Flik: Field Test

Coaching, Flik

The ShowGame reports on a test run of Flik – a new coaching tool for Ultimate. 

From the minds of Sion ‘Brummie’ Scone and Richard ‘Pringle’ Taylor comes Flik – an Ultimate coaching tool that hopes to help us get the most out of our training sessions. Flik offers an online internet based service that contains all of the coaching theory and visual aids to help you learn, design, and plan sessions, and a counterpart smartphone app that allows you to take all of this planning out on to the field. The skill sets being married behind the scenes are Brummie’s extensive coaching and playing experience (complemented by a healthy interest in dissecting the styles and plays of elite Ultimate) and Pringle’s expertise in design and presentation, as shown by his work at openbracket(ultimate). The timing is apt with the growing focus on coaching in the Ultimate community, yet with little to offer in terms of technology to help us get the most out of our teams.

The session we ran was teaching the ‘Cyclone’ offence of the famous Japanese club and National team, Buzz Bullets. We had a small group of players who had no prior use of the session material, or knowledge of the style. Taking cues from an accompanying theory chapter and suggested plan, we ran a short theory chat followed by a progression of three drills, gradually building up from a very simple ‘away and under cut’ to a complex multi-staged cutting drill in the Japanese style.

Using the app on the field.

Using the app on the field.

What was immediately clear by the end of the session was that we had made significant steps towards playing in a new style, and run an overall successful session whilst doing so. The progression through the various stages of the drills (and the theory backing them) pushed us into trying the new and contrasting way of playing, as we adjusted our play to achieve success in the drills. Reading through foundational material beforehand gave each aspect of the session a solid base, and provided a full context of the reasons behind the particular directions (why to cut in a specific way, what sort of pivoting action is needed). This was certainly worthy of the extra preparation time that it demanded. As an example, in our Cyclone drills we were directed to hold the disc in a pivot directly away from the endzone we were attacking. This created a larger threat of the ‘around break’, which if covered by the force then allowed an even easier ‘inside-out’ throwing lane. Both of these break throws helped us to succeed at the drill, and whilst the pivoting style felt awkward to most at first, it proved insightful both for the drill and for players to take elsewhere. Given the relatively simple setup of these drills (which were largely based on offensive cutting and throwing), it was impressive to see such a development across a short session. The depth of the theory showed through from the beginning, and is clearly going to be one of the key strengths of this project.

The Kickstarter campaign understandably focuses heavily on the usability and graphic elements of the online and app service, and this is another strong feature of Flik. Drill diagrams and in-depth explanations of how and why to do the exercises mean that a clear vision can be created of the training plan well in advance. We saw a lot of potential for further developments here: moving drill diagrams (perhaps even controlled by a slider); dynamic diagrams with move-able icons. Given the tone of the Kickstarter and its emphasis on community driven testing and development, it seems realistic that these kinds of improvements could be realised. Speaking to Brummie after our use of Flik, he certainly seemed open to these sorts of developments and this approach will only benefit the project.

An example drill diagram used in our Cyclone session.

A drill diagram used in our Cyclone session.

Something we did find was that, as pretty as these visual tools may be, it was slightly trickier for us to show them off on the field, and it was here that we found some initial limitations to the app side of Flik. Using a single phone to visually demonstrate was difficult in a group of six players, and would be unfeasible for a larger session whether elite club (20+ players), or university clubs where attendance could realistically be over 50. Use on a tablet would offer one option for those who can, however there is also the practical issue of expensive technology being exposed to the elements (rain being the obvious issue here). Flik doesn’t necessarily provide an alternative to the tradition of water-bottle-and-cone diagrams, then. But by placing the emphasis on session planning in advanced and also offering a way for coaches to share these plans with players, it could form part of a larger solution. If players can use Flik to learn this theoretical material before the session, this only creates more time to drill what they have already learned.

This leads us to our final impressions of our Flik field test, which is that it is already a very good (and potentially fantastically deep) resource for budding coaches and players alike. It still requires a well executed coaching (and coach-ability) performance from those running and attending the practice, but could even contribute towards the learning of this as well. We were using a very early version of Flik which will be much changed and developed as a final product, which the Kickstarter does mention will feature a ‘Coaching Ultimate’ section. Hopefully this will provide direction on the ‘how’ to run your session, as well as just ‘what’ you should be doing as without this focus some users may find it difficult to truly utilise the deep knowledge on offer. For a team captain or coach, the premise of having an easy and attractive visual way to plan drills and compile sessions is both an Ultimate nerd’s dream and a potentially radical way of altering how organised our approach to training is. Getting this visualised training plan out to the players will be another challenge as Flik is developed, but if it can be achieved and taken on by its target users then it could become a very powerful coaching tool, as well as just a slick way to plan and communicate your sessions.

