Creative Event Formats that Improve Retention

One of the most challenging aspects of a growing sport is finding a way to create competitions and training sessions that meet the expectations and requirements of all levels. This is particularly true when it comes to tournaments where there are rarely enough players at the same level to create meaningful competition days. Throughout the last few years, a range of tournament formats have been trialled in Irish Ultimate thanks to the creative scheduling of Dominick Smyth from Dublin Youth Ultimate. We’ve explained some of them below and how we have used them in Ireland.

Queen of the Court / King of the Court / Run Hard League

This is a hat tournament style format that moves players to new teams for each game and rewards individual players for the points scored by their team during each match. After each game players will receive points based on the scoreline (Dominick can provide more details on setting this up). Teams are then remade for the next round and the tournament progresses with each player accumulating points after each match. The final round (at least the 4th) tends to get very competitive.

Target Audience: A day-long tournament for all levels and a mix of levels, works very well at a college level. For a league, we have run it for people with at least a year’s experience.

Benefits: Provides both a participation option for newer players and a very competitive option for experienced players. There are lots of prize options for individuals throughout the tournament.

Disadvantages: You will need a tournament director who is on the ball with using Excel to recreate teams and it can get a bit hectic. Do not overuse this format.

Furious Fives / Savage Sevens

This is best done as a single day event, as the name implies you have no substitutes. We do this indoors with five-a-side and each team will have a total of six players with five selected to play for each match. This is a great way of ensuring pitch time for all members of the team and can be run in small divisions which reduces the number of matches required and allows people to play at an appropriate level. It also tends to encourage friends playing in once off teams rather than being entered by club teams.

Target Audience: Not for beginners, but college levels do really well in this format.

Benefits: Lots and lots of pitch time for everyone, tight knit groups and very competitive.

Disadvantages: Not appropriate for absolute beginners or those with not much confidence yet, be cautious of game time for injuries.

Experiential Extravaganza

This is a format that includes four matches in which the format changes for each round. You could run this as a hat-tournament format or have four teams enter.

The rounds we have used:

  1. Winner Stays On - one court with four teams and the winner stays on. You start with AvB and the winner of that match plays C, the winner then plays D and you continue the cycle.

  2. Basketball rules - hoop gives you two-three points, end-zone one point

  3. Eliminator - You start with 5v5 or 7v7 and each time a team scores a point they lose a team member until you get down to two players. See more details below.

  4. Continuous Play - The game has two halves and each team gets one pull. Substitutions happen continuously with a high five tag in (strategically you should sub off on offense). Players sub off and join the back of the queue to get back in the game. This can also be used a tournament format and is very commonly used in New Zealand and at indoor 6v6 tournaments in the USA.

Target Audience: Players who want to try something new, probably more on the experienced side so that the changes of rules each match aren’t overwhelming.

Advantages: Gets players to think about playing sports in a new way and gives people opportunities to find new strengths in other players.

Disadvantages: Maybe a bit of a confusing format for new players. Not for everyone, there are ultimate die-hards out there.


This format probably works best as a hat tournament set up, but could also work with team entries. In the hat tournament scenario you get the benefit of mixing newer players with more experienced players which makes the final rounds of each match more interesting. At the end of each point the team who scored will lose a player until the team goes down to two players. Once you are playing two players you must alternate the two on the pitch for each point until everyone has played and then you can cycle around again (so you cannot only play your top two players each round).

Target Audience:  Everyone

Advantages:  Forces more experienced players to pair with newer players in the 2v2 scenarios. 

Disadvantages: You might need to add some extra rules so that it isn’t just the newer players going off after the first point.

Mixed Format Event

Using a mixed format event has worked really well in schools. In this event the first four games of the day will be entered by schools as their school teams. They will play a regular competition style event. The final two games of the day will be a hat tournament format so that players from different teams get to play together. In the Irish school system there is a mix of single sex and same sex schools. These tournaments can be run as mixed tournaments with a gendered hat league or perhaps as gendered tournaments with a mixed hat league. Mixing the format has proved to be impactful in increasing girls' participation in the mixed games as boys they don’t know will throw the disc to them. In the gendered hat leagues coaches have found that they were able to coach girls tactics that they wouldn’t normally see until college level.

