Sussex Mohawks win UKU Uni Men’s Nationals 2017 – plus a look back to Uni 1989-2016 results

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Tom Aitken, Zach Fairclough, Charlie Butt, Luis Semple, Arran Belden, Christian Turvill, Chun Lee, Dan Prichard, Jake Betson. Kneeling: Chris Wastell, Desmond Mombo, Jonny Arthur, Will Seth, Dom Burnham, Ashley Yeo. Coaches: Felix Shardlow, John Maule, Glen Newell

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
Open:
1. Sussex
Dsc_01742. Bath
3. Glasgow
4. Birmingham

Women’s:
1. UCL
2. Oxford
3. Edinburgh
4. Birmingham

Full results available here.

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

Luis Semple with a fade-away layout save before Sussex get an upwind point for half. This angle is generally considered by those present to not do the play justice.
UK Uni Open Outdoor National Titles, 1990-2017:
1989-1990: Warwick (Bears), Sussex (Mohawks), Reading (Dragons), Leeds (Lizards) [read report on final here]
1992-1993: Cambridge (Bad Company), Edinburgh (Sneekys), Southampton (Skunks)
1993-1994: Bristol (Mythago), Warwick (Bears), Sussex (Mohawks), Edinburgh (Sneekys)
1994-1995: Bristol (Mythago), Southampton (Skunks), Sussex (Mohawks), Warwick (Bears)
1995-1996*: Bristol (Mythago), Leeds (Catch 22), Oxford (Ow!) *Sussex finished 1st but stripped of title due to rostering
1996-1997: Leeds (Catch 22), Southampton (Skunks), Bristol (Mythago), Sussex (Mohawks)
1997-1998: Sussex (Mohawks), Bristol (Mythago), St Andrews (Flying Sorcerers), Leeds (Jedi Children)
1998-1999: Leeds (Jedi Children), Sussex (Mohawks), Bristol (Mythago), Edinburgh (RoShamBo)
1999-2000: Sheffield (Phat Eds), Leeds (Jedi Children), Warwick (Bears), Edinburgh (RoShamBo)
2000-1: Edinburgh (RoShamBo), Sheffield (Phat Eds), Oxford (Ow!), Sussex (Mohawks)
2001-2: Glasgow (Far Flung), Leeds (Jedi), Bristol (Mythago), Oxford (Ow!)
2002-3: Leeds (Jedi), Oxford (Ow!), Bristol (Mythago), Loughborough (Haze)
2003-4: Aberdeen (Positive Mojo), Leeds (Jedi), Loughborough (Haze), Edinburgh (RoShamBo)
2004-5: Loughborough (Haze), Edinburgh (RoShamBo), Bristol (Mythago), Southampton (Skunks)
2005-6: Edinburgh, Bristol, Cardiff, Loughborough
2006-7: Edinburgh, Bristol, Exeter, Cambridge

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Dom Burnham scans the field

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:

Click for full Uni Women’s results 2006-2017

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

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Christian Turvill puts up a flick huck

UK Uni Mixed Outdoor titles, 2006-17:

Click for full Uni Mixed results 2006-2017

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.

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Some drama in the ro-sham-bo for the spirit prize between Sussex 2 and Oxford, as Oxford make a false-start call

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Five players who have been on the Sussex team for 3 years – Chun Lee, Will Seth, Christian Turvill, Chris Wastell, Tom Aitken

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Ashley Yeo, a returning post-graduate currently captaining GB Open Beach & Clapham Ultimate, picks up his 3rd Uni Open Outdoor gold medal & trophy

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.

Albania: Introducing Ultimate to an entire country

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Click for full photosphere from Petrela Castle

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

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10MD with US Embassy staff Erjona & Meghan

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.

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US Embassy in Tirana

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 map-to-albaniathe 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 teachers in Shkoder

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.

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51 PE teachers in Vlore – some of the 250+ PE teachers who learned how to teach Ultimate

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.

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Roma community, volunteers, and locals

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.

US Marines
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!

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US Marines stationed in Albania – Ultimate is regularly played by marines in Baghdad

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.

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The juvenile prison looked very modern from the outside

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Demonstrating throwing inside the juvenile prison

Juvenile Prison
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.

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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.

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3 political youth groups learn Ultimate and SotG ideals of mutual respect during conflict resolution

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.

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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.

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Click for partial photosphere

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. pillboxThere 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.

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South Africa – country of hills and fences, beauty and disparity

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In October I was contacted by Fergus Klein, Chairperson of the Gauteng Flying Disc Association. Ferg graduated from Sussex (Mohawks) in 2014 and unbeknown to me had stayed heavily involved in Ultimate. The GFDA were looking for a coach to come over to up the level of the game in the region, which typically lags a little behind Cape Town, so I said I was keen to get involved! Ellie Tournier (GFDA Secretary) immediately got to work in planning fundraising efforts and making a packed schedule to make the most of every day I would be in SA. We coordinated to make this awesome video which tells a little about the history of Ultimate in South Africa, and the short and long-term aims for my trip:

I’ll break my report into three sections: Frisbee, Socio-economic-political environment, and Nature.

