Giving out grades for U23 Worlds!
July 28, 2015 by Preston Thompson in Opinion with 7 comments
After the disaster that was Lecco, everyone looked to London to see if WFDF could follow it up with a stellar event.
I was given seven days to take in the sights and sounds of all the action in London — it was plenty of time to hand out grades. In honor of Tiina Booth, here is my report card for U23 Worlds.
The fields for this huge event were at the Watford Football Club Training grounds. If you expect anything else but great conditions from English Football clubs, then you don’t know much about soccer. These fields were some of the best I’ve ever seen, and with scheduled breaks for maintenance, they stayed that way all week. At the end of the tournament, Tom Styles made a comment about the grounds team for the week, and it was met with thunderous applause. The fields are a first point in a theme of this report card: a huge improvement from Lecco. A+
This one was nearly as good as the fields. Most parents, players, and fans took buses to the fields so parking wasn’t a huge issue. But if it had been, there was ample room for cars. An area the size of four Ultimate fields was organized just for parking. Well placed cones that directed people from the driveway to said lot created a simple solution to a simple problem. A+
WFDF has found a wonderful partner in UK Ultimate.
Si Hill led a team of volunteers that were on top of things all week. Hill was part of a leadership team that had their own staff, who had their own staff, who had their own staff as well. It was hard to walk 100 yards without seeing a volunteer that could at the very least point you in the right direction. My only complaint was that at some rare moments, their communication with the teams on the field weren’t perfect. On a few occasions I saw volunteers have to explain to someone that cap had come on the point before, but in crunch time the volunteers were impressive. A
Now we come to the first category that could have improved. For a tournament on the world stage, neither the opening nor closing ceremonies seemed to do the grand tournament much justice. The event has little control over an apathetic crowd, but just parading each team in one after another and then saying go felt weak. For an event of this magnitude, the ceremonies lacked the gravitas you’d expect. C+
As you may have heard from the U23 Twitter account, the final day of U23’s was sold out. Some clarification: that meant that after the players, coaches, parents, and staff, there were only a select number of tickets left. After all of those were sold, the day was now sold out. So the venue was packed from end to end for the better part of the day, but 70% of that venue was taken up by the players, coaches, and parents. Still, the packed house made for quite a crowd for the finals. And on a great field, most of the crowd got excellent viewing angles from either the stands or either end zone. There was a feeling though that this event could have housed a larger venue. But being in the same location as all the other games was worth the smaller stands. A-
Early in the week there was a local radio show that featured some UKU members chatting about the tournament, and later a story appeared on a sports headline page. That being said, the ratio of typical ultimate fans to new fans to the sport was what you would expect. U23 Worlds followed suit of most recent Ultimate events, failing to bring in casual fans for the big event. Still, attendance was good and promotion had bright moments throughout the week. B
On arrival, I was greeted with what now seems to be standard operating procedure: nobody knew we were coming, despite having requested media credentials.
But to the credit of UKU and the volunteer staff, they were relatively quick and extremely helpful in helping us get situated. For an international tournament, nothing is more important than internet access. To stay ahead of the inevitable failure of the Wi-Fi, the staff set up two separate networks. One network was for staff and media, and the other was for players, coaches, family, and anyone else.
To prevent crashes on the more public network, you were required to pick up a free access key at the front desk. Unfortunately, the key stopped working after a short period of time. But the constant rotation of users kept the internet working and usable for everyone (even if it was only available near the information desk). All in all, that part was well managed.
The media had a few rooms set aside that were nothing fantastic, but again volunteers and staff did their very best to make sure we had what we needed. After getting our access passes, everything was set up fairly well. B+
Disclosure: This opinion comes from the mind of a Team USA player, as I did not stay in tournament housing.
Team USA stayed in the dorms at Hertfordshire de Havilland. All three teams were housed together in the same wing, with each team comprising a couple floors each. This made hanging out and getting together to go to the fields very convenient. All teams staying on campus (including Australia, Canada, and many others) were relatively close to each other, which made for great interactions in passing and in the dining hall.
