Report by Felix Shardlow
Last weekend I was invited to Bologna, Italy, by the Italian Flying Disc Federation (FIFD) to be the guest international coach at their Level 3 coaching course, working alongside FIFD coaching development program instructors Davide Morri and Valerio Iani. We worked with 20 of the top coaches in the country, with classroom theory and practical sessions.
The FIFD also scheduled the U17 and U20 Italia trials to be on the Sunday, allotting 1.5 hours for me to work with each group of 120 players. In between these sessions they scheduled an extra 4 hour workshop for 40 senior players and coaches. In total, over the weekend, I worked with ~320 players/coaches, and it was hex/flex all the way.
With a limited amount of time with each group, I started by talking about teamwork on defense – how a one-way force and 1-to-1 defense involves teamwork between the mark and the downfield defenders, but lacks any teamwork between each of those downfield defenders. I went through examples of offensive movement and proper defensive reaction.
Every downfield defender is essentially alone and covering the same spaces. With cones I demonstrated how the stack can be surrounded by the defense, so any direction that any offensive player chooses to cut will begin with running towards a defender. Then I demonstrated Trent’s Surrounding Drill, with examples of how the defenders should react to offensive movement, with a focus on awareness and communication. After demonstrating the basic movements and typical communications, we split into groups, and the coaches progressed the drill into the Pop Pass Surrounding Drill and then the Triple Sandwich Drill when the players were ready.
Moving onto offense, I demonstrated how leaning into your throw whilst keeping your non-pivot foot off the ground can give you a burst of acceleration after you release the disc, and we explored this further with the Dribble Slalom Drill, which progressed into the Give-Go Swill Drill, adding a defender and a competitive element.
For the sessions which lasted longer than 90 minutes, we talked about switching – how expecting and preparing for switches creates an advantage for defense, and how reactive switching (getting beaten and calling ‘switch’) is just damage limitation. We ran the Conical Switching Drill to give players multiple situations to anticipate switches, and choose to switch, or to stick to their mark. We talked about the importance of eye contact and gesticulation in order to communicate and try to take the advantage back from the offense.
Bologna has 10 coaches teaching in schools several days per week. Thousands of juniors are being introduced to ultimate. This does not mean thousands of players will emerge – like every movement, they have failures where 1000 kids learn the game and then 0 choose to continue with it. In Italy and Bologna they have a system which seems to be sustainable – Davide has set an example with his dedication and work rate in the community, and in any conversation about junior development, Davide’s name will come up. There are no university competitions in Bologna, so the La Fotta and Shout teams are a combination of students (who are able to train several times per week), and experienced players whose lives haven’t yet been taken over by the daily grind or by family commitments. There isn’t the same distinction between university and club as there is in many other countries, and the university players are very involved with coaching in high schools.
The FIFD are doing great work, bringing in international coaches to run clinics every year, and La Fotta & Shout have a culture of teaching the younger generation. This is not something that I see within the UKU, GB, or Clapham, despite the best efforts of Si Hill and a few others.
Valerio’s club Ultimate Imola fully embraced hex/flex a few months ago and have been making a lot noise, performing better than ever and qualifying for Worlds. Italy have had a taste of victory in 2019, so whether or not they adopt Hive’s ideas of Hex and Flex is still a question – one which I spoke about with Davide on Saturday night as we sat at opposite heads of the table:
“I like the ideas but I’m not sure Italy wants to go full hex/flex”
“I want to see an elite team have success with it first”
“One team has to lead”
“It’s uncertain – it might lose us the championship”
“It’s different – it might win you the championship”