“….errm no, but I might try out for Mixed.”

Discussion, GB, UK Ultimate

Sion ‘Brummie’ Scone gives some wise words to those considering the next GB senior cycle…

The application forms to run the GB squads are coming in, so I felt the need to write about some of my experiences. I was involved in running the GB Open trials in 2010, and GB World Games trials in 2012-13. Allow me, then, to share some of the things I’ve learned.

IMG_3459.JPG

GB Open in the US in the previous rotation.

Club or Country: An Irish Perspective

An Irish Eye, Club or Country, Discussion, Irish Ultimate, Open, womens
New contributor Brian ‘Boyler’ Boyle discusses Club or Country from an Irish perspective…
EUCR-S is happening in Nantes, France, this weekend and for the second year in a row, Ireland will only be represented by one club after two years previously of not being represented at all. Despite this, there is interest in Ireland next year not only to send an Open, Women’s and Mixed team to EUC, but also an Open and Women’s team to U23 Worlds. This begs a very important question that I think all Irish Ultimate players need to start asking themselves: why as a country are we willing to spend so much time, effort, and money to play for Ireland, when we are not willing to spend a fraction as much to play for our clubs?

The Question of Regionalisation

Discussion, Open, UKU Nationals, UKU Regionals

Josh CK looks at some concerns voiced about the 2014 UKU Regionals…

[Edit – this post contains views expressed by writers that are not necessarily that of The Showgame. Our aim here is to generate a fair and intelligent discussion – please see and add to the comments below for continued discussion as well as a further elucidation of many, if not all of the points brought up. JCK]

    This year’s Regionals and Nationals were not without their share of controversy. Nationals was a formerly an event that looked very much like a final tour event, held in order to find a national champion on an annual basis as well as acting as qualifiers for the European championships. The regional qualification process for the Open division was debuted in 2010 to ‘a mostly positive response’. With a lighter 16 team knockout, the new Nationals also featured a permanent site in Southampton, featuring a show pitch with live streaming. With broad changes made with long-term plans in mind (increase in competition at Regionals and Nationals, the creation of ‘the UKU’s primary “showcase” event’*), a certain amount of adaptation is arguably to be expected. However, certain decisions (specifically in the London region) have both caused confusion and incited some strongly voiced concerns. Matt Dathan writes:
    Nationals comes on the back of a controversial Regionals this year, with Clapham given a bye at London qualifiers and only having to play two games to decide their seed. This meant they rocked up at 2pm in the afternoon to play their two games, in contrast to their eventual opponents, Ka-pow and Fire of London, who both had to turn up five hours earlier and play three games before playing a fresh Clapham team.

The Grapevine Returns

Club or Country, Discussion, PushPass, SkyD, THANK YOU., The Grapevine, WUCC2014
As the title suggests we will be bringing back The Grapevine but as a monthly collection of the best Ultimate links and news.


Just before WUCC we had our Club and Country series which you should definitely read, got an opinion to add then comment or even email us with a contribution! 

WUCC is over with some great results from the UK teams check out the final results here and here. Also DP went along with Skyd Magazine who did some great writing and footage which you can watch back now!

Moving forwards, next week sees the peak of the UK season: UKU Nationals. Schedules are up and check out some of last years footage from PushPass to get you pumped! 

Finally, whilst WUCC was going on we reached over the 200,000 views mark on this page! We are so thankful for you guys reading and spreading theShowGame love, keep coming back for more.

Photo courtesy of Tino Tran.

Club or Country Part 3 – An In Depth Analysis

Club or Country, Discussion
In this contribution to the discussion Sion Scone tackles this contentious issue with impressive depth. The article first approaches the various pros and cons of the two systems, then theorises how such a change may actually be implemented before looking at past results to predict the potential for future success.
[Note: Throughout this piece, the shortening ‘TGB’ will stand for the traditional all-star approach that has historically been used for GB teams. ‘NGB’ will stand for any hypothetically proposed new GB model.]



Introduction


In Ultimatum 2012, Jaimie Cross wrote an article called Geographical Bonus, which explored the idea of abandoning the focus on traditional national squads and instead focussing on development within clubs. Nearly two years on, we look at the pros and cons of such an approach, what it could mean for UK Ultimate as a whole, and whether or not a UK club team would do better than previous GB teams. 