Frisbee:
Teams in the Gauteng region of South Africa play in a weekly mixed league consisting of 6 teams; two from the local universities – Wits and Zone Rangers (Tuks + graduates, from Pretoria), two teams which have developed from outreach efforts – Soweto and Orange Farm, plus Skyveld (originally Wits graduates), and last year’s champions Ultitude Grey Wolves.

Separation between university and club teams seems to be similar to how it was 15-20 years ago in the UK – i.e, university teams often enter club-level tournaments, and players who have graduated continue to play for them – or form their own team of graduates. For example, SA Nationals last year was won by the University of Cape Town (who play Hex Offence).

Whilst in SA I had the pleasure of running sessions with most of these teams, plus extended advanced clinics during my final weekend aimed at higher level players, and potential coaches.

Wits:
I ran two sessions at the University of the Witswatersrand. They’re a fun group who haven’t been doing too well in the league recently, and have suffered a bit in the last few years from changes in personel and leaders. For the first session, their captain Paul had requested I teach horizontal stack, IMG_20170302_211041so I put together a comprehensive 3hr session which drilled all the major aspects of the offence as it was played when I was on Clapham – with “peppermill” cutting patterns. They were attentive and picked up the ideas pretty well despite the fast-moving nature of the session, and when it came to implementing the ideas in the game they did well but were usually let down by simple catching or throwing errors.

For the next session, I spent the first hour focusing on catching and throwing fundamentals, and moved on to Hex offence. Ho-stack can be very effective for developed teams against person-to-person defence as it simplifies cutting and throwing options, however from a development point of view it can be counter-productive to impose rigid structures on a team who are just enjoying exploring their options on the field whilst developing their catching and throwing skills – allowing them freedom to choose from a variety of fluid options provides a more sound foundation for the learning process. The game at the end felt different when applying the Hex principles – still fairly stop-start due to turnovers, but the turns seemed to be happening in the middle of good sequences of play, rather than being like punctuation marks at the end. With some practice dedicated to catching/throwing fundamentals, and training with the freedom Hex allows, Wits have a good vibe and strong characters to hold them together whilst they go from strength to strength.

Pretoria / Tuks / Zone Rangers:
The session in Pretoria, a city just north of Johannesburg, brought together players from Tuks Uni and the Zone Rangers / Ranger Danger players. Whilst in Pretoria I stayed with Justus and Arno, who have a couple of amazing German Shepherd dogs, and five puppies! IMG_20170307_210528I’m a total sucker for cuteness and spent most of the evening sitting on the kitchen floor playing with them – though they do hurt when they decide to bite your socks – and they don’t give up! Justus took me on a trip to the Voortrekker Monument during the day where I learnt about the history of Afrikaners – a Southern African ethnic group descended from predominantly Dutch settlers who first arrived in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, who make up the majority of the Pretoria population. The players even joked about whether I could repeat what I was saying in Afrikaans, a daughter language of Dutch. Photos and videos from the Voortrekker Monument are in the full album.
The Pretoria bunch were really good fun – the session had a really great vibe and a wide spread of experience, they don’t take themselves too seriously but they are more than capable of pulling out some great plays when they want to, and really put their heads into learning and applying the things I had to teach. By the end of the game they were absolutely shredding zones, using the Hex structure to move the disc around in a flurry of short passes to get around and through the cup. I can’t quite get over how they differentiated between the two teams just with very thin orange or green sashes (you can see an orange one in the photo) – shirt colour was completely irrelevant! That said, I didn’t notice any of them getting confused on the field, so I guess they have adapted. Consensus seemed to be that Hex suited their approach to the game, so I look forward to hearing how they’re getting along with it all in the future!

Orange Farm:
A few miles south of Johannesburg lies the township of Orange Farm. The Orange Farm Ultimates were started 8 years ago, and have competed in tournaments in the past but are geographically isolated. The captain, Bongani, is a sports teacher at a local school, which has allowed him to add Ultimate to the curriculum and ensure a flow of new players. 17038907_731463740346749_2392655533295384340_oTheir objective is to become competitive enough to compete on an international level, while providing an alternative to the youth of Orange Farm to get them off the streets and live an active and positive lifestyle through sport.
The journey to Orange Farm started by leaving a street with large houses surrounded by 10ft high walls with electric fences, driving to the southern outskirts of Johannesburg, into the township, alongside homes made from corrugated iron sheets, through the dirt-track bustling town centre, and onto a large field with long grass. During the session we worked on throwing techniques, forcing & breaking the force, and then Hex principles in the game. As the game went on, everyone got into it more and more, and by the end I was finding it very difficult to contain U24 squad member Sizwe as he passed and moved all around the field – getting the disc back at will like a Hex pro. Towards the end of the game Lindelani, also on the U24 squad, caught an incredible backwards layout which got everyone cheering. It was great fun playing with them and seeing how much they improved during the time I was with them!
They went on to beat Wits in the league a few days later, 15-8. Congrats Orange Farm! Big things to come in the future.

