Ultimate experiencing upswing in school participation

There has been a steady increase in the number of UK schools teaching their students Ultimate in the past few years. There are a number of factors in that increase; players who took up the sport at university have become teachers and are using their position to spread the game to the next generation of players, the UK Ultimate Association is pushing their coaching courses, and the sport itself has gained more publicity. This increase has led to the junior scene in the UK growing and thriving in recent years.

‘Over 1000 teachers and youth group leaders have taken our coaching courses since we started them,’ says Si Hill, the CEO of the UK Ultimate Association.


Coaching talent is vital

One issue with the growth of Ultimate in schools is the way that young players are trained.

'It won't be long before the top junior teams need high level tactical knowledge as well as the coaching they already get,' says Si. ‘Teams are getting increasingly sophisticated. Some of the stuff that the GB Junior boys were doing this year were very sophisticated, stuff that requires a good coach.’

While some teams – such as Arctic (run by Andrew Vaughan, a former high level player) and Flux (run by Chevron Action Flash players) – have coaches who have played at the highest levels, others do not. Current UK Junior Champions Air Badgers from Exeter have a coach who has never played competitive Ultimate.

'I think that as the players get better, they have to go elsewhere for coaching,' says Andrew Vaughan. 'I have to spend most of my time coaching the younger kids, teaching them how to throw and catch and so on. The older ones usually run their own drills and games and stuff. I encourage them to go to other places to learn higher level stuff - GB, local Open teams, places like that. I don't think it's completely necessary for a coach to have played at a high level for a team to be good - look at Air Badgers.'

‘The emphasis is on us as a governing body to find ways to make it easier for people who want to get involved with coaching, to make sure that they can access the information they need,’ Si continued.


Junior team Arctic from Sutton ColdfieldJunior team Arctic from Sutton ColdfieldInfluence of teachers

‘Without the sort of influence from a few teachers junior ultimate wouldn't have existed in the late 90s early 2000s,’ says Liam Kelly, who is the UK Ultimate Youth Development Co-ordinator.

‘The likes of Kevin Lowe, Andrew Vaughan and Tom Candin all now produce four or five teams from their schools. There is a strong, self perpetuating culture of playing ultimate and producing young stars, all with their own unique style of play.’

That self perpetuation is important to the progression of Ultimate in the future.

‘All sports have become wise to the fact that this is where the highest participant rates come from; especially when a sport is part of a curriculum programme. University has been the traditional grass roots scene for Ultimate, but has reached a plateau in development. Schools are the place where we need to target our effort, time and money in the future.’


Effect on future standards

With the global standard of play improving year on year, the higher number of juniors playing Ultimate will mean a healthy future for UK Ultimate.

‘The more you have to choose from, the greater your choice is. That is to say that more competition for places will drive standards up and encourage players to work harder. A higher number of people taking part will also increase the chance that better athletes will take up the sport.’


The benefits of Ultimate

Liam is not only enthusiastic about what schools can do for the Ultimate scene, though. He also sees major benefits that the introduction of Ultimate can give to schools.

‘Schools and the government are on a drive to get more people playing sport, to fight against increasing poor health and obesity,’ he commented. ‘Ultimate is a unique opportunity for that. It’s something fresh and new, not just an old game reinvented.’

One of the most important parts of Ultimate is the Spirit of the Game aspect of the rules. The sport is self refereed and relies on players being honest and fair minded, valuable traits for teenagers to learn at school.

‘Ultimate gives a unique opportunity for young people to learn useful skills such as conflict resolution and communication – skills that are not easy to teach in other environments. It’s one thing to teach these ideas in a classroom, but it’s something else entirely to experience them first hand in what can be a tense situation,’ Liam points out.

Ultimate in the UK has built up momentum in the past few years, and if things continue going as they are in schools then it seems set to continue that momentum well into the coming years.