The Future's Bright, The Future's Local Leagues! (Part 2)

Writer: Robert Dover
Extra Feedback: Si East
Editor: Harry Mason (he/him)


With the pandemic disrupting how we've normally organised Frisbee, there's a chance to try out some new approaches. For example, we've seen the UKU try out some different formats with their League and Cup structure. But it's worth remembering that organising Ultimate is not the exclusive domain of the UKU - there's plenty of opportunities to get Ultimate going in the local community too! I recently ran a Hat league in North London for the first time (LUSH - London Ultimate Summer Hat), and learned a lot about how to organise local frisbee in the process. In this article, I'm going to run through some of the things I learned to think about running a league. You can find Part 1 of this series here.


What sort of things should I be thinking about when planning my league?


If you've never run a league before, it can potentially be quite daunting! There's a lot of things to think about. I thought it might be helpful to come up with a list of the things we found we needed to consider when running LUSH (not all of which we realised when we started!). It may feel like quite a long list, but don't take it too seriously! The main thing is to get the pitches and the pricing sorted - all the extra stuff is useful and might help your league run more smoothly if you think about it up front, but you can probably cobble something together on the fly if you need to. Throughout I'll be illustrating the various points with what we ended up doing in LUSH in case to give you some ideas.


Pitches


Obviously in order to play you need an appropriate space. If you're doing this in the summertime, hopefully there's a park or outdoor space you can use! In the Winter time you'll either need to find somewhere with floodlights or indoors. Finding a good venue can be tough! You're competing with all sorts of other sports for space, some of which will be much more established. Ideally you find somewhere you can book, so you don't have to worry about turning up one night and finding it full of people. It's not necessary to have proper lines down, but if you can get them it tends to make people feel like what you're doing is more official somehow. In some areas, your local council might be willing to paint some lines for you if you're playing on public land - it's worth reaching out to them to see if they have a scheme you can make use of.


Sadly we weren't able to convince our local council to put down lines in the town park where we were playing, so we went for a fallback option and bought a kit with tapes to put our own lines down! We bought a kit from Quick Pitch and set it up in the park each night we were playing. It was a bit of a faff to put down, but the players really appreciated having some proper lines to play with and feedback was generally very positive about it.


Pricing


How much do you charge people to play in your league? It's a thorny question! If you're hiring a venue, you will need to recoup your costs from the participants. And even if you aren't, making it more expensive than free will help with convincing people to keep coming back each week. That being said, you never want the cost to put people off playing, especially if you're looking to try and spread the game to newer players. It's a difficult balance, particularly if you don't know how many players you're going to get signing up.


The first thing you want to do is figure out how many people/teams you can theoretically accommodate to play in your league. If you've got an indoor venue, for example, you might only have space for a certain number of people per night, and that's going to impact the maximum size of your league. For outdoor leagues this is less of an issue as you can generally have more players per team, but you'll probably still have caps on the number of teams you can fit in. In our case, we reckoned we could play two games per night over two nights of the week, so we were probably limited to 8 teams. We estimated having squads of 15-18 people per team would hopefully lead to 10-12 people showing up each evening. That led to a maximum capacity of 144 people.


Once you've got that number of players, you can calibrate your prices according to how many you expect to turn up. My advice would be to set your prices conservatively the first time you run the league - maybe aim to break even at somewhere around 30-50% of your max capacity. Then once you have a better idea of what to expect you can tweak this in subsequent years. Hopefully you'll beat 30% easily and then you'll have some money left over to figure out what to do with (more on that later!).


Advertising


If you want people to sign up for your league, they have to know about it first! The UK Ultimate community is fragmented across a lot of different communications platforms, so this isn't always as easy as it could be. My advice is to put up stuff about it everywhere you can think of - hopefully your city has somewhere to talk about Ultimate that it would make sense to advertise. In particular, make sure to contact all the local teams and pickup groups you're aware of explicitly so they know it's happening. Also make sure there's as long a signup window as possible. If you don't give people enough notice they won't sign up in time!


A few general places to advertise that might be useful:

- UK Ultimate Pickup Facebook group

- Ultimate in the UK Discord server

- UK Ultimate Reddit


Beginners


Depending on the focus of your league, you may want to put some time and energy into making sure you get beginners involved. A few ideas about how to do this:


- Advertise outside of the traditional Ultimate channels mentioned above. Beginners aren't going to be looking there! The specifics will depend on your city, but options include putting up posters (physical advertising will reach demographics you don't necessarily expect!), posting in non-Ultimate sports community groups, or (if you're feeling adventurous) diving into the unpredictable world of paid Facebook advertising.

- Run some kind of taster session(s) before the signup deadline so that new players can have some idea of what to expect.

- Set expectations for the participants in the league that they should be understanding of newer players and be ready to help them learn the ropes.

- Make sure to communicate to team captains who the beginners on their team are (if they don't know already).

- Let people know there will be a Most Improved Player prize for each team to get people thinking about using the league to get better.