The Kickstarter page explains the collaborative intentions of Flik between producer and consumer. It has already had input from an impressive list of coaches and players, and many of the donation gifts include the ability to be involved in its production. It is clearly a project from within the Ultimate community, built with this community interaction in mind; it is appropriate then that it will require the community to get it out of the planning stages and into a reality. The openness to such feedback is quite a claim, but if carried out could very effectively draw upon a vast amount of Ultimate minds, and this built into the already polished work of Pringle and Brummie could turn out to be something very impressive.

Check out the Kickstarter page here – and see what you think for your self. The campaign has been strongly backed so far but ends on Saturday 20th June (11 days at time of writing!) so if you want to make Flik a reality, then get involved!

Thanks must go to our field testers: Sam “Bunny” Brown (Fire of London), Alex Cragg (GB/Fire of London) and James Ward (Flump).

Dublin Coaching & Skills Clinic

Brummie, Coaching, Colonel, IFDA, UKU Coaching Courses

Sion “Brummie” Scone tells us about how the ESC in Dublin went down.

Recently, Daniel “Colonel” Furnell and I headed to Dublin to work with the next generation of Irish players and coaches. Following my interview with Mark Earley on Ultimate Interviews, I was approached by David Rickard, President of the Irish Flying Disc Association (IFDA), in March with the idea of running a version of the Elite Skills Clinic in Ireland at some point. 

Brummie coaching the GB World Games team in Cali. Photo courtesy of Isabela Vivas.



However, nothing is quite so simple as just repeating a previous session; instead, Rickard wanted us to focus on working with the elite level players and also to work on developing a small group of coaches, with the ultimate aim of a self-sustaining coaching community. Coach the coaches, and be sure to include some innovative tactics. No small ask considering neither of us had ever done anything like this! 

Fortunately, Colonel and I are both UKU Coach Educators and so have experience delivering the Level 1 coaching course, and I was heavily involved in developing the Level 2 coaching course. We weren’t really aiming to repeat either of these, but instead to take a few key points, and instead focus on content beyond the level of either of the UKU courses. As such, those present for the Dublin weekend had a preview of what the Level 3 content might one day look like just two weeks before the first Level 2 course it taught! Between teaching our own skills masterclass, introducing some new concepts to our coaches and letting them loose, then performing tactical reviews of performance on the fly. We crammed in a huge amount in two days; fortunately, all of our coaches showed never-ending patience, and they were also lucky enough to have 25 very keen players who seemed to have boundless enthusiasm. Finally, we’d had the sense to use an indoor 3G venue on the weekend that a huge storm passed overhead! All in all, it proved to be very fun and hopefully extremely useful, and it has certainly helped to ignite some discussion about the future of the UKU coaching courses. 

[ED] Here is what some of the people who went thought about it:

******************

I personally really enjoyed the weekend. It was a fantastic experience not only learning from the two GB lads but getting to train and go through drills with different players than the ones I usually do. The atmosphere was relaxed but it was clear everyone was there to learn and take as much as they can from the clinic.

If this was to ever happen again I’d be the first to sign up. It’s great to have a new set of eyes look at players in Irish Ultimate and get us all to learn new techniques and tactics. I feel I’ve learnt more in two days than 4-5 months of training sessions, and I’m glad that myself and other players can go back to their respective clubs and colleges with what they’ve taken in.
*****************

Yes the weekend was fantastic. It should definitely be run again if possible and there should be a lot more hype about it. I don’t know anyone that didn’t enjoy it or learn something really useful from it. Keith was almost not going to go and was incredibly glad he did. So I think more of a description about the calibre of the coaches and quoting people’s positive feedback from this weekend next time might help stress how great an opportunity it is…
… people who were properly invested in the weekend were really receptive and enthusiastic about it all. I think they worked really hard and showed Brummie and Colonel a lot of respect.
*****************
I thought the skills clinic was excellent, really benefited from it. I definitely think you should do it again. … The GB lads ran really good drills, explained them well and when they had the coaches running things I thought they did a great job too. … I can only see Irish Ultimate benefitting from this in the future…
Thanks for organising it all.

