“What I’m seeing so far, is that the “Rest of the world” are catching up” – these were the American words spoken to me by Evan Lepler during the showgame on Friday night (Evan is addressing the camera in the bottom right of the above photo). My experience so far had been similar, but in a starkly different context. I had been invited to TEP to run a Hex Clinic and assist with coaching the Colombian World Games tryout teams, but when on the sideline of the first tryouts’ game, it wasn’t the World Games team who I noticed were playing Hex, but their opponents – a team called D-Crash from Bogota. The D-Crash coach confirmed they play Hex 70% of the time. Within my first two days in Medellín, I had conversations with coaches from Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela – all had begun to introduce Hex to their teams since the pandemic and were keen to pick my brain.
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.
Amsterdam Hex Clinic, 29-30th September 2018
Last weekend saw players from all over Netherlands and Belgium come together to learn Hex Offence and Flex Defence at the Amsterdam Hex Clinic, put together with help from Sjoerd Druven. The clinic started with a classroom session on Flexagon Defence theory – the group discussed common offensive mistakes and shortcomings, and thought about which were the most noticed, and which are rarely considered to contribute to turnovers. Then we looked at how defence could change to take advantage of the less noticed offensive shortcomings, and how such a defence could be trained.
… read more & see videos of drills …
We headed out onto the field after lunch to put into practice what we had been talking about – running a few drills without a disc involved, focusing on defensive movement. Here are clips from Trent’s Drill (credit to Trent Simmons from 10milliondiscs.org) and the Surrounding Stack Drill, which aim to get players used to moving and reacting to multiple offensive players in a group, rather than just 1-to-1 marking.
Casper / ulti.tv filmed the first outdoors session, so when we went inside we were able to immediately use the footage for video analysis! This was really beneficial to everyone – to be able to replay exactly what happened and consider alternative actions is a great way to learn quickly. After the analysis session we headed out again for the Triple-Sandwich drill, and more games!
Saturday night we had a meal at a Turkish restaurant and played some Dobble before going out for a couple of drinks & then back to Sjoerd’s house (picturesque – next to a canal).
Sunday was Hexagon Offence day – starting again with a classroom session where we looked at the history of offence, broke down the shared fundamental elements of offence, and looked at how different offensive systems prioritise different values – and how Hex fits into the picture. Hex, which values flow above all else, was explained through Movement, Shape, and Technique – each of which are very different compared to conventional stack offences.
Then we headed out onto the field again! We trained technique first, emphasising the throw-and-go / dribble-throw technique, and had a Dribble Slalom Race:
Ulti.tv were filming again, so we were able to go inside and immediately have an analysis session. During this session I noticed that everyone was analysing their own play – I didn’t really need to contribute much because the theory knowledge from earlier was being put into action, and everyone could see what they could do better in any situation, and what was working well.
Although it was quite a light turnout this time around, we had 7v7 and I felt the clinic was a huge success. Everyone understood the theory, implemented it well, saw another side of ultimate strategy, and many players said they were keen to take the O/D back to their teams.
I learnt more about how to teach the strategies and implemented a few new drills with great success. Most importantly though, everybody had FUN playing Hex & Flex!
I travelled to Germany recently to run a Hex clinic with the Potsdam team, and to have a meeting with the US Embassy in Berlin about potential 10 Million Discs projects in Berlin and nationally.
The 10MD meeting on Friday morning went well, with the embassy being very receptive to the core principles which are naturally taught by ultimate; gender equality, peaceful conflict resolution, personal accountability under pressure, and mutual respect. We (Markus Kunert, Christoph Dehnhardt and myself) are looking at proposing a project which will engage a number of schools with high immigrant populations in areas with new citizens to help integrate them into the community, and work with groups with disabilities.
On Friday afternoon through to Sunday I was at a sports complex in a small place called Lindow, north of Berlin, training the team from Potsdam who are called Goldfingers – and a number of other representatives from other clubs nearby. Kim from Goldfingers arranged the trip – he had seen Hex online in 2016 and introduced it to Goldfingers, who had been playing it for the last two years, unbeknownst to me! It was really interesting to talk to them, see them play, and run a couple of seminars and a few practical sessions with them. They hadn’t implemented Flex defence yet, so it was fun to introduce to a team who understand the ‘hex philosophy’. It was exciting to explain to them the train of thought that led to coming up with Hex, knowing that it was what they had been playing it for the last couple of years.
