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

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.

GB Open in the US in the previous rotation.

So what was the number one issue that I faced yet didn’t expect to?

Not enough people want to try out for Great Britain.
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No-one seems to think they are going to be good enough. Of those who did, I was surprised at the number who were so keen to represent GB in some form or another that they would try to hedge their bets. Assuming that Open trials would be too competitive they chose Mixed, Juniors, or U23 as a backup instead. Don’t get me wrong; if you want to try out for any GB squad, I say go for it. My point is that there were people who would love to have played Open, and the reason they didn’t try out was because they simply didn’t think they’d be good enough. I’m sure that the people who ran the other GB squads experienced a similar issue, and I’m sure that some talented players didn’t try out for any of these squads because they had never imagined they’d ever be in the running to represent their country.

For those interested in trying out for GB…

What was it like playing for GB? The truth is there’s nothing mysterious about it; it’s just like playing for any other team. You take a step up to a new team and the first time, you’re just happy to be part of it. Sooner or later, you want to make a difference. The trials for the Open squad in 2010 were dominated by young, up-and-coming players who wanted to give it a shot. Guess what the majority demographic of the team who won a silver medal at the World Championships two years later was? A team like that – or a club team like Clapham – rarely has a mystery element. It’s just a collection of people willing to push themselves and their teammates to succeed. Willing to take the risk of failure in order to gain the possibility of victory. Victory never tastes so sweet if you’ve never tasted bitter defeat. Don’t be put off by the risk of defeat or failure. It just makes you stronger. Be prepared to work hard. Work hard, put in the hours, 18+ hours per week if you want to be an international quality athlete. If you want to compete at the top, you have to be a great athlete. There is no alternative. Throw as often as you can. Oh, and it’s expensive too. But you’ll be in the best shape of your life, and believe me when I say this: the more you put in, the more you get out. If you have desire – the will to win – then you can achieve anything.

Time. Money. Effort. All worth it to get to travel the world, compete with and against the best, and form incredible memories and wonderful experiences that money truly cannot buy.

So, I implore you – try out for GB. If you want to prove to yourself that you gave it a shot, try out. If you want to take a step up, try out. If you want GB to be as strong as it could be, try out. If you want nothing more than to make sure that the people who make the team had to go through you on the way to selection, then try out. A competitive trial is the start of the process that may well end with GB becoming world champions, so make sure we start in the best way possible by being there with the desire to succeed. Finally, why not reach out to one of the many people who have already played for GB? They are all friendly, approachable people who can answer specific questions.
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To those standing as a manager:

Back in 2010, one of the captains said after the first day of trials “I don’t think we have the players to achieve anything”. However, I believed strongly that two years of young players pushing each other to be better will get you a better result than just chasing people who don’t really want to play and twisting their arms. Taking keen people creates competition for spots on your roster, and you’re going to need that to drive quality up. We pushed each other, and the 2012 team was completely different to that in 2010.

Likewise, there was some concern about the quality of players at trials, and it was clear that most of the players were not well-rounded individual players; some were great athletes, some had a great flick, or backhand, or huge layout blocks. Very few had the full package of skills, most had at least one major weakness, and the entire squad was pretty inexperienced. Only eight of the previous GB Open team were involved, and only five of those made it to Japan for WUGC. As a result, a huge amount of time was spent concentrating on offensive and defensive fundamentals, rather than the (more interesting) aspects such as team defences and offensive formations. One wish for the future would be a higher level of basic skills coming in, hence better trained coaches are required at ALL clubs. In the end, it was left to me to work with individuals on their skills, setting them specific “homework”. In my experience, UK clubs have failed to develop their players adequately for the national teams, and without a solid foundation there can be no success at a national level. What does this mean? Quite simply, don’t expect that the players who try out for a team will necessarily be well-rounded. Most will have one or two strengths, some will be all-rounders, all will have key weaknesses. Be prepared to work on fundamentals. A lot.
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Our top innovation, by far, was drafting in a professional fitness coach, Colin Harris, to set all of our workouts and define what the minimum requirement would be. By far the best thing each player can do is get a personal trainer and work with them regularly; be sure to find someone with experience working with athletes and professional sports if possible. Of course not everyone can afford this, so check out the likes of Tim Morrill. Get a program, stick to it. Set expectations early. As part of the GB trials we did a fitness assessment, and at the end of it Colin said that the general quality of athlete was far lower than other sports he’d worked with, such as football, hockey, track or basketball. Simply put: ultimate players in general are not at the equivalent level to other elite level sports players in amateur sports. This indicated that we could work smarter & harder despite not being professionals. If hockey can do it, why can’t we?

