Talking to the Boss: The Britney Interview

Published in Ultimatum 2012

 

The more you find out about the GB Open captain, the more intriguing he becomes – not only does he write poetry, but he’s published a romantic novel – in French! Furthermore, he made a pretty serious attempt at becoming Canada’s first astronaut and he still believes that Nalgenes are indestructible. I decided it was time to find out more.

 

Name: Marc Guilbert

Age: 35 Originally from: Ottawa, Canada

Years playing: 15

 

What would you say most defines you, apart from Ultimate?

Being excessively focused and determined, along with having an unyielding nature. Set in a competitive environment like Ultimate, such traits obviously come in handy.

 

Where does the nickname ‘Britney’ come from?

The year before joining Clapham, I played for a team called Smash and Grab made up of a mix of Brighton and Cambridge. The guys on the team started calling me by that name because I had shoulder-length hair at the time, but it really caught on after I won MVP for some mixed tour that same year and they convinced the announcer to call me up to the stage as Britney to collect the award.

 

Right, let’s get this question out of the way. I got up early, and paid $5 to watch that final. WTF?

I knew this question was coming, but not how it was going to be worded. Having had to answer this before, I’ve found that I have two distinct reactions to such comments.

 

My first reaction is the one that probably best epitomises why I was put in charge of GB Open in the first place. In essence, I frankly couldn’t care less about whatever feeling of disappointment you may have towards the Open final or how much of a spectacle it was for the crowd. My only concerns are those for my team and team mates. And believe me, each and every one of us was in that game to win it. We all wanted to become World Champions. Unfortunately, it’s not how it ended. We didn’t perform like we had done in the rest of the week. Let’s however make something crystal clear: we earned the right to be there. Those who played WUGC will know that you don’t get to the final at Worlds without winning a series of big games. This is why it is one of the toughest tournaments in our sport. The 25 guys that entered that stadium on that Saturday had already accomplished something no one else in the history of Great Britain Ultimate had ever done. Each one of them thoroughly deserved their time in the spotlight and that shot at the title. So, instead of questioning our final result, why not praise the guys for having had such a heroic tournament. If anyone however, still feels the need to criticize our performance, feel free to have a go at me, but you better come well prepared because I’ve spent the last three GB cycles raising Open’s standards and have directly focused the last two years (as both Open’s team manager and captain) on paving a way for us to get to that final.

 

My second reaction is as poignant, but far harder to explain. It has to do with the expectation and preparation of the team. Ever since our first trial in late 2010, I have tried to convince every Open player that this GB team was going to be the one that wins Worlds. Let it be said that engraining that belief was extremely tricky, given the multitude of knocks and blows to our confidence we suffered throughout the two year programme. As expected, the scrutiny of the UK Ultimate community was also relentless. While this in itself was never a problem, every player needed to find their own invincibility and realise that if they acted and played confidently, we would keep getting stronger and keep winning. Circling up after our sudden-death semi-final win against Sweden, it was apparent many players only started to believe they could be World Champions at the precise moment the last point was scored. But self-belief cannot be acquired in one pass, nor can it be gained in one evening: self-doubts are much harder to get rid of. No amount of shouting can solve this; no pats on the back or time-outs can turn this around. In the end, what is required is mental toughness. Hope is useless in sport, confidence is what is required. Thus, future GB teams cannot hope to ‘over-perform’. Instead, they need to prepare themselves to win and be disappointed should they fall short of their goal. This might require more tenacity and discipline, but it is the only way to reach the very top. No other GB team needs to learn this again like we did.

 

What was the feeling in the team after winning silver?

There is a tremendous amount of pride in the silver medal we won. This can never be taken away from us. Yet, as successful as our tournament was, it did not end the way we wanted it to. Many of us are left wondering ‘what if’. Because of this, our result is slightly bittersweet. In the end, it’s up to every player to find peace with their individual performance and our collective result. Only then will that silver medal shine as bright as it should.

 

You selected a young squad, with a focus on fitness and commitment. Obviously the results vindicate that approach, but I can’t help thinking that you would have been better off with an older, more skilled, but less fit team. At any point did you miss having any particular player on the team?

We played ten games, each of them requiring a different combination of skills, fitness and experience. I fully agree that in order to compete, any squad must have a balanced mix of players with unique skill sets, but you have assumed from your question that we weren’t skilled enough to do so. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. Please don’t ignore the outcome of the nine games which put us in a position to be in that final before judging our overall performance. You also forget the most important point: the only team capable of beating GB Open in Sakai was GB Open itself. We only lost when we didn’t play our game, and not because we got out-skilled or out-matched. This has been true since we started in 2011. The 25 guys that travelled to Japan understood this and it has never ceased to serve us as an empowering realisation. Thanks for the opportunity to make this clear to the rest of UK Ultimate.

 

What is it that keeps the North Americans dominating?

I believe half of it is exposure. Within Clapham, we have called this ‘games to go’: games that are worth more than what you have been used to play for; games that push you to a higher level. Unfortunately, in the UK, these opportunities only come around once every couple years (this is true at every level). The key is to learn from these and to grow beyond them. In my opinion, the USAU series offers a much more competitive platform by which teams have to perform more frequently in such ‘games to go’.

