Japan v USA – Analysis of USA defensive confusion allowing Matsuno score
Trying out a new style of analysis which I hope to use more in the future. Japan move the disc away from the end zone they are attacking; defensive confusion ensues.
Trying out a new style of analysis which I hope to use more in the future. Japan move the disc away from the end zone they are attacking; defensive confusion ensues.
I returned from the World Championships of Beach Ultimate 2017 a couple of weeks ago. The journey started back in September last year when trials were announced. I originally signed up for the Mixed Masters as well as Men’s Masters teams, and the first trial was actually playing with Men’s Masters at UK Beach Nationals. We came 3rd, beating the Grand Masters in the 3v4, and Hex came 1st in the Mixed division. Feeling out the vibe for the Men’s and the Mixed teams I made my decision to stick with Men’s, passed the further trials, and then trainings began! We had several months to prepare for heading off to Royan in France for WCBU 2017 in June.
We’d meet up every month or so on Bournemouth beach to play vs the Grand Masters. We had intended to go to a warm-up tournament but couldn’t get into Copa Tenga (which I really want to play in next year), so it turned out that our only training was playing against the Grand Masters – they were great. That team is made up of absolute legends of UK Ultimate, and every single person was a challenge to mark. They beat us overall – probably winning about 75% of the games we played over the various weekends. At the end of it all we were very aware that our training had been limited to playing against one team of players who are all older than us, so things might be very different at Worlds.
The vibe on the Men’s Masters team was great throughout the whole week in Royan. We didn’t get all the results we wanted – losing in sudden death three times where we felt we should’ve taken the wins (once vs Netherlands, once vs Australia, and finally in our quarter final against Spain after having the disc to win 3 separate times!) – so that was fairly gutting, but at the end of it we all had each others backs and it was a very enjoyable team to be a part of. By the end of the week we were down to 10 players for various reasons, which made the final few games tough, and we finished 8th. After the last game we all voted on MVP – overall, offence, and defence. I was very happy to win the overall MVP (and a prize of #10 Japan jersey!), Dave “Thrash/Stobbo” Stobbs won offence MVP, and Ewen Buckling won defence MVP.
I did pretty well in the stats – coming 3rd in the Men’s Masters division. I feel like I’m a better player now than I was before – playing regularly against the Grand Masters has helped a lot, but also the fitness work… finally I have been motivated to get out running in the hills regularly, and not letting myself slack off for a week at any point.
I got to play against the USA in the power pools, and it was clear they were operating at a different level to the other teams – one that I recognised and felt familiar to me, but not one which I’ve been having to play against for what felt like quite a long time. Instead of just doing the hard yards, you had to be very smart about where and when you are moving, as you can be sure they are thinking about it just as much. It was a good experience, despite the USA being quite ‘hands-on’ with their defence – I had to tell them a few times not to touch. At one point Voodoo hucked it to me and this guy (Barrs Lang) caught up and got a sick layout D over my shoulder – I thought he wouldn’t reach and that I had enough time for a safe clap catch, but that was a foolish thought! Someone captured a good photo of it:
Won’t make that mistake again! When playing the USA, catch the frisbee as early as possible, because the chances are that defender will catch you and their bid will make contact with the disc.
Overall it was a great time in Royan – would have liked to come away with a medal from Worlds, but fun times were had, and it’s inspired me to try out again for GB Masters teams in the future.
Last weekend I was at Windmill for the first time ever! Instead of playing, I was part of the production crew putting together the live stream which went out on fanseat.com (and is currently available to view in their archives).
Who are Fanseat?
On the ground at Windmill, the production team was: Mike Palmer, Will Foster, Felix Shardlow, Anthony Wilson, Ari Ojanperä, Edgars Dimpers, and Callum Ayre. This team changes from event to event, but are currently always led by Mike Palmer or Will Foster. Nobody physically at these events is ‘from’ Fanseat – we communicate with them via messaging apps during the events to ensure everything is coming through to their end correctly.
Other than Ant’s friend Callum, we are all avid Ultimate players who have also been involved in Ultimate media production – all except Edgars were active members of the WFDF Media Team providing coverage of WUGC 2016, all except Ari and Mike have worked for Push Pass previously, all except Edgars and Ari are involved with providing coverage of UK events for UK Ultimate, and Mike has been the primary provider of coverage in the southern hemisphere for many years through his company Ulti.TV and UltiSports (and was leading our team at Windmill).
We worked together with the awesome commentary team to provide Fanseat with a high quality, fully-packaged live stream, which they then distribute to their subscribers. The commentary team included Benjamin Rees, Lorcan Murray, Georgina Morrison, Liam Grant, David Pryce, Ravi Vasudevan, and many others who all did a fantastic job in contributing to the coverage, adding knowledge, character, and emotion to make the matches really enjoyable to watch.
What does setting up for a 3-camera live stream entail?
We arrived at the venue a couple of days before the event to begin work. The place was already swarming with volunteers and Windmill crew, who were all great fun, and really friendly and helpful whenever we needed anything. Readying the cameras alone took hours – each camera requires the setup of all kinds of equipment and the use of much technical wizardry, all of which Mike Palmer has great experience with, in order to get the rig working together smoothly and allow the camera operators to do the best job possible. Once the setup is all tested in close quarters, the power/signal/data cables must be laid out stretching to either end zone, using cable covers at any points where players may be crossing. During the women’s final, apparently the Poland Mixed coach tried to move one of our power cables to make room for his team’s warmup, causing it to unplug, resulting in a complete power outage – nightmare! To get a solid internet connection to the switching desk when it was placed in the centre of the field, we used some beaming technology I didn’t even know existed to get the signal over from the clubhouse.
At the desk we have the main switching computer with control pad, plus a replay machine with a second monitor. If possible, we also set up a screen for the commentators so they can see the replays as they are broadcast, and have a better perspective on the play that just occurred – also helping them to stay connected with the viewers. As with everything technical, things rarely work immediately after first setup, so many hours was spent troubleshooting and even going into town to buy extra equipment – thankfully the experience Mike Palmer and the rest of the crew have meant that there were usually two potential solutions to any problem, which were weighed up and decided between, and we got everything working the night before the first games began.
