While 2023 is only a month old, ultimate organizers have been working hard to confirm plans for the year ahead, which for many communities includes preparations for the upcoming youth club season. While bid applications recently opened for USA Ultimate’s (USAU) Youth Club Championships event (YCC) - August 5 to 7 in Aurora, CO - for many disc organizations, planning for the 2023 youth club season is already several months underway.
Alongside the usual efforts to hire coaches, schedule tryouts, and plan budgets, several organizers are collaborating on bigger goals for 2023, working to expand competition opportunities for youth ultimate. The National Ultimate Alliance (NUA), a network built to support and empower ultimate organizers, is providing a platform for these organizers - and others who may be interested in connecting - to cooperatively plan new events to better serve their respective ultimate communities. Keep reading to learn more about these exciting projects, why organizers are pursuing them, and how NUA is trying to help.
Expansion of Regional Competitions - Less Travel, Less Cost & More Opportunities
The idea of expanding regional youth club events is nothing new. Before the pandemic, USAU coordinated several “Fall Youth Cup” events in an effort to provide regional opportunities to play. In the annual summer build-up to YCC, some local organizations coordinated youth club “warm-up” events, but the total opportunities for youth club competition beyond the YCC tournament remained limited.
The COVID-19 pandemic promoted the establishment of regional youth club opportunities when traveling to a national tournament had more question marks. Triangle Ultimate’s Southeast Showdown event, established in 2021, is one such example. As the event enters its third year (July 22/23), Southeast Showdown is much more than a “YCC warm-up” tournament - the event stands alone as a fun regional event for teams. With the inclusion of a U15 Boys Division in 2022 - including teams from Triangle, Wilmington, Greensboro and Richmond - Southeast Showdown has already achieved success in providing new competition opportunities which previously did not exist. Tristan Green, Executive Director of Triangle Ultimate, describes his organization’s approach to youth competitions as follows:
“Creating regional non-school based youth playing opportunities can serve to further develop existing youth club teams, help serve as a intermediary goal for communities that eventually seek to compete at a YCC/national level, as well as create compelling reasons for new teams to form from new areas that do not fit into the historical binary of either a ‘school-based team’ focused model or the nationally-focused ‘YCC team’ model. The Triangle is aiming to utilize the term “Juniors” as we seek to move past the current binary of school teams and YCC teams.”
Organizers from Boston Ultimate Disc Alliance (BUDA) and Valley Ultimate (VU) in western Massachusetts are collaborating to host a tournament to serve the northeast region in 2023. “Northeasterns” - planned for July 22/23 - will provide a regional competition for areas of the country (and beyond the border) where traveling to national events can be especially expensive. Meanwhile in Ohio, Cincinnati Ultimate is providing regional youth club competition by adding a new youth club division for SCINNY, an adult club tournament to be hosted June 18-19.
These regional events provide competition opportunities to players and families for whom the costs and travel required for a national event like YCC is out of reach. They also increasingly exist as their own capstone competitions, as national competitions become more difficult for players and organizers to navigate and afford. As explained by John Rice, a member of BUDA’s board of directors:
“At BUDA we have always wanted to be able to offer summer youth ultimate playing opportunities to anyone with the interest. In the past we haven’t had as much to offer to youth players who did not make the nationals youth club teams. With our regional Northeasterns event and local summer league we’re able to offer opportunities for play at all skill levels and price points.”
Even with the expansion of regional competitions, the demand for a national travel competition in the youth club landscape is well-established. But what if there were additional opportunities for national competition as well?
NAYUC - a New Opportunity for National Youth Club Competition
Organizers from several ultimate communities have collaborated to launch the 2023 North American Youth Ultimate Championships (NAYUC), a three-day event (August 11 to 13) hosted at a familiar location to the national youth club community - the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota. With participating teams already confirmed from Boston, Madison, Minnesota and Seattle, NAYUC is intended to provide an additional opportunity for nationals-level competition, with specific plans to make participation cheaper and more flexible for players, teams and organizers.
