Southampton Hex Clinic

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Hex Clinic on Sunday in Southampton

Liam Kelley from the UKU got in touch about running a one-day UKU Level 1 Coaching Course in Southampton, and I figured it’d be a good time to start getting Hex Clinics on the road in the UK! I would deliver the Level 1 UKU Course on Saturday, and a Hex Clinic on the Sunday. I stayed in and AirBnB in Eastleigh, a couple of miles from Southampton, and rode my bike to the University in the morning.

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Seventeen people turned up for the L1 course, including captains from St Marys / Southampton / Exeter Universities, Clapham/GB player Magnet, and reps from Guildford including Elliott J – the up-and-coming 15 year old Ultimate-playing-trickshot-star.

It was great to see so many Uni captains in particular taking the L1 coaching course, which I hope have a great positive impact on their teams. After the course I cycled towards the river Itchen which runs through Southampton, and noticed a group throwing an Ultrastar around on the green. I joined in and met Mike – he played Ultimate at Bath Uni and could spot a fellow Ultimate player a mile away. He doesn’t play at the moment as unfortunately there isn’t a club in Southampton – hopefully in the future one will emerge, perhaps when alumni who remain in the city want to keep Ultimate in their lives. As I understand it, current club players from Southampton play for county-wide team Hampshire Ultimate.

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After a good throw, I headed along the river on my bike, going past a 300 year old lock. Barges on canals were the most efficient way to transport goods around the UK before railways.

 

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The plaque was covered by brambles. Can you find & name the animal?

 

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The paths along the river Itchen go all the way to Winchester.

 

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A bridge and a pipe-bridge.

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The water was very clear.

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Something really freaks me out when I go through these concrete river-tunnels. Takes a fair amount of self-restraint not to break into a run

 

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As day turned to night, I happened across a lovely riverside pub for dusk dinner.

Next day at the Hex Clinic we had 10 attendees, all active Skunks players (Southampton Uni), with elements of Punt, Reading, Guildford and Hampshire. The theory session on Flex went really well, then we went outside into the sunshine and I tried out a couple of new Flex drills – the Skunks smashed them!

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Triangle-Sandwich Drill

In the Triangle-Sandwich Drill they were using both sandwiching and switching really well  – next time I think I’ll start with a ‘no-switching’ rule before developing it into full sandwiching & switching, to make sure everyone is developing their sandwiching skills.

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Switch Drill

In the Switch Drill, where a 1v1 cutting situation plays out near a static O/D (who can only be activated by a ‘switch’ call from the active 1v1 D player), everyone was picking the right moments to switch (or stick), as well as closing down the newly-activated O player quickly to complete the switch. Next time I’ll add in another O/D pair to be activated and see what develops from that (switching in & out of sandwiches!). I’ll also take more photos of the outdoor frisbee stuff!

It feels like some huge steps forward were taken at this weekend’s Hex Clinic. Finally we have some proper Flex drills! Plus the course material gets better and better with each Clinic. I’m excited to introduce the new drills to another group soon – possibly the next Hex Clinic will be in Exeter. If you’d like a Hex Clinic in your city & you can help with getting a venue, get in touch!

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Train journey home on Sunday night took me to strange places (who ever thought there was a West Croydon?) and lasted several hours – more than enough time to write this article.

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Chat with Mario O’Brien

[–]riseupmario[S] 1 point

overall yea it all sounds like it could work, just a matter of refining and testing it. I’m a true believer in the idea of ‘anything strategically can work if everyone’s on the same and it’s executed well’. Just gotta keep self-evolving as much as possible.

In general my idea on switching/sandwiching is that it can and does work, situationally, but defenses that get overly switchy are too risky and against smart cutters and great handlers/throwers… you’re setting yourself up for 1 throw that breaks the ice and then never catching up. Fact: most top elite handlers break any mark they want, even the best marks, so if you blow a switch and leave someone open for a split second, they get the disc and boom everyone’s scrambling to catch up… and if you switch at the wrong time when the thrower’s mark is out of position, it’s several easy throws in a row.

Again, not saying it can’t be done, just telling you what I see at the top… and I’d say Sockeye is as experimental as any team out there in terms of trying new/unconventional things… maybe Japan has us beat 😉

[–]riseupmario[S] 1 point

sweet. can’t wait to play against it 😉 or play in it sometime!

