The 2018 World Under-24 Ultimate Championships will be held in Perth, Australia. While January 2018 seems like a long time away, planning started behind the scenes months ago and the preparation will begin in earnest on October 22, when the first trials to make the GB squad take place near Liverpool. Sean Colfer spoke to three of the coaches involved – Sion Scone, the Open coach, and Jenna Thomson and Ben Weddell, the Women’s coaches – about what they’re looking for at the trials as part of the first in a series investigating what this cycle means in the short and long term for Ultimate in the UK.
The trial is the first step in the process, both in terms of achieving the more far-reaching aims of the coaching group and in selecting the squads that will represent Great Britain down under. The main focus, at the moment, is getting as many people to the trial as possible.
“I think that there’s an attitude for a lot of people, looking at any trial, that they won’t make it,” says Scone. “They see it as a reason not to try out, because they think they’re not good enough.
“We need to flip that on its head. Even if your only objective is to go there and match up against people who will make it, that’s sufficient. If you push them to make it, then that’s enough.”
Another aspect they’re keen to emphasise is that often it’s difficult for players to see their own limits – that people can be capable of more than they might at first believe.
“There are going to be people out there who are questioning whether they should go to this trial,” says Weddell.
“They’re going to come, feel at first that they’re not sure about it, but they’ll get better and be mainstays of teams in the end. It’s not just a case of getting better, some of those players are going to go to Australia and they’re going to be stars for Great Britain and for their club teams in the future. That’s going to happen. The more people we have that are willing to take a gamble, the better it’s going to be.”
What the coaches are looking for from players attending the trials is more than just speed, jumping ability or throwing skill; it’s an ability to learn and adapt, an ability to take coaching and apply it and a willingness to work hard to achieve the best for themselves and their team-mates.
“I think there’s been an over-focus on athleticism in recent years,” Thomson offers.
“Not that we don’t want athletic players – that’s needed to cope with the challenges of regular practices and competition and those kinds of things. But the self-motivation, the self-determination to put in the work, not only at trials and training but away from them, is a huge thing for us. We’re looking for positive attitude, it’s one of the most important things for us.
“We’re not expecting them to come with a well-rounded skills base. We’re saying come with a willingness to learn and a positive attitude to get stuck in and give it your best shot, because that’s going to be the most important thing.”
Scone agrees, distilling it down to three key attributes: “Coachability, work ethic, and putting the team first.”
Given the depth of the university Ultimate scene at the moment, the coaches are keen to see as many people as they can.
“If you think you’re in the top 100 players at university, you should be at this trial. Hell, if you think you’re in the top 150, you should be there,” Scone says very matter-of-factly.
“Every person at university should be looking at this and saying ‘OK, that might be for me’. If anybody wants to be a better player, I think they need to be coming to this.”
Thomson re-iterates this point, adding that the main factor here is potential: “We’re looking for potential, and we want to reach as many people as we can to give something back.”
The coaches are all clear about one thing – this process is about more than picking a squad. It’s the start of a journey for them, for the players involved and for Great Britain Ultimate as an overall programme. As we’ll go into in more detail in the weeks to come, the intention here is to be at the start of something that will affect the sport in this country for years to come and it’s a tremendously exciting opportunity for players to get in on the ground level.
“As long we as give [players] the impression that they’re going to come and learn from the experience, and enjoy it, I think there’ll be plenty of people interested,” says Scone.
“We need to make sure that this is a really open programme, so that people understand that they’re not coming to us to get judged. They’re coming to us for an opportunity to thrive.”