Josh Coxon Kelly interviews the World U23 Championship GB Coaches.
This July London is host to the World Under 23 Championships 2015. This is the third of the World U23 events, with the first taking place in Florence 2010, the second in Toronto 2013. The addition of the U23 age group is an exciting one for many reasons. Whilst juniors at U20 never failed to impress on the international stage, in comparison many competitors at U23 level are already star performers in their country’s top clubs. The age group also features some of the very best of the many players who join the sport at University/College level, and the exciting athletic game they bring. The youth of this division means games are typically vibrant and passionate battles; entertainment is on the way across all divisions in no small amount!
Like all previous tournaments Great Britain is representing strongly, sending a squad to each division. We got in touch with the coaches to get the low-down on their various approaches, and to introduce the three National programmes to the British Ultimate community and public that will be following them throughout the competition.
Great Britain Under 23 Mixed
Coaches: Megan Hurst and Felix Shardlow
Both coaches are based in the Brighton Ultimate community and bringing close to a decade of experiencing coaching together with the famous Sussex Mohawks, Megan and Felix bring complementary skill sets of their own and look to create a unique atmosphere within the team. Megan explains:
We’re almost always looking for ways to give more autonomy to the team, and to draw on their insights in strategic and motivational talks. One example of this is in crunch points in big games, we’ve asked some of our more experienced players to lead a huddle, rather than us. … We’ve really invested in supporting our players to develop good decision making skills and trust in each other over the season.
Rather than splitting the squad into offensive and defensive lines, Felix and Megan have opted for a more organic system that allows for flexibility within each game. As well as choosing an innovative on-pitch strategy, the coaches have heavily focused on the team spirit (by americo). Megan’s experience as a doctor of sport & exercise psychology, as well as her experiences winning bronze with the U23 women’s team in Florence 2010 have heavily informed the sculpting of the team attitude. Felix particularly praises Megan’s ability to be ‘open minded enough to listen to my crazy ideas, and intelligent enough to not only understand the logic/rationale within (and dismiss the misconceptions), but also to be able to convey them to every player on the team’.
The team has spoken about their finishing place goals, but prefer to keep the focus firmly on the process, and ensuring that the team has fun playing for each other. Clearly a tight knit team is a strong team as far as they are concerned, and it’s their aim to have a group of players that are closer at the end of the tournament than they were at the beginning – no matter the outcome as they take on the rest of the world ‘game by game, point by point.’
Great Britain Under 23 Women
Coach: Jon Pugh
Pugh takes up the coaching helm for the U23 Women after working with the U20 Women in 2011 and 2012, and the U20 Open in 2013. Working with many of the same players from the earlier cycle, he has brought his considerable experience with juniors to help U23 players join him in taking the step up to the U23 international stage. Deliberately clashing trainings with Mixed Tour events to focus the players and streamline their calendars, the U23 women’s team has attended Tom’s Tourney and first two Tour events as Uptown Punks. In terms of focus, the team has been working on perfecting the basics, but as with other squads, quickly installing a good team vibe is central: “We are spending a lot of time getting the right atmosphere in the squad. This is very tricky to engineer in a short space of time with a group of strangers, but it’s also been really enjoyable. It’s going well!”
The team focus for the tournament is again team and development driven: Pugh explains: “My goal for this team is that I want these women to end the cycle as part of the tightest team they’ve ever played on.” With Under 23 bridging the gap from junior to senior, it is clearly a crucial developmental stage in players’ careers. This is reflected in the team bringing a priority of journey over destination to the Championships. Pugh again: “I have a ‘goal’ in mind for where I think this squad can finish at the Championships but the squad is talking purely in terms of ‘the road to Worlds’ and winning individual games/points/match-ups.” Given the fifth and sixth placement of Uptown Punks at Tour, this team is clearly not going to be lacking the firepower needed to take on the best in the world as they look to establish themselves amongst European competition, and to take down some of the traditionally stronger teams of Canada, USA, Japan and Columbia at any given chance.
Great Britain Under 23 Open
Coach: Jools Murray
George Sax Dixon
Julia ‘Jools’ Murray was the coach for the U20 Open squad that stormed to a bronze medal in Heilbronn, 2010. This team has gone on to produce multiple GB Open stars as well as GBU23 players, some of whom she is now coaching again as a part of the 2015 squad. As with the other GB squads, player independence and responsibilty is at the forefront of her approach:
I have always believed the Captain needs to be chosen by the players as they represent the team’s views on key issues and decisions. They also need to be someone who the team respect and will follow with complete trust. For me, it is crucial that they feel the responsibility and ownership on the decisions for the team . . . This relationship has developed over the season and I totally trust and believe in them as a group.
As a Strength and Conditioning coach, athleticism is a natural strength of Jools’ teams, and this squad is no different. However with the impetus on players to look after their bodies also comes the on-pitch need for players to step up and hold their own, and Jools is looking to use this sense of responsibility forge a solid team unit. She puts it simply: “We are a team. We are GB. We compete as a team.”
A unique aspect of Jools’ approach has been to not have training sessions other than tournaments, where players have needed to build a team as they play. This was a deliberate decision, as Jools identified the need to be able to perform and organise under difficult situations. Jools explains: “[w]e need to learn how to adapt and perform under pressure. All of our training has been at tournaments which has been tough, and I have only just realised this was important training for me as their coach as much as it was for them.”
The Open squad faces last year’s champions and favourites USA in the opening tournament show game, and this will be the perfect opportunity for the boys to start the tournament at a sprint. The team are ready and equipped with their skills as well as an arsenal of their own (and likely hilarious) team chants, so listen out and join in as we support all squads as this fantastic tournament gets going on home soil.