Clapham’s Ollie Benjamin provides his viewpoint on the question at hand…
As 2014 moves on, there is a great sense of anticipation, excitement for what can be achieved this club season. Clapham showed dominance in 2013, taking Tour, Nationals, a strong Chesapeake appearance, and for the first time defending Europeans. A good prep year, paved nicely for Worlds in Italy next week.
The core of this team has emerged out of a 2008 transition year when the likes of Rob Alpen, Alex Bowers, Matt Woods, Sam ‘Scando’ Webber, and Adam Holt moved on. Slowly we rebuilt the squad through new leadership of Colin Shaw, Marc Guilbert, and myself. We brought in JJ Howell, Justin Foord, Richard Harris, Cian O’Morain, brought back Si Hill, and slowly year on year have firmly re-established ourselves as the leading club in Europe.
|Ollie gets high at WUCC 2010 in Prague. Photo courtesy of Tom Styles/BlockStackTV.|
Slovakia (EUC ’11), Japan (WUGC ’12) and Colombia (WG ’13) as the international GB open destinations have come and gone with encouraging and yet sorrowful showings. The underlying question for club and country is: ‘how can we be the best?’. How do we create the environment that nurtures and innovates the best players, the best team. Our aim, my aim, has always been to play at the highest level, able to compete with the best of the American teams, the top 16, their top 8 and their top 4. Nationally the question begs of how can GB break and beat that top 3 (America, Canada and Japan).
So what are the required conditions? Depth, Skill, Experience, Flexibility, Resilience – these are the words from current and former club captains at Clapham – they should resonate with those with ambition of greatness. I am entering my 12th or 13th year as a club member for Clapham. Players come and go; London life is busy. As we (I) grow older, priorities shift, jobs become more demanding, and families emerge. In amongst this, how do we create the best game in Europe, and how do we build that game, week on week into a system capable of producing a world beating team?
As the necessary conditions are interpreted by subsequent GB programs, teams will thrive and fall. However there is one condition not listed in the above which might prove a useful discussion point for the GB community. It’s a condition that is wholly absent from the British and European scene at its highest level. This is the the ‘game to go’. Jim Parinella references this in his ‘Why I’m Still Around‘ piece for Skyd and am sure that many an American and Canadian player would appreciate and understand the importance of those ‘games to go’; what they mean for individual players and what they mean for the team.
The game to go is what got me hooked. I had the priviledge of playing ultimate in Santa Cruz during the 2001/2 season. I had returned from 18 months abroad in Germany having picked up the sport through the Goettinger 7, and later Wall City in Berlin. Upon the prodigal son’s return, I was fortunate enough to earn a place on a team coached by Idris Nolan (Jam) and Dan Dewey (Condors) whilst being captained by Sammy C-K and Jeremy Cram (Sockeye). We had a short roster, but it was talented. We battled incrementally throughout the season always working towards Regionals – towards the game to go. That season, Stanford were runaway favourites and the eventual winners at Nationals. Our northwest division had two places, which having lost to Stanford early on the Sunday of the Regionals meant the back door beckoned. We beat Berkeley and Washington pitting us against an Oregon team lead by Ben Wiggins and others whose names never quite stuck. I didn’t know who he or they were, I was simply told as a D handler to not let him touch the disc. Off I went. We won the game 15-13. A huge upset. We played out of our skins – it was the stuff of heroes. We made Nationals, where we sucked, but for me it didn’t matter. We won our slot to a closed party, and that meant and still means something big.
I am recounting my small story because it’s part of what shaped me. It’s a format that encourages a level focus amongst like-minded teams. It creates an annually repeatable camaraderie and a team environment that, if strong enough, makes you believe you actually can defeat anyone (or in my case, if not everyone, at least take the 2 seed). And the thing is, I don’t see this very often over here – with the exception of 8-10 games played with Clapham and 3/4 with GB, the do or die points have been few and far between. They do appear in the great games – queue vs. Flying Angels in 2005/2011, but they are not nearly enough.
So, where am I leading – have you guessed? I suggest a structural change that allows the team who wins Nationals to take on the helm of representing GB. They decide who leads the club, who is part of the club, how often they train, what they eat, where they sleep. The one who wins that game to go decides.
The naïve instantly look to the facts. Clapham has won Nationals 13 years in a row, meaning we should be GB, is that right? Well, yes. I think so. The team who wins Nationals is the best in the country – full stop. We have proven this year on year, but have not made the leap to being world beaters. Why? Well aside from not having enough depth, skill, strategy, there is one reason – and it boils down to simple scheduling.
GB years are a nightmare. They distracts the team’s best players, take them away from I don’t know how many weekends. They drain money, time, etc., and what if that was all invested into the team that won Nationals? Might that not mean we train more often? Play in more tournaments – and over years, might we not progress more quickly? We can define the frame for how it might work. The victorious team might elect to take on 5 outside players, or they might keep the squad the same. Tryouts might be a bit fiercer, and maybe quarterfinals, semis and even finals at Nationals might be that much tighter.
There are lots of ingredients needed to make the leap. The game to go is one element that I know has impact, so why not give it a go – what’s to lose? This country has lots to offer. The upcoming players are serious, as are the senior ones. The mix is right, our members just need to take a leap.
Coming tomorrow – a different perspective from Mark Penny of Chevron Action Flash…