What roles need to be filled during a stream?
Aside from the excellent job the commentators do, there are three basic roles for the production team during a live stream:
1) Switcher / Director / Visual Mixer – they sit at a computer which displays all the live shots from the three cameras, plus the current live output. Their job is to switch between the camera angles and coordinate the coverage – staying in constant communication with the camera operators to let them know who is currently live (everyone is hooked up with voice comms), what shots they want lined up, which camera will be live next, if there’s anything interesting worth replaying which may have been missed (for example, if the commentators are talking about a particular play), and to give the word to roll the replays when they are ready. They are also responsible for ensuring the commentators & game audio levels are well balanced.
2) Replay mixer – their role is to queue up replays of appropriate action from the best angles and let the director know they are ready to roll, as quickly as possible. It’s the directors call as to whether there is enough time during a stoppage to run the replay – always a tough decision during a stoppage or turnover – and the director should keep an eye on the game so the replay mixer can adjust the speed of the replay accordingly (they have a machine which has a slider controlling the speed). The replay mixer also exports the clips between points for later use, and chooses ones to consider for post-game highlight reels.
3) Camera operators – at Windmill we had camera 1 (middle-sideline) capturing an overview of the game whilst camera 2 and 3 (back of endzones) stayed tight to the action around the disc for replays. Attention must always be paid to the tracking the disc, removing ‘dead space’ from the frame, staying in focus, listening to the director’s instructions, and communicating back with any relevant information (such as a particularly good shot the director may not be seeing, or heads-up of a missed shot for the replay mixer). During stoppages, camera operators zoom in on the players who are discussing the call, to give viewers the best idea of what is going on. After scores, they capture the celebrations with the best framing and tracking possible – get those faces! We also coined the phrase “ShameCam” – when an operator would track a player who e.g. mac’d their D instead of catching it, resulting in a score – cue comms of “cam2 find the defender for ShameCam please… switching to cam2… cam2 you’re live – shame! shame! ok, switching to cam3…” over our comms – keeps us amused. Between points, there is an opportunity to get ‘colour’ shots – of the crowd, of flags in the venue, an overview of the fields outside the stadium, birds perching on aerials – to add context, variety, and atmosphere to the coverage, without missing the pull!
During the course of the tournament we changed up who was filling each of the roles, so we were able to understand what each role required, and thus work together better as a team. As we found our routine during a game, the camera operators would naturally line up the shots the director wanted, and we could relax into the ‘flow’ – chatting about the current action over the voice comms and having some banter (working through every game, every day, gets tiresome without some chat!). Releasing the production crew’s comms as an alternative commentary track would be the source of much hilarity.
When a mistake is made on the stream, and you know that double-tapping a button, queuing up the wrong replay, or accidentally knocking the camera has just made thousands of people go “huh?” – breaking their concentration on the game – it can get stressful, so it’s important to stay positive and supportive over the voice comms. In a live streaming environment, nobody has the luxury of being able to take a break mid-game. When things go right, and you feel like an excellent game of Ultimate has been done justice by the stream you’ve provided, a strong post-game euphoria kicks in!
On a few occasions I actually got up and danced after finishing the stream as director. The work isn’t over after the last game though – cameras need to be brought in, the clips on the computer need to be exported and then edited into daily highlight videos, and everything packed away ready to be unpacked, set up and tested before the first game of the next day starts – some days are very long for the production crew (0730 – 0030 when making daily highlights), and the concentration needed is full-on and relentless. We do all love watching Ultimate though, so we’re motivated by trying to do the games in front of us justice – capturing memorable moments on camera, and conveying the atmosphere within the stands to all the viewers at home.
Will there be more events streamed?
I’m hoping to stay involved in future crews which are brought together to cover European Ultimate events – when I’m not playing. Fanseat are covering a ton of tournaments over the next few months – next up is WCBU, where they’ll be streaming from two pitches each day! Beyond that there’s EYUC, EMUC, EUCF, UKU Tours 2 & 3, and UKU Nationals, just for a start.
The first month’s subscription is free and gets you access to their archive, which includes many tournaments including Tom’s Tourney 2017, and EUCF 2016 – after that it’s £8 per month, which I think is reasonable. I didn’t intend this article to be an advert for Fanseat; hopefully now you understand more about who the Fanseat crew are on the ground, and that by supporting them you are supporting coverage of Ultimate by the players, for the players – so you can make a more informed decision at least.
If you watched the streams and have any feedback – positive or otherwise – we’re always keen to hear it, so drop me a message. I know if I was a viewer, I would want a live online chat room alongside the livestream – this isn’t a feature on the Fanseat page, but perhaps the Ultimate Discord #livestream channel could be used and promoted by the commentators in future. Hope you enjoy/d the coverage and I hope to be a part of bringing more to you in the future!
I travelled to Russia from 15-26 May, with the primary aim of running a Hex Workshop and playing lots of Ultimate! I contacted many players and teams in advance, working social media (including installing VK – the Russian equivalent of Facebook), got back in touch with a few Russian contacts I’d made over the years, and stayed at a friend’s place. It was my second time in Russia – last time I visited over new year where the temperature dropped to -27 degrees celsius – a coldness I could not even imagine before – but this time, in May, it was really quite warm! This article is broken into a few different sections:
Check out the full collection of photos & videos in the Google Photo album
Environment / culture
The first thing I did after settling in was go for a run in a forest near where I was staying. The ground was very swampy at times, and I found a creepy burnt out building to explore (pics & videos in the google photo album). On the streets of suburban Moscow you see the occasional cat, but they generally stay well away from humans and look after themselves. The buildings in the suburbs are huge – blocks of flats that are 6-12 stories high, and often 100m+ long. They were mostly built in the soviet-era and have an air of conformity and ruthless efficiency about them. Regular houses are nowhere to be seen – everyone lives in these blocks of flats – however most residents have a family dacha (a country house) outside of Moscow which they visit for the holidays. During my stay I visited a few parks, saw a second Kremlin, went to a show at the State Kremlin Palace Concert Hall, got the opportunity to drink vodka with some Muscovites (with bites of gherkin, as is traditional), and went to an Enter Shikari gig – where I immersed myself in a hardcore but very friendly most pit. Russians have a more direct attitude compared to British, and I’m a fan of it – if they’re angry or happy you’ll know about it; they say what is on their mind, they’re not afraid of how it might be taken; their emotions are closer to their skin. This is something I like.