Signups


One thing we did that really paid off was to try and make the signup and payment as seamless as we could. Especially if you're running a hat league, you'll need to be taking payments from a large number of people. In my opinion it's worth investing a bit of time to make signup and payment happen as part of the same form. This will make your life as an organiser easier in the long run (no chasing people for money!) and will look swish to people who have only ever seen "fill in this google form and then pay this bank account" type stuff before. It's not *completely* trivial, but we were able to accomplish this via:


(a) setting up a Stripe account and connecting it with your bank account - they give you the ability to do online payments processing.

(b) using some kind of service that lets you integrate payments processing with online forms. For this we used a website called Supersaas. It's fairly straightforward to get something working and you can build forms that integrate with Stripe to let you take card payments as people sign up.


For a Hat League, you'll also need to get people to give you an idea of their level of play and likelihood of being there on any given night to be able to try and create some evenly balanced teams. Be aware that no matter how hard you try to do this, it is not possible to get it exactly right. We found that basically nobody could accurately predict how many matches they were likely to be able to attend, for example. And everyone grades their skill level on a different scale! Try to ask questions that give you a multi-dimensional understanding of player skills if you can - this will help a bit with balance and make it more likely that you can accurately assess levels. So in our case we asked people to rate their throwing ability, level of fitness, level of tactical understanding, amount of frisbee experience and highest level of play.


Team Names


One way to help teams bond is to give them team names that let them build their own identity. Having a theme can add to the fun! We chose to name teams after things associated with taking a bath (it only seemed appropriate given the tournament shared its name with a company that sells soaps!)


Gender Balance


If you're running a league that you want everyone to feel welcome to play in, then it'll be a Mixed League. There is an inherent tension when organising Mixed Ultimate - in the majority of player populations there are likely to be significantly more male-identifying players than female-identifying ones. So do you choose to enforce the standard gender ratios of Mixed Ultimate (in which case you will probably have to turn some men away), or do you relax the gender ratio rules, which will allow everyone to play but might lead to an overly male-dominated game? Bear in mind that for some women a 5-2 or 6-1 gender ratio is a less fun experience than proper Mixed as they feel less able to influence the game. But on the other hand there is an extra administrative burden to keeping track of the gender ratios of the signups, and turning players away can be difficult. You should have a good think about which of these is appropriate for your league!


In LUSH's case we felt we did not want to turn players away, so we made a conscious decision to relax the gender rules. If you do this, I recommend a few policies to try and mitigate issues around gender balance during games:


- You may still want to institute a minimum gender ratio for each game even if you're not playing full mixed.

- If you don't do that, give captains instructions to agree what the gender balance is going to be before each game based on the players available.

- Get captains to agree a gender endzone before the game so that teams can play different numbers of female-identifying players if they prefer.

- Ask that teams try to match gender numbers on the line each point where possible.


Dealing with Pickups


It's inevitable that no matter how well you advertise your league beforehand, there will be people who forget to sign up but then decide they want to play. Depending on the format you have chosen to go with this can be easier or harder to deal with! You don't really want to turn people away if you can help it, so my advice would be to try to accommodate late sign ups wherever possible. If you're running a hat league it's often easier to process new signups in batches (eg. allocate them all to teams once per week). You might also want to think about allocating team sizes assuming that there will be a few new entrants as the league goes on. If you want to incentivise people to sign up on time, then consider having a slightly higher 'Late Signup Fee' and make sure that you let people know they'll have to pay more if they wait!


LUSH had a LOT of late sign ups - there were 90 players signed up before the league started, and then we got another 20 late signups on top of that. In hindsight, we could have anticipated this - we started planning a bit late because of COVID and ended up with a very short signup window. Naturally that meant that a lot of players were a bit late to the party. Have a think about how well you've advertised your event beforehand so you have an idea how many stragglers you might expect (if you've been doing a big advertising blitz with a long signup window maybe you won't have such an issue!).


Spirit of the Game


Spirit is a core part of Ultimate, and in my view it's important to have some kind of spirit scoring system in place at any competition you run. Particularly for players who are new to organised Ultimate it's a great opportunity to teach them about the values of Spirit of the Game. We got a copy of the UKU's standard template for this and it worked pretty well!


Insurance


These days many venues will require you to have some form of Civil Liability Insurance in order to use their facilities. Civil Liability Insurance covers you in cases where a bystander is injured or property is damaged as a result of what you're doing. It's up to you to decide whether you feel you need it, but if you do, the easiest way to get cover is to require that all participants become members of UK Ultimate. UKU membership comes with Civil Liability Insurance, and that should cover your event without you having to go through the process of sourcing your own Civil Liability policy from somewhere.


Bad Weather Policy


This is (probably!) not going to be a problem for indoors, but it's a fact of life in the UK that if you're organising something outdoors you can't guarantee getting pleasant conditions all the time. Depending on your playing population, turnout to games may be affected by extreme bad weather. (In my experience Ultimate players are a hardy bunch and seem to be willing to put up with pretty miserable conditions, but that may not be universal!) It is worth having a quick think about what should happen if you do have to cancel matches or stop play because the weather takes a turn for the worse.


In our league we had to stop matches one evening due to nearby lightning strikes! The UKU does have a Lightning Contingency Plan that's worth reading. My suggestion would be to come up with some appropriate areas to take shelter were there to be some lightning (DON'T STAND UNDER TREES!), and decide how long is sensible to wait before starting to play again (the UKU advises 20-30 minutes).