******************

I was quite happy with the clinic. Gave me some ideas and alternate views on certain aspects.
******************
Yea, it was good craic, the lads were very qualified and provided a refreshing approach to a few new drills.
********************
I was very happy with it. I would highly recommend that it is repeated. The content and the coaches were great!!
All in all I was delighted with the weekend.
Thanks for organizing it.
Brummie and Colonel taking silver at WUGC 2012 in Sakai. Photo courtesy of Dan Furnell.
Interested in more info? Drop Brummie a line, particularly if you’d like a skills clinic catering to your precise requirements run for your team or a small group of coaches.
DP @ tSG

Elite Skills Clinic for Dublin

An Irish Eye, Coaching, ESC, IFDA, UK Ultimate
In anticipation of the upcoming Dublin Elite Skills Clinic, Mark Earley interviews the coaches as well as president of the Irish Flying Disc Association for The ShowGame.

Next weekend Sion ‘Brummie’ Scone and Daniel ‘Colonel’ Furnell are travelling to Dublin to coach players and coaches alike. This is the first time such a clinic has taken place outside of the UK. We spoke to Brummie about his coaching, about the start of Elite Skills Clinics, about how the trip to Dublin came about and what his plans are for the weekend in question.


TSG: When did your focus switch from playing to coaching and why?
SS: 2010; it was time for another GB cycle, but I wasn’t really interested in getting involved unless there was a different approach than we’d had in the past.  It was my opinion that basic skills – even at the top teams – were too poor to allow GB to compete when it mattered most.  I therefore wanted to coach the team, to make sure things were done properly, even if that meant that I didn’t get to play. 

TSG: What in your opinion is the most important facet of coaching?
 SS: An analytical mind.  I actually think that people who aren’t “naturally good” players – but who are good players – tend to make good coaches, because they have to learn what to do and work out where they have gone wrong in the past.  Watching ultimate is also important, but with an analytic perspective; how does that cutter get open, how does that defender always get a block, etc.  By watching footage and looking exclusively at a single player, you are able to watch them set up their movements a long time before they actually make a play.  Take that away and teach it, and everyone learns that skill.  I think between all of the players in the UK, our collective knowledge is probably just as good as anywhere else in the world, I just think we’re really bad at collaborating and sharing that knowledge.

TSG: How long have the Elite Skills Clinics (ESCs) been taking place? How did they first come about?
SS: Ever since 2005 I’ve been running free skills days, and attracting up to 100 players at a time to listen to me talk about ultimate fundamentals.  It made me realise that there was a real lack of information out there, so I started thinking about whether people would be interested in an entire weekend of instruction.  Initially I thought about trying to coax 40 players into a field for a weekend back in 2010.  I turned to a few of the people I’d met on Team USA (notably Jolian Dahl and Dylan Tunnell) for a bit of advice on how to run a dedicated weekend clinic, and, because it was WUCC in Prague that year, I ended up asking them to come over and help me run it.

“Elite Skills Clinic” was born; the aim being to transfer the elite-level skills to those who wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to learn these things. I strongly believe that people need to know how to do things well if they want to improve, and while you can sit and watch a video on how to throw better, the video can’t look at you and tell you where you’re going wrong.

Anyway, getting some frisbee celebrities helped me to market the event, plus I’d get to watch these guys do some coaching and learn a little about how they do things.  In the end, so many people wanted to come that I got another 8 players from the USA to come and I was relegated to water-boy!  It did mean I got to go and listen to them all talk, which was really useful as a coach, and the 185 people who turned up really enjoyed themselves.

We’ve repeated the clinic every year since.  I quickly realised that there wasn’t really a “magic bullet” that the US players had in terms of knowledge, but rather that all of them had a really well-rounded understanding of every facet of the game. Because of this, I feel confident that I can give just as good a coaching experience as a top US player, without the travel costs.  If you asked them how to do A, B or C, there’s a 90% chance they’d all tell you pretty much the same thing.  I think our frisbee education here in Europe just isn’t as detailed, people tend to pick up bits and bobs but there are skills gaps everywhere.  Even when I work with the GB Open team or GB World Games squad, I have to go over fundamentals with some people. 

