Sean Colfer looks at the unique situation in Spanish Ultimate
Despite a huge sports-loving population, Spain have struggled to develop into a team that can compete at the level of other European Ultimate countries such as Great Britain, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. Their team at these championships is the first Under 23s team they have assembled, and it was no mean feat. Many of the players are students, and some of the best players eligible are going to Copenhagen and so were unable to come to London.
However, the coaches of the team have seen progress here, and hopefully will be seeing more across the country, both with changes that are being made to how Spanish Ultimate works and with good work going on in some clubs with players at a younger age. Nicky Chapman explains:
“This team didn’t have a lot of time to train together before the tournament. Some of the players have had to get to know each other and how each other play during the tournament which has made it hard, but we are happy with their development. We have been working with them and want them to learn specific things to help them improve, and they’re doing it so far. We’re happy about that. We hope now that some of the kids in Spain will want to play the next under 23 tournament and we can keep going from here.”
Spanish Ultimate has recently undergone quite a radical change to the previously unusual format of their National championships. In the past, the Open, Women’s and Mixed divisions have been played on different surfaces; one year Open and Women would be on grass while Mixed was on beach, and the next year it would switch. This led to some strange situations. For example, Corocotta qualified for WUCC in Lecco last year, a grass tournament, in a beach National championships. It was common that teams would do well one year and then the next, when they were not on their favoured surface, drop down the rankings. The presence of teams from the Canary Islands, quite some way from mainland Spain, also complicated matters.
“There aren’t a lot of grass tournaments in Spain. We mostly play on the beach. Now the National championships are split, so there will be a grass and a beach tournament every year. We are seeing that some teams will choose which tournament they want to play so there are fewer teams at some tournaments. We hope that as things go on and we continue to grow that attendance will improve at both.”
The switch should help Spain develop on grass, the surface on which the most prestigious World and European championships are played. However, despite this obvious benefit, the switch has come with some controversy. Some teams struggle with numbers for a grass tournament and so there is disagreement over whether pick-ups would be allowed for Euros and further; clearly there are still issues to iron out.
Still, with this change and the continued work with young players, Spain seem to be on a path towards gradual improvement and, hopefully in future, more competitiveness at a higher level.
“There are only about 28 teams in Spain, and all are mixed really. Sometimes teams don’t have the depth so it’s difficult over the course of a weekend. We had some women that wanted to come here, but unfortunately there weren’t enough to make a team. Even the mixed team would have been quite short, so that was a pity. Our youth scene still isn’t really very big. Some clubs are developing their own players, like Corocotta and Esperit Vallès. A lot of Corocotta players are teachers and so they are teaching it in schools, and Esperit are a new team doing a really great job. There is nothing yet at a National level though.”
There is still some way to go, clearly, for Spain. These things will take time to see fruit and the benefits may be some way off. Nicky is confident however that Spanish Ultimate can adapt and grow:
“With all the changes, it will be an adjustment period. I think we have to be calm, see how it goes and adjust if things go wrong. For now, we’re going to give it a go.”