Scheduling


Some people really enjoy planning out a robust tournament structure, and others hate it! The exact structure and schedule will be very dependent on the number of teams, venue, format and so on. But here are a few tips that may be handy:

- In general, people prefer to know in advance when their matches are going to be. If you can plan out the whole schedule in advance and circulate it, that's best. That may not be possible, but remember that the more notice you can give, the better players can organise their lives and actually turn up!

- A round robin is a pretty tried and trusted structure.

- It's probably worth leaving some gaps in the schedule in case Bad Weather (see previous section) or some unforeseen circumstance means a match can't be played in its scheduled slot.

- If you anticipate having teams of wildly differing strengths, it may be worth trying to split teams into divisions.

- Having a final is normally appreciated!


Injuries and First Aid


Hopefully it won't happen, but sometimes people do get injured playing Ultimate. You probably should have a First Aid Kit on hand (we put one in the bags that had our pitch kits in), although worth noting that by far the most common thing you'll need from a first aid kit are ice packs. It's not always possible to have someone first-aid trained at every match, but it's worth having a think if that's possible to cover your bases. For example if you’re running a league where players register as individuals, you could have a question on the signup form about whether they have first aid training. If you’re lucky you may find you have enough players with the necessary qualifications to cover the whole tournament!


As an organiser, make sure you get teams to report any significant injuries that happen to you. If you're using the UKU's Civil Liability Insurance you're supposed to fill in an incident report for particularly serious injuries such as head collisions or broken bones.


For LUSH we had some issue with uneven ground, so we put out guidance about where to lay out the pitches to avoid the worst of the potholes. This helped reduce the injury risk somewhat.


Lost Property


As anyone who has been to an Ultimate tournament knows, our players are a forgetful bunch and someone WILL leave something behind! Having a system in place to advertise lost and found is a good idea, otherwise you'll be left with random stuff you picked up from the sidelines (if anyone needs a pair of used cargo shorts someone left behind at LUSH, drop me a message!).


Stats & Fantasy


Whether or not to do statkeeping is an interesting topic! Some players really enjoy the validation of having their actions recorded for posterity and relish the competition of racking up the most goals, assists and Ds. On the other hand, some players really dislike stats - the fact that stats are being kept can add unwanted pressure and it may encourage stathunting behaviour that can sometimes be problematic.


It’s also worth bearing in mind that collecting stats is not an easy task in a league where matches are played over many evenings! You’re going to have to find volunteers to keep track of things, and give them a system that makes it easy to record what happens in the game.


For LUSH we decided against doing statkeeping as we felt it might be daunting to newer players and would have added significantly to the administrative overhead. But in some formats (particularly if you go for a Draft League or a Parity League) it may be worth having a go!


What to do if you make a profit


Hopefully your league will be successful and you'll end up with enough players to make a profit. What should you do with the money? I'd recommend putting some of it towards prizes (see below). But don't feel guilty about running a surplus - you probably put in a bunch of work to make this league happen, and it's only fair that you (or your club) should be compensated for the work you've put in. Use the money to keep your club running, or maybe splurge it all on a big party if that's how you roll!


Prizes and Party


Having some prizes is a good way to make people feel like there's something to play for, especially if you've made a profit on the tournament and want to give some of that back to the participants. But if you're going to give out prizes, you need to find a way to bring everyone together at the end of the league to hand them out! One good way to do this is to organise an end-of-tournament event that you encourage everyone to attend. That way you can get everyone together and have a bit of a prize giving ceremony (and maybe even a post tournament party) to finish the league on a high note.


What we did for LUSH was hold the final of the league on a separate evening, and booked an area at a local pub to go to afterwards. Advertising that you'll put a bit of money behind the bar can do wonders for turnout! We were able to get plenty of people along to watch the final and be there for the prize-giving ceremony!


A happy photo showing a lot of Frisbee players all smiling together

(Photo Credit: Nel Payne)


Feedback


No matter how attentively you run your league, there'll be things that don't quite work out perfectly. Finding out what those are is important so you can do it even better next time! I highly recommend sending out a feedback form to your players after the league has finished to get their opinions on how things went. My approach was to give people a bunch of cues for things they might want to give feedback about, and then give them a general text box to write what they want rather than asking a lot of different questions - it's a bit less of a faff to fill in and that means you're more likely to get people taking the time to respond. Here's the form I sent out if you're curious about how it looked.


Despite your best intentions, be prepared that (unless everything goes spectacularly!) you won't get 100% positive feedback. That's actually a good thing! It's important to find out what you can change that will improve the experience, so try and accept any feedback you receive rather than getting defensive about it.

The Future's Bright, The Future's Local Leagues! (Part 1)

Writer: Robert Dover
Extra Feedback: Si East
Editor: Harry Mason (he/him)


With the pandemic disrupting how we've normally organised Frisbee, there's a chance to try out some new approaches. For example, we've seen the UKU try out some different formats with their League and Cup structure. But it's worth remembering that organising Ultimate is not the exclusive domain of the UKU - there's plenty of opportunities to get Ultimate going in the local community too! I recently ran a Hat league in North London for the first time (LUSH - London Ultimate Summer Hat), and learned a lot about how to organise local frisbee in the process. In this article, I'm going to try to explain why I think it's a good idea to run your own league and give a rundown of the various formats you can use. You can read Part 2 of this series here.