When we get to the point where someone running a GB team knows that their players will have sound throwing skills, a solid mark, know how to play effective man defence, etc etc, then we’re going to see a huge leap in the level that we can play at.  And it starts with the people with aspirations for being better.  That’s all I say: “if you want to be a better player, come to ESC”.  I guarantee I can teach you something about ultimate that will improve your game, but people have to realise that they are not the best they can be yet and they still have things to learn; an open mind is crucial in the coaching process.

I initally thought that I’d attract the likes of GB U23, and the next generation of people aiming for GB Open.  In fact, we ended up with mostly B & C Tour players.  This is because those players are generally uncoached, so they have a real need to learn.  Of course, I’d love to attract the next generation of GB talent as I think that a few coaching tweaks can have a profound effect, and I’d love to give GB 2015 a head start; anyone who is unsure is invited to ask any of the GB Open squad for a frank and honest opinion of my coaching!


TSG: What do you see as the main difference between coaching in the UK and in the US?
SS: US club teams have non-playing coaches.  UK teams do not, by and large.  In fact, I’m struggling to think of any… Until we develop a coaching culture, we’ll always be stumbling in the dark, one step behind.  Fortunately, the UKU realised that a long time ago and took steps to resolve it.

TSG: Do you think the importing of US coaches is a good thing or perhaps damaging to UK Ultimate?
SS: I don’t think it is necessary at all, but while UK clubs do not analyse their own play and those of their (prospective) opponents, there will always be a need to get access to good coaches who are capable of doing this.  Besides, if you are a UK-based player and don’t happen to play for one of the handful of teams who has access to a coach who has played at a high level, then it’s highly likely that they won’t have access to anyone who can actually teach them something.  As I said previously, RiseUP and similar resources are fantastic, but they can’t watch you throw and give you feedback.  There will always be a need for good coaches.
Sion Scone gets up and over Sweden for GB Open


TSG: In just over a week you and Colonel are heading to Dublin to deliver a Clinic, a first for you. Looking forward to it?
SS: Absolutely!  I’ve never actually been to Ireland, quite an oversight considering I have been to Canada, USA, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, Colombia and all over Europe playing Ultimate.

TSG: How will the Dublin clinic differ from any you’ve given before? What are you planning to cover?
SS: The focus is on developing coaches as well as players, so we have a 50/50 split between throwing fundamentals, teaching methods for improvement when breaking the mark, field awareness, new tactics / approaches, how to design and teach new drills, analysing team performances, designing and implementing tactical adjustments mid-game… it’s going to be very busy, and we’re going to throw the coaches in at the deep end.  Hopefully everyone who attends will get what they want from the weekend, I’m certainly excited about some of the content that Colonel and I have put together.

TSG: What are the long term goals of the ESCs?
SS: Developing better educated and more rounded players.  Those who I’ve coached for any period of time I would like to hope have learnt some new skills, techniques or tactical knowledge as a result.  ESC is all about exposure to new ideas and methods of how to do stuff, so just attending one weekend isn’t going to make someone into a world class player, it’s the process of practising those skills over a long period of time that will make the difference.  And if they can take that to their clubs and spread it, perfect.  If we can also develop more coaches, then I think we are in a great position.  I am waiting for the day that I see someone performing a skill well and they say “I learnt that from someone who went to ESC” 🙂  We can work as hard as possible, but a bit of knowledge goes a long way, and I’d like to see the level of play consistently improving in the UK as a result of the UKU’s coaching schemes.  ESC forms part of that vision.


We also spoke to David Rickard, the current President of the Irish Flying Disc Association about Irish Ultimate and where he thinks it will grow in the future. David, or Rickard as he is known, has been a part of Irish national teams as well as being a central administrative leader over the past decade in Irish Ultimate. He has seen how much Irish Ultimate has benefited from UK Ultimate over that timespan and is excited about what Brummie and Colonel are bringing to Dublin next weekend.


TSG: Roughly how many players are there in Irish Ultimate at the moment? How does that compare to previous years?
DR: There are currently 400 people playing Club Ultimate, with probably a couple of hundred people playing weekly in schools and colleges but not directly registered as members, and many more playing casually or having been introduced to the sport in school.

TSG: Where has the main area of growth been recently? What do you put that down to?
DR: Juniors and Youth. We had five teams at U23, U20 and U17 level this year, where five years ago we would have been lucky to have 1 or 2. I think most of the growth has come from club and college players working directly with local schools (particularly the work done by UCC, Dublin Youth Ultimate, and Mark Earley in Gonzaga College).