Soweto:
As we arrived in the western outskirts of Johannesburg at the Soweto fields, we saw 20 players wearing yellow shirts with frisbees flying between them. It was immediately apparent that these players train a lot. Throws were coming out smooth and flying great distances. They apparently meet up 3+ times a week, but have had little contact with the outside frisbee community. 17159093_732281100265013_14164593474783809_oI had been told they have a fast-paced style and would run for days – however upon talking to them, they seemed to think fitness was one of their biggest weaknesses! Certainly nobody can say they don’t have a fast-paced style – they took to Hex like ducks to water, and seemed to really appreciate the throwing/catching tips and strategy chat that I had with them at lunchtime.
Playing in the game with them at the end, at times on defence I honestly felt out of my depth. They were able to move the disc around without hesitation, tossing backhands over defenders with ease, rarely allowing the defence time to figure out what was going on.
The enthusiasm of this team, combined with the amount of training time they’ve had and the lack of influence from the external frisbee community, mean they have evolved a natural organic style which I think any player can learn a lot from. IMG_20170306_210400Toss passes were particularly common – a natural counter when tight person-to-person marking stops short flat passes, and very hard to defend against if thrown accurately. They were all on the same page regarding their style; when James stepped onto the field – a Skyveld player with very solid but ‘traditional’ style/technique – the rhythm/tempo was occasionally disrupted and flow halted, showing that this team had truly developed their own way of playing which didn’t line up with the traditional approach – and I preferred it!

Hex works fantastically with this style, providing a guideline for creating and using space effectively which supports quick movement, without restricting the freedom of the players to run where they want at any given time. I ran a load of Hex drills with them, and if they dedicate training time to perfecting those drills then I wouldn’t be surprised if they were competing for the National title in a couple of years.

A really nice sequence of play at the Soweto session
I was invited to play with Soweto at their league match on Monday against Zone Rangers – I was honoured and enjoyed it immensely. Zone Rangers noted that when Soweto got the disc moving quickly against their zone, it got shredded and forced them to switch to a person-to-person mark. Despite loads of great play we weren’t able to get the victory, but went 2-0 up and kept it fairly close, finishing 15-9.

Check out the full drone video made by Davin here, and more footage from the Orange Farm and Soweto sessions here.
Coaches & Players clinics:
My final weekend in South Africa was the big one – players travelled from afar (some flying 2 hours from Durban – the same distance as London->Paris) for a coaching clinic on Saturday and a players clinic on Sunday. It was great having representatives from so many different teams – we took the opportunity to share our thoughts about Spirit of the Game at the start of the coaches session, and progressed onto coaching theory, methods for teaching sound techniques, designing and running drills and set plays, planning sessions, coaching advice for match/tournament situations, and guidelines for adapting your team strategy in response to what your opponent is playing in real-time. 17274027_10104902494244133_1470253876_oWe had practical sections where the participants would role-play as coaches welcoming beginners to practice – throwing around with them and then offering technique advice in a way that encouraged the pupil to buy-in to the idea of being coached. Participants also paired up to design a drill and run it with the (incredibly attentive) group we had, before receiving feedback from the whole group on how they thought it went – hopefully everyone went away with the knowledge and confidence to improve their teams training sessions!
At the player clinic I introduced myself by talking about having played Ultimate non-stop for 17 years, and coached non-stop for 15 years, before talking about how we were going to look at sound catching & throwing fundamentals today, followed by some Hex offence drills and play. Fergus prompted me by asking what my relation to Hex was, and when I said I had invented it, there was a noticeable sound of surprise from those gathered – most if not all had heard of or even played it before, but hadn’t known where it had originated!IMG_20170311_162344 Hex is quite big already in South Africa as it’s played by Chilli (club team from Cape Town), University of Cape Town, SA Masters at WUGC, and was taught at the SA U24 training which took place just before I arrived (unrelated to my visit).
Teaching the fundamental catching and throwing techniques I’ve come to trust really surprised a lot of the experienced players – some commented that they would have to completely re-work their techniques. We went through a variety of different throwing skills, such as how to put touch on passes and key elements to efficiently transferring power from the core to the throw when hucking, and I believe everyone got something useful from the technique section of the day, with some people almost being overwhelmed with the amount of stuff to learn!
17237186_10104902492742143_95229856_oIn the afternoon we went through a number of Hex drills quite quickly – the Give-Go-Swill Drill, Hex Puzzle Drill, Hex Huck Drills, Keepdisc, and the all-new Red Zone Drill to practice scoring without breaking away from the Hex principles. The game at the end was high quality and I was really happy with how everyone was adopting the principles. I stopped the game a few times to highlight points at which we were surrounding the disc, not rotating the shape or crowding the narrow channel, and these elements got better and better as the game progressed. When the defence put on a zone, we experimented with surrounding the disc and it felt awesome – so I ended up learning quite a lot from the session too!