Why run a local league?


There are many benefits to having an Ultimate league in your own city:


1) You won't have to travel a long way to play.


There are many fun things about the weekend tournament experience. Travel time is not one of them. Personally I find a couple of hours in the car each way painful and I can only imagine what it must be like for the dedicated folks coming down from Scotland! Being able to play structured Ultimate in your own back yard is a huge win.


2) It provides a stepping stone for players who may not have the confidence, spare time or money to commit to playing full weekend tournaments.


For newer players, going away to a tournament can be quite daunting. Do they really want to spend a whole weekend playing this crazy sport? And for some people, a whole weekend away is just not something they can commit to for a variety of reasons. When you play local you can play on a single day (and it can even be midweek during the summer or in the right venue), and go home to sleep in your own bed afterwards. That means less money spent on travel and accommodation. It's lower commitment on people's bodies, calendars and wallets!


3) It's a great way to teach newer players how to play in a low-stakes competitive environment.


Many players learn to play Ultimate at University. This is a great environment to be taught how to play! There will be lots of beginners all starting at once in the same place, and a high probability of some more experienced folks being around to teach them how it all works. But after University, picking up a disc is a bit harder. It's a daunting proposition to go along to a club when you're the only new player there. But it's difficult to find a critical mass of newer players who are all learning together, and even harder to find them alongside some experienced teachers who can show them what to do. A local league can be that place! Sprinkle those beginners in amongst the more experienced ones and watch that learning curve go.


4) You'll meet Ultimate players you wouldn't have had a chance to otherwise.


Is your club the only Ultimate show in town? In a smaller town that might be true, but I'd be willing to bet that any reasonably large city has multiple groups of people who meet to play Frisbee sometimes. Maybe there's a random pickup group in a park, maybe there's a university with a nascent team, maybe there are people who used to play but for whatever reason haven't picked up a disc recently. A league is a great way to bring these disparate groups together. Many people have told me that 'Ultimate is all about who you know' - this is your chance to get to know more people!


5) Visible Ultimate leads to more familiarity with the game.


Most big tournaments are held in big, closed off venues. That means it's not always easy for passers-by to see the sport in action. But a local league can be played in smaller, more accessible venues (maybe a town park or a local sports club), and that means people are more likely to see you playing. If all goes well, a local league is your chance to tick that 4 point Communication Spirit Score box for explaining the game to spectators! And those spectators may not start playing the game right away, but maybe the next time they see it they'll be more open to the idea of giving it a try.


OK, you've convinced me it makes sense to give it a try. What format should I use?


Let's start by assuming you have a space to play and a fixed night (or maybe nights) you can run a league. How do you structure your competition? The format you choose can have big knock-on effects on how much people enjoy it, so it's important to think carefully about how you want to go about it! I'll list all of the league structures I've seen or heard about (I'm sure this is far from exhaustive!).


- Team-based league. Sign up as a team, play matches against other teams.

 

+ Easy for the organiser to sort out. You take money from a small number of teams and then tell them when and where they're playing, and that's about it!

+ People get to play with their friends.

- High barrier to entry. Getting enough people to form an Ultimate team is hard!

- If you don't have evenly matched teams in your area, it may not be very fun.

 

- Hat series. Each week there's a mini hat tournament going on. Take whoever shows up and put them in teams and then they play!

 

+ Easy to adapt based on the number of people available each evening.

+ Low barrier to entry - all you have to do is show up!

- Hard to form on-pitch chemistry if you're playing with someone different every week.

- Not much sense of it being part of a wider competition.

 

- Plus/minus league. It's like the Hat Series, but you keep track of who plays on each team every week. Each player has their own Win-Loss record and you use this to (a) pick teams, and (b) crown an individual winner who has contributed to winning the most over the set of matches.

 

+ Low barrier to entry - just turn up.

+ There's something in the structure that adds a competitive edge for people who are motivated by that sort of thing.

- Keeping track of who is on which team each week can be tricky.

- Hard to form on-pitch chemistry if you're playing with someone different every week.

 

- Hat League. Everyone signs up at the start and then teams are assigned by the organiser. You play with that team throughout the competition, and at the end a team is crowned the winner.

 

+ Low barrier to entry - sign up by yourself and then get told when to be there.

+ Gives players a chance to get familiar with their teammates as the league goes on.

+ Initially a bit of work to make the teams, but after that a bit less work for the organiser who can delegate to team captains.

- Hard to balance the teams fairly, which can lead to players on weaker teams not having such a good time.

- Risk that some teams might run low on numbers if they only have a fixed pool of players to draw from.

 

- Draft League. Like a Hat League, but rather than teams being assigned by the organisers each team has a captain and they meet at the start of the league to make the teams via a draft.

 

+ Gives players a chance to get familiar with their teammates as the league goes on.

+ You can sign up as an individual, don't need to your own find a team.

