On the last weekend of March, about 50 players from all over Germany met with Ben Wiggins (fmr. Seattle Sockeye), Seth Wiggins (Portland Rhino) and Heidi-Marie Clemens (Seattle Riot) in Munich, Germany. They were invited by the German open national team to run clinics in preparation for the WUGC 2012 in Sakai, Japan.
The idea for this camp was born in 2010, when I learned that Ben Wiggins was running a clinic with European players in Ireland. I was coaching the German open national team for several years by then (after coaching the German juniors in the ‘90s) and I thought it would be helpful to invite experienced players and coaches from the U.S. to bring our team to the next level. I have played on the open (and juniors) national teams myself, won German and Danish titles with club teams, and participated at Worlds and European club championships several times. But I never made it to Sarasota, where you can see and play against the best teams in the world.
However, in the last two years I realized that the German national open team was ready for more. The team finished third at the European championships last year in Maribor, Slovenia, only losing to GB in the semi-finals. They defeated every other opponent, including Sweden, who later won the title against GB. I thought that I had several options to get new input to further improve the team. First, we could travel as a team to play an elite tournament in the US like teams from GB, Japan, Australia, and even South America have done before. Second, I could travel alone to the U.S. to learn more from the elite teams, and I could use that knowledge as a coach back in Germany. Third, I could just bring more experienced coaches from the U.S. to Germany. Considering these options, I came to the conclusion that it would be more effective to give the required input directly to the team instead of traveling to the US by myself and introducing things that I experienced on such a trip. Also, it was definitely cheaper to have only a few coaches flying from the U.S. to Germany than flying the whole team across the Atlantic. Accordingly, I asked Heidi-Marie, Ben and Seth if they could imagine coming to Germany for clinics, and they did.
At the clinics in Germany, about 30 players from the German open national team attended. They were coached by Ben and Heidi-Marie. In addition, the German masters team and several men from the German mixed team came to Munich and practiced with Seth separately.
Before coming to Germany, the “guest coaches” analyzed several games of the German national open team from the European championships last year that I had sent to Ben. Based on his observations, Ben made several suggestions on how to improve the team and discussed these with the German captains and me. Afterwards, he sent an email to the team suggesting several drills that would be helpful for the players to prepare for the upcoming clinics. Moreover, about two weeks before coming to Germany, Ben sent another email with a synopsis of the schedule for the clinics so that the team could mentally prepare for the new things that would come up. Finally, in the week before the clinics, we met in Munich to discuss the final details.
The open team clinics started on Friday night. We had dinner together, and there was time to mingle. For most of the German players it was the first time they met the three coaches in person, although their faces were already familiar from various Ultimate videos on the Internet. After a short introduction of every player and his ambitions and expectations, Ben gave an introduction of the training that the players could expect over the weekend. This overview lasted for about an hour and was extremely helpful for players to get in the right mindset for the new input and allowed them to ask questions. This preparation helped the team make the most of the time that we had on the fields during the next two days.
On Saturday morning, the focus of the training was on individual defense. This part was mentally and physically very hard for the players. So it was a good idea to start with this while their legs and heads were still fresh. Moreover, you can practice these important skills over the whole weekend, even during offensive training. The better the defender becomes, the more difficult it is for the offensive team, which will help them to improve. Accordingly, we mainly explored individual defensive footwork and defensive reaction-based drills. The goals were: engaging in a camp-long focus, preparing for the race rather than trying to win it with speed, and intentionally deciding how to play against bigger and faster opponents and preventing opponents’ best options. Saturday afternoon, we worked on stopped-disc plays that attack upfield. We were trying to create handler motions to open early upfield throwing lanes. A focus was using “power positions” to create upfield opportunities and avoiding throws that are backwards and do not create future upfield throwing opportunities.
On Sunday, we focused on team skills and played several scrimmages. From the videos I had sent to Ben, he observed (among other things) that we needed to score more easily and more routinely within 10 yards of the endzone. This requires positioning players to take advantage of defensive mistakes or misalignments. Therefore, we focused on playing as a team instead of clearing and forcing a few players to take on the other teams’ best defenders to score. Moreover, it seemed that in the past, we gave up too many big plays at the start of possessions, which is exactly what the offenses of the best teams we will face in Japan want. So, another goal for Sunday was to bring our good defensive pressure without exposing individuals to the other teams’ best play from the pull. Accordingly, Ben introduced and showed us how to practice a transition defense in which the formation is far less important than the principles and individual concepts.
Tarek Iko Eiben, coach of the German masters team, also weighed in on how he expects their work with Seth Wiggins to impact their team:
Playing this sport for thirty years now, I loved the idea of getting a new perspective of the game from coaches from North America. After an international event with North American teams you gain new ideas, but you are not coached on those ideas. So, it was a great opportunity to get coached by Ben and Seth Wiggins on basic and advanced strategies of the game. Although a weekend is not enough to completely transform into a new team, it can make a difference as to how you approach your team’s game for the future. The German Master National Team practiced concepts of the game that were new to us. It has already changed our game of Ultimate and we will continue to assimilate those ideas. Attending this camp as a team made this event more valuable, because you get the new input as a unity, and you don’t lose that much in reproduction.
What was really fascinating was the fact that, although certain situations in the game have been familiar to us for years, once the concepts behind them are shown and explained you look at them very differently.
At the end of the clinics, everybody was even more enthusiastic than before. I think that Ultimate in the early years of our sport must have been like this. Players from the U.S. traveling to Europe to spread ideas and share advanced skills developed in the sport’s country of origin. Even if you think that you do not need “new input,” the clinics have proven that it is often very helpful to receive advice from “outside” experts. An external coach might tell your players the same things, but maybe in a different way. If you coach the same team for many years, a variation in style different from your routine is well accepted and much appreciated by the team.
The results in Japan will tell if our efforts will already pay off this year. It has to be noted that there is not much time left to capitalize from the experience we gained. However, I’m convinced that it was worthwhile and will help us to reach our goals in the future. In addition, the players from the German national team already introduced the new ideas and drills to their home teams (the German national team is an “all-star” team from several German club teams). It can be expected that many teams in Germany will soon practice and play the “Wiggins” style, too.