 

The other half boils down to identifying and breeding talent. North America has a much bigger talent pool. This will never change. That said, I believe UKU’s GB Programme will continue to gain momentum and will become the stage by which elite players can raise their individual and team game. This is how that gap between us and North America will narrow even more.

 

The Americans don’t select a national squad; they just send the best club team. Do you think this would ever be the right approach for Britain?

This is a very tricky question, one to which I don’t really have the answer. Given the size of the UK Ultimate community, national selections will always remain important to attract the strongest athletes. However, we need to find a way to re-create the synergy of the top UK clubs. Recall that both Chevron and Clapham had very close games against the Open squad (Clapham winning two such confrontations). There is no substitute for training week in and week out with the same people; such connections win games. This needs to be taken into account, regardless of the selection process.

 

In Europe, there’s great competition between GB and Sweden. Are there any other European countries that you can see breaking into the finals in the future?

In my opinion, we owe the rise of GB Ultimate entirely to the UKU and the hard work invested throughout the years by Si Hill at setting up an infrastructure to facilitate competition and grow Ultimate within the UK. Thanks to such efforts, depth is finally one of our strongest assets. That said, I truly believe continued success hinges on the growth of the GB Programme. Frameworks tailored for elite GB players are needed to keep us progressing.

 

As for the rest of Europe, they are never far behind. Finland, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland have all shown they are capable of producing top performances at international tournaments. Cultivating existing intense European rivalries is another method to duplicate the competitiveness of North American tournaments and will benefit European Ultimate as a whole.

 

A lot of good players find their game suffers if they become captain, but as captain of both Clapham and GB this doesn’t seem to be an issue for you. How do you do it?

As simple as it may sound, trust is the key to any captaincy. Not only do your players need to trust you are doing everything in your power to set up the team to win, you need to trust them to do their job and entrust them with the necessary power to do so. This is why, for GB, I appointed Sion Scone (Brummie) as coach, Colin Harris as our strength and conditioning personal trainer and always had a number of assistants. Besides being the key to our success (a point not to be underestimated), such appointments eased the burden of responsibility and diluted control. On a more personal level, I believe a captain needs to be an example of selflessness. One’s work ethos can never falter with this title. I would never dream of claiming that I have ever been the best player on Clapham or GB (in any of the years I’ve played for these teams), but anyone who’s ever played with me knows that I will do everything for my team mates. At no point did this philosophy ever change. If anything, it has been intensified. Shouldering the title of captain is obviously an absolute honour, one that makes me want to win even more. Instead of fearing the role, I prefer to use it as motivation for me train with the most complete dedication and to perform at the highest standards. However, in the end, lining up, I will only ever be one of seven; trusting and trusted to play his heart out.

 

If you had to choose: GB or Clapham?

I play with different numbers (GB 15, CU 4), precisely so I don’t have to make that choice! In my opinion, WUGC is much bigger than WUCC, so representing GB bears more weight. Also, having been captain to the team that just won silver at Worlds is an incredible honour, one I most likely will never be able to match. Yet, when all is said and done, Clapham is the home where I learned all the skills I needed to make it to GB. There lies the importance of belonging to Clapham. Ultimately, my motivations to play for each team are slightly different. GB is an opportunity – one where you work towards selection and to have a chance at representing your country. Clapham is more a pursuit – one to uphold the long lasting tradition and dynasty of a club. GB or CU you ask? The combination of both suits me fine.

 

How much of your success as a player do you put down to natural talent and how much is down to your diligence and commitment to training?

It’s all commitment to training. I don’t make excuses nor ever take shortcuts. I’m the workhorse that would dig its way through hell to reach my goal. I’d love to possess a fraction of the raw athletic talent demonstrated in some of the up and coming players in the scene. It’s extremely exciting to see the new breed of young natural athletes take up the sport and grow up with it. However, the days of top level Ultimate being contested by recreational players are over. Thus, regardless of raw talent, one will never truly become the best without dedication and hard work. That has always been my edge.

 

As a player who never seems to be injured, is this because you’re tough as nails or do you train for injury prevention?

Everything is about discipline. I believe athletes must try to leave the necessary space when balancing what is in their control to be affected least by something they can’t control. Such a philosophy for training and injury prevention can be as detailed as you like. For me, it means paying attention to details, listening to my body, reducing cross-training when in pre- tournament mode (to minimize injury risks from secondary sports), setting myself a well-balanced training routine (written down and followed to the letter) so not to end up over- training or under prepared, varying my workouts and making an effort not to neglect anything (i.e. doing the workouts I need to do, not only those I want to do) and, above all, being careful with nutrition and sleep. While these rules haven’t always prevented me from getting injured, they have helped me get well quicker (again, by having the discipline to do all the rehab) and given me the focus to keep training or adapt my training until I’m back to full health. In the end, I simply don’t stop training unless I absolutely have to; that seems to have worked for me so far.

 

Finally, what words of advice would you have for any young player who looks at Marc Guilbert and thinks ‘I want to be like that guy’?

Suck it up. Get the basics right. Train – all the time.

 

Interview by Jack Goolden