+ Less work for the organiser as the captains sort out the teams for you.

- Team selection will be heavily weighted towards players the captains know, meaning that it can be less accessible if you aren't part of the organising club.

- Risk that some teams might run low on numbers if they only have a fixed pool of players to draw from.

- Have to provide a 'resume', which can be daunting for less experienced players.

- Can feel bad to be picked last.

 

- Parity League. Like a draft league, but more complicated! Each player is assigned a fictional 'salary' and each team a 'salary cap'. You keep track of stats from each game and adjust each player's 'salary' based on their performance. Captains have to swap players between teams in order to stay below the salary cap number, which should mean that teams become more even over time as players have to be moved between teams. (Apparently this is what they do in Brisbane).

 

+ The balancing mechanics should mean that in the long run you end up with very even teams.

+ Low barrier to entry - sign up by yourself and then get told when to be there.

- It's a lot of effort to keep track of stats from every game.

- Needs very committed captains to make it work.

- Having someone keeping track of every turnover can add a lot of pressure that not everyone enjoys.



Wow, that's a lot of options! How do I choose?


Some of it is personal preference. If you're running the league you're going to do a better job if it's a format you are enthused about! Don't discount your own feelings and opinions in this. But having said that, I think it's important to consider the demographics of the Ultimate-playing population in your city. To illustrate this, let me go through the decision process we made for LUSH.


Here's the UKU's map of the teams in London that are registered for the Challenge League this year:

 

A map showing the distribution of teams for LUSH, especially noting a large cluster of teams around the Clapham area,


There are an abundance of Ultimate teams in London! But as you can see from the map they are very geographically concentrated in the South, and in particular they all seem to train in the same park - Clapham Common. But my club (Curve) is based in the North of London, where there are comparatively few organised teams. So it didn't feel like a Team based league was really an option in North London. Having said that, there are several nearby pickup groups that play locally but don't really send teams to tournaments or participate in Challenge League. We also had a surge in new players looking to try a new sport in the aftermath of lockdown, so it felt appropriate to try to aim the league at development rather than at creating a high level competitive atmosphere. We felt that we could use LUSH to give these players a chance to try playing at a level slightly higher than pickup, while giving more experienced players a chance to play some fun, low stakes Ultimate.


For these reasons, we ended up choosing the Hat League structure. The theory was that new players would get to play with and learn from the same faces each week, and that in general teams would develop chemistry and possibly even make some new friends along the way! In hindsight, I think it was the right choice for us. What you decide will depend on who plays Ultimate in your city and what they want!


Right, so how do I actually go about running the league?


There’s plenty of things to think about to make a local league a success. Too much, in fact, for this already long article! Read Part 2 of this series here, with a list of things to consider when planning and administrating your league.

 

 

The Recap: UK Mixed Nationals 2021

Editor: Hazard (he/him)

Nationals is over! Very well done to SMOG 1 for winning the tournament, and to Oxford Ultimate for winning spirit of the game. These articles are simply going to be giving each team a space to write a few thoughts on the tournament, in order of finishing.

To allow myself space for a small recap paragraph of my own thoughts, this was by far the most competitive Mixed Nationals I've ever played in. The fact that the last place got 10 points against 2nd place (Thundering Herd  10 - 15  Deep Space) shows to me how strong the division has gotten, despite all of the circumstances in the surrounding year. Obviously this was technically a WUCC qualifying year, but it didn't seem like that was the focus for most teams. It felt like everyone was just excited to play a proper Ultimate tournament again, and it lead to some of the most amazing games. 

I also want to give a shout-out to the organisers. Sorting Nationals is never easy, and doing it in these circumstances is even harder. The pitches were great, the community was friendly but still respectful, and everything seemed to run smoothly from the outside.  

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Other Coverage

Full results can be found on the schedule.

The ShowGame are doing weekly podcasts every Friday/Saturday covering all the action.

Hogi filmed some games this weekend. You can see his watchalong on Twitch, or watch the game footage on YouTube.

Ulti.tv filmed a lot of Nationals, and streamed it for free to the public on their YouTube. You can support them and find out more on their Patreon.

Photo albums can be found with Ultimouat, Graham Shellswell, maio2zaiparen, and the ShowGame

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Results

1. SMOG 1

2. Deep Space

3. Reading Mixed

4. SMOG 2

5. Leamington Lemmings

6. Oxford Ultimate (Spirit)

7. Cambridge Ultimate

8. Thundering Herd


The Saturday Results of Mixed Nationals
The Saturday Pool Games of Mixed Nationals




The Sunday knockout bracket of Mixed Nationals


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Recaps


1st Place: SMOG 1

Alex GreerIt goes without saying that this weekend was a triumph for SMOG, not just as individual teams, but as a club. In retrospect it’s hard to believe that a few months ago we were still waiting to see if this event could even happen, but between now and then a huge amount of hard work and commitment has been put in by 44 athletes who competed this weekend gone by, all of which I’m proud to call my teammates. 

SMOG 1 went into the weekend swinging from the start, we held seed with dominant wins over Thundering Herd and Oxford. We also had our first match-up with Deep Space in a very enjoyable pool match, with both teams making some big plays and taking the chance to feel out the other side in case we met up in the latter half of the tournament (foreshadowing maybe…?) 

