to do with this particular change.
I think the rationale set forth by Jack Marsh is more persuasive than your points, and as I mentioned above, I think it’s a good move for the sport. Four or five years from now, when the 2020 teams are being formed, it will probably seem like a no-brainer approach. I do wonder about the costs and expenses to be incurred by the players that are fortunate enough to play on these teams, as well as the added time commitment (e.g., it is one thing for a U-19 or even U-23 player to spend 1 week at training camp, 1 week at the tournament itself, as they are younger and less likely to have a full-time job). Assuming a two week commitment above and beyond the typical club season commitment, this is even more substantial than a club team’s trip to WUCC (though, not too far removed). The current system mitigated this issue, to some extent, as it is far easier to build team chemistry if everyone already lives (and practices) in the same city – without the need for any extended training camp (which will undoubtedly be necessary for these national teams to some extent).
On the flip side, if one wants to play for a US National team (and a lot of people will surely want to play), then sacrifices are undoubtedly going to be required; I’m sure that the players on the 2013 World Games team made huge sacrifices themselves to play in Colombia, so there is that precedent. I do think that this true national team approach, hopefully with a targeted USAU outreach effort (as I believe I’ve read about in the past), is much more likely to raise funds to support the team, and that could be a big positive as well. All in all, I support the change. But, I couldn’t let you get away with your add-ons to Jack’s measured reasoning without some minimal rebuttal.
Marsh: Thanks Josh — we here at @prideofny always enjoy a good Weisbrod smackdown, no matter how minimal. I think the comparison to U19/U23/etc should be less about saying that they’re apples and apples, but there is probably some benefit to the fact that the processes from choosing those teams are now the same. If anything it helps avoid confusion over the zillion different types of “Worlds” and so many different ways to qualify. Obviously not a big reason for the change or a convincing justification, but it’s somewhere in the mix as a “pro.”
Cost for participants has got to be a worry, it’s true. Especially here rather than World Games, where there will be far more participants — 4x or more? — and so harder to put some easy faces on the National Team and raise more awareness and money. I guess if you take the long view that this is a good move for getting the community to rally around the teams the fundraising will eventually be there, but tell that to some talented 23-year-old player just getting out of college next year.
We heard some talk about this new foundation perhaps helping national teams on the money front, with a goal of having no player who is qualified to play on Team USA not be able to do so because of money purposes. But it’s hard to see that happening at the outset.
Sean Childers: A few quick hits:
1. From an insular spectating/media perspective, I think its a move with unintended consequences. Something about the narrative “Best club team from USA v. allstar teams from elsewhere” was inherently compelling (I realize there is a media flipside of continuity of stars)
2. Chemistry will be a bigger issue with a 27 player team than 13 person team; sending the club champion may have been a “safer” approach (less variance from median expected performance) even if the median expected performance is lower (or about equal)
3. Careful with comparisons to other countries, which have much less depth of talent and, usually, smaller geography
4. Jack talks about the foundation providing support, but at what point should we star questioning how many resources we as players/USAU members devote to international competition? We have three senior int’l competitions, u23, u19, beach worlds … is that an ideal allocation of resources compared to paying for coaches, clinics, increased outreach efforts for female and low-income communities? Just asking, because I don’t see that question asked ever.
5. Consensus in soccer, for what it’s worth, is that the chemistry of top club teams would prevail over more star-powered international teams if, say, Real Madrid were to play Brazil (ok maybe that’s not worth much at all)