Chatting to Mario helped me clarify my thoughts on & for the first time verbalise how poaching causes the progressive collapse of Flex D. I’ve now incorporated this specific example into the Flex theory clinic – it now feels like there is a frame in place, and we’re no longer fumbling in the dark trying to figure out & define ‘smart defence’; we’re working out what fills the frame & where the holes are. The task for the first time feels relatively finite.

I’ve got a lot of time for Sockeye – I hung out with them a little in Prague during WUCC 2010, I love a team that knows how to play hard, party, and isn’t afraid to innovate on the field and openly discuss new strategies and tactics.

To read Mario’s full AMA click here, and be sure to check out his new ULTACADEMY project.

felixultimate in Latvia – report

Last week I was in Latvia, delivering a Hexagon Ultimate Clinic.

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Sunset in Riga’s suburbs, Soviet-era accommodation on the left

I was staying in Riga, which has a mix of modern and old orthodox-style architecture in the centre, whilst the suburban landscape is dominated by the huge Soviet-era accommodation buildings often seen in the Baltic states. There are no houses near the city – everybody lives in these huge (9 or 12 storey, and very wide) blocks of flats, where it is traditional to stay up late sitting in the kitchen drinking vodka and chatting about life, politics, philosophy, and everything in-between.

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Pine trees just outside the suburbs. Easy to get lost in after sunset!

Just outside the city limits are huge pine tree forests, which are perfectly suited for night time gatherings, as groups head out before the sun goes down to find one of the countless nice spots for a fire – the undulating terrain creating picturesque and unique areas for dozens of groups each a few dozen yards away from each other.

On Saturday I travelled to Ogre, the geographic centre of Latvia, to deliver a 7-hour clinic on Hex strategies. 30 players from all over Latvia attended, 1/3rd of them were juniors, gender was split 50-50, and they came from 8 teams from all over the country – from the coast with the Baltic Sea on the East, to the border with Russia on the west.

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In the classroom for the theory part of the Flexagon clinic

Indoors is the preferred division in Latvia – with 12 men’s and 4 women’s teams competing. For outdoors, there are about 8 men’s teams and ~5 women’s teams.

The spread of experience at the clinic was great – some players had been playing one year, some fifteen – but they all helped each other to understand the new concepts being discussed, and everybody I spoke to felt like they got something valuable out of the clinic. When learning Flex, sandwiching players was new to some and uncommon to others, but I saw plenty of it happening during the game, and I noticed a few pro-active (not reactive) switches in there too. We had less time to play Mex Offence, and split the group into two games based on ability/experience – simply having all these players together in the same place, at the same time, playing alongside each other as team mates rather than opponents was quite a new experience for all of the attendees, as inter-team mingling does not happen so much in Latvia.

latvia-hex-workshop-selfie-3I hope some connections were made or strengthened between the teams present, and that the new ideas are spread by the attending players when they return to their clubs – maybe we will see some hex elements incorporated into Latvian Ultimate in the years to come, as the next generation players mature and explore the various facets of the strategies for themselves! Set plays are very popular in Latvia, with vertical stack being the dominant offensive strategy played outdoors, and a lot of focus put on athleticism to beat your mark to the open side. Hopefully the principles of Hex style Ultimate will add a new dimension to the Latvian style, or at least an interesting alternative.

Big thanks to Edgars Dimpers, a Latvian who has been playing in Brighton for the last 8 years and did a full translation of the classroom material, and to Jekabs and Ogre Ultimate for booking the venue and hosting the clinic, and to the players from all the clubs who attended: Sirocco Ultimate, Ultimate Decision, KCN Riga, Valimera, Ventspils VFK, Nightwatch / Moments OFK, Salaspils WT / JR, and Flying Worms VFK.

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Players from all around Latvia gather for a photo after the clinic

 

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View from Skyline Bar in the centre

 

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Hexagon spotted

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Gathering in the forest just before sunset

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Skyline Bar – above Riga

360 degree view from Skyline Bar’s windows (attempt) | 360 degree view from inside Skyline Bar

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Latvian cat, startled

University Taster Sessions Guide

This article is aimed at University clubs who want to recruit and develop players from a very large, very inexperienced group of freshers turning up to taster sessions at the start of the year. This is a guide for how the returning players can teach basic catching and throwing techniques, and how to behave in the games to ensure everyone has a good time and wants to return. When experienced players are able to teach basic techniques to incoming players, the speed at which freshers improve increases dramatically, and when experienced players know how to play in a fresher-friendly way during the first weeks of term, the retention of players skyrockets. The first step to getting this working within your club is to connect with the returning players before term starts, and make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to interacting with the freshers.