The semi-final was a tough one, with a SMOG v SMOG battle royale. Having been on the other side of the 1s v 2s matchup myself last Nationals (in 2019), I know it’s always a bit nervy since it’s strange playing the group of people that had been cheering you on every game the day before. It’s a bit of a double edged sword matching up against a team you’re so familiar with, we knew all their tactics but naturally they knew all of ours as well. SMOG 2 pulled ahead at the start, however SMOG 1 managed to exponentially put more points on the board at each stage of the game. It was a great game against a great side. 

It was about halfway through this game we found out what was going on the other pitch, a massive upset. Let’s be honest, everyone had spent so long debating the SMOG 1 v Reading match-up that they’d discounted the other main contender, and Deep Space couldn’t care less about your predictions (massive props by the way). 

The final was a very different game to our pool match up, DS took what they’d learned the day before and came in with a fiery resolve. The first half was a tough grind and ended on serve 8-7 to SMOG 1. This continued for a few more points before SMOG started to pull away, it’s hard to say whether DS started to lose momentum or SMOG switched to a higher gear, but one thing that’s for certain is a lot of white shirts went swimming for blocks, and they got them. The game was a privilege to take part in and I’m very much looking forward to the next time we can match up against a strong DS line. We’re grateful for an exciting weekend and the return of weekend tournaments, and after a short celebration we’ll be back at it again. Now we’re firmly on the road to worlds, we don’t intend to stop working hard now. Guess I can fill the frisbee void with some indoors in the meantime...

 

2nd Place: Deep Space

Miyen Ho (she/her) and Conor HoganComing into this weekend, one of DS’s main priorities was bringing the energy & intensity from the beginning and continually ramping it up. This had been a challenge for us during the National League matches, particularly against Reading, Mighty Hucks, & SMOG 1, where our opponents had built substantial early leads that we weren’t able to claw back. We think we overcame this challenge relatively successfully — our first match on Saturday against Oxford featured a strong early lead, while our second match saw us trading holds with SMOG 1 until halftime. The third match was an anomaly, with Herd taking an early lead of a couple of points and still being tight at around 11-9, before we managed to pull away for the 15-10 win. We were proud of our resilience in bringing back that energy & intensity to end the day with the “quarterfinal” win. 

Our focus on ‘effort & intensity from the start’ was most apparent in our semi-final against Reading. While both our National League match in June & Challenge League match in mid-August saw Reading take early leads, we were proud to score several breaks in the first half of the semis to take the half at 8-3. We spoke at half time about not wanting to take the foot off the pedal and that Reading would absolutely come out swinging in the second half and we needed to be ready to deal with a few speed bumps along the road. Reading did just that winning the second half 9-7 but we had a big enough lead from the first half and our D line continued to generate turns and breaks despite the Reading defence’s pressure won our own O line. Shout out to Phil Sandwell for a 65-70m sprint to chase down layout grab - see image reel on Sam Mouat’s @ultimouat Instagram account - and to Duncan Rowe for roofing Joe Brown for an early break. Both goals gave the team a lot of hype. 

And thus the final. This was the culmination of all the work done in this short and weird season but we had peaked at the right moment and respected the challenge ahead of us. SMOG 1 had won our previous two meetings 15-10 and 15-9, including the group game on Saturday so they properly had the mental edge on us. We didn’t let that show in the first quarter as we went out to a 2 break lead. As the game went on however, mistakes on our side crept in and were punished as harshly as they were on Saturday. We kept it close and at the break there was only 1 goal in it. The second half continued with much the same pace and intensity as the first with both teams generating blocks and forcing big plays. In the end, the depth of SMOG 1’s roster was a bit too much for us to handle and they took the game 15-11. 

Shout out to Nina Finley for firing hucks around like nobody’s business and to Leila Denniston for her big grab late in the game which sparked a necessary energy boost in the team. Shout out also to Charlie Daffern for getting a clutch aerial block when we needed to stop SMOG 1’s momentum. We spoke after the game about being disappointed with the result while being proud of our performance - we knew we played as well this weekend, especially Sunday, as Deep Space ever has and we have put ourselves in the near best possible position for WUCC qualification. Big shout out to all our opponents for testing us enormously, especially SMOG 1 for the two most challenging match ups of the weekend. We go again next year.

Many thanks to all the teams we played this weekend - every single match was very competitive and highly-spirited; super impressive to see after the prolonged off-season!


3rd Place: Reading Mixed

Bex PalmerA very hard weekend. Going in as National League champs and having had previous National success we had high expectations. 

Throughout the weekend we seemed to lack a good start to a game, and this meant we struggled to give ourselves space to make mistakes. The likes of Cambridge and Lemmings were unknowns to us coming from outside the League, put up a hell of a fight and we didn't close out those games until the last minute (both teams played fantastically). 

When the semi came it was a similar story of a slow start and Deep Space going 8-3 at half. I'm incredibly proud of Reading for bringing that score line back to 13-12 but alas our slowness out the gates had probably sealed our fate.