The metro system, like everything else in Russia, is huge. A ticket costs 75 pence/cents and takes you anywhere you want. Plenty of the stations have interesting statues or decorations, and the metro lines are arranged so they all essentially cross over in the middle, with two circular lines connecting them – one in the centre and one around the outskirts. It’s a scaleable system which allows for unlimited future growth! I spent hours and hours on the metro, as practices in Moscow tend to be in the north east or south east – over an hour away from where I was staying – and, did I mention, the city is huge? Everything is huge in Moscow.
There are 4 Open teams, 3 women’s teams, and 1 mixed team in Moscow. Moscow State University has one of the best reputations in the world, and their team – MSU – are the current student champions. I was invited to run a training with them soon after arriving, and was impressed at the high level – especially the discipline not to turn the disc over on more speculative throws. Venues in Moscow can be expensive, but MSU have a good field in a small stadium in the south-east of the city, and it’s the same field where Ultimate in the city was originally born. The session focused on catching & throwing skills, with an introduction of Hex Offence at the end. Everyone seemed to pick it up quickly, and implemented the principles as I had explained them – so there wasn’t much to say inbetween points! Their ability to conservatively pass the disc around and gain yards ultimately highlighted how it can be tricky sometimes to score from Hex when flow has stopped outside the end zone, so I talked about a couple of options they could implement to generate space in such a situation. MSU train right near the main building of Moscow State University – the tallest educational building in the world.
Towards the north-east of the city are the training grounds for Dolgorukiye, Luckygrass, Lemongrass, and Brilliance. All but Brilliance share the same 3G floodlit field – Dolgorukiye’s trainings actually overlapped with Lemongrass and Luckygrass trainings, as it saves all the clubs money and the 3G field is large enough to accommodate two teams at the same time.
Dolgorukiye are on a recruitment drive, so had a few beginners at their sessions training alongside their strong core of dedicated players. As with most players who learn to play outside of university, the learning curve is very steep, but they showed a lot of promise. I attended three of their trainings in total – at the first I introduced a basic drill which Clapham ran at pretty much every training of theirs I attended in 2011, at the second training I helped the coach (Danil Kutov) with a few exercises and drills he had designed around the skills I taught at the Hex Workshop at the weekend, and at the last training we went over cutting techniques before playing a match against Luckygrass. Their warm up at the first training was basically a 30-minute fitness session, but at the third training they got warm by passing a disc in pairs whilst moving around the field – practicing decelerating into catches and accelerating out of throws.
The match against Luckygrass was interesting – Luckygrass went up several points at the start in a battle of vert stacks vs person-D, but then Danil changed our strategy by telling me to go deep. I took this to mean cut deep on offence (I was aware I’d thrown away a couple times), so I began doing that with some success… After their O line put in a couple of uncontested deep scores however I realised Danil was talking about defence! Talk about lost in translation… So then I played D at the back of their stack, switching onto whoever would cut deep, passing them off when they went under, and communicating to the rest of my team constantly as to where they should be going and who they should be marking if I switch onto their guy. It incorporated lots of the principles of Flex, with the added stipulation that I was heavily weighted towards covering the deep options whilst others took the unders.
Luckygrass struggled to improvise against it, hucked it a few times without seeing me switch onto the deep cutters, and we pretty much stopped them from scoring from that point on. I continued to go deep on O for Danil’s hucks and hammers (a throw which is not very common or looked kindly upon in Russia!) and we clawed back point after point until the game had to end due to the field being booked for American Football. I think we left Luckygrass scratching their heads, and their coach seemed keen to attend the next Hex workshop I run in the region.
I also got an opportunity to coach at a Brilliance training session – there were just a few players there, but the high quality of the Russian women champions was very apparent. We worked on catching & throwing, with a focus on long throws, and effective throw+go techniques.
Saturday’s focus at the workshop was “Throwing + Catching skills & Flexagon Defence”. We had 15 players turn up and had a good session – I talked about the neutral stance / power stance for throwing, went into detail about hucking technique, talked about and practiced the finer qualities of clap catching, broke down Flex D into its principles of communication, switching/sandwiching where appropriate, and covering all offensive players as a team, and drilled them each individually and combined. We played a few games at the end where everyone was communicating loads, looking out for switches, setting up sandwiches, and I was able to illustrate specific scenarios like where somebody would poach deep (without marking someone, switching, or sandwiching) and it would cause the defence to break down – so lots was learned by all.
On Sunday the focus was Hex Offence, so we ran through a number of drills which put into practice the skills which are particularly useful for Hex play and principles – throw-and-go moves, recognising space developing on the field and moving into it, taking the open pass or faking if it’s not on, and maintaining the hex shape – which entailed illustrating what the shape looks like when the disc is at any point on the field, and guidelines on how to maintain the shape dynamically during play.
At the end of the Sunday session we played a match against “Me & My Monkey” – a fairly new Moscow team. M&MM came out with a vertical stack and we immediately surrounded it whilst pointing and shouting “five!” to indicate there should be five of us sandwiching around five of them. M&MM’s cutting was chaotic in reaction and we shut down most of their short options and stuffed their flow, however they had a couple of throwers who were able to sit the disc out amazingly far and flat for their receivers to run down, which they did very well and very often until we adapted. On offence, Hex worked well but was rather crowded – the pitch was slightly narrow, but we also had the common tendency of over-rotating downfield, meaning the downfield space was crowded and the backfield space was underused when on the sideline. We had some nice sequences of play however, some good deep shots, some quick passes off the line from static towards the end, and scored enough points to win the game. M&MM’s offence switched up to horizontal for a while – we tried Japan’s Hasami defence against it but figured there was too much space between the downfield cutters for it to work effectively, so went back to Flex and continued to get good results. From vert, M&MM tried a play we used to call ‘rubber’ in the UK – the front cutters split and the back cutter comes under – which is a great idea against Flex which doesn’t have a fully switched-on back defender, however we recognised this and prepared the deep defender to tighten up quickly if he saw this happening, so we continued to cause them problems. Towards the end of the game we decided to switch it up as we were getting physically and mentally drained – at one point we came out with a vert stack on the open side (to free up loads of break space), but M&MM quickly transitioned into a zonal-type defence as a counter – something they potentially had learned from us during the game, or that their coach had prepared them for (he had also attended the Hex workshop).