Throwing around

When a fresher arrives at their first training or taster session, they should be welcomed by an experienced player, and invited to throw a Frisbee around for 15-20 minutes – in pairs or in as small a group as possible, with one experienced player per group. After a few throws, the experienced player should ask if the fresher would like some tips on their catching or throwing. It’s important to ask this question and get a ‘yes’ answer, as then the fresher has psychologically ‘bought in’ and will be eager to listen to what you have to say. Make sure the first thing you do is pay them a compliment.

When teaching catching technique, focus on just a few important points:

Move your feet to get your chest behind the disc
– Use both hands, clap catch in the centre of the disc with both hands hitting it at the same time
– Watch the disc into your hands

Throwing technique involves four sequential points:
1. Footwork – step out wide at 90 degrees, bend at the knees
2. Grip – fingers tight inside the rim for the backhand (index finger where it feels comfortable); power grip for the side-arm (index and middle finger together, not split)
3. Release (backhand) – rotate body, drop shoulder, coil wrist, release at or below knee height, with outside edge pointing slightly down
4. Spin – snap the wrist more

The order of these four points is critical. Don’t teach the fresher about grip until they have their footwork sorted, don’t teach them about the release until they have their grip sorted, and so on. Focus on one point at a time, give them a compliment every time you give them a tip, and try to relate the usefulness of the movements to the game. Remember at all times that you are setting an example with your own throwing and catching, and a lot of players learn by watching rather than listening, so be a model player with clap catches at your chest and wide, low pivots – “classic” technique.

Playing Ultimate

After these 15-20mins of throwing in small groups, it’s time to play. Remember that when a fresher comes to Ultimate practice for the first time, they don’t want to learn how to play great Ultimate; they just want to play. They certainly don’t want to be told to stand in a line and run in a particular direction for no apparent reason, so skip any drills and go straight into games.

Split the players into groups of 4-6 beginners with 2 experienced players, to play 4v4 / 5v5 games (not 6v6+). Whilst the pitches are being set up, the 2 experienced players per team should briefly explain the basic rules and have a chat for a few minutes to get to know their team. Make the pitches big enough for a good run around – 20 meters wide by 40 meters long with 3 meter deep end zones is reasonable. If the beginners can be split into groups with some pre-existing connections (friends, living in same accommodation, course mates etc.), this is even better and will really help retention.

There are 5 basic rules for the experienced players to explain in their teams:
1) You score 1pt by catching a pass in the opposing team’s end zone
2) You can’t run with the disc – it can only be advanced by throws
3) An incomplete pass (drop, throw away) or an interception (knock down or caught) is a turn over, and the other team get possession going in the other direction
4) It’s non-contact, so you can’t yank the disc out of someone’s hands and there’s no pushing before/during catches
5) It’s self-refereed, so call your own infractions and decide between players what happened and how the game should continue.

It can be good to talk more about Spirit of the Game / self-refereeing before the games start, and during the game make sure that everyone stops for any clear fouls & that the related rules are explained to the players, who should come to their own agreement about what happened. Freshers won’t often stop the game – you have that responsibility.

Below are some general points to remember when playing Ultimate with freshers so that they have fun, learn, and want to come back. When on offence:

– Let freshers pick up the disc if they want to. Progress to calling a couple of people at the start of the point who will pick up the disc and make sure you rotate through everyone.
Throw slow, flat, easy to catch passes, both for short and long throws, even if they are easier to intercept.
– Throw when the cutter wants it, even if you know it’ll be intercepted. In the worst case, the defender does a good thing, and your team mate feels you trust them.
– Let your team know you’re always there for the easy pass if they need it, but don’t demand the disc, don’t reprimand speculative shots, and try to always be a hittable option for the thrower.
– Don’t teach a formation (such as stack) unless the freshers ask about strategy – it’s too much information at this point. Better to work from principles around creating and using space. Under no circumstances stand over the disc waiting for everyone to ‘stack up’, or pick up the disc and demand ‘cuts’. The game might seem like chaos, but this doesn’t mean the freshers aren’t enjoying themselves more than they would if it were disciplined.
Put up long shots, especially if it’s getting crowded around the disc. This will encourage deep cuts and throws in future points, and will also give freshers the unique experience of chasing down a long throw… an experience which in itself can be enough to get a fresher hooked.
– Ensure everyone is getting disc time by being mindful of who you’re looking to pass to. Calling a ‘string’ play helps with this (player A looks to player B, who looks to player C, etc.).

