5 questions with Hildo Bijl

On March I’ve asked Suzy 5 Questions about Ultimate Frisbee. The interview showed a rookie point of view and a glimpse into the London Ultimate Frisbee scene. We’ll be back on that topic sometime soon! 🙂

This month we get to learn another perspective. This time we get to learn about conflict resolution, team building, and training. There’s something all of us can learn from this interview and apply on our own teams. If you want to start an adventure with training others then read up! Now, meet Hildo Bijl from Force Elektro, Netherlands – the person behind Ultimate Trainers Manual and Urban Ultimate video! 🙂

Name: Hildo Bijl
Plays Ultimate Since:
2006
Team: Force Elektro (Delft, The Netherlands)
Cutter/Handler: Handler
Favourite throw: Lefty backhand (as a righty). It’s so insanely useful for everything.
Favourite type of the tournament: Tournaments focused on beginners. You can’t find a better vibe than a few hundred players eager to learn.
Favourite division: Open/Women
Favourite thing outside of Ultimate: Sharing knowledge – teaching, coaching, writing. It’s also why I wrote the Ultimate Trainers Manual.

 

1. How did you first get into Ultimate Frisbee?

I was seventeen years old, starting my engineering studies in a new city. I knew I wanted to do a new sport, so in the first week I simply tried nearly everything there was at the university sports center. The Ultimate Frisbee club sent me the most span afterward, so for some reason, I joined them.

I wasn’t all that enthusiastic during my first year, often skipping trainings. It was only after someone told me I could reach the Dutch under-20 national team that I decided to go for it. And I guess that also taught me how to pull people into the sport. Show them what they can reach and give them a clear path to get there. That’s what motivates people.

WorldsJapan2012
2012 world cup in Osaka, Japan. This was the match of the Netherlands vs China.

2. What does this sport mean to you?

Of course Ultimate is a great sport for many reasons. The athleticism, the skills, the strategies, they’re all amazing. But what I appreciate in Ultimate more than in any other sport is that it’s basically a practice in conflict resolution, even when emotions are flaring up. Whenever something happens, you make a call. It doesn’t even have to be the right one just yet. You just have to get people to stop doing whatever it is they’re busy with. Then you quickly discuss things, listen to others, come up with a solution that works for everyone, and continue what you were doing. It’s only more recently that I’ve started to realize that this works for every facet of life.

I’ve been a board member of the Dutch flying disc association for several years. It put me in contact with many boards of Ultimate clubs and organizers of tournaments. All clubs and tournaments are run by volunteers, amateurs, who’ve never had a proper management training. So despite good intentions, things naturally go wrong often enough. Some players take this up really well, but others silently complain, behind the backs of others, about whatever is going on. And to make things worse, they often complain without even knowing, let alone understanding, the full picture of what’s going on. Or worse, they work behind the backs of the current club boards to further their own goals.

What Ultimate means to me is this conflict resolution mindset. Whenever you find something that you don’t like, that you think needs to change, then make a call. Let people stop doing whatever they were busy with, quickly discuss things, listen to others, come up with a solution that works for everyone, and continue life in a better way. We’re so used to applying it on the field, but applying it outside of it is a lot harder. But that does make it all the more worthwhile.

UrbanUltimate

3. What do you think are the most important aspects of training rookie players and building a team?

I think there’re three things that are crucial.

    1. A team with aligned expectations. Of course, you need a fun team to pull players in. But “fun” means something different to everyone. Is it about working out together until you die from exhaustion, about going for beers after every training, or just about playing games all night? Every time you form a team, get players together, provide food, and ask them about their expectations. Let them complete the sentence: “I will have an amazing season when … ” Then let the team pick two or three goals for their season. They’ll probably surprise you.
    2. A coach/trainer with a plan. Beginners often ask me, “Where should I be on the field? Where should I run to? How does the strategy work?” It’s crucial, as a coach, to know exactly how you want everyone to move across the field. Of course, there should be room for improvisation, but the guidelines should be present. After all, Ultimate is a game of positioning, so it’s crucial to have a trainer capable of telling her/his players, “I need you right there right now.”
    3. Lots and lots of individual feedback. There’s a fascinating trend in Ultimate. Whenever a team is losing, the coach always brings the team together to tell them all what’s going wrong and what needs to change. For instance, “We really need to look dump sooner.” But usually it’s only two or three players that are messing up, and those are also exactly the players that then look at all the others with a smug face, “Yes, you should dump sooner,” not realizing it’s actually about them.