Part 1 – Advantages of the NGB model


Familiarity
Improved teamwork developed through more hours training together. As Jaimie already said, “extended familiarity and trust built over years of training with your team-mates week in week out”. A TGB team will tend to struggle against established clubs, even if the overall standard of player in those clubs is lower, because of the lack of familiarity which the TGB team is generally still working out but the clubs excel at. A NGB model would benefit greatly in this area, removing one potential hurdle. TGB teams tend only to hit their stride during the week of their major competition, which is probably too late in many instances.


Integration
No issues integrating players: less likely to have two players with the same role; the problem of moving someone out of their preferred role; or the problem of integrating players who have never played together before.


Cohesion
The team atmosphere will be stronger as a result of increased hours spent together. Even a NGB model club would need to have dedicated team bonding in a non-ultimate context if they want to get best results; one of the TGB teams had their squad taking part in dance lessons as part of a team bonding exercise, for instance.


Rapport
More honesty, less likelihood of harbouring hidden animosities between TGB team mates who are normally rivals; it is no surprise to find that players that have been part of “unsuccessful” TGB teams of the past tend to blame the players who came from other clubs. Jaimie’s article in whole could be seen as a case in point. There may, of course, be some animosity towards the NGB leadership from players who have been forced to leave their favourite club just to be part of GB. So called “personal” issues can also be resolved, resulting in the elimination of personality clashes etc.


Tactical Depth
More chance to develop tactics; more repetitions of their offence and defences, allowing them to try more things. Most TGB squads have to spend two years training yet only have one or two defensive and offensive looks, when realistically they would need to be adaptable enough to cope with a variety of playing styles if they want to succeed on an international stage.


Lower Commitment
Many who could not afford the time or money to travel to monthly, centralised TGB training sessions would in fact be able to commit the weekly local time commitment, so there would be an additional source of players for NGB.


Part 2 – Disadvantages of NGB


Ringers
If a single UK club represents GB – with or without “ringers” – then it is highly likely that anyone who would have previously tried out for TGB would attempt to try out for NGB, subject to geography, making a mockery of the idea of a “club” team.
Lack of Competition
Competition has been lauded by Jaimie as one of the key aspects of developing mental strength. The likelihood of NGB encountering competition on Tour is pretty slim, which means NGB would be highly unlikely to get any competition at all without travelling outside of Europe. There is a natural argument therefore that Tour will not offer any opportunities for developing mental strength. Of course, whether the NGB club requires Tour for competition is another matter, but the fact remains: if regular competition is vital for the development of mental strength, then reduced competition will remove any opportunities for this development. As Jaimie says, “diminished competitiveness means that the top teams/players play many games where the final result is a foregone conclusion and so there is not significant pressure”.


Devaluing of Tour
Lack of competition devalues the Tour; will the Tour even be worthwhile for a NGB club? The Tour has been repeatedly referred to as the reason that the standard of ultimate in the UK is generally above that of other parts of Europe, but if the NGB club gets more out of their regular practices than they do from Tour, then why bother going on Tour at all? This has a knock-on effect for the entire UKU population, who then get no opportunity to test themselves against the cream of British ultimate; the draw for international teams will also be far less. It will become increasingly difficult for players to break into the NGB team without such devices for improvement, and there is a strong argument that the overall quality of play in the UK will decline as a result.


Sliding Standards
Who is looking at developing individuals? My experiences of coaching GB over the last three years showed me that clubs generally are failing to develop players’ skill levels and tactical knowledge. If the NGB clubs never get any competition domestically, then it could be relatively easy for their standards to decrease. A lack of competition at practice would practically guarantee any strong player a spot at WUGC, for example, so what is going to force one of the leaders to attend practice? Without the regular yardstick comparison against other domestic teams, progress is not going to be simple to measure.  


Bonding Opportunities
It would be a mistake to overlook the bonding effect of weekends spent together; a TGB model tends to throw people into hotel rooms and social occasions, which has a far better effect on team building than simply going home straight after a practice.


