Start with a basic premise: if we want to win we must train at least as much as the other contenders. Is this a fair statement? Well, unless we have better training methods or we have better athletes than the other teams or we started with better players, then the only way to improve the team is by training. Seeing as we don’t have any of these things in place in Britain, it follows that to achieve the level required to win world championships, we will have to train at least as often as the best teams in the world.
Currently that means training every week, as a team, twice. Plus individual fitness work. This will demand a greater level of commitment from potential GB players than has ever previously been required. A sacrifice, but this is where our sport is. The top players around the world are willing to move their lives to commit to an Ultimate team. If we aspire to win on the world stage, we need to be prepared give this level of commitment. This is unfortunate for those not in the vicinity of training locations but it is a common pattern amongst developing sports that athletes, where necessary, move their entire life to attend the training required for their sport.
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With access to a large pool of committed, elite level players, this clearly supports a move to base the open team around London. This is the first time in the UK that there has been the number and commitment of the elite players in any region to make this happen. Obviously, this would favour players based in London and especially Clapham, because in this model the GB team would currently be based on Clapham. However, it does not preclude players from other teams trying out and, possibly, negotiating the number of training sessions that they have to attend. A model similar to that of Canada, where a single club is selected to represent the nation but they are obliged to pick up a minimum of five players from other teams.
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Exploring the alternative of the traditional TGB model, training would be on an approximately one weekend per month basis. What would the point of this team be? I think it is fairly clear that a team of elite players, training four times as regularly would be superior to this team (in the current environment, the pool of players trying out for the traditional GB team would not be significantly better than the pool trying out for the local GB team). It follows then that if this model was chosen for the open team, it would have to be in the knowledge that the the overarching goal for the team of winning had been sacrificed, at the first hurdle, at the expense of development. GB would in effect be a glorified (and extremely expensive) development team.
But what about development?
As Brummie concludes in his article, development of elite players across the country would be worse in this new model. Traditionally, elite and aspiring players have improved by playing for GB teams but there is no reason that playing for GB has to be the only means of player development (by destefanis). I would argue, that this is an opportunity to review elite player development and put in place a better system. In an ideal world, every player would have access to high-level training regularly and locally, however, with our current base this is clearly not feasible across the country. Below I will explore some options that we have available.
1) Encourage more local teams to train more regularly
This will give players a greater incentive to stay, play and train within their regions. I’m sure I’m doing some teams a big disservice here by not mentioning them (sorry!). Devon, EMO and Brighton are examples of teams who have trained regularly with a committed group of players and have attended international tournaments and, unsurprisingly, improved greatly over the past few years. The more teams training regularly, the more competitive our elite competitions will be. Maybe this is the time that the UKU considers incentives or disincentives for playing, training, organising and coaching Ultimate locally.
2) Put together an elite player development squad
This has previously been done in Germany with Inside Rakete and I presume is the idea behind Jen. This would essentially mimic the traditional GB model with its inherent advantages and disadvantages but could run every year, giving aspiring players the chance to improve their game. Ideally the squad would train monthly in a central location with the intention of attending one international tournament a year to give players the chance to gain international experience, without impacting too heavily on their clubs. This squad would essentially produce the same trickle down as has previously been seen from the GB squads.
3) GB Mixed could be used as an international development squad
Similar to idea 2 above. For 2 out of every 4 years, there would be the further opportunity to play for GB mixed. The team would be put together as a collection of talented players expecting and expected to make the step up to the level of the Open and Women’s teams. A number of the top open and women players in the UK have previously played for GB mixed (e.g. Rich Harris, Fran Scarampi). It would also expose these players to high-level mixed Ultimate, which would prove valuable to those trying out and playing for the World Games team. This model is currently used with good success in Australia.
4) Senior GB teams are made responsible for providing development opportunities
Senior GB teams could be explicitly expected (and potentially mandated) to provide development opportunities for the Ultimate community in the UK. This would take additional time and effort for those playing for the senior GB teams, but I don’t believe it would be too much to ask that each player would give up 1 or 2 additional days per year for development activities.
5) Take greater advantage of the Elite Skills Clinic
There has been an Elite Skills Clinics in the UK for a number of years. For aspiring players this should be a golden opportunity to learn from some of the top coaches and players in the UK. Maybe in the future if an elite player development squad is put together, then a similar goal would be achieved.
Two very simple thoughts to conclude. As individual players, if we set our goal to become elite international competitors, then we have to commit to train with our teams regularly. As a community, if we aim to develop world class international teams, then we need to provide the opportunities for players to move from grassroots all the way through to the international level.