Macedonia – a land of red / yellow & green

intro

Macedonia is a complicated country politically, formerly part of Yugoslavia and with political tensions that fuel daily protests in the capital where I was staying; Skopje. I won’t attempt to explain the political situation, suffice to say it touches on US / EU relations, accusations against both the current government and the former government (now the opposition), and although everyone has an opinion, the strength and leaning of these opinions tends to vary – there are counter-protests alongside the protests.

The politics run deep – the newly constructed (in neoclassical style) buildings look impressive, but to the locals they often (but not always) symbolise mis-spent government money used to cover-up the countries problems, or re-write history from a nationalist perspective, or to put pressure on Greece for denying their place at the NATO table due to a naming dispute.
protest

Every night there are protests which run through the city, with hundreds of people, flags, and whistles. A few days before my arrival the presidential office was broken into and ransacked, and evidence of the protesting was shown by colourful vandalisation of the neoclassical architecture. At one point I was nearly caught between riot police and protesters – more photos in my Google Photos album.

map

 

Frisbee

The Ultimate scene in Macedonia is in its infancy – there are a small group of ~10-15 players (the Falcons) who get together to play when they can. There are a few other players in the capital who are also occasionally heard from, but nothing regular. The nearest countries with some Ultimate activity are Bulgaria, Croatia, and Serbia, each with relatively small scenes.

My trip was organised by 10 Million Discs, a worldwide youth sports charity headed by Trent Simmons. “We work primarily with the sport of Ultimate frisbee as it is the only sport in the world to have conflict resolution built into the rules, and is the first sport without referees to have received permanent recognition by the International Olympic Committee.” They got in touch with Krenar Qoku, founder of the Youth Council of the U.S. Embassy in Skopje, who took over coordination of the project in Macedonia on the ground. He found two local players keen to spread Ultimate – Borjan and Adi – set up a number of sessions in various high schools across the city, and then got in touch with the UKU about the possibility of a qualified coach coming over on the 10MD budget. The UKU got in touch with me, and then Krenar set about packing my 9-day schedule with as many productive opportunities as possible!

High school sessions

60 pupils at one of the high school sessions in Skopje

The high school pupils in Skopje are all enthusiastic and keen to learn & play a new sport played with a frisbee. Sessions would vary in size, with greater numbers at the schools in less privileged areas where options for extracurricular activities are limited. One of the benefits of Ultimate is the limited equipment needed – one disc can give a good game to 14+ players, however a few more are needed for drills. 10MD are in the process of getting 300 discs to Macedonia, but these hadn’t arrived by the time of my visit, so I packed 12 discs in my luggage and used these at the sessions.

Zef Lush Marku high school learning about throwing

Most sessions consisted of throwing around (with a couple of technique tips), a lead pass drill (where I throw out in front of the receivers, so everyone gets the opportunity to chase down a disc), and a game of Ultimate. Most of the students could understand basic English, or their classmates would translate for them, but if not then Borjan & Adi were able to translate. Running the sessions was partly about introducing Ultimate to the pupils, but mostly about giving Borjan & Adi some ideas for approaching the sessions which they can use in the future (as the project continues after my visit ends).

Explaining the basic rules to a local Youth group

The high school sessions were leading up to a tournament between the various high schools, to be held in a few weeks. Students really appreciate the opportunity to compete against other schools in a new sport where the playing field is effectively levelled.

As well as high schools, Krenar also arranged for me to meet various local youth groups, peace corps, and all other connections he had which might help spread the game further.

Macedonia Ultimate Federation?

Students from the Faculty of Physical Education

Krenar and I met Vladimir Vuksanovic and another colleague at the Faculty of Physical Education to talk about the high-level structure of sport in Macedonia, and how Ultimate could be officially started. The meeting was very promising – they had had experience starting sports in the country already from scratch, such as field hockey, so were confident in their knowledge of the processes.

Vasil Antevski Dren high school – Krenar is at the back with me, Borjan on far right next to Adi, with the school principal centre-front

To start an Ultimate Frisbee federation, at least 5 non-governmental organisations need to be associated with the sport first, and they had contacts for NGOs that might be interested. I ran a session with the pupils at the Faculty which went really well, and Vladimir & his colleague seemed very enthusiastic about the sport and it’s self-refereed nature. Hopefully this was the start of the process of the sport to being officially recognised & supported by the authorities in Macedonia!

Delivering the coach education course

Coaching Qualification Course

As a qualified UKU Coach Educator, I ran two longer sessions which Krenar had arranged for the weekend. On Saturday, I introduced the game to a group of local teachers, players, and interested individuals by running a session where I talked through throwing / catching techniques, and then ran many drills (with many mid-drill modifications) to give the participants a good idea of drills they can run with their pupils / teams to develop them as Ultimate players.