During the trainings I got to know lots of Russian players by playing with & against them, and I believe that if I ran another workshop immediately then the turnout would be quite high. The Luckygrass coach told me he & his team didn’t attend the workshop as their strategic focus for the year was vert stack & man-to-man defence and they didn’t want to add confusion, which got me thinking about how the workshop could be tailored to account for this type of player/team. The throwing & catching part of the workshop is useful for any level of player, and teams are usually more willing to experiment with new defences over new offences, so potentially the “Flexagon Defence” part of the workshop could be marketed as “How to beat Vertical Stack using teamwork” or something similarly relatable.
The range of strategies played in Russia seem to indicate they’re a few years behind the UK. Vertical stack is very dominant, and though established teams know to play horizontal, they don’t seem too familiar or comfortable with it. The focus for both performance and for ‘keeping it simple for beginners’ is strongly on stacking tight and cutting hard. Deep throws are very common. On defence, we went through an entire game just forcing flick – despite the opposition having quite good flick throws. This is what teams used to do 20 years ago when not every player had a reliable flick throw. There was barely any zone played, however players were able to adapt to new defences when we introduced them, so the responsibility for progressing the strategic development on the field lies with the coaches at this point, who must be willing to experiment and take risks on defence in order to progress. It will be interesting to see over the next year or two whether Dolgorukiye and the other teams who had players present at the workshops adopt some principles from Flex defence, and begin to force their opposition’s vert-stack offence to evolve into a horizontal stack, or even Hex. Without defence evolving first, there is no need for the offence to evolve beyond the well-established vertical stack with hard cuts.
I hope to return to Russia in a year or two, and after playing in all the post-workshop games and trainings this time and seeing the strategies begin to have an impact, I’m sure that there will be plenty of players who will be keen to attend a future workshop in Moscow. I love the people and the country so I look forward to returning!
They do put potato on their pizza though – I’m not too sure about that.
Check out the full collection of photos & videos in the Google Photo album
Addendum: Dolgorukiye were kind enough to put together this video for felixultimate.com!
*Update: You can follow his progress via the Facebook FelixUltimate page
I will be in Moscow from 15-26th May, and on the 20-21st weekend I’ll be running a Hex Workshop! Russia has a well developed Ultimate community, so the primary aim of this visit is to train interested players, coaches and captains in Hex Offence and Flex Defence, so they can understand the advantages and disadvantages of strategies better and choose what is best for their team. I will also be having a meeting at an embassy with a view to starting a 10 Million Discs NE Europe / Baltics program, similar to the work we have been doing in the Balkans.
More info on the Hex Workshop can be found here on the Facebook event – if you have any frisbee playing friends in Moscow, please let them know about it and encourage them to sign up!
University Outdoor Nationals took place in Nottingham this weekend, with Sussex Mohawks and UCL winning in the Men’s and Women’s divisions respectively.
Uni Outdoor Nationals Results 2016-17
Sussex faced St Andrews in their quarter final due to losing to Strathclyde in the group stage. It was a rematch of the Uni Indoor Final from earlier this season, with both teams programs culminating in a big year this year. The Brighton-based team saw the indoor champions off 7-4 in a well spirited match, went on to beat Birmingham 9-6 in the semi final using their alternative approach to defence, before facing Bath in the final – a rematch from the group stage. Both teams scored upwind multiple times, Sussex were able to take half with an incredible trailing edge catch from Luis Semple (below), and saw the game out 9-7 to take the National Championship title.
This is the 4th Uni Men’s Outdoor title Sussex University have won – their third in the last 7 years with Felix Shardlow as coach (joined this year by John Maule and Glen Newell). Sussex now hold more Uni Open Outdoor titles than any other university in history.
4 titles: Sussex
3 titles: Edinburgh, Bristol, Leeds
2 titles: Cambridge, Warwick
1 title: Nottingham, Birmingham, Cork, Portsmouth, Cardiff, Loughborough, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Sheffield
2007-8: Cardiff, Cambridge, Bristol, Durham
2008-9: Warwick, Portsmouth, Loughborough
2009-10: Portsmouth, Edinburgh, Warwick
2010-11: Sussex, Cambridge, Edinburgh
2011-12: Sussex, Cork, Bristol
2012-13: Cork, Edinburgh, Birmingham
2013-14: Cambridge, Sussex, Manchester
2014-15: Birmingham, Dundee, Manchester
2015-16: Nottingham, Glasgow, Birmingham
2016-17: Sussex, Bath, Glasgow
UCL Women came in with a small squad with the aim to use Nats as a development tournament for many of the freshers on the team. Despite losing some star players this past year, including Vanessa Lowe (Iceni), Alison Walker (ex-Iceni/Deep Space), Ruth Kilsby (on a year abroad in Texas), the team gelled and brought together a zone which threw off many of the teams they faced.
On offence Alix Henry was instrumental, throwing many hucks. For some more perspectives, check this reddit thread.