Watching the Goldfingers play ultimate, I noticed they played in a fluid style and were good at sustaining flow, although it may appear chaotic to the untrained eye – to me this immediately looked like an experienced hex team. Chatting to them in the classroom session, I said that they already ‘got’ how to play basic hex, and if they just carried on what they were doing and staying open minded to learn from the offence, they would continue developing organically. They could relate to a lot of the ‘hex philosophy’ I often have to explain from scratch to other teams, and they appreciated how I presented the ideas clearly, and the perspective I offered helped everything in their understanding to fall into place.
Training Flex went well, through the classroom and practical session, everyone was very attentive and implemented the concepts very well, with some new additions to the drills I’ve designed to train Flex coming from the players.
The Goldfingers Masters team had a practice match at the end of Saturday & asked me to be their coach on the sideline (I’m injured at the moment). A couple of times their Flex sandwiches got torn apart (as expected for a new defence), but when they started playing it more zoney-style it was more familiar to them as it is like a junk defence they play, and they shut down the opposing team convincingly.
Two weekends after my visit, the Goldfingers Masters team played German Masters Nationals and finished 2nd! Seeded 4th, this was a very good result for them, and convincing too – 15:4, 15:6, 15:14, 15:6. José, who hosted me in Potsdam, confirmed they played hex for the entire weekend and “were congratulated openly by at least one team, and in private by a few others for our use of the hex.”
I finished off my trip cycling around Potsdam seeing some fine palaces and different areas of the city. It’s a really picturesque place with many fine views and impressive places to see, so I had an amazing day. Check out all the photos I took from the clinic and from Potsdam in my Potsdam April 2018 Google photos album.
Full photos in the Potsdam April 2018 Google photos album.
I was in Brussels recently at a 10 Million Discs focus weekend. 10MD are a non-profit NGO who use ultimate as a tool to break down barriers within and between communities – whether it be integrating minority groups, refugees, disadvantaged youth, or promoting gender equity. The self-refereed / spirit of the game aspect of ultimate encourages peaceful conflict resolution, and with the incredibly low cost entry barrier (just a disc and a flat space needed), I stand alongside 10MD in believing that ultimate can and should be used to bring about real social change across the globe…
… read more & photos …
As well as brainstorming sessions and presentations from the 10MD members, we had meetings with the US Embassy, the Quaker Council for European Affairs, the European Commission for East Africa Development, and the Belgian Ultimate board of directors.
Previously I’ve worked with 10MD in Albania, where we introduced the sport to around 500 schools through teacher-training sessions with PE teachers in all the major cities across the developing country. They’ve also run projects in Macedonia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and worked with Syrian refugees in the Middle East.
This weekend we put our heads together to determine 10MD’s focus over the next few months, and also preliminarily landed a grant to carry out work all across Belgium, including the municipality of Molenbeek. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris, as well have some others, have been linked to Molenbeek, leading to a prejudice about the local population, which is in reality multicultural and contains many different communities, the largest being Moroccan and Turkish in origin. 10MD representative Tof Bihin will also be coordinating 10 hat tournaments happening in each of the 10 provinces in Belgium (with the aim of introducing new players to the game), and will be getting Ultimate Frisbee included in the Special Olympics in May.
One crucial tool we’re going to use here is distributing discs which have common phrases printed on them in all the languages used in Belgium (French, Flemish, and German!). We’re also going to work together with Belgian Ultimate (we met members of the board at a women’s tournament in Leuven) to activate potential coaches across the country to introduce the sport to schools in their local areas.
The meeting which impacted me the most was with the Danish Refugee Council. Thousands upon thousands of refugees have flooded across the Middle East and Europe since the war in Syria began in 2011, and securing enough funding to keep them alive and safe requires constant work from hundreds of people in dozens of NGOs. As a side note, what a quirk of conventional society that corporate/business workers enjoy such healthy paychecks in comparison to NGO workers – I can’t see any organic solution to this, but it’s an interesting reflection.
The basic health and safety of the refugees is the number 1 priority; beyond that is “psychosocial support” – the basic aspects of life which exist just beyond basic food, shelter, medicare and security. Refugee camps are places where young people spend many, if not all, of their formative years, living off hand-outs… think about that for a second. What is there for a refugee to do for all those years, how do they develop? Ultimate does not suddenly fix everything and make life rosy, but at a very low cost it offers an outlet accessible to everybody which keeps them active and social, and it goes beyond other sports thanks to the spirit of the game – instilling a culture of trust, honesty, collaboration, developing negotiation skills, and building a true sense of community.
It was great to meet with so many like-minded people who believe ultimate can bring about real social change in the world, and put together some plans to do exactly that. I look forward to the 10MD projects coming up in the future!
