Setting up a draft league

The Draft Leagues are new and exciting phenomenon that have been spreading through Ultimate communities around the country in the last year - popping up in Brighton, Manchester, Liverpool and Reading. In this article, I’ll outline the basic steps you’ll need to get a Draft League up and running, potentially turning your city into The Next Brighton.

As the sport of Ultimate grows, it also ages, and a weeknight league is ideal for players who want to stay involved competitively and in the community, but can no longer commit to full tournament weekends.

The fundamental difference between a Draft League and a regular league is that instead of teams signing up to compete, players sign up individually to be added to the Draft, and are then picked by captains on Draft Night. The selected teams then compete each week for the duration of the league. The vibe can be social and friendly, or quite competitive - this is up to you.

The Draft format breaks down all the boundaries between different groups of Ultimate players within a city - players from different universities, divisions, teams, of all ages and levels of experience compete on the same team as one another, forming new bonds, networking, and bringing the city’s Ultimate community together as a whole. Players who have only just learnt the rules will play alongside veterans who are taking a night off from looking after their children. Regular weekly Ultimate sessions are now given a structure and a purpose, encouraging more competitive gameplay as well as more fun.

Chronological stages to making a Draft league happen in your city:

1) Get a venue - the Draft Leagues in Brighton run indoors in the winter and outdoors in the summer; however a floodlit winter outdoor weeknight league might suit the needs of your city. Bearing in mind when the University terms start/finish, book your venue for 6-8 weeks - having a limited length season like this will keep players focused and make them less likely to skip weeks.

2) Recruit captains - good captains make a big difference. They don’t need to have captaining experience, but it’s important they have charisma, and are of comparable playing ability. Knowing players in each of the groups in the city is useful too, so third year university students are often good choices, or picking captains which cover a cross-section of your city’s Ultimate community. Talk to your ideal captains face-to-face, and get them to write short bios and mission statements.

3) Plan Draft Night - you’ll ideally need a pub which has an area you can reserve, a big screen and a PA system with a microphone you can pass around between the captains when they are making their picks, and use to build up the hype between the rounds.

4) Create the sign-up form - you’ll want to collect basic information such as name, number of years playing and short biographies of the players, accompanied by a photo. Throw in a couple of fun questions if you like. Google Forms is great for this.

5) Build a website - there are several free online website building/hosting tools out there, such as Keep it simple - explain what a Draft League is, when and where the games will be held, who the initial captain are, details about Draft Night, and how to sign up


6) Announce sign-ups are open! It’s good to get an immediate influx of players to give people more confidence signing up - this can be done by offering discounts to early-birds, or talking to everyone you know to get them signing up as soon as it goes live. It’s important to get influential figures within each sub-group of your community involved and spreading the word that sign-ups are open, so try to chat to players face-to-face to get them excited about the idea, and up on the website before opening sign-ups.

Making draft night exciting

Talk to your captains beforehand, and get them talking more during the first rounds of the evening. Giving the history of the player they’re about to pick before they mention their name can build tension and excitement. Between rounds, the hose can talk light heartedly about the picked players (so it’s good for the host to know them all), analyse the teams, pick facts out of their bios, and generally provide some kind of angle to keep everyone interested and give the captains time to decide on their next picks. As the draft progresses, it should speed up.

Picked last?

In reality, several players in the draft league will be expecting to be picked most will end up being surprised they weren’t last. I’ve spoken to the last pick in several drafts, and the overriding feeling is that they’re oven more motivated to improve, and show their worth. Every other player near the bottom of the draft is also specifically picked by their captain, which makes them all feel wanted and helps them fit into the team better than if they were randomly assigned in the last rounds (which we tried one year, and won’t be doing again). By the end of the draft, everything is moving quite quickly and everyone has had a couple of drinks anyway. If you are still worried, you can break the player pool into groups and make sure the beginners aren't left until the end (but bear in mind this may raise other complications).

Creating fair teams

Let’s assume your captains all have comparable ability and knowledge of the player pool. We found that after choosing the initial pick order at random, ‘snaking’ through the rounds was the fairest way to pick. So with four teams, the 1st pick will also pick 8th, 9th, 16th,17th, and so on. The 3rd pick get 6th, 11th,14th, 19th, and so on.

If you have a mix of genders in the captains pool, then you should include an ‘opposite-gender’ round or two inserted in an appropriate round.

Customising your league

You can add whatever you want! Fantasy Leagues, hype videos, off-pitch games like giant Jenga, or extra points for bringing cakes, having beginners or playing very spiritedly…

In brighton, we’ve found that our Draft Leagues have brought together players who never would have crossed paths otherwise - our newest freshers are playing alongside our retired-from-Tour, married-with-two-kids veterans. The Draft has placed the players from rival universities alongside one another, both in terms of pick order and as teammates - breaking down any potential ego issues or boundaries built up by the rivalry. The semi-competitive nature of the league has also got players trying their hardest during the weeknights, eager to prove their worth and justify their captains decision, perhaps hoping to be picked a round earlier the next time a draft league rolls around.

Felix Shardlow - Brighton Ultimate coach and co-founder. BUDL, BIDL and BUDIT founder and organiser.