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Disc Run

Ellie arranged for me to go on a ‘Disc Run’ a couple of days into my stay. All I knew is that a guy called Lionel would be picking me up on his motorbike in the morning, and I had to be ready at 5am outside the house with a disc in hand. IMG_20170303_052655Sure enough Lionel turned up before sunrise, so I hopped on as he told me to relax (it was my first time) and we rode to to a nearby (huge) park. Whilst we warmed up other disc runners arrived – Brett, Jon, and Angus, and they explained the basic rules; basically a cross between throwing around, speed disc golf, and hill running – you go round the course in pairs completing long passes to each other between tees and trees or disc golf baskets. IMG_20170310_062222An incomplete pass counts as a dropped shot, and you aim to complete the course in as few shots as possible, as quickly as possible. This effectively means you throw long to a partner, then hill run past them, read & catch a long throw from them, and repeat the process until you’ve putted out (all holes are par 4). We completed 36 holes – a front 18 and back 18 – and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life, combining loads of things I love together!
To top it all off, the sunrise scenery was absolutely awe inspiring, and I captured it in one of the best photos I think I have ever taken. #nofilter

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Sunrise during a disc run

Socio-economic-political environment:

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Every house for streets looks like this – those are 10,000v electric fences

Johannesburg is not a safe place if you don’t keep your eyes open and your wits about you. The streets in the area I was staying were lined with 10ft high walls with 10,000 volt electric fences on top. When approaching your house, you press your key to activate the rolling gate, but you must not approach the gate before it fully opens, as this gives hijackers a chance to drive up behind you and block you in. Keep your car windows closed and your doors locked. This is all taken for granted by those who live in Johannesburg – do not allow yourself to be in situations where you may be a victim of crime. Those situations are far more common than one might imagine – essentially, there must be security in order for you to be secure. When I arrived it all seemed a bit over the top, and perhaps fear is one of the most damaging elements here – first comes the fear, then comes the walls, then comes the crime… underlying it all is a huge economic disparity and a conflict between people who want to keep things pretty much as they are for as long as they can, and those who are keen for real change to happen but often powerless to do much about it.
IMG_20170304_161555Apartheid ended in 1994 – really not very long ago – and the years since then have been troubled, under the ANC party who were originally Mandela’s party. Now the general feeling is that the ANC remain in power as the masses are kept in the dark, believing they are still voting for the party that will bring the change and equality Mandela championed. In reality, president Zuma has gone mad with power, has lost touch with reality, and does scant to improve the situation. Recently the 3rd most popular political party, the EFF, got evicted from the houses of parliament because they were asking Zuma when he was going to pay back the money he spent on his sprawling mansion for himself & his multiple wives. The 2nd most powerful party, the DA, staged a walk-out protest immediately after, when the speaker could not confirm nor deny that those who evicted the EFF were police officers – which would be a gross violation of the constitution. The political situation however is far from hopeless – democracy does seem to be alive, and the main enemies of change in this situation appear to be mass ignorance and a desire to hold on to privileged comfort. Who knows how Zuma will react when he loses grip though…

IMG_20170313_154245The economic disparity on the ground is like nothing I could have ever imagined. Generally speaking, white South Africans live in secure residences with high walls, electric fences, maids, gardeners, and security guards at the complexes, whilst black South Africans reside in townships constructed on the outskirts – small bricked bungalow houses, some with corrugated iron roofs, signs on planks, with a supply of electricity and water if they aren’t the unlucky ones. These two extremes exist just a couple of kilometres away from each other (or less) and there are no middle-ground houses – no semi-detached or terraced houses which are so common in England. You can’t just hit the middle ground and build a ton of terraced houses for everyone to live in though – this divide runs deep.
At every road junction, modern first world cars (mostly populated by one white driver) pull up at the red lights whilst black street entertainers, beggars, window cleaners, rubbish collectors, street vendors, and so on come to their windows and ask for money one way or another. Every single junction. Practically all outward-facing jobs are populated by black South Africans – road workers, waiters/waitresses, security guards, parking attendants, shop assistants, maids, gardeners… whilst this other class of white folk somehow exist between the cracks, safe in their cars and fortified residences, writing the paychecks and keeping the financial and business worlds spinning throughout it all. This division of labour leads one to think that whilst these two worlds are existing within one country, it naturally follows that those who have it want to keep it, and those who don’t have it want to take it.
IMG_20170308_114714In the end it comes down to the government, and so long as internet data is kept expensive in South Africa, knowledge is controlled, ignorance is king, and the ANC with Zuma will continue to rake in the votes from the townships who are in the most need of change.
The political situation is very complicated and I have a limited understanding of it from my two weeks in the country – I simply tried to soak it up from the experiences and conversations I was able to have in that time, which means my opinions are pretty biased and I have generalised in order to save space – so I’m not claiming to do the situation justice at all. I’m sure there are many elements I am missing and you should by all means form your own opinions from your own information sources. Guard dogs, which are an essential security measure for residences, are all massive racists though – that’s for sure.

