Sion Scone (Brummie)
"I fell in love with the sport very quickly, but I think mostly I fell in love with the culture of being part of an honest, hard-working team."
What's your background in Ultimate?
I started playing at Loughborough university (Yeah Haze!) back in 2001. I fell in love with the sport very quickly, but I think mostly I fell in love with the culture of being part of an honest, hard-working team. I still have lots of close friends who I met as a beginner, some of whom are still playing at the top. I struggled to learn how to throw, it took me ages to get a workable forehand; some would say I never did! ;) While on a placement year I played with Clapham and got my first taste of Tour finals (mostly running in mud), and went on to play in GB Open & the first World Games team in 2009.
Where / who do you coach?
I coached at uni, I ran open-to-all skills clinics, I coached emo 2005-2009 and eventually got the job coaching GB Open in 2011-12, culminating in our first ever WUGC medal. I have also coached GB World Games 2013, and GB Men u24 2018, plus numerous skills clinics all over the world, and I’ve helped out at a bunch of clubs, most recently emo, LLLeeds and Birmingham.
How did you start coaching?
As an analytical person, coaching came naturally and I quickly worked out that I would directly benefit from having players around me who were better! Plus, I was frustrated often by how hard it was to find things out – there were no YouTube clips back then! – so I started asking everyone around me for tips and sponged it all up. After reading ‘Ultimate Techniques & Tactics’ I thought that one day, I’d have to write a book building on top of it.
In 2014 I finally got around to writing that book… only the world had changed, so rather than a book, it became a website: Flik, aimed at helping Ultimate players and coaches to train better and play better.
Why do you coach Ultimate?
I can remember trying to understand and work things out as a beginner. There were no resources to turn to, and few coaches with much more experience than I had!
What do you enjoy most about coaching Ultimate?
The feedback loop is important to me. I introduce a topic that’s new, people sometimes struggle to understand why it’s useful or how to apply it. We do some drills & themed games, then there’s this “eureka!” moment where the value becomes obvious to them, and suddenly they really appreciate the input of a coach.
What have you learnt from coaching Ultimate?
It’s so hard trying to coach people who don’t want to be coached, and I think having a growth mindset is something that’s vital in life. Having been met with that kind of “brick wall” before, I’ve become way more appreciative of genuine feedback and now I always try to be open to criticism.
Conflict resolution is a key part of ultimate (resolving calls), and encourages people to be more empathetic. I’m continually surprised that many people lack the ability to understand one another, or to take the time to discuss things rationally – it could be a road rage incident or discussing Brexit in the pub – so maybe playing ultimate should be prescribed as part of anger management classes?
Mostly though, coaching is really hard work, it’s emotionally draining. No-one really considers the effort that the coach puts in, and you’re switched on 100% of the time, so it can be easy for you to not look after yourself. I assigned one of my assistant coaches in Perth the job of looking after me, as I clearly couldn’t be trusted to do it myself
Also, I think it’s fair to say that I sucked at being a people-person when I started coaching. “Game analysis: 10/10. People skills: 3/10” was how one of my players put it to me bluntly once. I like to think I’ve become more human over the years ;) Like anything, it can take time to learn how to do things well.
Players: make sure you give your coaches feedback too! And don’t be too hard on them, they’re learning too.
What’s been your coaching highlight to date?
Any time coaching at a worlds is special. I was helping to coach emo in 2014 when they had a phenomenal tournament, finishing as 2nd UK club behind Clapham, and knocking out Freespeed, who were ranked 2nd in Europe at the time. Silver medals in Sakai will always be a treasured moment, although losing a final is bittersweet. Likewise going to World Games in Cali; GB finished last, but the quality of play was so exceptionally high that I was proud of how we played, despite not getting the results we wanted.
On a more personal level, I got a few messages from former GB players asking whether I was going to coach GB again, and that they’d be interested if I was leading it. I thought that was a really nice compliment to me.
What are your top three tips for a new coach / getting started?
1. Don’t expect instant results! In truth, I think a good coach adds 5-10%; the rest comes down to the players, the leadership, etc. You have to fit in with the team, not the other way around, so seek to build a relationship with your team.
2. Keep things simple. Everyone wants to learn lots of different offences, but in truth, just having a few simple principles - rather than a huge list of set plays – is often all you need to get everyone on the same page.
3. Stay positive! You can learn from wins & losses, and if you congratulate your team on things they control – like their effort levels – then they’ll always be in control.
Any other tops tips?
Watch more video of other teams. Spot what they do well. Work backwards; how did they set up that throw/cut/block/sky? Find the tiny details that separate the best from the rest. You’ll be surprised how those marginal gains quickly add up to better overall results.
What’s coming up next for you?
Continuing work on Flik! We want to ensure that it’s the best place to go for any Ultimate coaching resources. We’ve recently completed a project with UK Ultimate on throwing instruction videos, as well as lesson plans aimed at total beginners & coaches who don’t have a background in ultimate. Plus it’s a great place to look at examples of great teams playing great Ultimate; I’ve cut out the rubbish so you can focus in on the key points.