Target Audience: Schools or maybe entry level college teams.

Advantages: Increased participation for the girls. Increased strategic plans into the games. Increased friendships encouraging players to stay in the sport for longer.

4 or 5 a Side Mini League

We run six-week indoor leagues for mixed and women’s twice each winter and we typically make them four-a-side unless teams agree to play five’s on the day. The reason for four’s indoors is that there is more space meaning throwing is easier and beginners are not constantly resorting to throwing poor blades into the air, it also means more subs and reduces the pressure of finding that additional person to join your team each week. We have also found that the sweet spot for these leagues is six weeks in total with one or two weeks off for each team. Running double game slots on a night means that a team could play two matches in the single evening and means that they can get a full night off another week. Lots of women, especially those returning to sport after having children find it hard to make a full six weeks, but six weeks where she can come four or five times makes it much more manageable. You would run this like a normal league event.

Target Audience: New players and returning players who are typically led by someone very involved in the sport. Teams can be clubs or groups of friends.

Benefits: More flexible team requirements that are easier to meet. Appropriate league length and time commitment. Indoors is so more accessible to beginners.

Disadvantages: Might not be attractive to some ultimate players as it is a very flexible format.

Hat League (friends or pairs)

Set up a hat league where players can sign up individually, as pairs or they can indicate who they want to play with in the sign-up form. Ensure that the sign-up form keeps it open to people who just want to play with their friends, but also to people who don’t mind who they play with.

Target Audience:  All player levels, particularly new players

Benefits: Players can sign up with their friends and can be moved in pairs or always keeping two together in a group.

Disadvantages: Teams might be a bit more unequal or harder to organize throughout the season to keep players together.

Developmental Varsities

Run a club or college tournament that is targeted at first and second year players. The tournament is to help second year players develop leadership skills and try out new roles on the pitch and to create a fair environment for first year players to participate in. In an indoor setting maintain a ratio of one experience and four beginners where the beginner must score the point. In an outdoor setting maintain a 2:5 ratio where a beginner must be involved in one side of the score.

Target Audience:  First and second year players

Benefits: Bespoke tournament just for one group, allows a lot of growth and development in a slightly more advanced setting than just beginners.

Disadvantages: Second year leadership experience might not be very strong and a poor leader could have negative effects on players staying. Be mindful as a coach about who is leading the team and your own involvement.

Training Events

Throwing Clinics - Series

One thing that we have found about women participating in sport is that they are more conscious about being skilled in what they are doing. Two players introduced weekly throwing clinics focusing on very specific topics each week. Because the skills were so detailed they were interesting and valuable to experienced players and were challenges that newer players could relate to. These were run over a two-month period at a time that didn’t clash with clubs or leagues so that they were easy to attend. Players would sign up each week to attend. 

Some examples  of topics include:

  • Hucks with a Crosswind

  • Pulling

  • Breaking the Mark (Around)

  • Breaking the Mark (Inside)

  • Moving a Dead Disc off the Sideline

College / Club Training Exchange

This works particularly well in college where the turnover rate is high and numbers in the division is quite low. We took our college team down to Cork and had a couple of the excellent coaches come with us. We did a full day of training where we split into handlers and cutters, allowing us to focus on skills that we didn’t normally get to work on in training. This day was aimed at players with one year of experience. It could be done for beginners as well. At the end we played a match against each other and had dinner and went out which meant that everyone made some new friends and tournaments that year became much more enjoyable because players had a bigger circle of friends.


Not everyone wants to play a version of ultimate frisbee, they just want the real thing. These games and new formats do improve players of all levels and get us to think outside of our own comfort zones and levels. They also encourage beginners because in a new format everyone is a beginner. It is a way to level the playing field. These are just some of the things that we have tried in Ireland to increase engagement, retention and participation in the sport from school to club level and we have found that a lot of women enjoy and participate in these leagues, tournaments and tailored training sessions.

Related good Practices

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