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This punk chick was just chilling on the side of the road

Nature:
The South African landscape is awesome. Huge hills everywhere, vast expanses in valleys. In the typical garden you’ll find birds with extravagant colours, lizards, and apparently the occasional snake or scorpion – though I didn’t encounter any. On the roads there are zebras and other large mammals just hanging out. Whilst visiting the Cradle of Humankind (where there were signs warning of deadly snakes as soon as you strayed from the paths) with Andy, we went on a walk through the Sterkfontein Caves, where there was an underground lake which went on for miles and miles – nobody knows how deep it is, and one person died trying to find out!
I visited the Lion and Rhino park with IMG_20170310_123732Paul from Wits – not a very big place, containing plenty of big cats and other animals. There was a resident cheetah that I heard purring loudly as some guests stroked it. I got to feed a giraffe and play with some lion cubs using a frisbee… it was a fun and interesting experience, but ultimately a bit saddening that they were being kept in fairly small areas, and even more so when I later found out some of the cubs will almost certainly be used for caged hunting later in their lives.

Fergus took me and his brother Lewis to Pilansburg Nature Reserve & Wildlife Park – a massive expanse of land where animals roam free, and humans are strictly forbidden from interfering in any way. The main tracks through the park were tarmac, but the others were dirt tracks which were often incredibly difficult to navigate a regular car through without getting stuck – thankfully IMG_20170302_131108Ferg has hundreds of hours of experience as a qualified field guide so we didn’t get stuck once, and he was able to identify all the animals we saw, and bird calls we heard! Whilst going along the tracks you have to keep a keen eye out to spot any animals in the vicinity, as you never know where they will be. Sometimes we’d just catch a brief glimpse of something flat and grey between the bush, reverse the car, and suddenly a full grown elephant would come into view… or the top of a tree would look funny, and it’d turn out to be a giraffe. Sometimes the animals would appear on the road in front of us, or pop out of the bush right next to us!
IMG_20170309_073230Seeing wild white rhinos and elephants on the track about 15m in front of us felt so unreal. I was acutely aware of how the animals regarded us – did they have a concept of humans as an animal?
Likely they just saw cars as an uninteresting animal – they don’t smell nice, they keep to the tracks, they keep their distance, and they don’t bother us. This meant they seemed to be totally relaxed in our presence – we even saw the rhinos playfully tussling a little – though when they started coming down the road towards us we made sure to back off and keep our distance.

Also seen were; hippos – minding their own business in a swampy lake; kudu – nice looking large stripe game-type animals; and plenty of wildebeest, impala, birchel zebra, and more. It felt fantastic to be surrounded by nature, and encouraged thoughts of “could I survive in this environment?”, IMG_20170302_123532but there was a lingering awareness I had that the whole area was ultimately surrounded by a fence, leading me to realise we were having to fence the most dangerous animals out – humans – and in places where nature exists without any fences, poaching is very rapidly reducing the large animal population to nil. Nature reserves are becoming like a window into the past, where we can witness how beautiful, balanced and diverse the earth had become before human evolution spiked.

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All the photos and videos I took on my trip are available in this Google Photos album – some of my remaining favourites are below. Lastly I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who made my stay in South Africa possible, and so hugely enjoyable – Ellie, Fergus, Justus, Arno, Paul, Andy, Charlotte – everyone who let me crash at their place and drove me around to show me the wonders your country has to offer, and all those who donated to the fundraiser! I hope my work has long lasting impact in the region and I aim to return in the future (to talk about defence!).