A few months ago I was contacted by Stefan Surowiec, one of my team mates from the mostly Belgian/French Moonwalkers team (we won bronze at the European Masters Championships last year) – learning Hex with the Moonwalkers had left a good impression on him and he wanted me to come over to Belgium to introduce and train Hex with his local team, Helgtre!
… read more & photos …
The team is a group of friends who have been playing together for a number of years. The vibe in the team is great; they go for a beer after each training and there’s a lot of positive social energy – something I believe is very important for a successful team, but an element which seems to have been on the decline in recent years, in the UK scene at least.
Not only are they a great bunch, they’ve been getting better and better at ultimate over the years – last year they were the 5th highest finishing club at Belgian Nationals, and are keen this year to break into the top 4!
Belgian Nationals is run over 3 weekends – the first weekend determines the top 8, the second weekend determines the top 4, and the final weekend is invite-only, with only the top-4 teams attending to battle it out for the podium positions.
Helgtre have never made it into the top 4, so this year they can feel things are coming together and that finals weekend is closer than ever!
I arrived on Friday and joined in one of their practices, initially as a player, before setting up a simple drill later in the training, getting a feel for the level of the team and their understanding of the game from a strategic and technical point of view.
Saturday started with a 2 hour interactive seminar / classroom session on Flexagon Defence, followed by a three hour outdoor training with drills to reinforce the principles, and game-time to practice them.
On Saturday evening we headed out to a Greek restaurant for food, before going to a brewery/pub for some drinks, where I sampled many of the famous & tasty Belgian beers.
Sunday had a similar structure to Saturday, this time focusing on Hex Offence. It makes a lot of sense to me now to train Flex defence before Hex offence – the current state of the game means there is no immediate need to make a fundamental change to how we approach offence in high level games, however from the perspective of Flex, current offence is flawed and can be punished for those flaws. It’s only after these flaws and the vulnerabilities they expose are realised, the need for truly balanced offence becomes clear, and so offence on Sunday following defence on Saturday works really well to offer a complete view of the current and potential future state of strategy in ultimate.
Helgtre were a pleasure to coach, I thank them sincerely for their hospitality over the entire weekend, and they all seemed keen and enthusiastic about the new strategies and new approach to the game I showed them. I look forward to hearing how they do at Nationals and beyond!
This weekend I won a bronze medal at the Euro Masters Club Championships in Frankfurt, playing hex with a mostly Belgian team – Moonwalkers!
Tof, who captains the Belgian team Mooncatchers and with whom I played Shocker @ Paganello a few years ago, got in touch to invite me to play with what I assumed was a Belgium-based / Mooncatchers masters club team. Turned out the only thing we all had in common was that we knew Tof! We had three players from Brighton (Roach, Edgars and myself), three Mooncatchers, six from other teams in Belgium, and three players from France – so most of the team were familiar with seeing each other on the field as opponents and competitors rather than team mates.
On the first day Tof told the team that I was strategist along with Olivier (Mooncatcher founder who has been playing since the 80s). For our first warmup we played Keepdisc – Ultimate without endzones – as this got us passing the disc around in very Ultimate-like situations, getting to know how each other cut / pivot / throw / fake in fluid situations, so we learn a lot more about each other than if it was a rigid drill. We played Keepdisc to warm up before every game for the rest of the tournament.
First game we played against D.O.M from Germany, and ran Mooncatchers-style D – work as pairs downfield switching and sandwiching, whilst handler marks play tight one-to-one defence. This progressed into a heavy focus on stopping the under passes as we realised D.O.M were very reluctant to throw deep – strange for a masters team! We took the game 15-11, a great victory as D.O.M went on to beat one of the finalists later in the group stage.
Before the next match I explained some of the principles of Flex defence – communicate, switch/sandwich where appropriate, and maintain coverage of every offence player. We went into the next game with a more formulated approach to switching and sandwiching, so it was less chaotic than the defence of the first game, and worked well as we beat Wolpertinger (DE) 15-11. Last game of the day was against 7 Schwaben, I was unable to play due to heel pain so contributed from the sideline with strategic manipulations – forcing middle worked well, we switched it up to a zone until they called timeout, at which point we switched back to forcing middle so that they never got to adapt – a 15-8 win.
The next day was tough – we played Deduska (RU) and Wizards (SUI), both were very strong on both offence and defence, and although we got turnovers we weren’t able to convert enough of them and made too many mistakes on offence, so lost both games and lost out on a place in the final due to a three-way tie.