TSG: In terms of coaching schemes, how does the IFDA qualify coaches at the moment?
DR: We don’t have Irish Sports Council recognition (but we are working on it!), and so don’t have a Coaching Ireland framework. We currently license the UKU Level 1 coaching course, having sent a number of players over to the UK to qualify as Coach Educators.

TSG: Links with the UKU are very strong. How does Ireland benefit from these links?
DR: We owe a huge debt to the UKU, both as an institution and a community. We (the IFDA) have been able to learn a lot from their structures and organisation, while the player base has been able to find top quality, reliable and well organised tournaments on our doorstep. Ultimate in Ireland is a minority sport on a relatively sparsely populated island – travelling to find good competitions was always going to be likely. To find a competitive structure reaching to the highest level only an hour away, and one which welcomes our participation at practically every level, has been invaluable. It has given our teams something to aim for and something to measure ourselves against.

IFDA President – David Rickard


TSG: In a couple of weeks two of the UK’s best coaches are coming to Dublin. What is the aim of their visit? And, how did it come about?
DR: We’re delighted to have Sion Scone and Dan Furnell coming over to Dublin. The aim of the weekend is two-fold: to run a high-level skills clinic for our upcoming college and young international players, and to take advantage of the coaches’ expertise by including some sessions working with our own coaches. With the emphasis on grassroots ultimate over recent years we felt we wanted to pitch something at the players on the other end of the spectrum, and the Elite Skills Clinics run by the UKU were what we had in mind. Most of our teams, meanwhile, are being coached by young player-coaches and we felt it would be good to let them learn from the experience of some of the best coaches around. While the idea – bring someone in from outside our own ecosystem to throw some new information at our coaches and players – has been around for a while, eventually it came down to someone just getting on the phone to Brummie!

TSG: Where do you think Irish Ultimate is going over the next few years?
DR: I think it will be unrecognisable, just like it has changed so much in the decade or so I’ve been playing. Our player numbers are growing, our organisation is becoming more streamlined and professional, and I’d expect us to obtain Irish Sports Council recognition within the year. Every season sees more new clubs and schools playing the sport (colleges having been the mainstay for so long) and we’re finally getting to the stage where we have players looking to coach more than they play. It will be an exciting challenge to tie together the development of the sport at these levels and direct the right resources to coaching, competitions, national squads and any associated administration. So we’re certainly going to be bigger and a better run organisation. Just how that will translate to results on the international stage is hard to say. We’re not the only country experiencing the growth in popularity, and I think you’ll see a couple of European countries leapfrogging each other in any table you care to look at over the next few years. Our challenge will be to take the momentum we have built and try to take some of this summer’s results – best ever placings for Ireland at Beach and U23 competitions – as records to be broken rather than high points to be satisfied with. 

Interviews by Mark Earley for tSG. How are you coping with the off-season? Keep an eye out for more pieces in the coming weeks.  As always – make sure to comment, like, share! JCK @tSG

Jen Ultimate: The Interview

Coaching, European Ultimate, GB, Great Britain, Jen, Open, Outdoors
Those with a keen eye will have noticed a recent ripple in the UK Ultimate social media sphere under the mysteriously simple name of ‘Jen’. With a website and Facebook identity already established, as well as a concerted effort for word of mouth distribution by its founders, Jen nevertheless still seems to have the ultimate community unsure and left with a host a plethora of questions. What is Jen? is it a British Nexgen? Doesn’t it threaten most tour teams? Why “Jen”?! The Showgame got in touch with co founder and captain Sam Bowen to get some answers…




tSG: Let’s start with the basics: what is your vision for Jen, who are you hoping will get involved, and who are you hoping will benefit?

SB: Firstly, we hope that every Ultimate player in the UK who fits the basic criteria will apply. We want those with existing outstanding athletic ability but also, more importantly, those with the potential and desire to improve that. We are looking for strong Ultimate players with exceptional physicality, competitiveness and athleticism. Alongside this, it’s important that we take on those with a strong mentality, positive attitude and good spirit. These are the players that will make up Jen. We are confident that the training schemes and facilities will benefit all those who attend a trial or training session. We are trying to raise the profile and ability of youth Ultimate in the UK, which we believe is important for everybody in the Ultimate community.

tSG: What inspired the creation of the team, and why do you feel the need to do something different?