One thing I hadn’t figured would be an issue was that, quite simply, most of the team didn’t trust in what I was saying. They had got into the GB team by being really good at one or two things; telling them to move away from those things made them very uncomfortable. The fact that I’d been a top player in GB teams for the past three years meant little to some as I played for a smaller club team and they hadn’t matched up with me directly. It took six months of training and tournaments – and some coercion from high-profile players who did have faith in me – before the team started to believe. In short, don’t expect everything to go smoothly… It would be remiss of me to fail to mention the team songs though; after some team discussions (and some creative individuals whiling away time between games; Dowelly & Max I’m looking at you) we came up with a bunch of songs that we used during warm-ups, half time, between points, etc. They really helped everyone to feel like they belonged to a team, and were really very useful. Building a team identity is going to be vital, so don’t ignore it.
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You’re going to need a game plan for each of the powerhouse countries. I had flown to Prague in 2010 specifically to scout Buzz Bullets, and having watched four of their games against high level teams I was able to figure out how one of their rather unique zones worked. The best way to prepare our offence line was simply to teach the zone to our defence, then play the zone against them. Things proved to be far more difficult than that; the concepts were far too different from traditional zones. Instead, we learnt some of the basics of switching zones, and focused on the offensive adjustments we would need to beat the Japanese defences. Quite simply, steal your opponents strategies; you’ll never understand them until you attempt to play them. Take the best, ditch the rest, and be comfortable playing against different styles. If you want to teach something that is conceptually radically different from traditional offence or defence, then you’re going to need time. Six months or more, and several dedicated practices for a new zone, in my estimation.
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Focus on your weaknesses. We were incredibly athletic as a result of 9 months of fitness work. Most games at EUC 2011 ended up with teams refusing to match us man to man, so we knew we’d need to be able to shred a variety of junky defences in order to be effective. And we lost the final due to a zone defence; it was no surprise that Sweden consistently played zone again in the WUGC semi final (why they never played zone against our D line offence, I’ll never know).

Expect to have to make some tough decisions. Expect that you’ll need to adapt to a few curve balls. Expect to lose a friend or two. It’s not easy, but remember that you’ve got the support of the whole UK ultimate community. Good luck.

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

  1. Hey Brummie,

    Great article. The stuff on fitness intrigues me – were there any specifics that Ultimate players lacked when compared to other sports or was the general level lower across the board?


  2. Hi Brummie,

    Thanks for sharing your insight. Just wanted to ask this…

    Do you think your decision to be a player coach for GB Open was a good idea? Do you think you were able to observe, digest, keep the composure and think about the game while playing? Would you recommend the future coaches to do the same?

  3. I’ve dug out the original report and highlight the main findings; for context, the targets were taken from normative data obtained by an Australian amateur hockey team (from memory), so they were high targets but in line with elite amateur sports:

    Lack of strength and flexibility in most players.

    Lack of technique (knowing how to use what you’ve got); particularly
    • engaging core muscles,
    • maintaining body alignment
    • use of arms in sprinting & jumping
    • body weight transfer
    • movement patterns (such as changing direction efficiently)
    • running technique.
    • jumping technique.

    Those who were naturally powerful failed to make the 35m sprint times due to poor technique. Some clear symmetry issues (left leg stronger than right in almost all players). Poor speed endurance for ALL players. Only one player achieved bleep test target.

    Its worth pointing out that, in defence of those who were tested, there’s also a lack of experience of actually *being tested*, and the hall was a little small making the stopping distance quite small for the max speed tests, so some people might have been holding back a bit.

    Hope that helps.

  4. Great question.

    It’s hard to say. Being one of the most experienced players in that squad, I had no doubt that I was able to have an impact on the pitch. During some frustrating times, being able to take the reins directly felt like the best approach! All of our results were up and down over the course of 2011-12, and I have no qualms in saying that if I’d sat out some of those games, we might not have won (quarter final in Japan for example).

