The ShowGame’s university editor Harry Mason caught up with both captains of the Great Britain under-24 Mixed team before they jetted over to Perth. Here’s what they had to say about how they team came together, their high hopes and that dance-off video.
Let’s start with introductions. Who are you folks?
Charlie Daffern: I’m Charlie, one of the captains of the GB U24 Mixed team for this cycle. I started playing four years ago at university in Cambridge, and most recently played with Deep Space for the 2017 club season. This is my first time playing GB Ultimate.
Alexis Long: I’m Alexis, the other half of the captains for the GB U24 Mixed team going to Perth. I originally started playing with Kent Ultimate whilst at school, and am currently playing with SMOG X. This is my second cycle of GB U23/24; I played with the Men’s team in 2015.
Let’s start simple. How would you describe the GB U24 Mixed team?
Alexis: I think for me the best way to describe the team would be to call it a family. Everyone is there working for their friends, and for the team. It’s a really supportive environment that everyone has helped to create. It is a lot of fun playing hard for other people and seeing them do the same. Callum Spiers and Alex Mazzon (GB U24 Mixed coaches) put a lot of work into creating an environment that allows the team to flourish on and off the pitch. I think it would be safe to say people are dedicated to doing the country proud and putting in the hours to show it.
Charlie: I’d say we’re a team of hard workers. Everybody on the team has been putting in hours of work every week to make sure that we’re as prepared as possible to go and win at Worlds – gym, throwing, conditioning, rehab and more. This hard work also shows in how people on the team interact with one another. To echo what Lexi said: we have a really supportive environment, which exists because every member of the team actively works to create it. Our team philosophy is based around three key tenets – confidence, balance and professionalism – which I think are central to the way we operate.
How easy was it to pull the team together? Not only did you have the extended trialling period with the development program, you’re also all pulled from different areas and backgrounds – I believe pretty much every top Mixed team in the UK is represented in the squad?
Charlie: I’d say that the team has pulled together fairly smoothly. The development program gave each of us a number of opportunities to play with at least some of our final teammates in the lead up to selections, either at trainings or at Tour. This meant that nobody was a stranger by the time we got to training as a final team in August. Since then, I think the dedication to the common goal of trying to win Worlds has been key. We all know what we want, and that we need to improve as much as possible to get there, and this has given us a firm baseline for productive communication. Everybody is very keen to be cooperative and help their teammates, and therefore our team, improve.
Alexis: In terms of playing and training, there’s nothing like a fun tournament to pull a team together. I think our first outing to Dublin’s Golden Cup was fantastic for this reason. Of course, the opportunity to go to more tournaments would have been great but with the tournament being in January you have to make do. Fortunately, we got to train with other great Mixed teams in the country (shout out to SMOG, Deep Space and Reading for having us!) and this was great to get some game time against opponents that allowed the team to really develop.
What was your result at Golden Cup? What other preparations have you been doing in the lead up to Australia?
Alexis: We came seventh at DGC. It was a decent first outing, but left us with a lot to work on! We were fortunate enough to have our first match-up against the German U24 Mixed team there too, the start of a great rivalry. We recently got to play them again – two more times in fact – when we went to Denmark to scrimmage as a last prep for Worlds. We also got to play Denmark U24 and Equiteam, a Danish Mixed club team. The weekend was a great opportunity, and I think that we have come a long way. We’re excited to see what the last push before Worlds brings!
Charlie: I think that the Denmark outing was really important for us as an opportunity to polish our play as a team before Perth. As well as that, the individual work that everybody has been putting in can’t be overlooked. Like you mentioned before, we’re geographically dispersed all over the country, so we spend more time apart than we do together, and that means that time alone is massively valuable to our preparation. So the discipline to work out individually has been key to our preparations, within a framework of strong teamwork. Being faster and stronger can only be a good thing!
So, with all that prep, how do you think you will do at Worlds? Are there any teams you’re particularly looking forward to matching up against?
Alexis: I believe we can win Worlds. It will be hard, but all achievements take hard work and start with a bit of belief. I’m excited to face the USA, they are probably the favourites to win and I want to show them what we have got. Nothing is impossible if we take it as it comes. At the right moment, we could be the best team there.