SB: It’s important to note that we are not trying to distance ourselves from the fantastic GB Junior setup, which we have all gained very positive and valuable experiences from.
The 3 team captains (Sam Bowen, Alex Brooks and Jake Aspin) have competed on the 
same Great Britain Junior Teams for the last 3 years, including two World Championships. Collectively, we have had experience of playing against almost every nation within that age category and we understand how Great Britain competes amongst them. There are many intricacies that make us better and/or worse than those nations. However, we realised that a number of teams were a lot more ‘athletically-driven’ than ours and this made a huge impact at big tournaments. We found ourselves trailing our man, being bullied on the mark and being outpaced or outbid, particularly towards the end of tournaments. We appreciate that this is not the only reason for our losses, but have identified it as a reparable weakness in our game. This is one of the things that we are trying to address with Jen. 

Another area that we are addressing is the strength of the player base in the UK. We are aiming not only to get more players involved in the game, but to retain and develop those with enormous potential to compete at the highest level.  Jen aims to provide support to young players that don’t receive the recognition or development that they might get a top club team. Jen will place particular emphasis on players who haven’t had this calibre of training in an attempt to improve individual player standards, but also club team standards across the country. We hope that the knowledge and experience these young players will gain from Jen can be transmitted to other teams across the UK. The long term goal being that teams get stronger, tournaments become more competitive and the overall standard of Ultimate in the UK grows stronger and stronger. 

tSG: Will the team always stay below a certain age, and if so will the founders leave when they become too old?

SB: Every new player we take on will be between the ages of 18-25. We were initially looking at inviting players below the age of 18 but we have had some issues with insurance. This is something that we are still looking into though, especially after the recent success of the GB u17 Open squad in Cologne. We cannot say whether players will move on once they become over the age of 25 as, to be honest, we really don’t know. What we do know is that the emphasis and development focus will always be placed on the young talent within Jen.

tSG: How often is the team going to train, and why are do you think these trainings will be more productive than the geo – trainings they will replace?

SB: The whole idea of Jen is that it is manageable from a player perspective. We understand the costs, time and effort involved. We do not want to lose out on talent because of these factors. Equally, we are not trying to compete against the UK’s club teams, so trainings will be on a monthly/two-monthly basis. Although there will be costs involved for the initial trial (due to the facilities and equipment necessary), we are looking at free venues around the UK for future training sessions. 

In the run up to competitions, we will select a team from our training squad and will perhaps look at training more regularly. We will liaise with club and national teams to determine suitable training times, locations and systems. A lot of the training programme will involve personal training, and we have qualified individuals to assist us with this. Whilst we are insistent to make geo-trainings work, Jen will place an enormous focus on getting the whole squad together for team trainings. We want to create a positive and competitive team environment, whereby the best young athletes in the country can push each other to improve the level of every individual, the team and UK Ultimate.
Sam Bowen captaining GB Open at the recent World Under 23 Championships. Photo courtesy of Nancy Rawlings.


tSG: Arguably GB ultimate is behind both in terms of athleticism and other aspects of the game, including simple skills. Does this team not propose an overly a simple solution to a complicated problem?

SB: We would never describe Jen as a solution. We don’t predict that the intended results 
of Jen will be instant. Instead, we are trying to continually raise the profile and standard of Ultimate in the UK, particularly amongst our young talent. We envisage that the best way to do this is to produce and develop an elite squad of Ultimate athletes from the young players in the game. Jen will not focus solely on athleticism and physicality, but also Ultimate skills and techniques. There is also an argument that in improving players’ fitness (both endurance and strength), it will assist the throwing skill base. There has been some criticism on focussing wholly on athleticism, which as discussed, is not the only sporting aspect that Jen aims to improve. However, as players get stronger they will be able to put their bodies in better positions to produce more accurate throws. Perhaps more importantly, they will be able to maintain the quality of play and skill throughout a tournament, reducing a lull in standard that can often occur towards the end of a competition. 

tSG: How do you plan on the players balancing Jen training times around other teams, both domestic and international considering the upcoming GB cycle?

SB: This is pretty simple actually. We will expect the players to manage themselves. Part of our selection process will take into account players’ ability to manage themselves, their 
bodies, time and commitments. As mentioned, Jen aims to support it’s players with fitness 
and training programmes, which many players may not have had exposure to before. We 
understand if players have existing personal programmes and it is important that they elect one that is suitable, comfortable and manageable for them, alongside their normal club training.  