No Development Cycle
The NGB club is not going to be interested in taking on fresh players in the years of EUC / WUCC. This is in stark contrast to a TGB team, which removes players from their clubs during the two year cycle, forcing those clubs to develop more players in order to field teams. Despite Jaimie’s assertions that this will “primarily hinder the development of a club’s non-GB players”, I believe the exact opposite is true; former bench-warmers are forced to step up, get more pitch time at training and plenty more exposure at tournaments. This is where the “nerve-shredding competition” that Jaimie referred to comes in; inexperienced players representing their club against a bitter rival. Case in point: Clapham finally regain the European gold in 2012 after a season where they missed their GB players on Tour; the non-GB players in Clapham had a season of playing in big games behind them. They had stepped up to the plate and shown their abilities, and the club benefitted as a result. If losing top players can be a useful mechanism for developing strength in depth across a squad, then the loss of this development mechanism needs to be replaced with something else.


Stagnation
The addition of new players thrown into the mix of a TGB model every 4 years helps to create a melting pot. In 2007-08, the Fusion influence gave added emphasis on the fast break, something previously absent from GB Open. A single club team is more likely to be inflexible (sticking to one style of play) than a TGB model which can draw upon the experience of multiple playing styles. This also serves as a way of the top players from across the country sharing knowledge and skills. Without this knowledge sharing, there could be a real loss of potential.


Measuring Stick
A TGB model also provides a way of getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of players who are normally rivals from the perspective of being their teammate. As a result, players in a TGB model get to return to their clubs early on the season with a way of measuring how strong their rivals are going to be, and this gives them a way of making adjustments if they are required. This will be absent under a NGB model.


Passing on Knowledge
The TGB model has had a great effect on clubs in terms of the filtering down of tactics, good habits, fitness & training knowledge, including drills and experience in general that the top players in the country can then take back to their clubs & local community. If a single player from a small-ish club – let’s say ranked somewhere between 4-8th in the UK – makes the GB team, then they are able to take that information back & use it to educate another club by proxy. This will be lost entirely with a NGB approach, which could lead to the overall weakening of the UK club scene.

Brummie (front row, far right) with the rest of the GB Open Silver Medal Squad of Sakai 2012. Photo courtesy of nzsnaps.com.

Part 3 – How would it actually work?

Impact on UK Ultimate as a Whole

If competition is the best mechanism for improvement, then the best possible scenario for the development of players in the UK is to have 8 or more clubs of equal strength, so that every single game comprises pressure and develops mental strength. The result of years of competitive play would be a larger pool of elite players than currently exists, and would more closely model the club scene in the USA. It is my personal view, however, that competition alone is a poor mechanism for improvement. The real improvement takes place in the months of training prior to competition, and the competition itself performs the act of fine-tuning the machine crafted over the course of a season. Without an athletic team with strong throwing skills, no amount of competition is going to close the gap. Competition allows a team to stress test its abilities, not develop them.


For the individuals currently playing for the clubs likely to act as the NGB team – assuming they are eligible to represent GB –  the NGB model is a clear win. For their team mates who would normally not make the NGB cut, it is also a win; unless, of course, they cannot commit to playing at WUGC. What happens to these players? Do they get kicked out of their club, or do they take the place that would otherwise go to someone who could play at WUGC? What about foreign players who are not eligible to play for GB? Would their clubs be kicked out?


How Will it Actually Work?

In principle, it’s simple; just award the right to represent GB to the club that wins Nationals. In reality, there may be some questions that need to be addressed. What would happen if a “super team” were formed that removed one of the currently established teams like Iceni or Clapham from their spot as representatives of GB? Would that change the viewpoint of those arguing for (or against) a NGB model? If Chevron – a team that has players spread across the country and does not train weekly – were to win the right to represent GB, then many of the arguments in favour of a sending a geographically close unit cease to exist. This means that, if being able to train locally and/or regularly is key to the decision of whether to adopt a NGB model, then would teams that do not meet this criteria be prevented from representing GB? Would they then, in turn, be prevented from playing at Nationals? Likewise, when a team wins the right to represent GB, what is to stop its captains from cutting their entire team and replacing them with superstar pick up players, with the same overall effect? Either the ability to train locally and/or regularly must be ignored in the decision to adopt a NGB model, or the UKU must police the representative clubs to ensure that they are indeed meeting a certain level of criteria; some kind of service level agreement would be required. Do the NGB teams need to train weekly? Twice per week? How many players must be at each practice to get the benefits of training regularly? While I doubt that Si Hill is going to turn up with a register to any practices, some further thought is clearly required before implementing such an idea. Of course, we could trust clubs to do their own job, but that adds an element of the unknown and a lack of overall control for the UKU; bear in mind that World Games qualification is based on the overall results of Open, Women’s and Mixed, so if one has a poor result then it has a knock-on effect for the entire country.