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Giraffe popping it’s head over the bush

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Arno’s German Shepherd & pup

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Sunrise over a city in the Sahara desert

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With Fergus & Ellie, and one of the presents from the Soweto team

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Fergus & Ellie’s dog Wiley – a big softie

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Click for full photosphere

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EUCF 2016 report & play-by-play of the Open Final

EUCF 2016 is the 10th European Ultimate Club Finals, it was held in

Sunday:
Open final play-by-play, as it happened:

Clapham with a stifling zone at the start, after the first point Funk had a couple of turnovers, a few points traded and a break for CUSB. 4-4.
Clapham working it well but footblock from CUSB and the score. 5-4 CUSB
CUSB show great awareness of the stall count as a team to get a D with the wall and then the stream dies. Comes back and it’s 6-4 La Fotta.
Couple of travel calls. La Fotta with a zone, some fouling on the mark from Davide. Ashley Yeo with another score from Justin, 6-5.
Huge Justin sky after a floaty CUSB huck – will be a good photo! Timeout.
Long possession with only short passes, Clapham work it up the line and bring it level, 6-6. Stream dies.
It’s back and I’ve missed a couple of turns, then Chris Baker sends a flick skyward but gets saved by newcomer Connor McHale. Contested foul. Conrad Wilson with the Clapham score, 7-6 Clapham, then they take half 8-6.
Justin with a layout catch on a lateral cut, then a big hammer across to Ashley Yeo who lays out big for 9-6.
CUSB mis-throw and then Briggs to Jackson deep with a flick – 10-6. Timeout – feels like a push coming from CUSB but they have to put in their offence…
Deep throw by CUSB just out of the reach of defender Garner, 10-7.
Clapham timeout on stall 8, they get out after a false re-start, Stobbs cuts up line for 11-7 score.
Floaty mistake mid-field from La Fotta and Clapham sustain their offence outside the end zone to score, 12-7.
Tom Abrams with the layout D on Davide, quick move up the line for 13-7.
La Fotta trapped at the back of their end zone, manage to complete a huck but then another unforced error on the next throw. Clapham bomb it deep to Andrew Jackson for another goal, 14-7. Stream is dropping in and out quite a lot.
A couple of turnovers before another unforced error for La Fotta, this time on their own goal line, and Clapham pick it up quickly and slot it in for the win! 15-7, Clapham are EUCF 2016 champions!

Women’s Final:

CUSB Shout put in a good performance against Flying Angels in the women’s final, with Eliza Frangalini making many huge grabs for them, but FAB’s experience shone through as they closed the game out 15-13. The match turned into quite a huckfest, both up and down wind, many contested catches and D’s in traffic.

Mixed Final:

After a fantastic domestic season where they took the UKU Nationals title, Reading secured their first EUCF title by defeating the very young team Grüt (FC Airborn, Netherlands) in the Mixed Final – this Reading side are incredibly strong and didn’t have many problems, dealing with the unpredictable and brave offence of Grüt – 15-8 the final score.

Saturday:

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Semis:
Clapham 15 – 8 Tchac:
Tchac’s fairytale rise gets firmly stopped by the UK powerhouse. Tchac’s unconventional style got them a few points and some incredible layout blocks, but Clapham seemed solid and confidently put away the game. Clapham’s Justin Foord connected with Ashley Yeo for the winning point.

Bad Skid 11 – 14 CUSB La Fotta:
The firey Italians, after a heated battle with Switzerland’s Freespeed in the quarter, had the edge on Germany’s Bad Skid and secured their spot in the Final for the second year running.

Clapham vs CUSB La Fotta is a repeat of the EUCF 2015 final, where Clapham won 15-8.

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Semis:
Iceni 14 – 15 CUSB Shout:
Last year these two teams met in the group stages, and Iceni won 12-11. This time, the Italian side CUSB Shout got their revenge and denied the reigning champions a place in the Final, in another exciting universe point match.

Troubles 10 – 15 Flying Angels Bern:
Switzerland’s FAB bring the Polish “Troubles” team’s good run to an end with a  5 point cushion.

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Semis:
FC Airborn 15 – 14 Hässliche Erdferkel:
Netherlands’ FC Airborn (“Grut”), with players ranging from 14 – 25 years old and an average age of 19 (the 54-year old coach is one of their fathers) have a very exciting style where they are not afraid to huck to double cuts and find unexpected spaces with their throws, and it paid off for them as they took this thrilling semi final in sudden death against the German Hässliche Erdferkel team.

Reading Ultimate 15 – 10 SeE6:
UK’s top mixed team Reading with a fairly comfortable win over the Swedish SeE6 side.


Playoff bracket graphics with scores: OpenWomen’sMixed

Scores, Groups, Results & Standings website
Clapham v Otso – last two points (universe point)

Southampton Hex Clinic

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Hex Clinic on Sunday in Southampton

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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A bridge and a pipe-bridge.

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The water was very clear.

