Mark Penny continues Club or Country by asking:
Are GB missing out not sending a club team to represent our country?
A lot of the leading international teams from our sport are winners of the national club championships from their respective countries. The US sent Sockeye to Worlds in 2008 and Revolver in 2012, whereas teams such as Japan and Sweden have consistent representation from Buzz Bullets and Skogshyddan. The same can be seen in the women’s division, with San Francisco’s Fury being a prime example of success within this system. The question being asked is this: are we, in Britain, right or wrong for not sending our national champions overseas?
There are arguments in favour of sending our reigning champions to international tournaments, the most obvious and important of which is the strong chemistry between players within a club team, which comes as a result of regular training. As solid an argument as that is, in my opinion it doesn’t out-power the fact that an accumulation of players from across Britain will hold more talent than say, for example, the Clapham or Chevron Squad alone. Furthermore, the chemistry held by the club teams is not excluded from an All-Star lineup. Great Britain does not have a large player base to pick from when compared with the US or Canada. This means that our club teams, whether they are considered to be top teams in the UK or not, are not packed from first pick to last with international standard players. The top teams in North America are. If we did send what would at the moment be Clapham to Worlds, then the second tier of their players would get dominated by the second tier of players from bigger countries’ rosters. This would result in Britain continuously losing games due to a lack of strength in depth.
|Mark Penny playing for GB at WUGC in Japan. Photo courtesy of nzsnaps.com.
Britain’s best players are spread across the country, dotted around in a variety of different clubs and areas. We are very regionalised around the major cities and universities, with small pockets of talent everywhere. For example, Josh Coxon Kelly, Sam Vile, Matt ‘Whippet’ Ford, Kate Rae and Charlie Blair all represented at elite level and came out of the first generation of a single tiny ultimate community in Kent. Should GB not be trying to take advantage of these small pockets of talent that exist in our country to strengthen our National side, without those players having to migrate to the most dominant club? Choosing one club to represent us is confining ourselves to picking our players from one part of the country. We should be thinking that as our country isn’t as big as the USA, or Canada we are at an advantage! Might it not be the case that if it were geographically possible for them to conceivably travel and train together, these nations might also prefer to send an “allstar” team?
To send one club abroad would be a waste of the talent that ultimate players here have to offer. GB went to the world championships in Japan and with the right preparation (and the right amount of fortune), managed to come 2nd in the world. I’m not saying that Britain are the second best team in the world, but this is evidence that the system that we have at the moment, with the right nurturing, shows promise. The most successful squad in our country’s ultimate history had players from Clapham, Chevron, Fire, Emo, Brighton, Fusion and Ka-pow. There seems to be a similar situation in the women’s division too. Yes, we could send Iceni along but how can you ignore the talent residing in the Bristol, SYC, Punt and LLLeeds squads?
Another thing that we need to think about is the future for our national teams. Last summer the GBu23 squads went out to Toronto for the world u23 championships and although some results didn’t quite go in our favour, we saw that from the very first pull of the tournament, in our Open team’s show game against Canada, that we have a lot to offer on the world stage. This being said, only 3 of these players were a part of Clapham’s Nationals winning squad. Our GB u17 team have just won gold out in Lecco, the majority of these players are not going to end up in London or Manchester any time soon. Do we really want to suffocate the development of our rising stars by not having the majority of them in our national side? Sending a club team to represent us at international tournaments will nullify all of the work that is being done at the grassroots level in Britain. We could have the next international superstar training up in Scotland, but he/she wouldn’t be able to help improve our national side because he/she couldn’t get down to London for a weekly training session. These players need exposure to international tournaments if Britain intends on climbing the ranking ladder in the future.
The real questions that we need to be asking revolves around how we can improve on the system that we have. Should we train more regularly and deal with the consequences? Do we require better funding? Should we take longer to prepare? I don’t know the answer to these questions but to me, it feels as though the nomination of a single club to represent our nation is choosing what might seem like a quick fix for more awkward questions surrounding how we approach, and how much we commit as amateur athletes to preparing for and representing our country.