Freestyle Players Association
"Old Crust" - A purists' perspective: Let's Jam!
By Mark Regalbutti, 1997 Comeback Player of the Year
After dropping out for 14 years I dropped back into competitive freestyle again in 1997. I rediscovered a wonderful, creative, athletic, Zen, art-sport and the wonderful people in it. All the tournaments were great. But let's cut to the chase.
Alas, the judging system - quite different, yet subjectively similar, has huge gaps of unaccountability in the form of a culprit, a.k.a. the "the". For starters "thes" occur in varying degrees. "The" pass to "the" pass at the most base level, a spin or two to a "the" delay (ouch!) , extended seemingly meaningless "the" brushing, under the leg pass to a "the" pick up. Routines do not receive deductions for these "thes". These "thes" cause subtle and major flow breaks.
Consecutivity is overlooked. Consecutive play is much more difficult, smoother and looks better from a spectator's viewpoint. Relative risk is overlooked in favor of polished but not necessarily smoother routines.
Classic freestyle - a blend of east coast, west coast style, combining fluidity and difficulty by putting the disc out in the air for co-ops, roll to trick brush sequences and less "thes" was clearly under appreciated by judges consistently at more than one tournament I went to.
This was due largely to the huge weight execution receives. Bobbles can be deductions in execution. However, a team who catches and has less risk whether individually or co-op wise benefits despite having a much higher incidence of "thes" in their routine.
Why not include "thes" as a deduction within the execution category? The more aggregious the "the", the bigger a deduction. Alternatively there could be one to three separate judges assigned to "thes". These "the" busters - not trying to be flippant here - could scrutinize "thes" only. Their scores could then be integrated into the execution scores.
Truly, this type of change is essential for the sport to evolve in terms of tournament play. It was great to see the different types of disc work, angle changes, skids and convoluted turnovers that have developed. Some of those components involve real body movement around and with the disc.
Coming back to freestyle non-competitively was fresh. Competitively the orientation of a substantial amount of routines did not reflect an art which has evolved that much stylistically and in fact has regressed because of the weight given to execution. Execution should count for 25% with difficulty and presentation equally weighted. Part of the beauty of freestyle is it's subtlety. The subtle concept of consecutivity and real flow is slighted in the present judging system.
Every time we jam we've had the experience of doing something different we've never done before. This type of nuance can occur spontaneously. It registers in your mind and body that you've just done something, no matter how minor, you have never done before and may never do again. This spontaneous occurrence can be a move variation or a series of air brushes or a catch done in a different way. It is endless, great and part of why we all started to and continue to play to varying degrees.
Spontaneity lies at the heart of the beauty of freestyle. This summer I did some moves in tournaments I had never done competitively even when I was on the top of my game back in those crusty early 1980 tournaments. Not to digress, but in Vancouver during the finals of the Master's division, I nailed a full contact, full leg body roll better than I had ever done it in practice. It was also off of a different set than I had practiced before. I experienced the greatest feeling. The point here is that it was completely spontaneous. To come full circle, the current judging system is strangling the spontaneity of freestyle as it encourages safer routines which are not as much fun to watch nor I would think, to perform.
Another suggestion is pairs and co-op routines both be 5 minutes each round. The timing of pairs is especially critical as it takes more variety to sustain an interesting pairs routine both stylistically and from an execution stand point. Thus, lengthening routines would separate routines more fairly from a judging standpoint. Five minute routines in each round may pose a scheduling problem but for an entry fee we deserve to play for that long. I would think Tournaments Directors might disagree, but it's just a suggestion.
Routine length, creativity, spontaneity, style, flow, smoothness, variety, consecutivity, and spectator appreciation are confluent concepts which mandate a change in the judging system. Having lower risk and choppier play being rewarded by a judging system which weights execution too heavily will not further the art from a peer's perspective.
The counter (no pun intended) to this might be shorter moves and well executed routines that will present better to the public. Yet the reality is tournaments are limited, the days of thousands of spectators are long gone and we are all quite a bit older. There is hardly a plethora of new really hot, committed players coming into the sport. There hasn't been for well over ten years. Another point regarding spectators. I was standing next to a young girl, boy and their mother at a big tournament this year watching several routines. At one point the girl said "Mommy, why are they throwing their hands up in the air after they only caught the frisbee under their leg"?
I truly do not think shorter, less consecutive, less risky routines will give freestyle a more professional look or be more appealing to spectators. Surely we do not want to see the top players not going for it in a routine. How boring. Yet the current judging system lends itself to and will lead to that type of play. Then it will not even be that interesting for freestyler to watch our own peers perform. In sum, longer routines and one judge for "the" deductions and giving less weight to execution might move open, riskier ultimately more visually appealing routines. Who knows, it might even bring the spectators back.