Si Hill, Chief Executive of the UK Ultimate Association and coach to the Great Britain team, explains the basic skills of Ultimate, the importance of training hard and of mental strength.
Interviewed by Tim Sanders, BBC Blast Reporter.
Raise Your Game: What encouraged you to start playing Ultimate?
Si Hill: I'd seen my brother play Ultimate and I thought it looked pretty cool. I always enjoyed playing team sports such as football and basketball, but I'm quite skinny so I was never quite strong enough for the contact aspect of those games. There's a lot less contact in Ultimate. When I found out that there was a team at university, called Catch 22, I joined and started playing with them.
17 September 1971
Clapham Ultimate and Great Britain
Position (when playing):
Handler on an offensive line
- Created the Tour (the national competition in Britain).
- Won back-to-back European Championships with Great Britain in 2003 and 2007.
- Reached semi-finals of World Ultimate and Guts Championships in 2008 with Great Britain.
- Coached Great Britain mixed team at 2009 World Games.
RYG: What drew you towards coaching?
SH: Formally, coaching is quite new to Ultimate. I've had a coaching role in almost all my teams as I've tended to be one of the team leaders, so I was expected to do some coaching. That was what happened in Catch 22. Then, when I joined other teams, I'd already been playing quite a long time so people respected my experience and ability and expected me to take on a bit of a coaching role. More formally, this year I've been the coach for the Great Britain team that went to the World Games.
RYG: What skills do you look for in an Ultimate player?
SH: I think, in terms of the very basic fundamental skills, speed and agility are pretty high up the list, alongside good hand-eye co-ordination. Beyond that, as people work hard and progress, you're looking for people who have good basic throws, both forehand and backhand.
RYG: As a coach, which essential skills would you try to improve upon in a player or a team?
SH: As players develop from being complete beginners the most important things, at first, are the fundamental skills of throwing and catching. A lot of players take catching for granted and, consequently, aren't good enough at it. If you want somebody to be really good at Ultimate, you really want them to never drop the disc. At the highest level, if it touches your hands you should catch it. As a coach you can really impress the importance of practicing catching upon players.
The next stage is spending time raising fitness levels. Jumping past that, it's important to start to get people thinking about the game on a tactical level. And the next really important thing in Ultimate is about the force. A team like Clapham spends massive amounts of time on working their players to get better forces and learning the tools to break the force.
RYG: How important is working with your team mates in Ultimate?
SH: International teams would be expected to understand where they're trying to move the disc, and where and when their team mates are going to move. In short, they have a system and need to understand it and keep to it. That requires quite a bit of work together. At any level, a team that spends time practicing together will have an advantage over the team that doesn't. I'm definitely a fan of playing in a team that practices regularly together.
RYG: When you were coaching the Great Britain team for the World Games in 2009, how much time did they spend training?
SH: They had training sessions five or six days a week. The length of the session varied, most were either one or two hours long, but some of them would have been longer, especially when they involved playing Ultimate.
RYG: How important would you say a player's mental attitude is in Ultimate?
SH: In any sport you need people to have a mental strength. If someone's going to succeed at a high level, then they're going to play in pressurised situations. So being able to take on that pressure and take a positive state of mind into important situations counts for a lot.
Ultimate's a sport where you have to score the winning point, you can't just play the time out. Scoring that winning point can be pretty difficult. You see it in tennis. So you certainly need a lot of mental resilience to be successful in the sport.
RYG: What are the unique facets necessary to an Ultimate player's mental attitude?
SH: Players have to be able to cope with the pressure of there not being a referee. If a player thinks there has been an infringement of the rules, he has to stop the game and explain his point of view. Consequently, players are often put in a situation where they disagree with their opponent. The only proper way for them to deal with this is to maintain control of their emotions and accept that two people can see the same thing in different ways. In the vast majority of cases the other player is being entirely honest and it's simply a case of two people seeing the same incident in different ways.
The self-refereeing aspect of Ultimate is crucial to 'the spirit of the game'. You need to display a great deal of calm under pressure in these emotionally challenging situations to uphold 'the spirit of the game'.
RYG: What does UK Ultimate do to help teams uphold 'the spirit of the game'?
SH: Our coaching course talks through the ways of dealing with a player who is struggling with the 'spirit' aspect of the sport. The course teaches people what tools are available, for example, using the pressure of fellow players or ultimately, as the coach, saying "Look, you're going to be removed from this game if you continue."
RYG: Is 'spirit' worked upon within a team?
SH: Yes. I think most teams do talk about it and try to keep to that ethos. I can think of quite a young player, who was in one of my teams, who we worked very hard on. We spent lots of time talking to him about his conduct on the pitch, and threatened to remove him from the pitch if he didn't change how he was acting. It even got to the point where, in an important match, we played with 6 players, so 'spirit' is definitely something teams work on.
RYG: Can anyone participate in Ultimate, regardless of their ability?
SH: Yes. It's pretty quick to pick up. The biggest obstacle is unfamiliarity with Ultimate.
A great way to start is to get a simple version of the rules and play in small groups, two-a-side or three-a-side. Playing games with fewer people is much more fun initially because everyone gets the disc more and there are fewer turnovers. Maybe they could see if there are any experienced players in the area who could give them some tips.