      The key to solving this is individual feedback. After a point, run after a player and discuss a situation with them, one on one. Tell them what they did. Tell them what effect it had. Tell them what you would have liked them to do. Tell them what effect that would have had. Then ask if they understood what you tried to convey, and possibly have them explain it to double-check. It’s the best way to make sure the message gets across. And sure, it’s a lot of work, but it’s the fastest way to get players to improve.

 

WorldsU23London2015
2015 under-23 world cup in London, UK. I was the coach (left in the picture).

4. You’ve had the chance to play Ultimate Frisbee at the highest level. How did you prepare for the World Championships?

I’ve played two world cups (2012 and 2016), both in very different teams. The first one was in a small team of only 17 players (and plagued by injuries) while the other was in a large team of 25 (and plagued by all-star players hogging playing time). The differences were enormous.

Of course, the actual preparation was the same. There were fitness trainings, hitting the gyms twice per week. There were trainings with my local club team, twice per week. There were lunch-time throwing sessions. And of course, the weekends were filled with national team trainings and preparation tournaments. All in all, I trained 5-6 times per week, for an average of 14 hours per week (excluding traveling time).

The crucial difference was this magical thing called “repetition”. In the small team, I played pretty much all points with the same small group of people. Even before the World Cup started, we intuitively knew what every other player in our line would do. The level wasn’t the highest (we missed some top players) but we really grew together, which was amazing. This is in contrast to the large team, where I was on the field with different people every single point. It was only at the end of the world cup that I finally started (yes, started) to get a little used to my role in the team. But then again, I only played 30 points during the entire world cup. (Yeah, that’s one point for every full week of preparation.)

This difference did teach me how to grow a team. It’s not just about putting the right player in the right position. It’s about being clear what position you want a player to be in, why you want her/him there, and then (most importantly) let her/him spend enough time in that position to grow comfortable with it. Trust players with responsibilities, let them get familiar with them and subsequently be surprised by how well they take them up and grow.

WorldsLondon2016
2016 world cup in London, UK. (I’m in the bottom row, second from the right.)

5. What do you think is the future of Ultimate Frisbee?

I’m a math geek. When you ask about the future, I look at statistics. On average, the number of Ultimate players in Europe has been growing by roughly 5% per year. This is a pretty fast growth, but at the same time it means we’ll need about half a century for a tenfold increase in player numbers. I think that’s a decent growth, and we should strive to keep that up. I know it doesn’t seem all that special – Ultimate isn’t going viral or anything – but I’d settle for it regardless.

It’s still important to realize that “5% per year” is an average. Some countries/regions are doing above average and others below average. Analyzing what makes countries and teams do well is crucial here, and I think the results are obvious. Every time a new team comes up and surprisingly starts winning large tournaments (like European championships) it’s a team based on young players. It’s the story behind Bad Skid (Germany) who rose up about five years ago and started crushing teams all across Europe, and it’s the story behind the Dutch Grut team (average age about 20 years old) who recently won the European Mixed title. So youth Ultimate is crucial.

Sure, the country that pays the most attention to their high-level teams now will be more likely to win titles next year. But the country that works the most on their youth Ultimate will win way more titles in ten years time. I’d say it’s worth it, if not just for the titles, then definitely for the young players. Because whatever happens, they are the future of Ultimate.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed the interview. Stories like this one show how Ultimate Frisbee is unique. It’s a nice mix of competitiveness, conflict resolution, cooperation, and responsibility. Why didn’t they teach it at schools on P.E, right?

What’s your Ultimate Frisbee story? Would you like to share it? Feel free to message me on Introverted Ultimate or via email. I’ll get back to you with 5 Questions. I’m looking forward to hearing from you! 

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