Currently, the UKU requires prospective GB managers to complete an application form, which is then assessed by a committee to ensure that the most qualified leaders are in charge. What if a club wins nationals yet the leadership wants to step down, or leave entirely? The end result could be a club representing GB which is very different to the one that qualified. It is not only playing quality that is likely to be affected, but also the team’s approach to SOTG. Given some poor scores for TGB teams at 2012 – and some recent high scores for UK clubs – perhaps this is one area where NGB teams might excel; consistent leadership and team attitude over a number of years can really bring a team together. It is entirely possible for the outcome of this to be a team with very poor spirit, but this doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment.


What About Beach Teams, or the World Games Team?

The UKU is just starting up a regular beach championships, so this could be a useful testing ground for a NGB model. What about World Games? The TGB model has never resulted in a win over the four top nations (USA, Australia, Canada, Japan), but then very few UK teams can claim to have beaten any of the best teams from those countries anyway. Should a NGB model be adopted, and if so, how would it be awarded? Should the winner of Mixed Tour be the GB World Games team?


Part 4 – Will it Work?


Looking Back

Can we use data from previous WUCC events to see how UK club teams may have performed were they to represent GB at WUGC? By taking the results from any one division and assigning a nation ranking to the top ranked club from each country, we can get an indication of how the TGB v NGB model may fare.


The following table shows results for the highest placed UK club team at the last three WUCC. The first number shows the ranking by nation; this should represent how UK clubs might fare should they enter WUGC. The number in square brackets is the actual finishing position for that club at that championship, while the number in rounded brackets is the number of clubs that played in the respective division that year. So, for example, in 2002 WUCC Open division, the highest placing UK club team came 11th out of 39 clubs. Three countries (USA, Canada, Japan) had clubs which finished higher, so the nation ranking is 4.



2002
2006
2010
Open
4th [11th] (39)
4th [5th] (21)
6th [10th] (48)
Women’s
4th [12th] (24)
5th [8th] (18)
6th [14th] (32)*
Mixed
7th [15th] (40)
7th [15th] (40)
5th [13th] (40)


* indicates that Leeds finished highest at WUCC 2010, yet Iceni were National Champions in 2009. The overall national ranking would be unchanged; Iceni finished 17th

How does this compare to results from the last three WUGC events?



2004
2008
2012
Open
8th
4th
2nd
Women’s
5th
5th
7th
Mixed
7th
5th
5th


Of course, these comparisons are rudimentary and over-simplified; it could be easily argued that the WUGC results reflect stronger overall teams than the WUCC results do. For example, Japan rarely perform well in the Mixed division at WUCC (nation rankings 4, 7, 7), yet do much better at WUGC with a national team (8, 2, 3), an indication that a national team model is successful for them at least. However, the data for UK teams are inconclusive; TGB gets a single medal compared to zero for NGB. Average results are incredibly close too, across all three divisions; identical for Open (although NGB model on an upwards trajectory), with NGB slightly outperforming TGB in the Women’s division, and TGB model slightly better in the Mixed division.


One interesting result that stands out is the performance of Iceni in 2009 – Tour winners, National & European Champions – yet finished 17th  at WUCC, below 3 other European teams, including one other UK based club, LLLeeds. This is clear evidence to suggest that strength one year might not be replicated, especially if a number of players are to retire at the end of a season.


Looking Forward

Assuming a NGB model were adopted for 2016 WUGC, here’s my predictions of what we might expect to see based on the current squads:


Open. Clapham have won Nationals for the last 13 years and show no signs of stopping after a dominant 2013 season that ended in their second consecutive European title. They undoubtedly have the strongest club roster in a number of years, and show enormous promise heading into WUCC 2014. However, I would have said something very similar regarding their squad in 2010 when they fell far short of their semi-final aspirations. This time around they began building their squad a year earlier, which has given them a fantastic platform to work from, and all they need to do to is maintain momentum. How would they fare at WUGC?