With a guaranteed Worlds spot and medals out of the picture we rallied hard to win 15-5 in the 3rd v 4th place game against SMOG 2, a rematch of the 3rd v 4th place game two years ago that we failed to rally for, so improvements made! Big shout out to Neil McCulloch as well on his first Nationals, and to Erin McGready for playing a blinder on defence all weekend. As a team made up of a lot of young U24 players with some Reading stalwarts we have come away disappointed but resilient, with a lot more high pressure experience under our belts. Reading 2022 is coming back stronger.


4th Place: SMOG 2

Heather Williams (she/her/they/them)As a second team, I think it’s fair to say we took quite a bit longer to gel as a squad due to fewer well-established connections, and this showed in our games over the summer. Having already suffered a defeat to Lemmings in the Cup, SMOG 2 was buzzing for a rematch at Nationals – with the livestream only fanning the flames! 

Both teams came out of the gates firing with some slick and patient offence, and struggled to find the gaps in each other’s armour. Lemmings tried a variety of defensive tactics including zone and buzz switches, with SMOG 2 relying on hard match to wear down the opposition and force the bigger throws. Trading to five all, the impasse was finally broken when SMOG 2 scored an up-wind break just before half, and kept the pressure on to take the game 14-9 in a reverse of the Cup final! 

Beating Lemmings placed us second in the pool, and meant SMOG 2 were to face SMOG 1 in the semi-final the following morning. We went out with the mindset that we had nothing to lose and to not be swayed by our emotions should we make a mistake. SMOG 2 scored the first point and gained some early momentum, which SMOG 1 did their best to clamp down on before finally winning the game. All in all, SMOG’s huge sideline, consisting mainly of parents and partners (a few with divided loyalties), really enjoyed cheering us all on after a full schedule of back-to-back supporting the previous day. 

Our final match of the weekend was a rematch against Reading. While SMOG 2 was a bit disappointed to not have got a closer result after the pool, Reading was fired up after their loss to Deep Space and ground out the game with some excellent throws through holes in the zone. Thanks to all the teams we played for some well-spirited ultimate after we've all spent so long away from it!


5th Place: Leamington Lemmings Ultimate

Nathan SandersSaturday for Lemmings mixed was one of great starts, and saw us come out strong against Cambridge managing to take half with a break, their unusual defensive look took some getting used to but we were fortunate to take a couple of breaks in the initial stages of the game. A fiery few points at the end of the game saw Cambridge take 3 breaks on the bounce to bring the game to universe but we were able to capitalise and make sure of the win.

The second game was the big one Lemmings vs SMOG 2 for second in the group and a space in the top 4. Both teams start well and manage to hold offences until 5’s, but then some athletic plays and clinical offence saw SMOG 2 just eek it away before half. A really tough game and a well-deserved win for SMOG 2 left us with one game left, Reading. Despite a tough loss on the livestream, the team rallied really well to bring a lot of energy and fire the last pool game against reading, starting really well, lemmings manage to hold their own even trading breaks with a very athletic team. The game was close with scores tied up at 11-11, both teams leaving it on the field, with some excellent defence but Reading show some class to finish the game out calmly. Highly enjoyable and very well spirited, my favourite game of the weekend. 

Sunday morning, a rematch of the cup final against Herd! This was a big game, the last time we replayed a team they came back firing and this time was no exception. The game was very tight, both teams squeezing turnovers out of each other. Lemmings are able to go into half-time a couple of breaks clear but that doesn’t stop Herd who manage to fight all the way into the end and claw back the two breaks at the end of the game to get a shot at universe. Apparently we like to make it interesting, fortunately again Lemmings put in a clean offensive hold to take the win. Oxford were up next, who had just come out of a nail-biting sudden death win against Cambridge. A five game weekend had definitely taken its toll by this point and the extra legs and youth on the Lemmings roster managed to take the game with a little run of breaks in the middle. A highly enjoyable game against a very rightly deserved spirit winning squad.


6th Place: Oxford Ultimate

Harry Mason (he/him): It has been really exciting playing with Oxford this season. Nationals was never the goal - we thought we were going out in round one when we were drawn against RGS as our first match-up (who sadly had to pull out). The fact we fought our way through the whole cup, qualified at the third time of asking (sorry Glasgow), and then at Nationals managed to win two games to finish sixth in the UK (while winning spirit) is literally beyond any goal we set for the season. Many thanks go to Sam Vile, Nancy Rawlings, and anyone else who coached us this season - as well as special thanks to our captains Jeremy Keown and Mags Matsumiya.

Saturday was where we finally saw ourselves having to face the music. Our first game against Deep Space felt like a thriller the whole way, ending at a remarkably close 15-10. Special shout out to Grisel Jayapurna, who started Ultimate only a few months ago and yet was able to bring down some spicy discs against elite opposition. I want to talk more about it, but then I don't have room for our sudden death redemption match against Thundering Herd, which we won despite some very impressive efforts from our ex-teammate Matt Butler. Given we lost by a seven-point margin in the cup, this was a real indicator of just how far we'd managed to develop as a team. Despite putting everything into the Herd game to guarantee the win, we still managed to put some points up (including a break) against SMOG 1 to finish the day.