Then when on defence:

– Don’t teach the stall count (or stall anybody) for the first week, it only adds pressure and complicates things. Forces should be loose.
– If marking another experienced player, let them get free when and where they want around the disc. After summer it’s tempting to play hard against your peers, but you must resist. If the experienced player you’re marking goes for the end zone though, go for an amazing interception.
– If marking a beginner, let them get free too, though mark them out when they start clogging space around the disc as it’ll encourage them to clear out. If the genders on the pitch aren’t balanced, it can be better for an experienced player to mark a female fresher instead of another experienced player.
No poaching. It’s not a challenge to get a poach D in a game with beginners – especially when you’re already out of position due to letting players get the disc as detailed above – and it’s not fun for anyone else.
– No point blocks or even stopping break throws – you want throws to either be completed or be intercepted by beginners. If an experienced player wants to break you, let them. If a beginner looks like they’re going to throw it into your force, get out of the way. Don’t let your team know you’re not pulling in the same direction as them on defence – make it look like you’re concentrating and playing hard – but be ineffective.
– Don’t teach strategy, such as forcing one way, unless the freshers ask, or if you’re nearing the end of the session and your team has a good understanding. Better to work from principles and simple instructions – man defence can simply be explained by saying, “if they throw the disc to your man, catch it before he does”.
– When marking confident or athletic beginners, raise the intensity to give them a proper challenge. Some freshers won’t come back if you intercept their throws or mark them out, while other freshers won’t come back unless they get a tough challenge and are shown what they can achieve, so play it by ear.

In general when playing a game:

– When two experienced players are involved in a foul and have a subsequent discussion, remember you are setting an example for all the other freshers, so explain your point of view honestly, clearly and respectfully, and settle the call in the ‘proper’ fashion – a joke between friends may be misunderstood by freshers.
– For violations such as travels, picks, and close in/out calls, and not quite being in the end zone for a score, only stop the game if it’s a fresher who notices the violation – even if it affects the play, it’s much better for the game to continue if the freshers don’t notice.

Finally, remember it is your responsibility as an experienced player to ensure everyone on the pitch is having a good time, and not just your team. You could be scoring every time and thus feel everything is going great, but think about your opposition, and adjust your tactics accordingly (having your weaker freshers pick up the disc, for example, or attempt an exciting deep throw against their best defender).

Exit / retention strategy

After the games it’s good to circle up and let the freshers know how your club works – for example, everyone is welcome to continue coming along even if they didn’t have a good practice that day, and that over the year they’ll all be taught everything they need to know to go from a noob to a good player. Mention beginner tournaments, fun tournaments, the BUCS league and Nationals, so you’ll retain the competitive freshers who will be trying to get onto your 1st / 2nd team from the start, as well as those who simply enjoy the game and will make your club socials great. It can be good to have a big game (like a showgame) after everyone finished, so let everyone know that some people are going straight to the pub (on campus near where you train, hopefully), and some are sticking around to play a quick game of 7 vs. 7 first, where freshers are welcome to join in.

This game should be on a full size pitch, with as close to a 4:3 gender split as possible, and everyone playing proper, hard Ultimate, hopefully showing what the freshers can aim for. Again, don’t call picks or travels, but do call and discuss fouls properly when they occur. After a couple of points invite freshers to get on the line and join in – there will always be a few that are keen. Make sure the experienced players try to persuade their team mates from the 5-aside games to get on the pitch, and to sub out for any freshers that show interest in playing. You may only get a handful of freshers joining in, but they will likely love the experience of being on a big pitch with so many experienced players, and they’ll appreciate greatly how they have been given the opportunity to play in a fairly high level game at their first session.