From my gut feeling, I think that by 2016 they might be capable of beating Canada, and their results from Chesapeake indicate that they might be able to get close to USA, but I can’t see them winning that game. GB were not capable of defeating Japan in 2004, 2008 or 2012, and I don’t see that changing by 2016, despite Buzz Bullets ageing roster. The Japanese skill level and method of training their younger players is far superior to ours. In 2012, GB Open showed that it’s perfectly possible to get a medal despite losing to USA, Canada & Japan, so a fortunate draw could easily give Clapham a finals berth. What I don’t see them doing is being strong enough to defeat Australia, Sweden, Colombia and still having the legs to win the games against USA, Canada & Japan. I predict a few losses in power pools, and then whether or not they get through quarters is entirely dependent on the draw; Japan or USA is a nightmare draw for Clapham, who would want to play Australia or maybe even Canada. Sweden would be a bit of a dodgy matchup too, either team could win. Bronze would be a great performance, and I would predict them finishing between 3rd-6th.


Women’s. Iceni have stuttered a few times domestically – notably losing the Nationals final to Leeds in 2010 – but have generally done so while playing with split squads in order to increase their depth. They have shown their ability to win tight games with back-to-back European titles, winning in sudden death from D in 2012. However, watching these games you’ll very quickly memorise the same names doing everything for Iceni, same playing almost every point. This is simply not possible at the elite level, and so I don’t see Iceni capable of defeating any of the top four until they increase the depth of their squad. Their top few players are easily capable of holding their own against the best in the world, but they won’t be able to generate breaks using their current second string of players, and they will need to as their O line is far from perfect. I would predict losses to USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, and Colombia, with a finish of 6th-8th; I don’t see any of the other European nations catching up unless Iceni slow their pace, which is unlikely.


Mixed. Definitely the hardest to predict, as the National champions change most years. The Mixed division shows that “super teams” loaded with stars from Open & Women’s teams are easily capable of winning the entire thing, although there has been a shift towards dedicated mixed teams with Bear Cavalry’s recent victories; how much the fact that Open, Women’s and Mixed Nationals are now all played simultaneously has to do with that is unclear. What is clear though is that a team is capable of winning the European Mixed title with little international experience, with very few of the players having represented GB at the senior level. It is my gut instinct that any such team would perform very poorly against elite opposition, and I’d predict a finish somewhere between 8th-12th at WUGC.


Conclusion – Which is Better? NGB or TGB?

Even missing some of the best players in the country, the overall NGB team is likely to be better in the short term than the equivalent TGB team. But there will be a knock-on effect which will decrease the strength of future UK programmes. There is little evidence to support the idea that a single ‘superclub’ would drag up the clubs underneath them. Case in point, Skogshyddan, the once-dominant Swedish club, faded and finally collapsed, the end of almost 20 years of incredibly strong Swedish ultimate (Sweden won Worlds in 1992, and got Silver in 1984, 86, 90, 94, 96, 2000). Sweden still doesn’t have a strong domestic scene, although I have no doubt that the Borg will be back… . There is plenty of evidence, however, for strong national teams where there is a tradition of strong domestic competition; Australia is an excellent example of a nation that does better than GB in almost every division, and they do so with a ‘traditional’ national team despite their much larger country size. Japan is a slightly skewed example in the Open division – Buzz Bullets are semi-professional – but their women’s teams have a lot of domestic competition (3 teams in the top 6 @ WUCC 2010). As previously mentioned, the Tour was responsible, 10 years ago, for enabling GB to get to the position it is in today of dominating Europe. Do we really want to move away from the model that is the envy of Europe?


In my opinion, the NGB model might do better in the short term than the TGB model has. However, I sincerely believe that it will have a long term negative effect. Interestingly, the UK club with the strongest claim to take over the national duty – Clapham – would have to attempt to replicate the best result by any senior GB team, the Open silver medal in 2012. No mean feat – for either NGB or TGB – and while this may be an unfair measure, comparisons are natural. As long as the UK does not have a structured approach to player development, the emphasis is on those players who have international experience to feed that information down. As such, having players in many clubs gaining international experience is vital to the development of the UK club scene. To remove that would be a catastrophe.


Keep the comments coming and let us know what you think. We would be more than happy to publish more full length pieces on this subject, get in touch if you would like to make a submission at the usual address: showgameblog@gmail.com!

