Indian ultimate is at a very interesting stage in its development.
As you might expect, there are a number of parallels between the ultimate scene in India and that in New Zealand. However, they are a much younger frisbee nation, who have the added bonus of learning from the experiences, successes, and mistakes of other countries. The sheer population of India puts them in a great position to develop the sport’s following and be competitive at the elite level on a world stage. They are definitely growing in terms of player base, skill and visibility at world championships. Their U24 mixed team beat the Australian mixed team earlier this year in the opening match of the U24 World Ultimate Championships. This was a major upset as far as the seedings were concerned and India fought back from a significant deficit to overtake the Aussies and win the game. The game footage is available here if you want to watch a great match (although I have just spoiled the ending for you... Sorry...).
As a nation, they have embraced the mixed format of Ultimate with a huge emphasis on the inclusion and development of women in the sport. They have a few token tournaments that are structured in the women’s and open divisions, but they primarily play mixed. They are also planning to apply this approach to future international competitions, where they will only enter teams in the mixed (and mixed masters) divisions. This decision comes from the position that there are not enough women currently involved in the sport to ensure the success of a women’s draw. This feels very similar to landscape of NZ ultimate when I first started playing in ~2003. In fact, when NZ decided to embrace the split to from primarily mixed to open/women’s, we struggled immensely to field more than a handful of competitive women’s teams, purely because of our shallow player base. I think it’s fair to say that the men’s game also struggled with this initially, but due to a larger male population, was able to become competitive more quickly.
Personally, I think their decision is a clever strategic approach to promote further growth of the sport in India. I would be interested to find out if they have thought about 5-10 years in the future? Are there aspirational goals to expand the game into women’s and open in addition to mixed? I do not think NZ is a exemplary nation with regards to ultimate development, and has had plenty of hiccups along the way, but there are number of lessons that we learnt. The fact that Indian ultimate is at this particular stage, and are taking the growth of the sport so seriously is testament to their willingness and eagerness to learn from other countries to help them develop the sport in a inclusive, sustainable way. I predict that the world will see an Indian national team in the quarter finals of WUGC 2020!
To finish, here are the three things I have learnt and want to bring back to NZ ultimate from my very short time in the Indian ultimate community:
1) When the game finishes, shake hands, then separate back in your individual teams to discuss the game. This discussion includes airing out any frustrations about your team or the opposition so you can feed this back to them, discussing the spirit of the game (completing spirit scores), choosing MVP and MSP, and a quick debrief on both team’s performances. Then, 3-4 minutes later, come back into the spirit circle with both teams. The speeches become a more meaningful and productive conversation, rather than someone being put on the spot and fumbling their way through a cliche’-filled rambling.
2) The handler is king. I India, the most celebrated and admired players are the handlers. Having slick, consistent, break side throws is considered the bee knees. This has pushed the average player to develop their disc skills to a point much greater than what I see in NZ. Every time we go to Australia or a world championship, I always discuss with my teammates how our (NZ) throwing fundamentals are somewhat lacking. Perhaps adopting this attitude would help promote clubs and developing players to focus more on handling skills than they currently do.
6) The 6-a-side, mixed 3:3 gender split format. It was really great playing a tournament that used an equal gender split. The slightly smaller field also would translate well for leagues (both logistically for field space, and encouraging newer players by not making them run quite as much) in NZ. The level playing field of 3:3 also means one less thing to think about when calling lines, and improves the inclusion of all players on the field - It’s not as easy to “hide” on the field as it is when there are 7 players per team.