Month: <span>July 2012</span>

Blog Posts

What We Leave Behind: Part 2

Pass the Baton Before You’re Ready

One thing I’ve noticed as Uni Women’s coordinator, going into my second year of the role, is that a lot of teams have the same women’s captain two years in a row. And I can definitely see the advantages: you’ve already blundered through the main mistakes of being a captain and learned from them, you’ve refined the systems you have in place for getting people to pay, getting people to training, getting people to tournaments.

But from my perspective as a non-graduater (actually I’ve graduated twice already, so ha), it’s pretty clear to me that one of the strengths of our club is that if we can absolutely avoid it, we don’t have the same captain two years in a row. Not because any of our captains in recent years have been outright terrible and you wouldn’t want them to do it again – on the contrary, we’ve had some fantastic tacticians and motivators – but because captaining is a skill, building a team is a skill, and it’s one we need to keep passing on to future generations of the team.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t love another shot at captaining – mostly to implement the lessons I learned the year I was captain. But actually, I can implement that learning by helping our new captains, and that’s going to be way more useful for the club.

Yes, this system means our new captains often have the challenge of working out how to captain their old captains, and sometimes even how to captain their coaches, and how to manage players who are often more experienced than themselves, but it keeps us getting fresh blood into the committee. Fresh blood means new ideas; it means innovation. Innovation means improvement.

Bringing in new people to the ‘inner circle’ is critical if you’re going to keep your club going after you’re gone. Sure you need some overlap: you need the old hands who know exactly what they’re doing and can register and pay for a tournament with their eyes closed, but you also need the people who are going to become those old hands in a year or two’s time. With a few exceptions, we only get players for 3 years, so you need your second year players learning as much as possible so they can pass it on in their third year. University ultimate is relentless in its turnover rate, so you have to be relentless not just in your recruiting but also in your training and knowledge transfer.

Captaining is an obvious ‘baton’ that I believe needs passed on, frequently, and it’s the one we’re good at passing on as a club. I think the more subtle things to pass on are some of the more difficult ones, like game planning, strategising, tactical knowledge and understanding.

Personally, I am a bit of a nerd in all areas of my life – I learn things better by both doing and thinking about them – and I’m also a little bit obsessed with ultimate. It means in my years of playing ultimate I have watched literally hundred of hours of game play, and spent lots of that time working out what I’m seeing tactically on the pitch. I’ve pestered more experienced players than me to talk about tactics, to explain why certain stuff works. I’ve analysed the differences between tactics for mixed, vs. women’s, vs. open, and have tried to work out what works in each and why. Really, I felt like at undergrad I ended up with a joint degree – in psychology and ultimate.

But not everyone is a nerd about ultimate. This is definitely a good thing, but it also means that for the Squaws teams I coach I need to work out a way to pass on tactical understanding and the ability to strategise without the players I’m trying to teach being as obsessed as me. Lots of people learn by doing, rather than thinking, so I need to think about getting our returning players to do tactics in games, to work out in the middle of the action what might work better. It’s going to be tough, and I love the tactical side of the game, so I’m going to have to remind myself again that it’s not about me having fun being a brain, it’s about training up some brains to replace me.

I can think of plenty of ‘batons’ that need passing on – the main handler, the key upfield receiver, the tactician, the team idiot (although I hear we’re getting Fluff back next year)… As an experienced player, sometimes it’s about going out and making game winning plays. But sometimes it’s about making space for the less experienced players to learn how to make those plays, and learn how to fill those roles – and helping them along the way. Yes, it’s your final year, and you want to dominate, but you also need to teach others to dominate, which means passing on the baton before you’re ready, so that the new recipients get a chance not only to learn how to do all this cool stuff, but also how to pass it on when it’s their turn.


Note: Sorry for the delay – been doing some real actual academic work for a few weeks, so been behind with posting. My bad. Expect more (and better!) posts in coming weeks…


GB Open in the final of Worlds!

Last night GB Open beat Sweden 15-14 in a tightly fought game to advance to the final of the 2012 World Championships in Japan where they will play USA. The final will be shown on NGN for a small fee of $5 at 7am Saturday 14th. (Tomorrow morning)

You can expect to see appearances from the likes of Callum Smith and Richard Harris (both featured in ‘Mohawks who made GB’).

So tune in and support GB for what could be an historic event of epic proportions and therefore lead to celebrations of all types, shapes, sizes and levels of excitement. You wouldn’t want to miss that now would you!