Jen will never take priority over National duty, nor should it as we believe playing for Great Britain is the pinnacle of your Ultimate career. It is important that the training at Jen works alongside that of the National team. We have already liaised with GB Junior Coaches to make this work, and will continue to do so. We hope that Jen helps our National selectors to identify young talent, whilst continually raising the level of our junior outfit.With regard to club teams, the maturity to train and improve comes hand-in-hand with the respect and understanding from the leadership team. We will trust our players to make the decisions best for them and we will respect those decisions. We will have a large and competitive training squad to cope with absences, but those who have missed out will be expected to catch up.

tSG: How do you see this interplay between Jen and the players’ club teams further down the line?

SB: We hope and expect it to be extremely positive for both sides. Jen is not a tour team and plans to operate on its own cycle. It is not our aim to ‘steal’ any player, only to help young players improve. A number of our players will be competing at World Clubs this year and it is not our intention to distract them in their preparations. We hope that we can work alongside all teams to help increase the standard of Ultimate in the country. We will seek advice and training from some of the best in the game to help Jen be successful. The team will not be lead or trained by the founders alone. Jen will learn and develop together to improve our own ability and potential. We hope that we get the support from Club and National players, coaches and teams to make this possible.

tSG: People are not unreasonably making comparison between this and the recent US NexGen project – is it related to this or inspired by it in any way?

SB: Jen is not affiliated with NexGen, and nor are we attempting to completely emulate it. Admittedly, a European NexGen-type Tour is something that we’d like to achieve within 4 years. I think every young player in the game should be inspired by what NexGen have managed to accomplish. It has been a fantastic project, which has raised the level of Ultimate in the States, but also increased the coverage of the sport worldwide.  We have certainly been inspired by the results that NexGen have achieved and the level of Ultimate that they are playing at. At the moment, they are unrivalled by any other ‘junior’ team in the world and it is no coincidence that the USA Junior squads have been unbeaten for so many years. Jen will attempt to have the same impact on the UK’s junior setup, by lifting the athleticism, playing standards and competitiveness of its young players. Like NexGen, Jen will require the support and competition from the best club teams in the UK. We hope that together we can lift the standard of UK Ultimate and continue to improve our performance on the world stage.

tSG: And Finally – The question that everyone wants to know the answer to – what does ‘Jen’ mean?

SB: Jen does not mean ‘NexGen’ or ‘generation’. It doesn’t refer to a particular person or expression. Jen is all-encompassing.  Jen is everything.

Well, what do you think?! Raring to apply or still skeptical? Either way make sure to share, and of course comment below! JCK @ tSG

Lessons from Japan

Coaching, Great Britain, Open, WUGC2012

GB Open and World Games coach Sion “Brummie” Scone tells us what he and the Open squad learnt at the World Ultimate and Guts Championships last summer. 


Brummie: This is an article that I originally wrote for Ultimatum (the UK Ultimate annual magazine) in the days immediately after my return from Japan last summer; however, I managed to forget to click “send” on the email, so it has been sitting in my drafts the whole time.  Oops.




As expected, Worlds showed a wide variety of new offensive and defensive strategies.  Here is a collection of thoughts centred around GB Open’s performance, but also looking at all the games I saw in all divisions – particularly the impressive Japanese women’s team – and a group of lessons that we can take home as things to work on over the next four years.

1.    Throw, throw, throw

Our throwing ability is short of the top teams; particularly USA and Japan who had strong throwers across their entire team. They also were comfortable with a wide variety of throws;  bladey throws and inside-outs over short distances being two main ones that other nations use well for handler resets and zone breaking.  The Japanese women were probably the best throwers across their entire team, and they won handily.

Lesson: Throwing skills are massively overlooked in the UK in favour of athletic ability. We need to continue to challenge our throwers to improve; why not use games and drills which force your players to use new throws? Don’t worry about turns – there will be plenty! – but the long term improvements will be huge.  GB Open used a modified version of Lou Burruss’ Kung Fu Throwing routine for a year before WUGC, and I highly recommend using it (or the Wiggins alternative) as a starting point.


Throw, Throw, Throw! Wessex vs ManUp, 2012 season. Courtesy of Kat Smith.

2.    “Safety First” makes you dangerous

We need to have better resets; Japan Open in particular had very strong resets that led to continuation and constantly kept us on the back foot, while the USA were confident at recycling the disc under pressure.  Both teams were great at turning a reset into an attacking position.