UK Uni Women’s Outdoor titles, 2006-17:
2005-6: Leeds, Loughborough & Nottingham, Southampton
2006-7: Sussex, Southampton, Cambridge. Scotland
2007-8: Bristol, Loughborough & Nottingham, Oxford
2008-9: Sussex, Newcastle, Warwick
2009-10: Warwick, St Andrews, Sussex
2010-11: Sussex, Cambridge, St Andrews
2011-12: Sussex, Southampton, York
2012-13: Sussex, Edinburgh, Newcastle
2013-14: Bangor, Durham, Birmingham
2014-15: Oxford, Birmingham, Loughborough
2015-16: Birmingham, Exeter, Newcastle
2016-17: UCL, Oxford, Edinburgh, Birmingham
5 titles: Sussex
1 title: UCL, Birmingham, Oxford, Bangor, Warwick, Bristol, Leeds
UK Uni Mixed Outdoor titles, 2006-17:
2005-06: Edinburgh, St Andrews, Leeds, Sheffield
2006-07: Trinity College Dublin, St Andrews, Aberdeen, Newcastle
2007-08: Warwick, St Andrews, Leeds, Edinburgh
2008-09: Warwick, Cambridge, Nottingham, Manchester
2009-10: Warwick, Manchester
2010-11: Sussex, Warwick, St Andrews, Aberdeen
2011-12: Southampton, Loughborough, Manchester, Sussex
2012-13: Edinburgh, Leicester, Sussex, Durham
2013-14: Birmingham, Dundee, Bristol, Nottingham
2014-15: Birmingham, Dundee, Heriot-Watt, Oxford
2015-16: Birmingham, Glasgow, Dundee, Durham
3 titles: Birmingham, Warwick
2 titles: Edinburgh
1 titles: Southampton, Sussex, Trinity College Dublin
Footage: I will be posting footage here when it surfaces – if you have any then please send me the links! Two short videos are available on the UK Ultimate Sofa Sideline group.
Summary of all divisions from UK Ultimate:
Congratulations to all the teams and players for another fantastic BUCS Championships in Nottingham last weekend. The famous Nottingham wind made for very different conditions on Saturday and Sunday, but the standard of play was high throughout.
In the Men’s Championships, Sussex won their third title in 7 years with victory over Bath in the final, recovering from a pool play defeat on Saturday to power through the bracket. Glasgow took the bronze with their second victory of the weekend over Birmingham.
The Women’s Championships were won by UCL over Oxford in a strong showing for the East region, with Edinburgh taking the bronze. The big story in this division is the increasing parity and depth – 1st beat 8th in sudden death, 6th beat 16th in sudden death…
Nottingham won the Men’s Trophy, in theory making them the best 4th placed team in the BUCS leagues and the most unlucky to miss out on Division 1 due to their tough region – except that their final opponents, Edinburgh, were actually 5th in Scottish 1A, and Scotland 4 (Strathclyde) made it as high as 5th in the Championship! Surrey took home the bronze.
In the Women’s Trophy, Huddersfield dominated from start to finish, with their closest result a comfortable 8-3 win over Southampton in the final. Bath took the bronze.
In the Men’s Conference Cup, the top 4 teams were very closely matched, with Oxford eventually seeing off Newcastle in the final and Southampton taking the bronze over Sheffield.
I recently travelled to Albania for eight days as part of a 10 Million Discs project in the Balkans. There were 5 of us present for most sessions – Trent Simmons (Founder & President of 10 Million Discs), Juan Amado from Columbia (coach), James Martin (coach), myself (head coach), and Erjona Kurti from the US Embassy.
Also see: Full Google Photo album | Full day-by-day blogs from Albania
10 Million Discs is an international youth development NGO which engages youth through sports, frequently with a focus on bringing together people from countries or cultures with a history of conflict. By engaging them in a fun, new activity, 10MD are able to break down barriers whilst teaching conflict resolution, gender equality, mutual trust, personal accountability under pressure, and other important life skills. At the same time, 10MD programs are also tailored to advance social and humanitarian causes unique to the host country and communities.
In the build up to our trip, the US Embassy in Tirana worked together with the School Sports Federation, and arranged for 250+ PE teachers (covering 7 of the 10 major cities) to come together and learn from us how to teach Ultimate and its self-refereeing principles to their pupils. They produced 200 “Better Together” discs to be distributed amongst the schools, featuring US and Albanian flags, and 10 rules of Ultimate printed directly onto the discs in Albanian with English translation. Alongside the teacher-training sessions we also worked directly with a number of youth groups to introduce the sport, the principles of Spirit, and how they relate to real life skills.
Ultimate in Albania has been fairly sporadic over the last decade or so, with no sustained clubs in existence and no pickup happening currently. In the past there has been the occasional team or game, mostly comprising of ex-pats, but even that seems to have faded out now.
PE Teacher Training
In order to introduce the game across the whole country, our highest priority were the PE teacher-training sessions being held at the big cities – Kavaja, Shkoder, Durres, Tirana, and Vlore (plus Fier and Elbasan after I left). We went equipped with discs, a translator (most Albanians over 25 years old do not speak English), and a sound system for the sessions. The venues were varied and often challenging due to the high number of participants, but we made do with what we had to deliver the best sessions we could.
Each teacher-training session had 50-70 PE teachers attending, maximum 2 per school. Each session started with us explaining four cornerstones of 10MD’s take on Spirit of the Game / self-refereeing – Personal Accountability Under Pressure, Gender Equality, Mutual Respect, and Conflict Resolution. We introduced Ultimate as not only a new sport, but as a new approach to sport.
Several teachers told us that such an approach (relying upon mutual trust & fair-mindedness in the heat of competition) would not work in Albania – a country which has a lot of problems; where life can be a struggle, people have their guard up, and a ‘take what you can get’ mentality is pervasive. However, we held strong that Spirit does work, and that the game of Ultimate ceases to function if mutual trust is not present – therefore those who play will quickly learn the importance of trusting and being trusted. We also expressed our hope that through playing Ultimate, the youth in Albania will learn new ways to approach situations in life where mutual respect and non-confrontational conflict resolution can go a long way, rather than following the example of some current sports (such as the most popular in Albania – soccer), which often reinforce a different way of thinking.
The teacher-training sessions were challenging for a number of reasons (oversubscribed venues, communication issues), but we learnt a lot from each one, and we hope the teachers did too. Every teacher went away knowing the basic rules of the Ultimate at the very least, and at the most they understood spirit, good technique, and learnt some drills which they can run at their schools. Considering how the numbers scale up in terms of pupils getting to play the sport, I believe our PE teacher training program will give Albanian Ultimate a healthy kickstart, and I would expect a few Ultimate communities to take shape, develop, and grow over the coming years. Once a certain number of teams form and are recognised by a certain number of NGOs, an Albanian Flying Disc Federation can be established. After I left Albania, Trent met with the president of the School Sports Federation who said he wants to ideally start the Albanian HS Ultimate national championships next year, citing potential for SotG principles to change Albanian society as his primary reason for endorsing us. The cost savings of not needing referees was also mentioned as a big edge over other sports.