Charlie: For me, guessing the results of a tournament ahead of time never feels useful. I’m confident that we’re going to play some phenomenal ultimate, and for me the key will be that we absolutely bring it to every point that we play. We’re capable of doing great things, and we will do great things. I’m excited for every game, because every game is an opportunity to play sweet ultimate, and we should do that at every opportunity we get.
I know that as a team you take discussions about how we approach gender in Ultimate seriously – even participating in a gender equity workshop in Denmark. I would love to hear your perspectives on an issue regarding gender that you feel we should discuss or promote more as a community.
Charlie: More female role models.
Can you expand on that?
Charlie: Of course! There are obviously so many choices, but for me Rachel Turton (a GB U24X teammate) is somebody who I’d love to give a shout-out to in this regard. She’s a top quality player who is so active in giving back to the players around her by taking the initiative to volunteer as a coach and a leader in her Ultimate community. I think it’s great. Personally, I’m also a massive fan of Ange Wilkinson, who is one of the Deep Space captains. She’s hella strong and smart, and she’s somebody who really drives me to want to be better and better. She’s also aware of the areas where she’d like to improve. I think that self-awareness is a fantastic asset for any player, but especially important in a leader.
Alexis: I had a productive discussion in Denmark about female coaches in university and their importance to the game at uni level. I have personally seen a great result in Durham from the women’s team having a proper coach and role model.
I believe that would be Annie Glasspool?
Alexis: Yeah Annie Glasspool and Kat Rowland (current captain) have done wonders for the Durham Women’s scene.
What are Callum and Alex like as coaches? Do you think positive things come from having younger coaches who played the last cycle (albeit ones who have coaching and high-level experience)?
Charlie: I’m a big fan. I think that their age is much less important than their ability to coach, and their ability to coach is strong – no doubt the experience from last cycle contributes to that. Callum watches and thinks about Ultimate a lot, and that thoughtfulness reflects well in his coaching. He’s great for having comebacks to whatever the opposition throw at us, be it offence or defence. I hugely appreciate how well Mazzon can do bad cop when we need him to. If you ever want somebody to kick your team into gear, get him on the job. You can tell how passionate they both are about making sure that our team is as able to succeed as possible.
Alexis: I believe Charlie has summed them up well!
Can you explain what #oneGB is, and how you’re planning to enact it at Worlds?
Alexis: #oneGB comes from the Under 24 Development Programme and the fact that, unlike previous cycles, the teams have been more unified in the process leading up to Worlds. The Mixed team will be fully supporting the Men’s and Women’s when we can for the whole tournament!
Charlie: For me, #oneGB represents the importance of camaraderie and mutual respect. This cycle the coaches have put emphasis on the unity that can exist between teams, and how important the support of peers can be to the success of a team.
Right. In the spirit of #oneGB: you get to add one GB U24 Women’s and one GB U24 Men’s player to your Mixed team. Who do you pick?
Alexis: I would probably have to take Conrad Wilson as I played a great season with him on SMOG. I also got a chance to play alongside Helena Slater during the development programme and enjoyed that connection too!
Charlie: That’s tough. It’d be close. I think for the women I’d have to go with Bailey Melvin-Teng. She’s such a strong all-rounder. As for the guys… maybe Will Rowledge? He’s pretty good at Ultimate.
Whose idea was the dance-off video? How does it feel knowing everyone who follows the WFDF Facebook page has seen you guys groove?
Charlie: I think it was Bea Perks and Jo Lewis, our social media team! They did a cracking job. There’s more to come, just you wait. As for reaching the wider WFDF audience, no complaints from me. You saw how on fire those dance moves were.
Alexis: It was awesome, I got a couple of messages from Ultimate friends around the world! Great to see so many people following and supporting Ultimate, and GB’s dance moves
Do you have any good chants or hype up songs?
Alexis: Andrew Turner is a master of chants and songs, I suggest you listen out for his GB version of any hit single in the last 30 years.
Which two players have the best on/off-field connection?
Alexis: It’s hard to say, there are so many great connections on the team. I personally am a fan of the Andy Lewis-Leila Denniston connection.
Charlie: I like the connection that Ed Simpson has with the disc whenever he makes one of his huge layout blocks
Any final words or hashtags then?
Alexis: #oneGB #believe
Charlie: We’re going to crush it.
To keep up with GB Mixed during the tournament, you can follow them on Facebook.