Lesson: Our resets need to be more than just “get the stall back to zero”, and should instead come with brutally effective continuation. Consider continuation as being part of your reset; failure to hit continuation is failure to reset properly.


  

3.    Legal, active marks

Most European teams play with static marks that are too close and foul often. Good throwers will abuse these with ‘contact’ calls or calling ‘foul’ during the throw.

Lesson: be mobile and legal on the mark for the most effective defence; sometimes being in the cutting lane, outside 3m of the thrower, is the most effective thing you can do to prevent flow, and is certainly better than fouling.


4.    Improve your offence by coming up with new defences

Your team needs to be adaptable if they are going to be effective.  Man-zone hybrid defence is going to become more and more prevalent in the future; when teams know precisely when and where they should be poaching and how to switch effectively, these defences are tough to beat (Sweden, Japan women). It is important to note that these zones were mostly effective because of good work ethic away from the disc; early repositioning and timely switching helping to stifle flow, rather than apply pressure on the disc, then quickly repositioning as the disc is swung.
GB Open’s zone offence generally failed to keep the disc moving against zones (Sweden / Japan), even once the cup had been bypassed, and this comes back to the issues with handler resets (as mentioned above). Only by swinging the disc with fast throws, and constantly taking small gains with handlers, is it possible to take these zones apart (see USA / Canada / Japan Open teams).  Short range overheads, and short leading throws, are also areas we need to improve on. 

Lesson: learn to throw the disc hard and play fast if you want to beat any non-man defence; continuation is just as important with zone O as with resets. All teams also need to be able to effectively switch and poach if we want our clubs to understand and be able to combat these types of defence.  I would encourage all teams to think about creating a new defence, and *stick with it*; they take time to work, maybe two years or more.


5.    Gritty defence starts with knowing your role

As a defender, know what you’re taking away, i.e. “Know where your kitchen is”, and what you can allow. (GB Open called the area just in front of the disc on the open side “the kitchen” and being beaten into this space was a big no-no.)  Most defenders are purely reactive, seen chasing their man around the field, rather than proactively adopting a body position that will prevent the bad guy getting into your kitchen and flirting with your mum!  So, regardless of where you are and where the person you’re guarding is, make sure you know your relative position with respect to your “kitchen”, and never allow them to slip through and steal your dinner.
 
Lesson: To play great defence requires great focus, and that focus only comes through training under pressure, but, more importantly, every member of the team needs to be a great athlete. You have to be in great shape to be a contender; this is no great surprise. We should be proud that “British defence” is strong enough to get the disc off any team in the world.  We need to focus on improving our D team’s ability to score more consistently under pressure to take advantage of these hard-won turns, particularly against teams like Sweden, Canada and Colombia that try to change the pace of the game to take you out of your comfort zone.

6.    Play fast and small

The faster you play, the harder you are to stop. Being able to work at high speeds, and in tight spaces, are the key factors that will be vital in years to come. “Old skool” offences which isolate a single player in a large proportion of the pitch were not hugely effective at Worlds. Likewise, failing to swing the disc quickly (fast throws) plays into the hands of poach sets.

Lesson: offences need to be adaptable enough to take advantage of momentary advantages which will be presented by poach sets, but everyone needs to be on the same page to prevent costly mis-communication turns. Learn to throw fast passes to stationary players to minimise hang time and reduce the effectiveness of poaching. In short, offences need to be comfortable playing in the small space in front of them, rather than needing large areas of clear space to advance the disc.


7.    Take the most damaging option, but keep the risk as low as possible

GB Open broke the mark more consistently than all the teams we played other than USA, and we had success because of it. Japan’s approach was more along the lines of “avoid the mark, but get it to the undefended side anyway”, which was brutally effective and tough to stop.

Lesson: be confident breaking marks, but you don’t necessarily need to break the mark in order to get the disc where you want it, which is generally in the hands of a receiver cutting towards the break side of the field. As long as their defender has no bid on the disc, it is a great option. If you don’t need to risk breaking the mark to achieve that, that’s perfect. One way to achieve this is to isolate a cutter on the open side and have them cut to the break side; the resulting pattern will be an open side throw for the thrower, but will still be away from the receiver’s defender. Win-win.


GB Open take Silver at WUGC 2012 in Japan. Courtesy of nzsnaps.com.

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