The rooms themselves were adequate. Each player had their own room, which was small, but fairly typical of a college dorm, with lots of shelves and a wardrobe/closet for ample clothing storage. The bathrooms were small and looked like they were lifted straight out of an airplane. The showers continued this trend, as they were so comically undersized that washing one’s legs often meant accidentally bumping the temperature handle and scalding/freezing themselves. But solid water pressure and ample hot water were appreciated. Of note, the tiny bathrooms required the door to be shut while showering, or the steam would set off the smoke alarm in the main room. We learned this first-hand around midnight one night.
The on-site camping area seemed decent enough. It was enclosed by hedges to protect from wind and provide some privacy. However, the typical London weather didn’t provide ideal tent weather. One Irish player told me that he awoke to cold raindrops dripping through his tent at 6 in the morning directly onto his face. Obviously this wasn’t the tournament’s fault, but rather a reminder to do a serious cost-benefit analysis when making possible outdoor sleeping accommodations in London. B
The on-site food was lacking, mainly because the tournament directors seemed content with having a supermarket within a ten minute walk of the field site. There was a small stand that served burgers and sausages, but it would be closed at random hours of the day. The first day offered a make-your-own pizza booth, which was wonderful. Sadly that was only a first day amenity.
At the dorms, the food selections for dinner were above average and varied from night to night. The breakfasts were similar to what you would get at a hotel, but slightly better quality. The reliability of these two was welcome after the field options dwindled down to an ice cream truck. B
This is tricky. Most of the USA players weren’t quite used to the WFDF game adviser system, so it sometimes presented a challenge. This was the first tournament where advisers were not only able to offer rule help, but also give their opinion on what they saw. But they cannot make a binding ruling.
For instance: if a pulling team was offsides, the game adviser on that end zone line would lift an X over their head to signal it, but the other team had to recognize the signal and call offsides on their own for it to be enforced. Despite the lack of a binding ruling, there were no instances to my knowledge of a player going against the opinion of a game adviser. It is worth noting that many of the advisers were experienced North American observers.
The trust in their unbiased nature effectively made their rulings binding, even if they weren’t. As for the quality, most situations were better because they were there. However, the ejection of Patrick Mooney from Canada’s Open game against Germany seemed to portray a lack of consistency when it came to handling certain situations. Although some claimed that Mooney was issued a warning, no adviser pulled him aside and clearly talked him through it like an observer would have.
The letter grade for this category doesn’t serve as a reflection of the system (which has grades of its own), but rather an execution of it. A-
Level of Skill
News flash: the rest of the world is catching up to North America. It seems obvious, but most still think the US is miles ahead of the competition. And while the US is still clearly ahead, it may not be by miles any longer.
The German defense notched five straight scores on Canada Open, and Great Britain Mixed took half 9-8 over the USA. There were countless times over the course of the tournament where a powerhouse team had to be woken up by an up-and-coming nation that hadn’t heard they were the underdog. A
Level of Thrill
For an Ultimate fan like myself there is nothing better than the few final days at a big tournament like this. So how did the U23 Worlds stack up with some of the biggest USA Ultimate and semi-pro league contests? It depends on when you showed up.
This is by far the longest tournament that most players have been a part of, and with that length came an idea that some of the earlier games didn’t seem to matter. The early thrill was sacrificed for making sure that the medal winners absolutely deserved to be there. But the first three to four days of the competition still seemed relatively arbitrary. Most “showcase” games were sub-par, and the only thrill came from watching teams develop their system over multiple games.
But when teams started to feel the cold sting of elimination, the tournament quickly peaked. The last two days nearly made up for the long drag of the week, giving the fans upsets and tight contests. But still, I personally feel that they could have achieved the same format in fewer days. B+
For those of you already working out the averages, this tournament managed a 3.5 GPA. That number seems about right: the tournament really was executed brilliantly, especially considering the number of teams it had to accommodate. Lots of credit goes to UKU’s Si Hill, who, although he seemed to go unthanked, managed a large staff and volunteer team.
Surely UKU and WFDF learned a lot from this week, so we can only expect better from Worlds 2016, right back in London at the same field site.