As well as PE teacher training, we ran a number of sessions with other groups; one was at a gated community connected to the US Embassy, where kids and their parents came to learn about the game and take part in fun drills & games. Also present at this session were 7 US Marines. Speaking to one who had played before, he said that Ultimate was played amongst the marines in Baghdad “like a religion” – he would take part in games which would grow to 10v10 in size. Interesting to know! I imagine it’s favoured amongst marines due to the minimal equipment needed, the low risk of injury due to contact, the high levels of fitness that can be used, and the way it encourages and rewards good teamwork. The marines who hadn’t played before picked it up very quickly, and using them to demo a drill was a fantastic experience as a coach – not sure I’ll ever have a beginner group again who listen to and follow instructions so clinically!
The marines also fell into team roles very quickly. One tall guy would defend the end zone and get the disc moving on the turn. A particularly quick-turning guy from New York had mastered end zone cutting by the end of the session and scored many, many points. Loads of them had awesome American-football style toeing-in ability, which was great to see. Whilst they were playing, we also had two other pitches set up for the kids & parents in the gated community, meaning everyone could play at the same time at a level they were comfortable with.
We ran a number of sessions directly with youth in the cities we were working in – a model UN group, members of the Roma community, a few sports clubs, the political youth groups, and a session at a juvenile prison. The prison session was a very memorable and humbling experience – there were high levels of participation (43 inmates), though the prison warden stopped us from playing cross-cellblock games as we had hoped in case trouble started. We had four games going at the same time, and all the players I saw were enjoying themselves and playing fair – avoiding contact where they could, and settling disputes peacefully and respectfully on the field as and when they arose. As with any group, encouraging them to discuss the call between the two players involved would quickly lead to a resolution – usually the fairest one too. In the yard we were surrounded by 15ft high walls and almost all the prison guards were surrounding the pitches whilst we were playing.
Political Youth Groups
We brought together three political youth groups, who played alongside each other as team mates for the first time, all of them learning the rules of the game and how to resolve disputes together. Some of them were really competitive and weren’t afraid to make calls (again, easily settled when the two parties involved are encouraged to discuss it between themselves), nor were they afraid to sky each other and throw themselves around after the frisbee to make awesome catches and interceptions. Initially there was some unwillingness to inter-mingle between groups, but through learning the rules together, translating for each other, sorting out calls and figuring out tactics, we saw plenty of barriers being broken down and the youth really embrace the ideals of mutual trust and respect, despite their political differences in a time of political tension.
National TV appearance
Towards the end of my stay we appeared live on the top Albanian national TV breakfast show! We were given a number of questions to prepare answers for, but to our surprise the presenters went immediately off-script and threw curve-balls our way. This again put us in a very challenging situation – the questions were being translated behind the scenes, so when the hosts finished their questions there was an awkward (and ultimately hilarious) pause before we even began to answer, as we waited for the translation to come through. They started off by comparing the sport to dominoes (?), and although we had to think on our feet regarding the answers, our preparation meant we did manage to say most of what we intended to – I explained the basic rules (after the classic ‘how is it different to throwing a frisbee on the beach?’ question), Trent explained the principles of Spirit of the Game, and Juan clarified how spirit works in a practical way on the field whilst Erjona was working in very difficult circumstances to translate back and forth. The section ended with us throwing around in the studio – one of their throws actually bounced off one of the cameras off-screen making a huge crash! Full video here.
Socio-economic situation & the natural landscape of Albania
Unfinished buildings are scattered around Albania – concrete frames of houses where construction seemed to stop just before windows & doors were put in. The location of these houses is great from an aesthetic point of view – surrounded by green hills and the Dajti mountains, but the unfinished structures are a haunting reminder of the economic problems the country faces.
The highways are generally well maintained, and took us on a path alongside beautiful scenery. Most of the central and eastern parts of Albania are covered in huge mountains; I took the opportunity to go up one of these mountains on our day off. Along the way up were many houses, with electricity getting less common the further up you go. Half way up was a small village with a lake, overlooking the city of Tirana – very picturesque indeed. The top of the mountain was enshrouded by a cloud, giving everything an eerie feel.
There are a few recurring structures amongst the mountains which hark back to a more violent history – I noticed two or three castles, and had the pleasure of visiting one called Petrela Castle, at the top of a mountain just south of Tirana. Inside we found an open-top restaurant/bar with one amazing table from where we could see the sun setting whilst enjoying an evening beer and making plans for the following day’s sessions. There are lots of one-person concrete pillboxes / bunkers dotted around the scenery – built within the last century as what looks like a form of guerrilla war defence system – apparently there are 700,000 of them in total.
The city has a stray dog and cat population – the dogs are generally friendly and the cats are surviving by being very cautious. I didn’t get a chance to explore any real wilderness, inviting though it was, however I did come across a particularly large grasshopper / locust. Walking around in Albania was at times dangerous not because of wildlife or crime, but because of problems with the infrastructure – torn up pavements and roads, unguarded drops, or manholes with covers missing unguarded in the middle of the pavement could easily cause injury if you don’t keep your eyes open.
Summary – a glimmer on the horizon
If the 250+ PE teachers we trained get their frisbees and go on to introduce the game to 100+ pupils each, our immediate reach will be 25,000+ pupils. It will be interesting to see how the Ultimate communities emerge and develop after this blanket approach – for middle- and high-school pupils it may be a few years before they organise themselves into clubs and teams outside of school, however by introducing the game to 120+ college students, working with 6 NGOs, appearing on local TV 6 times and on National TV twice – many adults could be encouraged to start clubs which the youth players can then join. Our next step will be to deliver leadership training courses and level-up the Ultimate knowledge amongst those who are growing the sport. We are in the process of distributing 450 discs to all the schools this year, with 1000 planned for next year – an ongoing supply of discs going into Albania would be ideal for supporting the developing Ultimate communities over the coming years.
To quote one of the PE teachers: “Albania is a country with many problems, and [Ultimate] is not one of them.” I hope that in time, Ultimate can be seen as a step towards a solution for some of the underlying problems Albania faces.