After the session, make sure as many freshers as possible come to the pub, and then talk to them! It’s very tempting to catch up with your team mates who you haven’t seen all summer, but there are better times for that, so be mindful of who you’re chatting with. Go out of your way and make it your responsibility to get every fresher talking, as it can easily make the difference between them never coming back, and them captaining the team in two years time. The confident and athletic freshers will want to hear about the GB Junior and GB U23 opportunities available to them if they stick with Ultimate – they want to be challenged and they want to know it’s possible for them to achieve greatness. There will also be freshers who want to take up a sport but hate the ethos of rugby and football so now is a great time for them to find out if the vibe of your club is something they can enjoy.

By applying the advice given here at your taster sessions, your freshers will hopefully enjoy their first experiences of Ultimate and become hooked in no time. By ensuring all experienced players learn these guidelines before the fresher intake each year, hopefully the recruitment and retention rates for your club will keep growing, and thus lead to huge performance gains.

– Felix Shardlow
Felix has been coaching the Sussex University Mohawks since 2003 & Brighton Panthers since 2011

St Andrews – the bright bubble

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Ruins of the cathedral – Google’s own interpretation of my original photo

Every year, one week before term starts, St Andrews have a “pre-season” week of trainings, and this year I was invited as a guest coach – primarily to disagree with the teachings of their regular coach (Benji Heywood – the tall chap who has been sorting out the UKU’s schedules and competitions for many years).

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Coaching the St Andrews club on their 3G

The city is beautiful, and far smaller than I had imagined. I quickly realised that my distorted view on its size was due to my being enshrouded in the world of Ultimate Frisbee for the last 16 years, and Flatball (the university team at St Andrews) have had a strong presence in the community for the majority of those years. In reality, it feels like everybody knows everybody – bumping into several friends on a night out is standard, and there’s a persistent sense of intellectualism – it was no surprise that the first pub we went to was host to several sets of Go boards & stones. and students refer to the town as “The Bubble”.

st-andrews-castle-houseBenji is the Director of Ultimate at St Andrews – more than just a coach. He invited me to pre-season with the hope that I would disagree with him on various frisbee matters – in order to offer his players an alternative perspective on the game, or beyond that, to show that there were not simply one or two ways of looking at things, and that they could and should form their own perspectives and opinions on the technical and strategic aspects of the game. I found that myself and Benji have, completely independently, come up with several identical drills, methods, and catchphrases which we thought were unique to our own styles. Fortunately we did also disagree on some points, and I was happy to jump in and bring this to the players’ attentions when it happened, and explain my alternative viewpoint and the thinking behind it.

felix-and-benji-on-beachThe players at St Andrews are a driven, enthusiastic, competitive and outgoing bunch. Smack bang in the middle of the training week – just after my day of teaching Flexagon Defence – was the pre-planned social evening. The drinking games were familiar, and although it was the first time I had played “beer pong” with water, soon after we were playing an intense round of SlapCup, and through some genius social engineering on the team’s part I ended up being the loser on the first round despite having an 0.8 ace average. The night was suitably crazy – as you would expect from a town which Hugh Grant has been banned from.

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Fairly typical halls of residence

Along with the day on Flex (which was the first real ‘Flex Workshop’ – a model I’m exporting Europe-wide now), other sessions I took the lead on were centered around the “neutral stance”, give-go moves, and Hex Offence (which their second team exclusively played last year, getting them wins over Edinburgh and Aberdeen’s first teams).

Benji’s sessions were insightful and reassuring in equal measures, particularly interesting was his take on throwing dynamics, using the resistance force of the disc to exert more energy into the release. I have a lot of time for him and he’s doing fantastic work coordinating the club so they are all on the same page, pulling in the same direction and aware of their own history and development, year upon year.

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Had a quick dip in this pool formed by the receding tide

I used to do a similar thing in Sussex, however at Sussex there are no ‘Director of [sport]’ positions, so club-management and continuity is more in the hands of the committee, whereas the coaches are expected to coordinate with the captains to run trainings in a manner conducive to the direction the club wants to go.

Both approaches have positives and negatives – for instance Benji’s more in-control role can potentially lead to a one-track view on the game; hence his decision to introduce an alternative viewpoint to his own at this year’s St Andrew’s pre-season training! Good to see such a holistic approach to training. Thank you Benji for putting it together – a great week with a great group of players, I wish them all the best for this coming UK Uni season and I look forward to seeing what comes of their Hex and Flex training!

 

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Classic photo on the bridge at the golf course