On the Sunday, I ran a coach qualification course, using UKU material but presenting a certificate on behalf of 10 Million Discs.

8 newly qualified coaches from Macedonia, Serbia, and Croatia

For these sessions we were also joined by players from Croatia and Serbia who made the long journey to Macedonia. It was a pleasure meeting them and they ensured I stayed out far too late on Saturday night. They were already strong players, so I hope they will take the coaching knowledge back with them to help develop the scenes in their countries – they are now almost certainly the only certified Ultimate coaches there!

The Falcons -Skopje’s active local players

The Falcons

Towards the end of my stay I was invited to run a session with the Falcons. They are active players in Skopje who meet up when they can to play some Ultimate – usually only enough for 4v4, with no warmup or drills.

I took the offer as an opportunity to give the active players an idea of how the top teams train in the UK. After a warm up (which ended in competitive sprints), I demonstrated backhand and sidearm technique, giving each player some pointers for improvements whilst letting them know the strength of their current techniques.

Selfie with some of the Falcons

We went into a break force drill next (hit a cutter on the break side), which was something very new for a lot of the players, and then onto a down-line-to-huck drill, which flowed really smoothly. During the game a few strategies were introduced whilst we all slipped around on wet grass in our trainers! The benefits of studded boots were talked about at the end, after a traditional spirit circle.

 

Skopje nature

The streets in Skopje have plenty of stray dogs and cats. The cats mind their own business and are not interested in human interaction, merely concerned with survival – effectively living wild. The dogs on the other hand are keen to say hello and accompany you on your walk home – like your own personal guard dog, or just some friendly company for a short walk. In 1963 an earthquake hit Skopje and destroyed 75% of the city – many years later, there were so many stray dogs that they begun travelling in packs and attacking humans. They were all rounded up, tagged, neutered, and released back onto the streets. This has now allowed stray cat numbers to escalate.

Skopje is overlooked by a mountain, upon which a huge cross shines over the city at night (top right). I decided to venture to the top.

Many options for routes – I chose red, the steepest, and had to use my hands to climb at some points, but was able to run at others

This was a path near the bottom of the mountain

Looking back on Skopje before getting half way up. I walked from one of the high rise buildings on the far right of this photo just above the bush

Over half way up, looking back at Skopje

topofmountain

Incredible views from the top, plus getting to see what the Millennium Cross looks like up-close. For full pictures & photo-sphere versions, see my Google Photos album.

Ottoman-influenced architecture

Octagon-themed, rather than hexagonal

viewofvodno

Another morning, I was running on the other side of the city, able to see Vodno and the Millennium Cross in the distance before going over the crest

Looking away from Skopje had a sort of Japanese feel to it

Mountains in the far distance shrouded by clouds, and luckily a bird passing by

 

Round-up

Borjan Gerasimovski receiving his coach certificate & qualification

The visit just scratched the surface of properly introducing Ultimate to Macedonia, however some great connections were made, and some good methods for running all kinds of sessions were passed on. The newly qualified coaches have the potential to increase the player base hugely, and with some administrative work there is a route for an Ultimate Federation of Macedonia to be set up. If I visit again, I can see delivering more coaching courses would be hugely beneficial, especially if we coordinate with all the contacts made during this trip to ensure the courses are well attended by people who a sure to spread the sport wherever they go.

Andrijana Kolevska receiving her coach certificate & qualification

I introduced the sport to ~150 12-18 year olds whilst in Skopje, hopefully they will be able to support future projects in some way, and possibly with the introduction of discs from 10milliondiscs.org and the excitement of the tournament, they will end up starting their own teams at very low cost.

krenar-certificate

Krenar Qoku receiving his coach certificate & qualification

My advice to the local players was to create a regular day of the week for practice to encourage the playerbase to grow, and aim towards a particular competition – possibly EUCR-East next year. I hope Borjan and Adi keep up their efforts to build the scene, and I remain keen to help them in any way I can!

After this positive experience, I look forward to my next opportunity to introduce Ultimate & coaching techniques abroad (and explore the nature nearby)!

Serbian & Croatian players who attended the coaching course weekend

Thanks to Trent, Krenar, Borjan, Adi, and all the teachers, pupils and faculty members that made the journey possible & enjoyable. I hope the good work continues and I hope to see you again soon!

All photos from the trip are available here – including photo-spheres of some amazing areas!

