Ultimate frisbee is a sport on the rise and UK team, Clapham is putting Europe on the ultimate map. A US-born sport primarily dominated by teams from the western continent, European talent is bridging the gap. Clapham, an open (men’s) team based in London, is looking to give top US teams a run for their money at the 2014 World Ultimate Club Championships (WUCC).
Since Clapham’s beginning in 2001, the team boasts an impressive list of accolades. Winning thirteen consecutive National titles and the European Championships in both 2012 and 2013, Clapham is well on their way to international glory, and more specifically, a medal at WUCC 2014. A quadrennial event, the 2014 edition of the World Championships is taking place in Lecco, Italy, August 2-9.
It won’t be the first time Clapham graces the world stage. The team attended the World Championships in Hawaii in 2002, in Perth, Australia in 2006, and in Prague, Czech Republic in 2010. Coming 11th, 5th and 10th, respectively, the team has big hopes for 2014. When the Canada-born captain, Marc Guilbert, is asked what their goal is for WUCC 2014, the immediate answer is, “to win.”
The UK has a multiple-event competition structure split into three divisions, mixed, women’s, and open. There are three weekend-long events for mixed and three events shared by women’s and open. The results from all of the events, or Tours, produce an overall ranking for UK teams. Following Tour there are UK Regionals, UK Nationals, and finally, the European Championships. A UK team can gain a spot at WUCC in several ways, (in order of precedence) by winning UK Nationals, being the highest ranked UK team at the European Championships, or by placing well in the overall Tour results.
A well-thought-out endeavour, Clapham started recruiting for WUCC 2014 at the end of October 2012. After winning the UK Tour in 2013 Clapham went on to win the UK Nationals and the European Championships, securing their spot at WUCC 2014. Part of their plan for the 2014 season, and path to Italy, is to dominate the UK Tour. Clapham is splitting the team into their offensive and defensive lines and play Tour as two separate teams. Guilbert’s reasoning is “because [the team is] too strong as a unit.” A confident reply to say the least, he continued to explain, “Our aim is to win Worlds so if we’re going to play national level clubs we should be able to beat them so we need to give ourselves a disadvantage, to isolate players so that they have to do jobs which they’re not used to, or to grow as a line, anything that gives us an edge at learning and evolving more rapidly.” Guilbert’s strategy seems to be spot on as Clapham, both defensive and offensive lines, monopolized the recent Tour 1. Both Clapham teams battled it out in the final with the defensive line winning 15-9.
In the lead up to WUCC 2014, the team will be attending both Windmill Windup mid-June, Europe’s largest grass tournament, and the US Open, an invitation-only event, in early July. Guilbert, however, has other ideas in mind for preparation, “I guess it might sound cocky, but I think our internal competition is the fiercest and the more practices we can do the better for our club.” As of May the team’s training has involved an intensive schedule of three practices a week.
Guilbert’s approach to training stems from his frustration towards the mentality that when told to do better, you can. Guilbert believes that players are probably doing all they can on the pitch and that there needs to be a method beyond telling a player to do better: “instead of just drilling random things we’ve set out that our success is going to be based on improving key concepts and skills. If we can improve these concepts and skills then that improvement will seep through to the rest of our game and that’s going to be the determining factor between winning and losing.” A very structured organisation, it is evident Clapham is a force to be reckoned with.
Following Tour 1 Guilbert and his team of captains, one for each the offensive and defensive lines, made the final selection for the team that goes to the World Championships. A squad of 32 players, the team is only allowed to take 25 to the event. A cut-throat endeavour, 7 committed players won’t be seeing the pitch in Italy.
When it comes to their perhaps grandiose goal for the World Championships, Guilbert believes in aiming high. Guilbert’s experience as the captain of the Open Great Britain Team taught him that setting a goal for a tournament and exceeding that expectation can only limit subsequent performance. Guilbert wants to give his team the best shot at WUCC, “We are aiming a lot higher than what we should if you think of the natural progression of our never having won a semi but I don’t want to get us in a situation where we win the quarters, we win the semis, and then are surprised about it,” explained Guilbert, “So let’s just aim for the top and see what happens.” Looking at playing top teams from North America, Australia, and Japan, Clapham has their work cut out for them. Guilbert is not ignorant of the level they’ll come up against at WUCC, “I’m under no illusion that there is going to be extremely tough competition and we could end up anywhere between 1 and 10, but we might as well go for it.”
Note: This article was written for Exclusive Sports Media.