Club or Country Part 2 – Is GB ready?

Chevron, Club or Country, Discussion, GB, Open
Mark Penny continues Club or Country by asking:
Are GB missing out not sending a club team to represent our country?


A lot of the leading international teams from our sport are winners of the national club championships from their respective countries. The US sent Sockeye to Worlds in 2008 and Revolver in 2012, whereas teams such as Japan and Sweden have consistent representation from Buzz Bullets and Skogshyddan. The same can be seen in the women’s division, with San Francisco’s Fury being a prime example of success within this system. The question being asked is this: are we, in Britain, right or wrong for not sending our national champions overseas?


There are arguments in favour of sending our reigning champions to international tournaments, the most obvious and important of which is the strong chemistry between players within a club team, which comes as a result of regular training. As solid an argument as that is, in my opinion it doesn’t out-power the fact that an accumulation of players from across Britain will hold more talent than say, for example, the Clapham or Chevron Squad alone. Furthermore, the chemistry held by the club teams is not excluded from an All-Star lineup. Great Britain does not have a large player base to pick from when compared with the US or Canada. This means that our club teams, whether they are considered to be top teams in the UK or not, are not packed from first pick to last with international standard players. The top teams in North America are. If we did send what would at the moment be Clapham to Worlds, then the second tier of their players would get dominated by the second tier of players from bigger countries’ rosters. This would result in Britain continuously losing games due to a lack of strength in depth.



Mark Penny playing for GB at WUGC in Japan. Photo courtesy of nzsnaps.com.

Britain’s best players are spread across the country, dotted around in a variety of different clubs and areas. We are very regionalised around the major cities and universities, with small pockets of talent everywhere. For example, Josh Coxon Kelly, Sam Vile, Matt ‘Whippet’ Ford, Kate Rae and Charlie Blair all represented at elite level and came out of the first generation of a single tiny ultimate community in Kent. Should GB not be trying to take advantage of these small pockets of talent that exist in our country to strengthen our National side, without those players having to migrate to the most dominant club? Choosing one club to represent us is confining ourselves to picking our players from one part of the country. We should be thinking that as our country isn’t as big as the USA, or Canada we are at an advantage! Might it not be the case that if it were geographically possible for them to conceivably travel and train together, these nations might also prefer to send an “allstar” team?


To send one club abroad would be a waste of the talent that ultimate players here have to offer. GB went to the world championships in Japan and with the right preparation (and the right amount of fortune), managed to come 2nd in the world. I’m not saying that Britain are the second best team in the world, but this is evidence that the system that we have at the moment, with the right nurturing, shows promise. The most successful squad in our country’s ultimate history had players from Clapham, Chevron, Fire, Emo, Brighton, Fusion and Ka-pow. There seems to be a similar situation in the women’s division too. Yes, we could send Iceni along but how can you ignore the talent residing in the Bristol, SYC, Punt and LLLeeds squads?


Another thing that we need to think about is the future for our national teams. Last summer the GBu23 squads went out to Toronto for the world u23 championships and although some results didn’t quite go in our favour, we saw that from the very first pull of the tournament, in our Open team’s show game against Canada, that we have a lot to offer on the world stage. This being said, only 3 of these players were a part of Clapham’s Nationals winning squad. Our GB u17 team have just won gold out in Lecco, the majority of these players are not going to end up in London or Manchester any time soon. Do we really want to suffocate the development of our rising stars by not having the majority of them in our national side? Sending a club team to represent us at international tournaments will nullify all of the work that is being done at the grassroots level in Britain. We could have the next international superstar training up in Scotland, but he/she wouldn’t be able to help improve our national side because he/she couldn’t get down to London for a weekly training session. These players need exposure to international tournaments if Britain intends on climbing the ranking ladder in the future.


The real questions that we need to be asking revolves around how we can improve on the system that we have. Should we train more regularly and deal with the consequences? Do we require better funding? Should we take longer to prepare? I don’t know the answer to these questions but to me, it feels as though the nomination of a single club to represent our nation is choosing what might seem like a quick fix for more awkward questions surrounding how we approach, and how much we commit as amateur athletes to preparing for and representing our country.

Club or Country Part 1 – Game to Go

Clapham, Club or Country, Discussion, Open
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…