Mark Davin

"Coaching this incredible group of inspiring women allowed me to return to Ultimate."

What is your background in Ultimate?

I started ultimate at Plymouth Uni in 2002, picking up with BAF during the summers when back from uni. Following uni and relocating to Bristol, I have been a part of Chevron since 2006. I have also been fortunate enough to be part of two GB Mixed cycles, once as an athlete (2007-2008) and then once again as vice-captain/offence coach (2011-2012), winning two EUC Championship gold medals . Prior to coaching GB Mixed, I had never viewed myself as a coach, so that was a big leap of faith to see what happened and to continue learning.

Who do you coach at the moment?

I started coaching Bristol Women in 2018 and I am with them again this season.

How did you start coaching?

In 2011/12 myself and a few others from the GB Mixed setup had such a positive experience during 2007-08 seasons that we wanted to take this forward and got planning early. Coaching a GB team is very different to a club team - each with their own unique challenges and opportunities. As a player-coach during 2011-2012, although successful, having a non-playing coach would have been preferable. This taught me just how difficult it is for someone to have a dual role as an athlete and coach, and that it is almost impossible to perform both to the best of your abilities simultaneously, more likely that performance in both roles will not be as good as it could be. Having said that, at the time we felt there was a significant lack of Ultimate coaches in the UK, male and female alike, and we weren't aware of the right coach who would be able to dedicate themselves to a non-playing role.

Bristol Women (2018 - Present) - I had a break from ultimate between 2015-2017 as I was getting quite burned out and wanted a new challenge, taking some time off to compete in other sports. During this time off, some close friends in Bristol Women approached me to see if I would be interested in helping them to prepare for WUCC 2018. Having coached several of the Bristol athletes at GB Mixed, they had a good idea about me as a person and my coaching style. Bristol Women never previously had a coach (let alone a male coach) and I had never coached a women's team, so this was very much uncharted territory for both of us. What helped make this an easy decision for me is that well over half of the 2018 team are some of my closest friends. When breaking down our first season working together, I've had some feedback from the athletes that the existing relationship between us helped expedite the building of trust and the 'getting to know you' phase of the coach/athlete relationship. On a personal level, coming back from experiencing burnout as an athlete, coaching this incredible group of inspiring women allowed me to return to ultimate, both as a coach for Bristol and as an athlete for Chevron, in a much better place than I previously been. I feel as though time off has enabled for a different perspective and as a result I’m back enjoying the sport more than I did previously.

Why do you coach Ultimate?

First and foremost, to challenge and work with my friends to unlock potential and to have a great time doing it.

What do you enjoy most about coaching Ultimate?

Seeing what it means to play for Bristol Women to all our athletes. I’m very privileged to be a part of this chapter, where this season we have a strong roster of 45 players working hard week in week out to improve the level of Ultimate in our community.

What’s been your coaching highlight to date?

Winning the teams first ever European tournament (Vienna Spring Break, 2019). A great tournament all round, made more memorable by what happened in the final. A week or so before the tournament, 7 of our players had flights with an airline carrier that went bust; alternative flights at such a late stage were only available much earlier meaning they would have to leave halfway through the final, should we reach this stage. These 7 players had to leave for taxis to the nearby airport when we were leading 4-3 against YAKA, reducing our team to 10 players. We went on to win 15-12, which was a super emotional victory under the circumstances and one the whole team will remember for a long time for so many reasons.

What are your top three tips for a new coach / getting started?

1 - Learn from experienced players and coaches around you. Ask questions. Learn from mistakes that you or others have made.

2 - Build trust and confidence - Let the athletes ask questions of you so that they can buy into you as a coach and, in turn, will have full confidence in what you are asking of them.

3 - >80% of a coach’s work is not visible to the wider team. To make progress, you have put a lot of hard work in outside of practices and tournaments.

Any other tops tips?

1 – Don't let athletes get comfortable, as this can often lead to athletes not feeling that they have to push themselves to improve.

2 – Keep your athletes hungry. Create an environment to allow for positive and healthy competition.

3 – As a team, measure yourself against yourself and no one else - set your own standards.

4 – Don’t be afraid to have honest (and sometimes tough) conversations with your athletes and the collective team.

What’s coming up next for you?

Bristol Women are focusing on increasing exposure to our large roster in Europe and through the domestic UK Tour season, where we will have selections for the more traditional 1st and 2nd team prior to Regionals. The goal is to defend our UK Nationals Championship and to continue to work hard into the post-season at EUCS.

Outside of coaching, I am on the Chevron and GB Masters roster – looking forward to the rest of the season.

What have you learnt, or are you learning, from coaching?

I’ve certainly learned a lot about myself and what I need to work on to give the team and individuals what they need as a coach. I’ve tried my best to summarise below…

The coach is not always right – be humble in accepting any shortcomings/oversights and seek support from the right people.

I’ve learned to stay positive and calm wherever possible when coaching. As an athlete, I get super pumped and focused to work hard, graft and give my best – so in some ways, the emotional and cognitive aspects of the coach role can be quite opposite to that of the athlete. Hence, dual athlete-coach roles are very difficult to master.

I’ve found that coaches who are loud, dramatic and use coarse language don’t necessarily get the best out of their athletes in the long term and can be fractious. Those who adopt that approach also lose the ability to change the tone/tempo when talking to the team and if they might really need that impassioned boost in a tough situation; although this style should only be used very sparingly, in the right situations, if at all. The team will need to turn to you as a touchstone when it gets tough, so you will need to embody and articulate how you want your team to react. To summarise, how you use your body language and verbal composition can be a very impactful tool (both positively or negatively, depending on how it is applied) as a coach.

I have also really focused on listening to the athletes. Everyone is an individual, will have varying life commitments, athletic abilities, strengths and what each person wants out of the sport will look different from athlete to athlete. To add more to the mix, what each athlete will need from the coach; at trainings, at tournaments and even in the pastoral sense, will change. Adapting to this changing environment in the right way is something that I will always be working on.