Sunday started with a game another rematch, this time with us stopping the revenge result reversal from Cambridge. We worked well through their zone, well enough that they sadly stopped using it and then broke us a few times for a half at 5-8. Thankfully, we've been down against Cambridge at half before, so we knew what to do. We rallied, earned some breaks ourselves, and ended the game by scoring a traitor's assist, with two ex-Cambridge players - Nick "Gonzo" Skliar-Davies and Mags Matsumiya - connecting for the assist and score respectively. Sadly, at this point, the small squad size and a couple injuries really hit us hard, and though the fight against Lemmings was respectable it was always to be a fatally flawed attempt.

Everyone on the team played fantastically. Bill Wright stepped up in a big way, his development this season is amazing. Kay Song was only playing her second tournament but handled against some of the best zones in the country. Helen Brooks was able to get separation against every defender. Kirjon Ngu got some phenomenal D's. Luka Nedic skyed the guy whose shirt he had to borrow from Deep Space. Emma Holden was an endzone threat against every team. Anthony Howgego was a bedrock of a handler for our side. And the partnership of myself, Phili Kent, and James Famelton has been working for four years at uni so it makes sense it is still paying dividends now. Nick was always able to lowkey be the cut we needed just at the right time. Also Shona, Thawn, Sofia, and everyone who helped us qualify, you were all incredible too. However, at this point I'm abusing the fact I edit the articles and so I'll wrap it up. Thanks Oxford for an amazing tournament. Even though it was a farewell one for some of us, it's certainly the best farewell this author could ask for. Especially in winning spirit as well :D.


7th Place: Cambridge Ultimate

Sophie ManceAn early start for CUlt as we arrived in Nottingham in varying states of awakeness after driving up from Cambridge. A warm-up later we were ready for our first opponents of the day, Lemmings. A strong start from CUlt wasn’t to last as Lemmings took half with a few breaks. Captain Melissa "George" LaFrance reminded us that this was a perfect opportunity to practice Mental Toughness, a focus we’ve had throughout the season. That seemed to do the trick, and we came out firing. The soft cap hooter went and CUlt were still down. Undeterred, the team kept grinding to pull the score up to 12-12: universe point. Congratulations to Lemmings who took the final point for a 13-12 win. Our next opponent was Reading Ultimate. Another strong start from CUlt put us up 2-0. However, Reading impressed us with their ‘boring’ but highly effective ultimate and pulled away winning the match 13-8. Game three was against SMOG 2. Despite some early breaks from CUlt, SMOG’s determination and clinical offence saw them win the match 14-9.

Day two saw us up against our rivals Oxford Ultimate! After a narrow loss to them in the National Cup, we were out for revenge. Aching muscles were soon forgotten as we traded points until a run of three points saw CUlt take half. Oxford, weren’t going to let us get away with that and went on a run of their own. After soft cap we found ourselves facing our second universe point of the tournament. Unfortunately, it was also our second sudden death loss of the tournament with Oxford winning the match 10-9. Our final opponent of the tournament was Thundering Herd. Excellent mental toughness from CUlt helped us forget our sore legs and general exhaustion. One break in the first half was followed by a few more in the second and eventually a 15-12 win for CUlt!

I’m sure I speak for the whole team when I say I couldn’t have had a more fun and challenging tournament. Thank you to captains Jonny Slaughter and George for excellent leadership; let's hope the next tournament is less than two years away!


Cambridge congratulate Reading after a game well played. Photo Credit: Graham Shellswell. Find more photos from Nationals here

8th Place: Thundering Herd

Sean ColferThe weekend was reasonably successful despite the lack of success for Herd. Outside of a rough start against the defending champs on Saturday morning (which was much more competitive at times than a 15-3 would indicate, with Herd’s D line getting a few looks at the endzone and the O line working pretty well at times and getting it back once turned) every game was pretty tight, and the newer and younger players on the roster all fit into their roles well and looked like they belonged on this stage. 

A sudden death loss to Oxford in the pool made it tough to avoid the 5-8 bracket, but took any pressure off for a game against local rivals Deep Space. Through most of the game it was a tight, competitive but well spirited affair outside of a couple of collisions with Deep Space up 11-9. A few ill-timed injuries thinned out the Herd handling options and Deep Space began to turn the screw late on, reflected in the 15-10 final score. Matt "Smatt" Hodgson made a very stupid catch late on, bashing a pretty ropey hammer back up in the air before laying out for a full extension trailing edge grab. 

Second day was more of the same - tough sledding, good opposition and hard work. Lemmings were able to get out to a lead in the middle section of the game and hung on despite a furious late run from Herd, winning in sudden death. This game featured a monster layout grab by Johnny Hawes in the back corner, catching the disc as it faded away with his left hand. The final game against Cambridge was tight too, with the opposition using a hugely effective deep game and getting some early joy with an FSU. Another tight, spirited game, another loss, but all in all a great return to tournament play and a reminder of why we all like playing this ridiculous sport.

The Future's Bright, The Future's Local Leagues! (Part 2)

Writer: Robert Dover Extra Feedback: Si East Editor: Harry Mason (he/him) With the pandemic disrupting how we've normally organised Fris...