Flexagon Défence (Français)

(c) Felix Shardlow v.0.97 28/04/2015 – translated by Florian Gailliegue

Followed by:
Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
Advanced Flex Part II: Communication

Intro

La Flexagon appréhende la défense sous un nouvel angle, en combinant des éléments de défense individuelle et de défense de zone. La Flex n’est ni une « indiv » ni une « zone », c’est un hybride avec ses propres règles et principes. À l’ultimate, l’attaque a l’avantage, et prendre l’ascendant en défense requiert une combinaison d’athlétisme, de positionnement et de travail d’équipe. La défense individuelle est orientée vers l’athlétisme et la zone sur le positionnement, la Flexagon quant à elle met l’accent sur le travail d’équipe avant de capitaliser sur tout mouvement ou positionnement inefficace de l’équipe en attaque

Les 3 Principes Flex

  • Communiquer
    • Eye contact – rester en alerte
    • Utiliser des gestes
    • Utiliser des mots
  • Switcher / Encadrer avec un partenaire lorsqu’approprié
    • Être prêt à changer de marque (switcher) – anticiper les déplacements de l’attaque si possible
    • Ne jamais laisser le joueur sur lequel vous défendez sauf avec la certitude qu’il sera couvert, et si vous savez sur qui vous devrez défendre dorénavant
    • Encadrer (« sandwicher ») des joueurs près l’un de l’autre
  • Couvrir tous les attaquants en équipe
    • Chaque défenseur doit marquer un joueur spécifique sauf si encadrement (ne pas défendre un espace ou une position)
    • Ne pas laisser d’attaquant non défendu
    • Recevoir de l’aide si vous essayer de défendre plusieurs joueurs
    • Éviter les surnombres défensifs

 

Positionnement

flex1

Les positions sont grandement flexibles parce que largement dépendantes des positions prises par les attaquants, cependant la structure sous-jacente peut être décrite comme un 2-3-2.

  • 2 forwards (avants)
  • 2 wings (ailiers)
  • 2 backs (arrières)
  • 1 hat (joueur central)

Les termes de « forward » et « back » font référence au sens dans lequel vous voyez le terrain avant un point; les « forwards » sont comparables à des « défenseurs de handlers », et les « back » à des « deeps sur une défense de zone »

Les positions peuvent et devraient changer durant une possession ; fréquemment il est plus logique pour un défenseur de suivre sa marque tandis qu’il se déplace sur le terrain plutôt que de switcher ; les autres défenseurs doivent s’ajuster en fonction. Un défenseur peut débuter un point en tant que « back » et finir « forward » en passant par « hat ». Respecter les principes rend ces changements de postes dynamiques possibles.

Si l’attaque adopte une formation 3-4 alors la Flex ressemblera aussi à une formation 3-4 ; plus à ce sujet dans « Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies ».

La force, si le disque est près du milieu alors la force est « middle », si le disque est près d’une sideline alors la force est « line », ça laisse des joueurs de chaque côté de la force dans les deux situations. Ce n’est pas systématiquement un « forward » qui place la force, quand le disque est près d’une ligne il est plus probable qu’un « wing » s’en occupe, selon les positions occupées par les joueurs sur le terrain.

Switcher / Sandwicher

Quand les attaquants sont proches les uns des autres, ils ne sont pas positionnés efficacement, et la défense se doit de punir cela en les encadrant (“sandwitchant”) tout en Assurant d’être autant de défenseurs qu’il y a d’attaquants. Si au contraire les attaquants sont répartis sur le terrain en utilisant l’espace à leur disposition, une défense serrée est plus adaptée. Il ne faut pas tenter de sandwicher.

Lorsque des attaquants se déplacent l’un vers l’autre ou vers les défenseurs, la défense doit punir ces mouvements inefficaces en switchant leur marque. Cela conserve l’énergie et créer des opportunités de block puisque le défenseur arrivera d’un angle inattendu. Si les attaquants se déplacent vers un espace il n’est pas conseillé de switcher.


Pour aller plus loin

Des articles sur la Flex avancée son ten train d’être publié;
Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
Advanced Flex Part II: Communication

Vous souhaitez des vidéos montrant la Flex en action, ou des explications orales et autres? Restez informez en souscrivant à Hexagon Ultimate YouTube channel.

La Flex en action face à FWD aux championnats européens – avancez jusqu’à 37:48:

GB Mixed U23’s utilisa cette défense aux mondiaux 2015, plus de vidéos de Felix expliquant la Flex à l’équipe seront uploadées sur la chaine Hexagon Ultimate sous peu (en dessous une vidéo de la première fois que cette défense a été présentée à l’équipe).

La Hex/Flex en action contre le Japon aux mondiaux:

Advanced Flex – Part II: Communication

(c) Felix Shardlow v.0.1 4th May 2016

Also available in French / en Français

Good communication within a team is essential for good teamwork, combined with trust in your team mates communications. When you receive communication from a team mate, you should immediately act on it, and then re-assess the situation. Very rarely should communication from a team mate be assessed before being put into action.

