Congrats on co-captainness. How has it been training in the winter for a beach tournament, cold wet sand surely? Tough?
Thanks, I’m co-captain with Dave Grayson who I’ve played with on various masters teams for the last 5 years. Dave runs the show. I help where I can.
Rob modestly rising from the bench at World Clubs last year for Zimmer
It’s not been easy and we haven’t been able to meet up as often as we would have liked for sure. We’ve run 3 day long practices and attended a 1 day tournament which was attended by a real mix of teams; we won but significantly tougher tests lie ahead. Training for an early March beach tournament is trickier when you are UK based that it is for some other countries so I expect them to be a little sharper than we are come the tournament – hopefully we can get up to speed quickly.
How have you been training for it, as individuals and as a team?
Primarily as individuals. Tools such as Strava and WhatsApp have meant we can keep each other motivated and prove we are putting the effort in. There are also a lot of ultimate specific resources dotted about the web now so we are never short of inspiration. Our challenge is that we haven’t spent much time as a team – this year the masters team looks a whole lot different to previous years so we have to hope we can gel quickly.
Are you training on a beach? Especially as you are all over the UK?
Our 3 practices and the tournament I mentioned have been on the beach, Sandbanks, near Bournemouth. It’s a pretty special place (and home to some of the worlds most expensive real estate) and one of the very few places in the country where the sand is just right for beach ultimate. I’ve also never been there when it has rained (though I missed the practice a few years ago where there was snow on the sand) so it holds good memories for me! Unfortunately it’s probably not big enough to hold a major tournament.
I know you have played a few warm up tournaments, how have they gone?
We would have hoped to play more! We entered a European based tournament (Lisbon I think) but the masters division got cancelled, which meant we not only had to think of something else but we were now in the UK on valentines day and had no legitimate excuses left.
What are you hoping to achieve at WCBU?
We all want a medal but it is going to be tough – we have a compact but strong division from the looks of the player rosters. I suspect a lot of it will come down to how the initial round robin ends up. No one will want to face the USA in the knock out stages until the final.
There’s a certain level of expectation for GB masters now, discus!
I was on the mixed masters team that beat the USA to win gold at the last world beach and also on the team that won gold at Euro’s in 2013 so I have been lucky enough to experience the feeling of being on top, but before that I’ve been part of masters teams that have struggled to make an impact. Certainly since 2011 the GB masters programme has been in good health, led primarily by Si Hill and Dave Grayson. In this division you need a critical mass of people to commit to playing and then all of a sudden other people come out of the woodwork. Our success over the last few years has definitely meant a higher caliber of player asking to be involved, which is great. That said this year marks a bit of a change.
Si Hill has retired from playing along with a lot of the names that would have been among the first on the teamsheet (no Si Weeks or Dave Barnard for example – neither of whom are available for Dubai regardless of whether or not they have hung up the frisbee yet) so we have a new group of players who can hopefully drive us forward. We had a disappointing world clubs in Lecco (losing in the quarters to FIGJAM from Canada) and I think some of us feel there is still a lot to prove.
The new crop of players is exciting though. We have a much broader mix of teams represented than previously and with people such as Dave Povey, Chris ‘Aussie’ White and Will ‘Caes’ Cornelius now eligible for masters we have added some very experienced names to the roster. I think this is a healthy thing. Adding in new ideas and approaches will mean we give very different looks to the opposition than we have in the last few years.
Will we reach a point where GB can regularly beat USA, or do they still have too much depth in numbers?
I don’t see it becoming a regular thing any time soon although I’m not playing Open so am probably too far removed for my comments to hold much weight! My personal view. I’ve played in a few world championship events now and the heaviest defeats have tended to be handed out by the USA. I think the elite teams there have another gear we have not been able to consistently find up to now. I played on the Clapham team (probably more accurate to say I helped keep the bench warm on the Clapham team) that got to the semi’s of the Boston invite in 2006.
We dealt with all the mid-ranked teams fairly easily but when we came up against the liked of DoG and Twisted Metal we couldn’t find the edge and ended up losing by 2 or 3 each time. That pattern, winning comfortably until the real test, has seemed, from an external viewpoint at least, to repeat itself in the years since then. Recently Clapham have shown it is certainly possible to beat US teams and take the best team in the world down to the wire but the challenge will be for us to be able to do it consistently.
Your point about the player base is key in my view. I’m not sure how we can expect to compete given our comparative size. But culturally too sports are perceived differently. I studied in the USA for 2 years and benefited from the unbelievable sports facilities that exist largely because pretty much everyone gets behind sport in one way or another, be it a high school football game right through to an NFL match.
These things all add up to create a player base that has significantly more talent to pick from than we do and people who are used to being coached – something a lot of ultimate players in the UK might not have had much of prior to picking up the sport. While I think there will be occasions when we beat them I think making it a habit will be very very difficult…but challenges are part of the reason we play sport.
Dubai, how do you think that will be? Both playing and culturally?
I’m really looking forward to it. The beach is the natural home for Ultimate I think! Obviously the sport on grass is fantastic too but if you get the right beach and the right weather then it’s hard to beat the sand game. Euros in 2013 in particular was a great event. Hopefully the BULA guys will have kept innovating and we will have the best tournament yet. Culturally… who knows… I was definitely one of the people scratching their heads trying to understand why it was chosen as the location, but I will reserve full judgement until I have been.
Predictions for your division?
The USA are the clear favourites. The late entrance of the Philippines is the real wild card. Their open team from 4 years ago (who got Silver) are probably all masters age now and will present a lot of nightmares for many a defender I would think. Canada will be strong. I would hope that we will join those three in the semi finals. I have a sneaky suspicion France will be strong too, but choosing 5 teams out of 8 seemed like a pretty lame prediction.
Which other ones will you try to watch?
I’m really excited to see what the GB Open team can deliver. The team is stacked full of the best players in the country. This hasn’t happened for a major beach tournament before (ignoring Paganello) and we’re all hoping they challenge for gold.
GB Masters, some of you have played for 20 + years, do you still get new dudes coming through with a shorter playing history?
Yes we do get lots of players coming through. The list above is primarily made up of players with less than 20yrs (myself included – 15). We’ve had a lot of response to our requests for interest in the team. The grass masters team for 2015/16 has had around 70 people state their interest and we have a hard job to whittle it down to the squad.
You’re co-captain through till next Worlds. That suggests some long term plans. What’s the idea behind that?
With 3 major championships in 18 months (World Beach, Grass Euros, Grass Worlds) we wanted to try and get some consistency to the squad and to the senior players who will make the call about how things should be run. We have been keen to open it up to as many people who are interested as possible and while we want the best players available we don’t want to spend endless hours convincing people to play.
We’d rather have a hungry squad who want to compete for places. Our plan for the next two seasons therefore is to select a squad of circa 30 people in late March – it will be from these 30 that the cut is made for Euro’s and Worlds. However everyone in the squad will be welcome and encouraged to play at every other tournament. We want to create a masters ‘club’ effectively.
Our initial aim of generating interest from as wide a spectrum of teams as possible is working. As well as the more usual Chevron, Fire, Clapham, Fusion mix we had players from Manchester, Sheffield and EMO at the first trial which I don’t think has happened recently (certainly not in the numbers we had). With Worlds in London next year we want as competitive a team as possible. Hopefully this format will help make that happen.
Anything else to add? / I should have asked you?
Thanks for your continued interviews with various people across the frisbee world, they all make for interesting reading!