“Our goal with NAYUC is to serve our current and future youth club players with the best experience possible and ensure access to memorable youth club opportunities for the largest number of kids we can serve. We’re particularly excited about making the tournament welcoming, inclusive, and accessible via features such as a tiered fee structure and tournament support for the creation of co-op teams, which allows for partial teams from smaller or growing communities to combine to make one team”.
(Sara Lazenby, Vice President & Youth Chair of Madison Ultimate Frisbee Association, and co-organizer of the NAYUC event.)
Specifically, NAYUC expects to serve teams and organizations through the following features:
Streamlined confirmation of bids, so teams can coordinate travel arrangements in advance with certainty regarding participation.
Incorporation of a tiered fee structure to address financial barriers to participation.
Players and families pay tournament participation fees only - no additional membership fees.
No required participation in other leagues or events as a precondition to participate.
Flexibility over rostering rules and eligibility to maximize opportunities to participate.
Planned option for “co-op” teams with players from multiple communities - with dedicated coaching coordinated by NAYUC organizers - so more organizations can send players to participate, especially developing orgs which may not be able to recruit a full team.
Opportunity for high-level competition against teams from established youth ultimate communities across the country.
High-quality coordination and event planning from the same local volunteers who successfully hosted YCC in Minnesota for many years - at the same familiar field complex!
Transparency over expenses so participating teams and organizations know how event fees are being allocated.
When the dust settles in 2023, NAYUC organizers expect this new event to establish itself as an annual fixture of the youth club calendar, providing another option for national competition and a positive experience for participating teams.
The Importance of More Opportunities & More Predictability in Youth Club
USA Ultimate’s Youth Club Championships event has provided quality competition and positive experiences for a generation of youth players. As demand for YCC participation has grown, local organizations - especially those not directly affiliated with USAU - have scrambled to accommodate player demand and secure bids, often through “USAU Sanctioned Leagues” which require memberships, include additional fees and may not fit alongside local youth programming. Some prominent organizations with well-established youth communities decided to step away from youth club programming entirely, like Bay Area Disc and DiscNW, with separate local organizations taking on that role.
For organizations still pursuing YCC participation, access to the event is increasingly uncertain. The relocated 2023 host venue in Aurora, Colorado offers fewer available fields than the prior complex in Minnesota, and the impact on bid availability is even more unclear. Access to future YCCs is even murkier - USAU’s 2023 Youth Competition Guidelines (published Jan 19) tease the possibility of regional qualifying tournaments in 2024 to determine participation in the national event. On top of all the coordination and costs required to send teams to a national competition, players, coaches, families, and organizers face the prospect of an additional required qualifying tournament alongside the existing USAU participation requirements.
While demand for “championship” competition will always exist in ultimate, organizers are increasingly seeking more opportunities for their growing youth communities to compete in diverse ways. Whether through USAU’s existing youth club format or some entirely new format - like Triangle Ultimate’s “Juniors” format - organizers need the flexibility to provide competition opportunities to more players regardless of identity, skill-level, competitive interest and financial barriers. Organizers also need predictability around event attendance to streamline planning and focus more energy on growing the sport. These needs are driving local organizers to collaborate on the expansion of youth competition for 2023 and beyond. Jake McKean, Executive Director of Minnesota Ultimate, shared the following regarding the youth ultimate landscape:
“There is so much potential in youth programming; from local leagues to national tournaments and everything in between. It’s still a small division with a lot of room to grow. I’m thrilled to be working with incredible leaders from around the country to bring a new opportunity to the community and advance the division. This summer more teams and players will have access to interstate competition - we’re excited to make that happen!”
How NUA is Trying to Help
As part of our efforts to support and empower ultimate organizers, NUA is working to facilitate discussion and planning around the expansion of 2023 youth club events. By providing a platform for colleagues to share resources and experiences, NUA works to promote better-functioning disc organizations.
Are you interested in participating in any of the events described above? Are you planning a similar event and seeking collaboration with fellow organizers? Are you interested in expanding youth competition opportunities in ultimate? Here’s how you can get involved:
Complete this NUA Outreach Survey on 2023 Youth Competitions
Request to Join NUA’s Discord Network
Upon receipt of either forms, an NUA representative will follow-up with next steps for getting connected. Discussions will be ramping up quickly as 2023 gets underway; contact us if you want to collaborate on this important issue!