When I filled out the application to play on the national team for Beach Worlds, there was a question asking “are you interested in being a team manager?” I had an idea of what team manager might be, thought it was probably similar to being a club team captain. I checked “yes.”
I later learned that a selection committee from USA Ultimate chooses the team managers. I have no idea who or how many others checked that box, all I know is Brett Matzuka and I were chosen.
Whoa. Honored. Thank you. Excited. A million questions.
After we were announced publicly as team managers, I immediately reached out to Tyler Kinley, who’d been the team manager of the previous beach world’s open team. What I gathered is that being a manager of this team is basically the same as being in a major leadership role on a non-coached club team. We had to make sure everything got done and ran smoothly for the team both on and off the field. Travel, housing, info gathering and sharing, choosing the team, planning our training, player roles, team dynamics… everything. Brett and I didn’t necessarily have to do it all ourselves (we delegated and shared responsibilities with the team), but we were on the hook if something wasn’t done.
As for support from USAU, Byron Hicks was our primary contact, and was extremely helpful in answering questions and reminding us of deadlines. He also did this for the other seven Beach Worlds teams. USAU secured an apparel sponsorship with Five Ultimate, so we looked and felt fresh (their new Triton shorts and Daywalker Hoodies are dope!). USAU also paid one of our two entry fees.
The rest was on us.
I talked with other friends and peers and learned this process wasn’t quite the same for other US national teams (World Games, U23, U19). For the others, there are more specific leadership roles. Most notably, all other national teams have a team manager that oversees logistics, a trainer, and a coaching staff that chooses and manages the team. I think this comparison is important in order clarify the experience of being a manager of the US Beach National Team.
Choosing the Team
The first important task was to select the other members of the team. There would be no tryout. Instead, Brett and I got a spreadsheet with all of the application data from the hundreds of people who applied. We had to do our best with that, based on who and what we knew. This seemed extremely daunting.
How am I supposed to know if these people are even good on the beach?
Before really diving into the applications, I knew this was going to be a challenging process. There were six other sets of team managers (Women’s, Mixed, Men’s Masters, Women’s Masters, Mixed Masters, Men’s Grand Masters) that had to choose their teams from this same pool of applicants. I knew some of my friends were on the list. Teammates. Former teammates. People I’ve played against for years. People I knew of but never met. People I’d never heard of.
It was emotionally overwhelming, but I felt prepared. I’d chosen teams before. I’d made cuts. Brett was on the team last time, so he had experience. I had access to others who had done this for this team. I had support. I knew it would be a mix of excitement about the possibilities and future memories crossed with stomach turning guilt and uncertainty. I wanted to do my absolute best at this part of my job. I wanted to honor all the hard work people put into ultimate.
I’ve been on both ends of several team selection processes in my athletic career. I heard my middle and high school sports coaches breeze through the cliches: “We’re looking for players who work hard, who show up to practice on time, and who are unselfish team players.” As an ultimate player and leader, I’ve heard my co-captains give lip service and spout the same things, and I’ve in selection meetings, I’ve joined those same co-captains in neglecting to talk about how hard a player worked and selecting players even though we knew they were historically NOT good team players. Only after years of leadership experience did I recognize this as hypocrisy, and that I could do better. I wondered if my coaches of the past really honored what they said in how they selected teams.
On the other hand, I’ve also been a part of team selection processes that did it right. Coaches told leaders what they were looking for, and then honored their word in evaluating and selecting the team. Coaches acknowledged the players as humans, but also knew they had to make the best possible decision for the team.
I was determined to do it the right way. I owed it to everyone I’ve played with, captained with, learned from, and been coached by. I owed it to all the people who applied.
I knew it would be important to have an idea of the player qualities and characteristics we were looking for before we started looking at the list. We wanted to be able to defend the final roster– most importantly to our own standards but, if necessary, also to others. We needed some criteria to help us narrow down the field and make tough decisions. Brett and I worked together and arrived at the following:
- Ultimate skill/talent/experience. Should be good on beach, not just grass.
- Great teammate. We’d have minimal team time before playing in high-stakes games, so we needed people who know how to come together quickly and effectively.
- Represent the USA well, be a good ambassador.
- Positional balance (i.e. enough handlers, defensive specialists, cutters, etc.).
Also important, but not as important as above
- Age balance, bridging ultimate generations, torch passing.
- US regional balance.
We loosely set our target at 14 or 15 players. Over about two weeks, we whittled down our list. We read applications. We made phone calls. We consulted trusted friends and players who knew applicants better than we did. We constantly referred back to our criteria. We made depth charts at positions. We made mock-ups of complete rosters, O lines, and D lines. We talked on the phone. We emailed, texted, gchatted. “He’s fast on grass, but would his speed translate to the beach?” “He was great in college but I’ve never seen him play club.” “He’s a great player, but would his throwing skill set work on a small field.” “He’s injured now, but would he be full strength by March?” “Has he ever even played beach?” “He’s one of the best block getters in club, but is he a good teammate?” “He played U23” “He’s clearly a great player, but I’ve heard he isn’t the best teammate.” “He’s 22. He’s 37.” “I don’t think the fit is right.” “He’s definitely in.” “I think he fits better than him”. We compared our friends and teammates to our club rivals, trying to imagine them as our teammates working towards a common goal. We communicated with other team managers about who they were choosing. We narrowed our list down to 25, several of whom were locks, the others on the bubble. We made new positional depth charts. Then it was 20. We checked our list against our key criteria. Then it was 18. We read through applications again, reading their responses to “why do you play ultimate?” Some hadn’t filled out their entire application while others had gone the extra mile and had written things similar to our criteria. We made more phone calls, more gchat, consulted friends again… and then there were 15.
Alan, Asa, Brett, Cranston, Frank, Goose, Jack, Jack, Jack, Jared, Mario, Mark, Teddy, TK, Tyler D.
Yes. Ballers. Great teammates. Ambassadors. Experience. Balance.
Brett and I felt relief and sadness, but overwhelmingly we were excited. Step 1 complete. We couldn’t wait to get this group together. And then someone set up the GroupMe…