Albania trip with 10 Million Discs
Day 1: Tuesday, 11th April:
Introduced Ultimate to 43 inmates at a juvenile prison today, travelling there with staff from the US Embassy including a sound system. The prisoners were led out cell block by cell block – during the games at the end we weren’t allowed to have prisoners from one cell block competing against prisoners from another, in case of trouble – which was a shame as one of our core messages is that Ultimate breaks down barriers!
Some of the inmates were very enthusiastic about throwing and playing Ultimate, and the participation levels were very high – 95% threw around and took part in the drill, and then around 70% took part in the games at the end – which we found out later was an exceptional result. They respected us and were well behaved the entire time – resolving their disagreements very peacefully in accordance to the SOTG rules of Ultimate.
In the afternoon we had a meeting at the American Embassy with their public affairs officer, who said he was sold on the idea of helping spreading ultimate in any way the embassy can. We made use of a great opportunity to tell him about the Spirit of the Game, how Ultimate is easily accessible to people of all abilities and financial situations, and (he hadn’t heard this before:) that it’s played mixed gender in the World Games, with women on the field being equally valued as men, and in some games more.
After the meeting, Juan Amado (a coach from Colombia), Erta (our assigned translator/guide for the evening) and I went to Petrele Castle – on top of a mountain, an open top restaurant and bar, where we sat at the best table at the top of the castle and watched the sun set whilst planning for tomorrow. A great way to spend the evening and take some photos.
Tomorrow we’re teaching 70 PE teachers about Ultimate and how to teach it to students. If a school has two PE teachers, they are sending one. If they have five, they are sending two. So, the reach of this session is going to be huge. Tonight we’ve been discussing the best approaches we can use to give them the knowledge to be able to teach good technique, drills and strategy to their students.
Tomorrow evening we’re running a session with a non government organisation, but we don’t know much about it yet. In a few days we’ll be working with the youth of the political parties, and some real politicians will be coming along who requested no media coverage due to the sensitive nature of the situation – there are very important political movements happening at the moment and they’re worried about being seen to be not taking things seriously by playing frisbee! In reality we are championing a non violent and non confrontational approach to conflict resolution, and encouraging that in the political youth,. The US Embassy public affairs officer made it clear they were putting their full support behind the approach of spreading non-violent conflict resolution through (our) sport, so it’s a very interesting opportunity!
Albania day 2: Wednesday, 12th April
This morning we travelled to Shkoder (2hrs north of Tirana, on the border with Montenegro) to run a session with all the middle and high-school PE teachers from the city. 70-80 schools in total were represented, with the aim of taking Ultimate back to each school – along with a couple of discs provided by 10 Million Discs. The group was keen to learn but sometimes difficult to manage, perhaps due to the language barrier – although we had a great student translating for us. In Albania, the younger a person is, the more likely it is that they can speak English – far more students / youth than PE teachers.
We spent time explaining the concepts of Spirit of the Game, the rules, the history, the current state of the sport in terms of competition, training the teachers on how to correct common throwing technique issues, then demonstrated a couple of simple drills with volunteers which only require one or two discs (as this is how many the schools are likely to have to start), and then played a 5v5 match at the end to demonstrate what the game looked like in action (stopping and explaining calls and such to the 60 or so spectating PE teachers when appropriate).
In the afternoon we went to an NGO called Door Org, which runs a youth football club, and got around 20 young athletes playing the game – roughly half girls and half boys. They were fast and competitive, and seemed to have a really good time – being used to referees, it was interesting to see them become referees themselves when we insisted they sort out calls between themselves. Tomorrow we have a meeting in the morning, and a youth session with political groups in the afternoon.
There are loads of unfinished buildings in Albania – we joke about how we should start a windows & doors company which could turn the unfinished shells into houses, but in reality they are likely symbolic of Albania’s economic or political corruption issues.
Albania Day 3: Thursday, 13th April
After a meeting inside the ministry of defence about the possibility of starting a team with the youth there, we headed to a nice (but small) field in Tirana to run a session with the political youth.
The current political climate is rather sensitive, and the US Embassy were on board with attempting to spread a message of non-violent conflict resolution, and personal responsibility under pressure, through Ultimate. It was tricky at first to get the different groups to interact (asking them to pair up with someone from a different group did not work – they went away and took group photos instead – the opposite!), so we simply divided into four split teams and ran a drill or two before explaining the rules and playing games.
Lots of them got really into the games once they were started, which taught us that getting youth groups playing the game as quickly as possible is important – they are not interested in learning skills etc if they have no context / aim for where those skills can be used.
In the evening Trent, Juan, Alex, and I went to a place called BrauHaus for food, drinks, and some great stories about past Ultimate tournaments and discussions about the current strategies used in the game – where they originated from and where they may lead in the future. Unfortunately Trent and I got a bad case of food poisoning, which knocked us out for the entirety of day 4…
Albania days 4 & 5: Friday & Saturday, April 14th & 15th:
Day 4 has been all about Juan, James and Alex. Juan Amado is a Columbian national team player who works for 10 Million Discs introducing the sport in neighbouring Montenegro, James Martin is a local ex-pat also working with 10MD, and Alex is a traveller from France who got in touch with James looking for a pickup game and has been roped into helping us deliver sessions! His help proved very valuable on Friday; food poisoning hit Trent and I hard on Thursday night meaning we were completely out of action on Friday.
Juan, James and Alex ran a youth session in the morning where they tried playing a game of Ultimate as soon as possible – before any real throwing time, let alone drills or long descriptions of the rules – quick 5 rules and then into games. This was a really successful method, I believe because it captures the attention and focus of younger participants, and gives them a frame of reference for all the other skills and drills which we might want to cover in the session. It is also a good levelling technique for the group – no matter what they were doing beforehand, once everyone has played a game for a few minutes, they are all pretty much on the same page.
In the afternoon was another session for PE teachers – this time 15 teachers showed up with a load of their students, who were all very enthusiastic and will be taking the sport back to their schools to help introduce it. Although having a split group of teachers & students can complicate the session plan (is the aim to teach them how to play the sport, or teach them how to teach the sport?), the enthusiasm and knowledge/ability which the students will take back to their schools is likely to be very valuable in getting games and teams started there.
