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