On the final day, we first played Raging Bananas as our last group game, before meeting Wolpertinger again in the Bronze 3v4 match.
Before the Raging Bananas game I took some time with the team to explain Hex offence, as we had only been playing horizontal and some vertical up until then. The players were quite comfortable playing a fairly organic style (this is normal in Belgium, to fall into organic style after an initial setup), so I emphasised that there was total freedom in Hex outside the basic principles: Take the open pass, create/use space as you see it developing, and maintain the shape. Other than that, just do what comes naturally. The first two principles were easy to explain / natural to perform, so we quickly went over what the hex shape looks like on the field, emphasised that you shouldn’t surround the disc, played some Keepdisc and then got straight into the game.
Hex offence against Raging Bananas looked amazing – the scores looked to be easy, there was always an open pass free, and the flow looked unstoppable. Of course it is impossible to say whether this would have been the same if we played another offence, but at the very least it was a great way for the team to learn how to setup and the flow from the Hex structure, and gain confidence playing it. We took the match 15-6.
Then onto our final game, against Wolpertinger, for the bronze medals. For plenty of our team this was the highest level game they had ever played, so before the match I told everybody that we did not need them to do something extra special, they just had to give their 100%… to resist the urge to try to give 110% and be extra amazing, but just to be the same players as they have been all weekend, putting in the maximum effort and doing what they know will work. For example, rather than trying for a pass that will only work if it is a great throw, just make the pass which will work for a normal throw, as this is all the team needs to do to win each point. It’s interesting to note that, in my experience, players will often change how they are playing in a meaningful final match – either by saying more stuff to the team in between points / in huddles, or playing in a different style.
The bronze match was an amazing match by all accounts. We played Hex offence the entire way through, and it was 5-5 before the first turnover of the game. We got the first break, they broke back a few points later, and the points became longer – Wolpertinger tried a few times to play zone defence against the hex but we were very patient and used lots of accurate hammers to swing and score. We took the third break of the game in the second half to go up 13-11 in a game to 15, they stayed with us so we were on offence 14-13 up, they come down with tight one-to-one defence but we flowed downfield using the hex shape until we were near to the end zone. Olivier had the disc and couldn’t throw back to me or up the line, so I found myself near the end zone not really able to help when the stall was on 8… Olivier sees Tof coming under on the break side under a lot of pressure, makes the throw, Tof goes up high and fast with a bidding defender next to him, takes the catch down… I make three hard steps to the flick side and then plant and turn to look over my left shoulder, Tof sees me and puts up the hammer, I have time to get body position and go up with two hands, and secure the catch! I hold the disc up high and hug team mates as tears come to my eyes… what a game, what a tournament, what a team and what a medal!
Strategically I learnt that it is quite easy to implement Hex Offence with experienced players even if there is a variety of ability and they have not played much with each other before – helped by the tendency to be comfortable playing a more organic style in Belgium. It is harder to implement Flex defence for a couple of reasons:- it tends to break down if one player begins to poach – which is very tempting – and the positioning and movement in Flex is very unlike one-to-one or zone defences, so players are not used to it and have to learn it afresh. The positioning and movement in Hex offence is very similar to ‘organic’ or ‘fluid’ offence – which is something that happens in practically every point of Ultimate when the stack formations break down after a few passes, therefore players are used to it and so Hex doesn’t ask them to do very much different to how they normally play – just to ‘maintain the shape’ (which entails knowing what the shape looks like). Hex is essentially a set of guidelines which facilitate and support organic flowing offence, whereas Flex is an alternative approach to defence which introduces a number of new concepts and asks far more of players.
Had a great weekend with the Moonwalkers, winning a European medal (and the first medal earned by Hex offence that I know of – though Cape Town Uni may have won SA Nationals with it last year), meeting lots of fun players from Belgium & France, and I hope plans come together for us playing more in the future!
Felix’s updated medal table (as a player):
|UK Nats 2011 – Clapham (Open)|
UK Nats 2010 – Brighton (Mixed)
EUCC 2009 – Brighton (Mixed)
UK Indoor Nats 2005 – Brighton (Open)
|EUC 2011 – GB (Open)|
EUCC 2011 – Clapham (Open)
UK Nats 2009 (+MVP) – Brighton (Mixed)
|EUMCC 2017 – Moonwalkers|
Paganello 2014 – Shocker
UK Nats 2009, 2013, 2015 – Brighton (Open)
UK Nats 2006, 2008 – Brighton (Mixed)
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:
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.
Addendum: Dolgorukiye were kind enough to put together this video for felixultimate.com!
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