Saturday was our rest day – Trent and I found a dirt field nearby to throw a frisbee around for a while, but mostly focused on regaining our energy for the days ahead.
Albania day 6: Sunday, April 16th – Random session with the public and a short trip up a mountain.
We were scheduled to run a session with the Roma community in the morning, although we were told to prepare for a potential low turnout despite the best efforts of volunteer coordinators who work with the community. When we turned up to the field we begun throwing all our frisbees from end to end, aiming for the small soccer goals. Incidentally, soccer is easily the most popular sport in Albania, so we’ve learnt to explain Ultimate in terms of / in comparison to soccer.
Sure enough, the turnout from the Roma community was zero – however, the coordinators showed up, and several locals got interested whilst we were throwing from goal to goal – so we gathered them together, explained the game, and got playing! There were around 22 people taking part over two pitches, with ages ranging from 8-60, mostly young athletic people. After some game time we had a break and did some throwing in pairs (talking them through basic backhand and forehand techniques), before going back into two games, and finally one large game. People cycled in and out of the session, and by the end we still had around 20 people but most of them were different to those we started with!
Afterwards, there were a large group (who were connected because they were all anime enthusiasts I believe(?)) who had just joined in at the end and were very keen to learn more, so we hung out with them for a while and talked about the sport, rules, techniques, and explained what we’d been doing in Albania so far. We let them know if they wanted to start playing and start teams, there would be a lot of young people coming from schools who would now be familiar with the sport and keen to join a team. Although us meeting the group was completely unplanned, it’s possible the meeting could have some very productive consequences!
That afternoon I went up the Dajti mountains with James. The top of the mountain was inside a cloud, but the view from the cable car over Tirana was very impressive, and we just caught the sun setting on the way down.
Albania day 7: TV interview and training with the US Marines!
Today was a big day! We got up early and headed to the TV station for a live interview on the national Top Channel Albanian breakfast show, Wake Up! We had been given 8 questions to prepare answers for, but that plan immediately went out the window as the hosts immediately went off-script and asked us completely different questions. We had to wait for the questions to be translated (through our earpieces), which led to some hilariously awkward pauses before our answers. It sounded like they started off by comparing the sport to dominoes (?), but we got to talk about most of the things we wanted to get across – I likened the game to soccer with a frisbee and a scoring zone in place of a ball and a goal, Trent and Juan talked about the self refereed nature of the game, and then we had a quick throw with the presenters in the studio and one of their throws hit a camera, haha. Full interview can be found here: https://youtu.be/OcXmOPtYmk0?t=13m31s
In the afternoon we headed into the gated community connected to the US Embassy – more armed guards checking us as we arrived – and ran a session with 6 incredibly fit US marines, 12 kids aged 5-12, and 12 parents (most of whom had very high ranking jobs). We broke the session into two drills at the start – I used US Marines to demo the drill as they were unsurprisingly able to follow instructions very closely – and then we had three concurrent games – one for marines and experienced parents, one for small kids and a few of their parents, and one for the older kids.
The Marines who hadn’t played before picked it up very quickly. I spoke to one who said Ultimate is “played like a religion” by the marines and army in Baghdad, Iraq – sometimes 10 or 11 per side, several times a week. Interesting to know! I imagine it’s favoured amongst marines due to the minimal equipment needed, the low risk of injury due to contact, the high levels of fitness that can be used, and the way it encourages and rewards good teamwork.
The marines picked up skills quickly and fell into team roles very quickly too. One tall guy would defend the end zone and get the disc moving on the turn. A particularly quick turning guy from New York had mastered end zone cutting by the end of the session and scored so many points. Loads of them had awesome American-football style toeing-in ability, which was great to see.
Tomorrow is my last day in Albania, and we’re heading to the beach in Vlores to teach more PE teachers before working with the Model UN youth group!
Albania day 8: Vlore PE teacher & model UN sessions, Tuesday 18th April
It’s a 2.5 hour journey to Vlore – around the mountains and through the city of Fier. Fier is near where the largest oil deposits in Albania have been found, however the city is tiny compared to Tirana, and although picturesque, the roads are poorly maintained and the streets are lined with the now common sight of half-finished construction work.
The venue at Vlore was split between a tiny artificial turf area and an indoor hall. We had around 45 PE teachers turn up, and after Trent’s talk about Spirit of the Game we used what I’ve decided to call the SWAG approach to introducing Ultimate – Start With A Game. Due to the high numbers and small space we played a quick 3v3 demo game, where the basic rules regarding scoring, travelling, turnovers, no contact, and self-refereeing were illustrated.
It seems difficult to hold the attention of Albanian PE teachers for more than 30 minutes – which makes a 2-2.5 hour session quite the challenge. We managed to get across a few basic guidelines for good technique for backhand and forehand throws, demonstrated two drills which only require 1 disc, and finished with two games which anyone could take part in.
In the afternoon we met with a youth “Model UN” group. We had an extended discussion with them about the principles of Spirit of the Game, and how they could be extended to apply to society and politics with good effect. The practical part of the session was on a beach, and although it was windy, everyone picked up some throwing skills, practiced their catching of lead passes into the wind, and played a game for a good hour or so.
I finished the day (and my stay in Albania) with a swim in the sea, surrounded by the awesome scenery of mountain ranges. Summary report coming soon!
Updates from my Albania trip are being posted daily on my new FelixUltimate Facebook page – read about how I’m working together with the 10 Million Discs global charity to introduce Ultimate at the grass roots level by running sessions with PE teachers, NGOs, and youth groups from around the country.
On 10th-19th April Felix will be travelling around Albania with the 10 Million Discs charity!
Along with Trent Simmons, Jason Morrison and Juan Amado, I will be delivering 3 sessions to High School PE teachers, 3 sessions to NGOs including to staff & detainees at Juvenile prison in Kavaje, 2 youth sessions, a training with a paraplegic community / wheelchair group, and an afternoon playing with Embassy staff + Marines, amongst other activities and meetings to set Ultimate into action in Albania in a big way.
Check back for updates!