Communication should be near-constant during a point of Flex. If any of the principles are being disobeyed then there should be a lot of noise on the field – if an offensive player is unmarked, all defenders should know about it and be working together constantly to remedy the situation.

The 3 ways to communicate in Flex

  • Eye-contact – opens the channel of communication between two defenders
  • Gesticulation – directs attention to a particular area or person
  • Vocalisation – gives detailed information or instructions

Eye-contact between defenders should happen whenever they have the opportunity – usually when their marks are not moving and they are re-assessing the situation. A moment of eye-contact has multiple immediate benefits:

  1. Communication channel is opened. If there is anything you or your team mate wish to communicate to each other, you have each others attention so are able to do so, through facial expressions, gesticulation, or vocalisation. A neutral look saying “everything is OK” is useful in itself.
  2. Each defender gets knowledge of their teammate’s position, and the position of their teammate’s mark. They also know that their teammate is aware of their situation – which opens up the opportunity for switches or sandwiches.
  3. Defenders are put “on the same page”. The chance for miscommunication is minimised, and a good base for teamwork is established.

Gesticulation conveys more specific information, and can be recognised by many defenders at the same time. Usually the meaning of any gesticulation is self-explanatory – here are some examples:

  1. Pointing to an offence player or players – depending on the context, this can either mean you are marking them, or that your team mate should mark them. Pointing to two or three players (by using two or three fingers) is a quick way of initiating a sandwich with a team mate.
  2. Open-hand gesturing can be used to indicate what area you are covering in a ‘sandwiching’ situation, and to move defending team mates around to improve coverage.

Vocalisation is the most flexible form of communication, and can be reach all defenders within earshot. Any information conveyed vocally also carries with it information about where on the field the shout is coming from, and the tone / volume of the shout indicates the level of urgency. Shouts should be accompanied by pointing, to give more specific information to team mates who have you in their field of view, or who turn to look when they hear the shout. Here are some shouts which have proved to be useful in Flex:

  • Push – used to move nearby defenders away from you. This is useful when you realise you are both covering the same space, or when you see an unmarked offensive player the other side of a team mate. When you hear “Push”, you should initially move directly away from where the voice came from, before reassessing the situation. Example animation here.
  • Pull – the opposite to ‘Push’, use “Pull” when you want defenders to come towards you, or to an area near you. This is useful when you find yourself covering two or more players, or when you can see an unmarked offensive player nearby. When you hear “Pull”, you should initially move towards where the voice came from, before reassessing the situation. Example animation here.
  • Switch – also used in person defence, a ‘switch’ call is used when two defenders wish to swap their marks. Switches are best called by the player whose new mark is the option the thrower is looking at, and (as according to the principles), should only be called when you know (a) who your new mark will be, and (b) that your old mark will be covered.
  • Sandwich – used when offensive players are stood in close proximity to one another, and the defenders wish to take advantage of the inefficiency and ‘surround’ the opposition. Sandwiches can involve any number of defenders, but should always involve an equal number of offensive players– 2v2, 3v3, 4v4 etc. In Mixed, sandwiches should usually be gender-specific, so surrounding a vertical stack should effectively be looked at as 2v2 & 3v3, rather than 5v5.
  • Left/right – can be used to move a team mate when you are out of their line of sight. If a team mate has their back to you, your left is their left, so directing them with left/right shouts is relatively straightforward. When they are facing you, gesticulation is more effective.
  • “I’m here” – can be used to notify your nearby team mates of your presence – particularly useful if you have just followed your mark across the field without switching, and wish to let new nearby team mates of the opportunity to use teamwork.

Sideline

There are a number of ways the sideline can help Flex greatly:

  1. Up shouts for every pass. The length and tone of the “Up” shout can help convey the type of pass made. This is very useful for players who aren’t in a position to actually see the pass being made – it lets them know the angle of attack is changing, the stall count is resetting (see Advanced Flex Part IV: The Stall-3 Game Changer), and that the disc is momentarily in the air so an immediate throw is not possible.
  2. Any defensive mis-positioning – identify and alert players to any situations where a defender is not marking a specific player, marking two players, or when there is a free offensive player on the field.
  3. The thrower’s focus – let the defender nearest to where the thrower is focusing their attention know that the thrower is looking, so they can be extra vigilant.
  4. High stall counts – lots of noise & “here it comes” from the sideline to let defenders know a pass is coming very soon, so they should tighten up to their mark and be ready for the unexpected.

Part of a series:
Flexagon Defence
Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
Advanced Flex Part II: Communication
Advanced Flex Part III: The Stall 3 Game-Changer