WUCC Reflection – Trust the ProcessKhaos
Worlds was an incredible experience made so much sweeter knowing we’ve been dreaming, working and building to this for years. What I wanted to write was something that gives a glimpse into what we’ve built and how we accomplished what we did. Mostly, I am so incredibly proud of this team and if I don’t gush a little I might burst. I really believe we made it to 5th in the world by trusting our process. Trusting the process to build the team over the last 4 years, this past season and during WUCC 2018.
Building the team
Crash was created and won Nationals in 2014. Not only did that establish Crash as a team but also in team culture and identity. After a big win at Nationals, the 2015 season was a rebuilding year with lots of turnover from the 2014 roster. We learned a lot, we grew a lot, and made it to 4th place at CUC. In the fall of that year, we sat down for our end of season meeting and set a team goal: to qualify for WUCC 2018. Having a big, long-term goal means that you don’t always feel like you are going to make it. It stretches you and pushes you to make happen what you didn’t know was possible. You don’t leave every practice thinking “yes, we’ve got this, no problem”. It’s meant to be beyond your reach when you set it; something you continually strive towards.
Over the next 2 years we learned what it meant to not only lead a group of players, but to grow and develop a team and a system. Along the way we had some growing pains, but having a big goal means building something that can sustain working towards the same goal for 2 years despite those challenges. It meant setting goals to build depth. It meant learning how to make players feel valued and heard. We put things in place like rotating 1:1 check ins with captains. We wanted the chance to talk with all our players, get their perspective/input, give a little feedback and hear about the things that concern them early so we could address them.
Having this big goal also impacted how we made roster decisions. We always hope that tryouts are as much a chance for players to try us out as they are a chance for us to see them play. Each year we are excited by the talent in the area and to see who is showing interest in our system at tryouts. Now it should be noted, while our area has some good Ultimate it is by no means a place people move to play Ultimate. There are lots of good teams nearby all pulling from the same group of players. We wanted players who were committed not only to the season but also to the system. So going into the 2017 season, we planned that if we qualified for Worlds, each player who had achieved that with us would have a spot on our 2018 roster. We had been working towards our goal for 2 seasons already, and we wanted to trust the process that was in place. We aren’t a group of flashy names and all stars; we are a team. A team who is bought in 100% to our goals and vision. As promised, each player on our 2017 roster had the opportunity to be on our 2018 roster, with the addition of 3 players to bring us to 28 players. We are proud that we had almost 90% returning players on our WUCC roster from the 2017 qualifying year, and we believe this is a huge testament to the process of development and depth-building that began years ago.
Trusting the process this season
In the weeks leading up to WUCC the online podcasts and predictions started to come out. Having not had this kind of coverage before, I was excited to hear what they had to say. Some said things like Canadian mixed Ultimate isn’t what it used to be, that Crash was the weakest top seed of the pools and that overall our pool was up for grabs. As a captain, this hits you where it hurts; these are my players, this is my family. I felt protective, but it also sowed a seed of doubt…what if we aren’t ready? Maybe they know something I don’t. I had been spending my spare moments on practice planning, line calling strategies and lying awake at night thinking about how we can be better, so I hadn’t been paying attention to other teams leading up to the tournament. What if? While this doesn’t feel great as you are getting pumped to play what you hope will be the best Ultimate you’ve ever played, looking back I can see where they were coming from. If you do a little research on Crash, the only tournaments we had won were Ontario Regionals and Canadian Nationals. In fact, we stepped on the field at Worlds having lost all our games at Boston Invite, our most recent tournament. While it certainly would have felt nice to have a couple more wins under our belt, we had built a process that would prepare us for Worlds in other ways. We set goals for each tournament, and for the tournaments that aren’t directly related to our big goals we create various process goals: seeing new groups of players together, trialing a new line calling strategy, getting all our players in big games with tough matchups, managing injuries, etc. While we don’t have a plan to lose games we do have other priorities. Nailing a pull play or figuring out the finer points of our zone defense don’t show up on stat sheets and sometimes it means wins don’t come as easily as they could if we scrapped the process and pushed for each game. So heading into WUCC, it wasn’t a surprise that we didn’t look ready. We didn’t look ready because we hadn’t yet played at our highest level. I needed to be patient and trust the process. It was coming.
Trusting the process during Worlds
At big tournaments the first step in our process is to have a team gathering the night before our games begin where leadership reiterates the goals for the upcoming games.
Setting a goal for Worlds was tough. We had no idea how to set a goal, and really our team was reluctant to set an outcome or placement goal, as the teams we would be facing were pretty much an unknown. In the off season we had set some other goals:
1. Be the hardest-working team at the tournament.
2. Be an extremely prepared team – physically, mentally, and with well-honed skills.
3. Be an extremely spirited team that shows respect to our opponents.
4. Be a team that competes with the best teams in the world.
5. Play at the highest level we ever have as a team.
As leadership, it’s pretty hard to decide how to navigate through a tournament – creating lines, calling lines, and determining an in-game strategy following only the goals above. So we decided to set an outcome goal to drive our process and shared it with the team: win top 2 in our pool.
During this meeting, we also do what Crash has done since its inception – we pass out letters to our teammates. In the weeks leading up to these big, season-culminating tournaments (Nationals, and of course, Worlds) a form goes out to our players where we have the opportunity to write down things you appreciate, admire and hope for your teammates. Not only does this provide tear-jerking, heartwarming encouragement, but as a teammate, writing these things for your team in preparation for this tournament gives you this time to reflect on the team and how great you think they are. I personally spent a good portion of my evening between sobbing and laughing before laying my letter on my bedside table for safe keeping. Those doubts I was feeling before were getting drowned out by stronger words.
Come game time, we implemented the process we created to support our goal. We had teammates step up to create a warm up to get our bodies, our minds and our hearts ready for play so we can focus on being players. We had in game things like calling a timeout after the first 5 points to regroup, “brain trust” at halftime with any player welcome, and line calling strategies for different scenarios. Outside of games we met as captains daily and as a team each evening. These were the things that grounded us in each moment, gave us time to reflect on the past in order to move forward with purpose. It kept us rooted in the mentality of one game, one point, one play at a time.
Then we got 1st in our pool. Process then dictates you set a new goal: win the next game. Then, win the next game. We just kept going. We fell to a strong BFG in the quarterfinals, putting up a fight we were proud of. Then we reset with a goal to win the next game. It was such a cool experience to walk into our team meetings and celebrate achieving our goal almost every day and pump the team up by giving them something new to strive for. Finally, we were to face Seattle Mixtape for 5th place. 5TH PLACE! AT WORLDS! I’m sure you can guess what our goal was, but the weather had another plan; delaying and then cancelling our game. It was strange to end this way, not having the closure of a last game at Worlds but we rolled with it (and some of us even rolled in the mud with it).
The success we had at WUCC was due to years of work put in by the players in our system, and trust in a process built throughout those years. I am by no means saying we executed our process perfectly. We definitely made mistakes. But as leaders, to have a team that has faith in our decision making, grace in our mistakes and supports us to play at our best only comes from a team that has had their voices heard; a team that is 100% bought in; a team that loves each other. That love is a testament to the process, it doesn’t just happen, it is built, earned and fought for. This team has blown me away, they worked to achieve something that I didn’t even know was within our reach. I’m so proud of each and every one of our players who each had their own successes, and who proved themselves on the field. To be a part of something like that – for me the feeling is indescribable and something I’ll never forget.