NHexGen – We catch up with Valerio Iani as he brings Hex to Italy

Nestled in the hills of Rome, a new approach is exercised in a mission to challenge CUSB.

You might remember Valerio from his Ultiworld article that argues for revolutionising your training habits and introducing hex philosophy to your team. Before a recent move to Italy, Valerio coached OAK, a team for Middle and High School Boys in Oakland, California – placing 10th at YCCs in 2019. I caught up with him and asked him about the recent camp dubbed NHexGen.

Noah: Give me the elevator pitch for NHexGen?

Valerio: To perform better you need to practice differently. On the request of the Imola Open Team, who play in Serie A [the top men’s division in Italian ultimate], I designed a full weekend in the olive-dotted hills at the gates of Rome to teach them Hex, revolutionize their practices, and develop the right mindset to compete at a higher level. One of the captains dubbed the event NHexGen and I ran with it.

How was the event last week?

Judging from the feedback, I can safely say it was a fun and stimulating experience for everyone involved: me, the two event managers and the 22 players from Imola. We had hands-on sessions, games with constraints, high-intensity scrimmages, a showcase game in front of a local crowd, interspersed with dips in a frigid river, delicious pasta, watermelon and gelato and lots of laughs. The players were impressed both with the new system of playing and the mental approach and came away from the weekend very motivated for the upcoming season. They were also tickled that someone was actually insisting they hone unconventional throws instead of banning them outright.

They plan to repeat with Imola’s women’s team!

You’ve recently moved from California to Italy, how has that been, and how does the ultimate in Italy compare to California?

It’s definitely a reverse culture shock for me. Ultimate in Italy? With the COVID restrictions and everything slowly going back to normal after a long vaccine rollout I’m still not sure what it looks like these days. :) Though, alongside the impressive youth growth, I’m surprised to find a lot of my old friends still playing in the club scene (not just Masters). The Federation is very active and I’ve joined the Development and Schools committee, in the hopes of bringing my international perspective. 

Oakland was the team that you previously coached, what’s happening there now and what have you learnt from your time coaching Oakland?

OAK has overcome many challenges and they will play at YCC, the USAU youth nationals, this summer. The team I was coaching, now all 17-year-old players, will be in the U20 division so it will be interesting to see how they perform against older and more athletically developed kids. They are tough cookies and in good hands (my two assistant coaches Antonio and Greg, supported by committed parents), so I’m expecting them to do well.

Running my own business at the helm of OAK Ultimate helped me to go deeper and gave me the freedom to experiment with some radical coaching innovations. Hex/Flex and ecological dynamics were two major and pleasant discoveries! I started to pay more attention to the mental aspect of performance since social and emotional learning and mistakes are key elements of the learning process. 

Italy, and Bologna specifically seems like the place to be for European Ultimate right now, with CUSB teams taking 2 out of 3 gold medals at the most recent EUCF, is it even possible to compete with such a well developed club?

Bologna has done a terrific job with the local schools and the youth movement. That said, every Achilles has a vulnerable heel. I believe an ambitious team working hard and smart on Hex/Flex could bring them down.

So we’ve seen step 1 of NHexGen, what are your plans for the future?

I’m not sure. This event might be a one off, or it could become recurring. Learning and teaching new angles of the game is my thing. We’ll see what the future brings.

Huge thanks to Valerio for making this article possible

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