    However, in hindsight, perhaps being a dedicated coach would have been better. We might have had a better result against the USA. I doubt we’d have won, but it might have been closer and we might have maintained a more unified feel throughout the whole tournament. I don’t think it would have changed the end result for the better though.

    I’d advise against being a playing coach at this level. I think it’s a full-time role. I found it exhausting coaching in Maribor and Cali, just as much as playing in Sakai.

  5. Hi “Anon”.

    I still think much of this applies if Clapham does run the GB team. They still need to run trials & selection, just like any other club. And they still need to have a two-year strategy for improvement, otherwise they’ll end up losing when it matters most, and losing because of something totally in their sphere of control.

    Regardless, there are plenty of other GB squads that the above applies to.

  6. What would be your take on invite only GB trials and whether this is the right approach to selecting the best we have to offer?

  7. To add to Brummie’s replies, here below are my comments from the perspective of previous GB Open GM and Captain.

    Ken: I gained my experience as non-playing coach with the 2009 World Games crew and can unequivocally state that you gain way more insight from the sideline (instead of as a player) on the intricacies of play and on how real-time changes or decisions can affect an outcome of a game. I believe non-playing coaches also adds a degree of separation from the players which helps with analysis.

    Anon: As Brummie stated, any version of the 2015-2016 GB Open cycle will have trials so all of the points above are still valid. I believe the strength of this article was on taking the leap of faith and having the courage to tryout for senior teams, not on the specifics of the cycle itself.

    Anon: An application system is useful but certainly not required for trials. I find peer referrals a good way of “pre-selecting” for invites (ie other players can provide helpful insight on applicants), but there are many ways of doing trials for a GB team. The key is that the GM needs to understand that all players that show up to trials should be given a equal chance to prove themselves on the field.

  8. One of the great things playing for a national team does, and this was mentioned in the Club or Country series, is allow those players to take their newly found skills back to their own clubs.

    Brummie, you go on to say here:
    In my experience, UK clubs have failed to develop their players adequately for the national teams, and without a solid foundation there can be no success at a national level.

    I completely agree with this sentiment – and sorry to take this towards the GB/Clapham debate – I’m just worried that should any club team become GB, we further exacerbate that problem; top players from other teams would need to leave their existing club in order to represent their country. Does this not create a situation where those newly found skills aren’t going to find their way back to other clubs?

    Would this not mean club teams are further unprepared to send their players to try out for national teams? Does this represent a fairly short sighted view on GB’s success, in a suggested model otherwise encouraging long term development?

  9. I think it would be a shame to miss out on talented players just because you might not have seen them in action. The 2007-08 rotation was invite-only though, and that was more successful than the 03-04 rotation… so I guess it could work. It just went against my principles of being open to all.

  10. Well you then need to go to the natural conclusion whereby a single club acts on behalf of GB, and all of the best players in the country are constantly trying to get into that team, and the national champions represent GB. This effectively makes GB a constant programme rather than a 2 year cycle every 4 years. In that situation, it is in the interests of the GB club to ensure that their pipeline (i.e. all other clubs) are full of good players who are all trained in a solid and consistent way.

    In short, the overall aims overlap; it is in GB’s interest to have a group of strong clubs to draw players from, and in the clubs interest to have a strong peer group of competition and a “higher aim” of playing for GB.

    The “rough patch” would be in the years when any transition is initially made; if a “true” GB team became a constant programme, there would be some impact on the feeder clubs in the short term, and likewise if a single club takes over the reins of GB as their previous rivals slip into “feeder clubs”.

    I do think thought that we need to consider the long term effect; if Clapham took over GB Open, for instance, then their long term success (beyond 2016) is going to hinge entirely on how strong the pipeline of new players is. If they aren’t willing to do sufficient outreach work to strengthen other teams and spread knowledge, then we risk losing overall national strength because we threw all our eggs into one basket for one shot at gold. Traditionally, we’d always had a GB team drawn from a number of other clubs and those players were able to take back knowledge and experience from the top of the game to strengthen their own teams.

    FYI, Australia has attempted to make their national programme constant, and some attempts were made in 2012 to ensure the continuation of GB. However, these were shot down as being too negative to the clubs.

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