Blog Posts

Brief history of the Mohawks (by Felix Shardlow)

I found myself at Sussex University in October 2000 almost by surprise. Two weeks earlier, whilst I was still undecided about whether I wished to attend university at all, my elder brother forced several questions upon me; “Do you want to live far from home?” – not particularly… “Do you want to live by the sea?” – yeah, I suppose so… “Do you want to join an Ultimate Frisbee club?” – sure, that sounds like fun. The answers I gave that day, sitting in a B&B garden on a family holiday with the clearing lists spread out in front of me, would shape the rest of my life.

So there I stood on Russell’s Clump, frisbees flying all around me in the late summer sun, being given advice on how to throw by a man with a large beard, who over the next decade would become a very close friend of mine (and a fierce competitor in the World Beard and Moustache Championships). I had never seen or played Ultimate before, like most people who join the Mohawks (Sussex’s Ultimate frisbee club), but the club was & continues to be very accepting and encouraging for new players.

Immediately, I was hooked. I bought a frisbee and kept it on my person at all times, I didn’t miss a training session, I became known as ‘the frisbee guy’ by my Philosophy tutor, and at the Regional Championship hosted at Sussex, I got myself a traditional Mohawk haircut. Ultimate completely dominated my time at university – in my final year I became captain, and although (with my brother’s help) I had chosen the right course, it distracted me from Ultimate only enough to earn a 2:2 (known as ‘the captain’s degree’ within the Mohawks).

My first year was a strong year for the team – the 1st team finished 3rd at Indoor and Outdoor Nationals (not quite able to repeat their victory of the previous year) – however, come June, the entire first team graduated, and I was one of only two new recruits to stay with the sport. The next two years saw many friends come and go; without a solid base of strong players, we struggled to attract or hold onto serious athletes.

By this time, Ultimate was my life. I had started playing with the local Brighton club team, competing nationally against around 50 other teams from cities around the UK, and there was no way I could simply leave the Mohawks with their future uncertain, after the club had given me so much. I made it clear at my first job interview that I would need Wednesday afternoons off, so I could attend frisbee practice, and somehow my request managed to stick. I came back to Russell’s Clump every single Wednesday, naturally falling into a coaching role as I saw players, and the club, lacked direction.

In 2005 I took my involvement to new levels, becoming South East Regional Coordinator, setting up a regional league (which would go nationwide the following year), and arranging competitions & events. This chance to compete attracted new freshers who would stick with the team for 3-4 years, and quickly a solid player base begun to emerge again. The club regained the continuity it had missed for the last few years. Players became more involved and more competitive. Ties with the local Brighton club team were strengthened. The team was now a social group as well as a sports club. ‘Frisbee houses’ would pop up all over Brighton as 2nd year Mohawks would all live together and adorn their hallways with frisbees on the walls. In 2006 we were runners-up at Division 2 Nationals, and had just recruited a new player – Richard Harris – who would go on to be one of the best players in the country. I drafted up a week-by-week training program and, as I continued to attend every Wednesday training, I would work on improving it every year. Each year we attracted more and more athletes who would go on the represent Great Britain in a few years time. Despite being a non-playing non-student, I didn’t miss a tournament, and between coaching would film games with a video camera – the start of something that would again change my life.

Before long we had a title under our belt – University Women’s Outdoor National Champions 2007. Many more would follow – Women’s again in 2009, numerous Regional titles, and this year bigger achievements than have ever been seen before in University Ultimate – Sussex are now outdoor champions in all three disciplines – Open, Mixed & Women’s – plus Open Indoor National Champions to boot. We were particularly proud to achieve this in our 25th anniversary year as a club (and one of the longest-running Ultimate clubs in the country), and to also earn the Sussex ‘Club of the Year’ award. This is truely a golden age for the team, and with the depth we currently have and the time we dedicate to developing new players, this could continue for many more years.

Personally, I have continued to film big tournaments, producing DVDs of the highlights & finals which I sell to players after the event – a venture that has been so successful that in 2010 I left my office job to concentrate on filming ultimate & other sports full time (alongside coaching the Sussex (and now Brighton) University teams). In 2009, Ultimate became an officially recognised University sport, meaning Sussex could finally put me on the payroll (having been aware of my contributions for many years, they were very eager to do so). Playing wise, I’ve become a National and European Mixed Champion with Brighton Ultimate, travelled as far as Australia to compete at World Championships, and this year I made the Great British Open squad, looking to hold onto our European Gold this summer in Slovenia.

If you’ve ever been a part of the Mohawks, join us in celebrating the club’s 25th anniversary & recent achievements at a huge reunion on 16-17th July – contact [email protected]. If you’re interested in playing ultimate in Brighton, visit – open to all ages, no experience necessary.

As I return to making preparations for filming & competing at the European Ultimate Championships, it’s undeniable that my life has been entirely shaped by my time at Sussex University… and I wouldn’t have it any other way.