Harry Mason sends a message to all trialling hopefuls in 2014…
Trials season is approaching. For many hopeful players, they’ll be turned away, having gained experience from the trials but that’s it for the year. Some players, having worked their way up the tours (or been on the training squad last year) might have their eyes on finally breaking the squad. And, just occasionally, there’ll be an amateur who dares to dream big.
Last year, I was one such hopeful. In 2012, I played just one open tour. C tour. We battled well and were proud of how we’d done, and I enjoyed playing with them. I wasn’t the best player, I wasn’t able to single-handedly swing games, and at times I was a liability. Yet still I dreamed.
In C tour, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that sometimes you have to avoid putting certain team-mates in certain situations, I personally wasn’t trusted with the disc as much for any assists, and in the wind everything went to chaos. At A-Tour and Euros, there isn’t that luxury. You have to trust every team-mate. And I did. I can’t identify anyone whom I would be uncomfortable giving the disc to and in return really didn’t want to be the one player they couldn’t trust. After those games I finally realised I could be trusted. That it wasn’t beyond me.
|Harry Mason skying for DED Mixed at MT3 in 2013. Photo courtesy of Graham Bailey.
So, swallowing my fears and with a scared lump in my throat I applied for DED open. I remember my heartbreak when injury knocked me out of the second trial. Then elation when, during the 3rd trial, Luke Tobiasiewicz came up, clipboard in hand, and said I was being strongly considered. Taking his advice I gave it my all.
A short while later, I received the email every C tour player would layout into a wall to receive. I had narrowly made the cut. Courtesy of a follow up email from Graham Bailey about how to improve (still flagged in my inbox) it was clear I was being taken on for my potential, not my current skill. This is the first difference I noticed: I was expected to have a much greater understanding of the mechanics of the game, I’d have to work harder, and be able to identify weakness in myself like I hadn’t before.
I also trialled for DED mixed, and was told in no uncertain terms that, while they liked me and all that, I hadn’t made the team. I was distraught, but looking at the squad I couldn’t argue. However, thanks to international duties, they now needed an extra guy. I was brought in, permanently aware I was very much the final choice. That’s how I started the season after 2 tough trials – a player taken for potential, and there to prove a point.
I’m not going to go through DED’s season – it was brilliant and painful in equal measure – but there are a few things to highlight. Mainly, everyone at top level is tough. There’s no easy match ups. Small things (like being pumped up, or an extra half hour of drills beforehand) give big advantages in these situations. It was a lot more professional, a lot more marginal and there was never a game where I was allowed to come away thinking “they were the better team, there was no way we could have won”. I wasn’t taught to beat myself up, but in nearly every game I now knew there was always a chance, on a different day, that it could have been ours.
My very first A tour level game was vs Kapow! on a huge 3G indoor astro and I was scared. People at the top may not understand this, but there is still an aura and mythology surrounding A tour and it’s players. They’re supposed to be giants, faster than Grove Farm wind and, if not able to fly, then at least give gliding a dang good shot. A Kapow! player layout D-ing through me on my very first point didn’t help. But it wasn’t just the layout, it was the fact that it apparently meant nothing. It was expected, rather than anything spectacular, and that blindsided me at least as much as the actual play.
|Ka-Pow’s trials started last weekend, but who will make it from these young hopefuls? Photo courtesy of KaPow Ultimate.
Distraught, I went to the experienced players for advice. Then, the impossible occurred. I started to get the disc, and pass it without being blocked. I got free occasionally! This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not supposed to happen at all. The game was faster than I was used to – much faster – but it was still the game I knew. It wasn’t much, yet to me it was the world. We lost that game, but it still meant a lot as the biggest jump I have ever, and probably will ever get in Ultimate.
The other huge moment came when playing for DED mixed at tour 3. Our first game was against GB World Games. Always fun. This was at Cheltenham, the same venue and (I’m fairly sure) the same pitch I’d played my first ever game at Tour back in 2010. Now, 3 years later, I was playing the best in the country.
Again, we lost that game. Badly. The margin that those players had over me was, to say the least, humbling. (At most, soul crushing, but let’s ignore that). Yet, even playing against the royalty of Ultimate, you started to realise they were just players. Very, very good ones – clinical and dominant in equal measures – but players nonetheless. I actually managed to score (twice!), though mainly due to the throwing ability of my team mates (and being too insignificant to notice sneaking deep in a zone).
These games probably meant very little to most others involved. They were both games I lost, and very little was at stake for the result, so why should they mean anything to me? This season I played my first ever Club Nationals, and then my first ever Euros with DED Mixed. These tournaments were much more competitive, way more enjoyable and helped my physical skill improve far more than I can possibly measure. But it was those two games that let me break the mental barrier and say to myself that, yes, I had earned my place in high level Ultimate.
So, to all aspiring players let me tell you: it’s possible. I wasn’t the strongest player. I had to work harder than I’ve ever worked. I had to face the fact that, hey, Uni life was fun but, until exam time, it came second. But in one season I made the jump. It requires a lot of trust from the people picking. You’ll have to face the fact the odds are against you, that it may not be your year. Well, it may not be, but it might be.
At the very least, like most times in Ultimate, it’s worth a bid.
Good luck to all players trialling over next few weeks!