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

 

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

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

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Triangle-Sandwich Drill

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

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Switch Drill

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

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

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

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felixultimate in Latvia – report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In the classroom for the theory part of the Flexagon clinic

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

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

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

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

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

 

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View from Skyline Bar in the centre

 

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Hexagon spotted

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Gathering in the forest just before sunset

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Skyline Bar – above Riga

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

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Latvian cat, startled

St Andrews – the bright bubble

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

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

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Coaching the St Andrews club on their 3G

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

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

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

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Fairly typical halls of residence

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Classic photo on the bridge at the golf course

Macedonia – a land of red / yellow & green

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Macedonia is a complicated country politically, formerly part of Yugoslavia and with political tensions that fuel daily protests in the capital where I was staying; Skopje. I won’t attempt to explain the political situation, suffice to say it touches on US / EU relations, accusations against both the current government and the former government (now the opposition), and although everyone has an opinion, the strength and leaning of these opinions tends to vary – there are counter-protests alongside the protests.

The politics run deep – the newly constructed (in neoclassical style) buildings look impressive, but to the locals they often (but not always) symbolise mis-spent government money used to cover-up the countries problems, or re-write history from a nationalist perspective, or to put pressure on Greece for denying their place at the NATO table due to a naming dispute.
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Every night there are protests which run through the city, with hundreds of people, flags, and whistles. A few days before my arrival the presidential office was broken into and ransacked, and evidence of the protesting was shown by colourful vandalisation of the neoclassical architecture. At one point I was nearly caught between riot police and protesters – more photos in my Google Photos album.

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Frisbee

The Ultimate scene in Macedonia is in its infancy – there are a small group of ~10-15 players (the Falcons) who get together to play when they can. There are a few other players in the capital who are also occasionally heard from, but nothing regular. The nearest countries with some Ultimate activity are Bulgaria, Croatia, and Serbia, each with relatively small scenes.

My trip was organised by 10 Million Discs, a worldwide youth sports charity headed by Trent Simmons. “We work primarily with the sport of Ultimate frisbee as it is the only sport in the world to have conflict resolution built into the rules, and is the first sport without referees to have received permanent recognition by the International Olympic Committee.” They got in touch with Krenar Qoku, founder of the Youth Council of the U.S. Embassy in Skopje, who took over coordination of the project in Macedonia on the ground. He found two local players keen to spread Ultimate – Borjan and Adi – set up a number of sessions in various high schools across the city, and then got in touch with the UKU about the possibility of a qualified coach coming over on the 10MD budget. The UKU got in touch with me, and then Krenar set about packing my 9-day schedule with as many productive opportunities as possible!

High school sessions

60 pupils at one of the high school sessions in Skopje

The high school pupils in Skopje are all enthusiastic and keen to learn & play a new sport played with a frisbee. Sessions would vary in size, with greater numbers at the schools in less privileged areas where options for extracurricular activities are limited. One of the benefits of Ultimate is the limited equipment needed – one disc can give a good game to 14+ players, however a few more are needed for drills. 10MD are in the process of getting 300 discs to Macedonia, but these hadn’t arrived by the time of my visit, so I packed 12 discs in my luggage and used these at the sessions.

Zef Lush Marku high school learning about throwing

Most sessions consisted of throwing around (with a couple of technique tips), a lead pass drill (where I throw out in front of the receivers, so everyone gets the opportunity to chase down a disc), and a game of Ultimate. Most of the students could understand basic English, or their classmates would translate for them, but if not then Borjan & Adi were able to translate. Running the sessions was partly about introducing Ultimate to the pupils, but mostly about giving Borjan & Adi some ideas for approaching the sessions which they can use in the future (as the project continues after my visit ends).

Explaining the basic rules to a local Youth group

The high school sessions were leading up to a tournament between the various high schools, to be held in a few weeks. Students really appreciate the opportunity to compete against other schools in a new sport where the playing field is effectively levelled.

As well as high schools, Krenar also arranged for me to meet various local youth groups, peace corps, and all other connections he had which might help spread the game further.

Macedonia Ultimate Federation?

Students from the Faculty of Physical Education

Krenar and I met Vladimir Vuksanovic and another colleague at the Faculty of Physical Education to talk about the high-level structure of sport in Macedonia, and how Ultimate could be officially started. The meeting was very promising – they had had experience starting sports in the country already from scratch, such as field hockey, so were confident in their knowledge of the processes.

Vasil Antevski Dren high school – Krenar is at the back with me, Borjan on far right next to Adi, with the school principal centre-front

To start an Ultimate Frisbee federation, at least 5 non-governmental organisations need to be associated with the sport first, and they had contacts for NGOs that might be interested. I ran a session with the pupils at the Faculty which went really well, and Vladimir & his colleague seemed very enthusiastic about the sport and it’s self-refereed nature. Hopefully this was the start of the process of the sport to being officially recognised & supported by the authorities in Macedonia!

