Top row photos from left to right by Steve Kotvis for f/go, Felix Shardlow, and VC Ultimate. Bottom row photos from left to right courtesy of Keith Raynor, Jessica JAckson, USA Ultimate, and 175g Ultimate.
Ulty Results’ 6th annual URCA Conference starts February 25th. Ultimate’s largest virtual meetup consists of a full 8 days of talks from the world’s best ultimate coaches, completely free. Participants join over 2000 coaches worldwide on the engagement platforms to take part in discussions that help shape the future of ultimate.
This year, the conference is being organized by Avalon Igawa and Jack Dowling, two of the “behind the scenes” faces at Ulty Results. But why were they so keen to get involved?
Customer service rep and community manager Avalon first discovered the URCA Conference in 2017 after a brief stint with the UAP. She stayed on the mailing list and dipped into a few talks, but it was in 2018 that a change of scenery and some new responsibilities fuelled her interest. Having moved to South Africa from Seattle, she found herself an elected player-coach of Cape Town’s UCT Flying Tigers for their WUCC campaign.
Captaining university sides and running youth clinics suddenly didn’t seem like ample preparation, but the conference rolled around at just the right time. “It was really helpful in terms of boosting my confidence that I was doing things the right way as a coach,” she explains. “And there were so many things I hadn’t considered, like Anna Rogacki’s talk on mental toughness.”
She believes the range of topics covered at the conferences make them ideal viewing for any potential coaches and the opportunity to contribute to more coaching in ultimate was a big draw for being involved this year. “There are so many people that could coach but feel there are barriers to getting involved. It’s great that access to high-level coaches needn’t be one of them.”
Such was the impact the 2018 conference had on her, Avalon became an URCA Classroom member soon afterwards and took the things she learned to WUCC in Cincinnati that summer. Now, she’s excited to be organizing the latest edition.
And while Avalon is pulling together the “moving parts”, from landing pages and logistics to community engagement, URCA content manager Jack Dowling has been assembling an all-star list of speakers. For him, the opportunity to work with an ensemble of elite thinkers on the game was a dream job, as he explains.
“I stayed up late every night last year watching all the talks and taking notes on them. After the conference, I saw a job opportunity with Ulty Results that was basically doing that professionally! When Melissa asked if I wanted to help organize this year’s conference, it was an easy decision.
“I feel very driven to become the best coach I can be. It feels very rewarding personally to develop myself and I want to share that with as many people as I can. I want to see the sport of ultimate evolve, and I feel blessed to be in a position where I can help push forward knowledge on the tactics of the game and nuances of teaching them. I'm glad so many other people want to learn as well and I'm really just so excited to be able to help make this all happen.”
With his enthusiasm for the ideals behind the conference, it’s no surprise he’s been working on getting even more out of the line-up. He’s gone out of his way to get bonus content for the conference by starting the URCA Podcast, where he chats to some of this year’s presenters. One of his first podcast guests is an obvious source of excitement: Bryan Jones, the defensive mastermind behind PoNY’s dismantling of the Revolver offense during their 2018 Nationals win.
Joining Jones on the speaker list for this year are names like Jon Nethercutt, Claire Chastain, Kristin Franke and more. There’s a palpable buzz talking to the two organizers about the quality of the contributors they’ve attracted and the topics they’ll be covering. “Kristin Franke is already a player I look up to,” Avalon explained. “And to see that she’s talking about creating effective feedback systems is amazing. It’s something that I’ve struggled with as a captain and a coach and I can’t wait to hear her talk.”
Another name lined up is Felix Shardlow, who will be introducing a hexagon offence gradually gaining global traction to an even bigger audience. “I first encountered hexagon in South Africa, had no idea what it was, and ended up watching a lot of Felix’s videos,” says Avalon. “I’m excited to see how people who have never seen it before will react.”
Part of Avalon’s job is facilitating communication channels that will allow audiences to participate in the conference and engage with fellow viewers as well as speakers like never before. Expect Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit (follow the hashtag #2019URCA) to be the prime locations for audience participation. “I’m hoping to make engagement a bigger focus this year. It really helps to get conversations going when you have a common point of reference, like the great talk you’ve just watched.”
Both Avalon and Jack have the same message for people on the fence about signing up: “do it!” Avalon’s parting thoughts on her own experiences make her confident that coaches, or even potential coaches, have nothing to lose by registering. “Being a player-coach is tough. I don’t know if I’d recommend it…but having a player-coach is better than not having a coach at all! Even just as a player, the conference can be great. It’s so much easier to buy into concepts together, so just sign up, find an interesting talk, share it with your coach or teammates, and who knows where it could lead!”
To sign up for the 2019 URCA Conference for free, visit the registration page today!
Photo of Avalon by Paul Rutherford for UltiPhotos and photo of Jack, courtesy of Jack Dowling by Stacy Alan Headen