UKU Regionals debut to mostly positive response

The 2010 UK Ultimate National Championships underwent a major change this year. For the first time ever, teams had to qualify for Nationals by going through Regional Championships. With the growth of the sport, the UK Ultimate Association sees the introduction of regionals as key to the development of Ultimate.

Vision score a point against LeedsLeedsLeedsVision score a point against LeedsLeedsLeeds

 

The UK was split into five divisions, with the number of places at nationals from each region depending on the performances during the season of team from that region.

 

The regions, with the number of places at nationals from each in brackets, were:

• Scotland (one)

• The North (three)

• The Midlands (two)

• The South West (two)

• The South East (eight)

 

The number of places for each region was determined by 2009 Tour results.

 

How did regionals go?

 The amount of teams who attended regionals was, across the board, a disappointment. 'I don't think it was that successful,' Si Hill, the CEO of the UKU said. 'I think we need to encourage people to go in future and make the tournaments seem more appealing.'

The five Tournament Directors (TDs) reported that the regional tournaments went well as a whole. While all of the TDs were satisfied with the level of play, some were less pleased with the amount of publicity that the UKU chose to give regionals this year.

‘I think a big issues this year was that the UKU didn’t really stress the importance of Regionals,’ commented Jordan Brown, the South West TD. ‘I feel that maybe the UKU could have made more of a song and dance about Regionals and pushed harder for smaller clubs to enter.’

That was a view shared by Sion ‘Brummie’ Scone, the Midlands TD:

‘I was a little disappointed with the turnout, but that could be explained by the lack of notice running up to the event. Hopefully in future years the dates and locations will be fixed further in advance.’

One thing that all of the TDs also commented on was the competitive nature of the tournaments despite the clear disparity in quality between some teams. Jolyon Thompson, the South East TD, summed that up:

‘We had one team that had never played a tournament before, whereas Clapham showed that they were a class above all. We had both ends of the spectrum, and we had 11 teams worthy of a qualifying spot. One team that finished 4th in their pool beat another team that finished 2nd in theirs, so the overall strength of the tournament was good.’

Simon East, the Northern TD, was impressed with the level of intensity shown by the top teams in the region despite some games against teams with far less strength:

‘One worry I had beforehand was the possibility of top teams not taking some games seriously, especially [xEUCF champions Chevron Action Flash] who had three very easy pool games. I was pleased to see, however, that they played hard and respected their opponents.’

 

What do Regionals mean for the future of UK Ultimate?

The prevailing opinion when it comes to regionals is that it will be good for the future of the sport for many reasons, not least because TDs find it difficult running the massive Tour events with up to 60 teams.

‘We need to get away from the mindset of running massive tournaments where every player in the country goes to the same venue,’ explains Brummie. ‘It’s difficult to run quality tournaments, plus the effort and dedication required probably put off as many players as it attracts.’

Lay out D in North semi-finalLay out D in North semi-finalThe South East region includes the hub of UK Ultimate, London. The region was far larger in terms of teams than any other, and it was the only region to have a two day qualification tournament. Jolyon Thompson, the TD of the SE regionals, was positive about the possible effect of regionals:

‘Regionals encourage local growth. It might lead to a growth in one-day regional tournaments rather than the national two-day tournaments we are so used to now.’

Benji Heyward, the UKU Director of Competitions and the TD of Scottish Regionals, warns that regionalisation is not necessarily guaranteed to increase local competition. 'Whether this particular regional competition structure will encourage growth or merely give an outlet to growth which is happening anyway is hard to say,' Benji explains, 'but the regionalisation of the sport is inextricably linked to it's growth - whichever way round the causal link.'

There are opposing views, though. Jordan sees a problem with the UKU events overloading an already packed summer schedule: ‘This summer's ultimate calendar has been overloaded with UKU events,’ he said. ‘While this is fine when it comes to pushing the sport forward in terms of professionalism, it also means that there are less opportunities for people to host fun tournaments. Seeing as these fun tournaments show off the more social side of the sport, I think it's a bad thing that they're being pushed out. Usually by late August the UKU-sanctioned outdoor season is done and dusted, but now that's not the case.’

Regionals also provides an opportunity for teams at the lower end of the Tour to play against teams right at the top. This kind of opportunity does not come often for teams lower down, especially since Nationals is now restricted to 16 teams. Simon East illustrated that point with an example from the Northern Regionals:

‘When Chevron played Sheffield Steal (seeded 6th of 7 teams in the North) the score was 11-1. You could expect Steal to be disheartened after the match but they were actually in buoyant mood. They had scored against last years’ European Champions!’

 

What does the future hold for Regionals?

The plan for 2011 is for the regional concept to continue expanding. One thing that has been suggested is that London be separated from the rest of the South East region. In the South East Regional Championships, 11 of the 18 teams came from London.

‘I think that the London and the South East would be good to split soon but I am not certain that next year is the ideal time,’ cautioned Jolyon. ‘It depends on the growth of teams in the region. Without London the South East region is quite strange - it covers Oxford to Southampton to Kent but excludes the central part. Geographically it is awkward if London is excluded.'

Si Hill sees regionals as more of an opportunity for team to develop than it is for nationals qualification. 'Regionals is a developmental tournament. There were teams who didn't enter this year because they didn't think they would qualify. That seems counter-intuitive to me, because teams enter tournaments all the time without thinking they can win,' he said. 'Regionals is about local teams playing each other and not having to travel all over the country. If we were being rigid about it we could probably pick the teams for Nationals and get it 95% right without any qualification tournament; that's not the main point.'

Despite the teething problems, everyone seems encouraged by how the new idea ran this year. Every TD that was interviewed gave a positive response when asked whether they would be interested in running the tournament again. Si is optimistic that regionals will become an integral part of the calendar in the near future. 'Give it time for new teams to be introduced and for new players to be introduced and I think it'll be just fine.'

Photos courtesy of Scott Anthony Martin