"Your session plan will almost certainly change on the day. Adaptability is the game."
What's your background in Ultimate?
I started ultimate at Swansea University; I took a little convincing to try it properly, but I went to my first tournament in 2012 (where, amongst others, I played against a team with terrible kit called Reading Between The Lines.) After that tournament I was hooked and proceeded to learn all I could about the sport. I ended up as a captain and coached a lot of sessions for my team. After leaving Wales I went back home and started to play for Reading and that culminated in going to WUCC in 2018. Last year I captained our open team through Nationals and Euros, and this year I am half of our mixed captains.
Where and who do you coach?
I currently coach Reading Knights (Reading University), Reading Ultimate and the GB u17 boys. This gives me a pretty large range of non-sporty beginners, very athletic kids, and recreational to elite-club level players to coach. Sometimes all in the same session.
How did you start coaching?
There was a dearth of Ultimate in South Wales at the time so it was particularly hard to find experienced players to learn from. Myself and a couple others travelled to BAF trainings and basically tried to regurgitate what we did at those sessions, or stuff we found online, back to the uni team. From there it was a relatively little jump to devising our own sessions and delivering them.
Why do you coach Ultimate?
I love thinking about the tactics and strategy of Ultimate; offence and defence are super underdeveloped compared to other sports so it’s an exciting time to find out what works and what doesn’t. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next when we’ve got more players who have been throwing from childhood.
There’s also the aspect of giving back to my club team through my time coaching, and also providing opportunities for the university students that I did not have when I was starting. I was used to having coaches from playing football and rugby growing up, and when I got to uni and played ultimate their absence felt pretty conspicuous. Those first three or four years of playing should be a sweet spot where you’re just learning the game and developing yourself, but oftentimes you’re focusing on teaching fundamentals to the next wave.
What do you enjoy most about coaching Ultimate?
Giving a player the tools to fix a problem is very rewarding - it could be individual like tweaks to throwing technique or where to cut, or advice to the team about how to open up a zone that’s troubling them. That said, watching beginners have fun with a disc really reminds you to appreciate the basic joy of play, especially if you find yourself taking it a bit too seriously in club season.
What have you learnt from coaching?
I am slowly and surely becoming a better people person, and improving my ability to manage and plan, thanks to my coaching. You also quickly grasp that learning is a skill and that some people are coachable and others are less so - I definitely try and be more mindful and soak up knowledge or feedback where I can.
I still have trouble when my jobs overlap as a player/captain/coach and I don’t think you can give the best of your ability to all of those at the same time. This is something I didn’t really think about before my coaching, as most teams are largely just used to having a few experienced players who do all the jobs and we get by. I don’t think the UK scene fully appreciates coaches, or more particularly non-playing coaches, just yet. It is a lot of work but I think generally players are not cognisant of the effort that goes into planning and running sessions, and analysing players for providing feedback over a season. If you’re a club, find a non-playing coach and appreciate them! If you’re retired/semi-retired find a club to coach and be appreciated!
What’s been your coaching highlight to date?
Working with the u17 boys was the first time I was coaching non-friends/non-peers; it was pretty nice to feel like a real coach rather than just the loudest/bossiest player at a training. Going on from there to shape their individual development over that cycle, and at euros, was a big highlight - and I enjoy seeing them tear it up at tournaments nowadays with their clubs.
What are your top three tips for a new coach / getting started?
- Jump in to coaching with both feet - the benefit you’ll provide to the team by being there will likely far outweigh any mistakes you could make
- Talk to other coaches - we’re very fortunate at Reading that we have a pool of them we can bounce ideas off and it is super valuable. I’m willing to bet most other coaches are nerds and are only too happy to talk 'fris'
- Your session plan will almost certainly change on the day. Adaptability is the game
Any other tops tips?
- You don’t have to have all the answers to their questions; if in doubt, saying ‘play it and see’ will make you seem wise and mysterious
- Don’t worry about delivering ‘perfect sessions’ - players have expressed thanks and wonder after trainings I thought were absolute car-crashes
- Be coachable. Ask for feedback from everyone - good or bad it all makes you better
- More reps in a short drill > fewer reps in a long drill
What’s coming up next for you?
EYUC in Poland with the u17s, then hopefully postseason with RUX and new BUCS league with Knights Women next year. We’ll see what else I can coach after that.
Congratulations to Matt for recently completing his UKU Level 2 Coaching Award.