Sophie Edmondson starts off the new Discussion section with a look at squad sizing and its implication for player development…
Looking back over last season, something that’s puzzling me is something I’ve not given much thought before now. Perhaps it’s because 2013 was my first time at the helm of a club team. This is the first time I’ve realised just how important squad size is. On the surface the topic of squad size sounds pretty dull but it has lots of layers to it. No doubt there are lots of teams and individuals out there that have different experiences and opinions on what works best.
I write from the viewpoint of the women’s division on the UK domestic tour and at xEUCF 2013. I haven’t done a ton of homework collecting stats from each team about who played when and where, nor have I acted upon the knowledge that Iceni significantly shortened their lines in the final at Europeans last year. I’m sure had I done this a few home truths would be revealed both statistically and anecdotally but that’s still up for discussion.
At the LLLeeds Ladies AGM last year it was clear that 2013 was going to be a fresh start and the drive for new players was a priority. Turns out there’s a lot of female frisbee talent in the north and luckily trials were packed out. In summary: we settled with a squad of 22 which quickly went down to a tour team of 17 through unfortunate injuries and drop-outs.
|Leeds Women at London’s Calling 2013. Photo courtesy of David Sparks.
We finished 4th at Tour and at Nationals and came 15th (last) at Euros. We went to xEUCF with 12 players. In Bordeaux we didn’t play a team with fewer players than us and we didn’t finish in the same bracket as any of the other UK teams. In fact we didn’t actually win a game (story of my 2013 life) but I’m confident in saying this was one of the best tournaments I’ve played in from the perspective of being a “team” and in terms of players’ development.
We lost in part due to the lack of playing experience and in part due to legs. With a bigger team I think we could have won a game or two. At the start of last season, xEUCF wasn’t even on our radar so we had no expectations about taking titles; LLL were in that well-talked about “development season”.
What baffles me though is that Tour, Nationals and European Champions Iceni were arguably in a development year too. They held weekly winter sessions open to all, then took a squad big enough to field two teams at tours 1 and 2, giving a large number of London based players regular quality weeknight practices with coaching and game play.
So is the question really about development versus winning? Yes.
At xEUCF Iceni’s large squad had 27 rostered players and they went on to win. I’m not going to dispute how good winning feels but I get the impression there is some contempt among some Iceni players who went to France but didn’t get a proper jab at the final.
Would it have been better for Iceni to focus on using the whole team, as evenly as was feasible, and let everyone have a shot playing in a European final? I’d argue that the only way we can develop women’s ultimate is to do precisely that. A team works hard together to get to the final and then all players contribute on pitch in the big game.
Easier said than done; if we want women’s ultimate in the UK to improve in line with the rest of the world we need to empower the new talent we’ve just spent a season nurturing. That means even amounts of pitch time in the biggest games of the season. Possibly for Iceni that can be achieved by moving towards a more possession rather than their current yardage based style of play and potentially by taking a slightly smaller team to xEUCF.
Their opposition in the 2013 final was U de Cologne, a relatively fresh team on the circuit who were joined by the formidable force of former European champions Sara Wickstrom and Susanne Theimer. They rocked up with 17 players and came second. If it was all down to legs then surely Iceni should have panned them, right? Perhaps I’m underestimating both the powerhouse that is Cologne and the combined experience within Iceni last year but I’m definitely not underestimating the power of pitch time for player development.
Perhaps my initial assumption that Iceni were in a “development season” this year is wrong. If so, that may explain why despite already qualifying for 2014 World Clubs they still shortened their lines in the final of xEUCF. I don’t know the ins and outs of who got more/less pitch time and the reasoning behind it but it would be interesting for someone to shed some light on the topic.
There’s a risk that some people may interpret this article as an excuse for some Iceni-bashing, ignoring the themes at its heart. But I’ve noticed, since moving to London earlier in 2013, it’s obvious that there’s a real buzz about women’s ultimate here at the moment and it’s something to be harnessed.
I strongly believe the capital has space for two strong geo women’s teams.
I wonder what would happen if Iceni took a smaller squad at the beginning of a season and if this would add fuel to the development of the women’s scene in London. Many cite Iceni’s established geo-ethos as a reason to trial as it enables regular well-attended practices. Surely that’s what almost every team is striving for but can’t always deliver.
With a more even distribution of geo players across – still distinctly separate – London teams and a combined closed London women’s practice, could we achieve the best of both worlds: quality practices and more of the ‘tough game’ pitch time? Other benefits would include: pushing the skills of more players already near the top of their game, creating better contact between clubs and potentially forging connections in preparation for future GB teams.
Development isn’t just about coaching and improving, it’s about tournament experience and knowing what it takes to be a cog in a bigger machine. More pitch time means more contribution to your team’s efforts and more experience playing different opposition. Some hold the viewpoint that if you’re fully engaged in your team you can be just as engrossed in a win when supporting from the sideline as you would through playing on pitch. In my opinion sideline can never be a substitute for feet on pitch and hands on disc. The UK’s performance at the top for both club and country will only continue to improve if we seek to give our players the chance to match up, train with and compete against the toughest opposition possible.
What do you think? Feel free to comment below, or even better submit a response to firstname.lastname@example.org.