Delivering the coach education course

Coaching Qualification Course

As a qualified UKU Coach Educator, I ran two longer sessions which Krenar had arranged for the weekend. On Saturday, I introduced the game to a group of local teachers, players, and interested individuals by running a session where I talked through throwing / catching techniques, and then ran many drills (with many mid-drill modifications) to give the participants a good idea of drills they can run with their pupils / teams to develop them as Ultimate players.

On the Sunday, I ran a coach qualification course, using UKU material but presenting a certificate on behalf of 10 Million Discs.

8 newly qualified coaches from Macedonia, Serbia, and Croatia

For these sessions we were also joined by players from Croatia and Serbia who made the long journey to Macedonia. It was a pleasure meeting them and they ensured I stayed out far too late on Saturday night. They were already strong players, so I hope they will take the coaching knowledge back with them to help develop the scenes in their countries – they are now almost certainly the only certified Ultimate coaches there!

The Falcons -Skopje’s active local players

The Falcons

Towards the end of my stay I was invited to run a session with the Falcons. They are active players in Skopje who meet up when they can to play some Ultimate – usually only enough for 4v4, with no warmup or drills.

I took the offer as an opportunity to give the active players an idea of how the top teams train in the UK. After a warm up (which ended in competitive sprints), I demonstrated backhand and sidearm technique, giving each player some pointers for improvements whilst letting them know the strength of their current techniques.

Selfie with some of the Falcons

We went into a break force drill next (hit a cutter on the break side), which was something very new for a lot of the players, and then onto a down-line-to-huck drill, which flowed really smoothly. During the game a few strategies were introduced whilst we all slipped around on wet grass in our trainers! The benefits of studded boots were talked about at the end, after a traditional spirit circle.

 

Skopje nature

The streets in Skopje have plenty of stray dogs and cats. The cats mind their own business and are not interested in human interaction, merely concerned with survival – effectively living wild. The dogs on the other hand are keen to say hello and accompany you on your walk home – like your own personal guard dog, or just some friendly company for a short walk. In 1963 an earthquake hit Skopje and destroyed 75% of the city – many years later, there were so many stray dogs that they begun travelling in packs and attacking humans. They were all rounded up, tagged, neutered, and released back onto the streets. This has now allowed stray cat numbers to escalate.

Skopje is overlooked by a mountain, upon which a huge cross shines over the city at night (top right). I decided to venture to the top.

Many options for routes – I chose red, the steepest, and had to use my hands to climb at some points, but was able to run at others

This was a path near the bottom of the mountain

Looking back on Skopje before getting half way up. I walked from one of the high rise buildings on the far right of this photo just above the bush

Over half way up, looking back at Skopje

topofmountain

Incredible views from the top, plus getting to see what the Millennium Cross looks like up-close. For full pictures & photo-sphere versions, see my Google Photos album.

Ottoman-influenced architecture

Octagon-themed, rather than hexagonal

viewofvodno

Another morning, I was running on the other side of the city, able to see Vodno and the Millennium Cross in the distance before going over the crest

Looking away from Skopje had a sort of Japanese feel to it

Mountains in the far distance shrouded by clouds, and luckily a bird passing by

 

Round-up

Borjan Gerasimovski receiving his coach certificate & qualification

The visit just scratched the surface of properly introducing Ultimate to Macedonia, however some great connections were made, and some good methods for running all kinds of sessions were passed on. The newly qualified coaches have the potential to increase the player base hugely, and with some administrative work there is a route for an Ultimate Federation of Macedonia to be set up. If I visit again, I can see delivering more coaching courses would be hugely beneficial, especially if we coordinate with all the contacts made during this trip to ensure the courses are well attended by people who a sure to spread the sport wherever they go.

Andrijana Kolevska receiving her coach certificate & qualification

I introduced the sport to ~150 12-18 year olds whilst in Skopje, hopefully they will be able to support future projects in some way, and possibly with the introduction of discs from 10milliondiscs.org and the excitement of the tournament, they will end up starting their own teams at very low cost.

krenar-certificate

Krenar Qoku receiving his coach certificate & qualification

My advice to the local players was to create a regular day of the week for practice to encourage the playerbase to grow, and aim towards a particular competition – possibly EUCR-East next year. I hope Borjan and Adi keep up their efforts to build the scene, and I remain keen to help them in any way I can!

After this positive experience, I look forward to my next opportunity to introduce Ultimate & coaching techniques abroad (and explore the nature nearby)!

Serbian & Croatian players who attended the coaching course weekend

Thanks to Trent, Krenar, Borjan, Adi, and all the teachers, pupils and faculty members that made the journey possible & enjoyable. I hope the good work continues and I hope to see you again soon!

All photos from the trip are available here – including photo-spheres of some amazing areas!