Hello and welcome to the first TUA Player Spotlight! Joining us today is a fellow who is renowned for his large hair, large height and large ultimate skills. Should we also mention that he’s a university student, a skilled pianist and improvisational musician, and a close follower of politics? Nah.
This player kick-started their ultimate career at the early age of sixteen. In 2010, he represented Australia alongside another current star of Tasmanian ultimate, Tim Stoneman, at the World Junior Ultimate Championships in Germany. They represented Australia playing for the Under 19s Open Team, Thunder.
Since then, he has captained and co-captained many Tasmanian representative teams, including Quoll and Freak Out. He recently lead Quoll to win silver at the inaugural Australian Ultimate Championships Division 2 in Melbourne. He has been named “Player of the Year” two years in a row at the TUA Annual Dinner Awards Night (2011, 2012).
This year has also seen him flying around Australia to attend training camps for Thunder. He’s heading to the World Junior Ultimate Championships again in August, but this time as an Assistant Coach.
Some of you may know him as “MONSTER!”. But he is also known by the lesser-known name of… Steven Wright.
Steve, how did you first start playing ultimate? What were your first impressions?
The way I started playing was actually really quite lucky, looking back! I was throwing a frisbee with Dad on a beach while camping, and just in passing mentioned to him that I wished there was a team sport involving a frisbee (I was vaguely aware of disc golf already). Being a PE teacher, Dad knew of ultimate’s existence, and told me what he knew of it. Once we got home from the trip, I did a Google search for ultimate in Tasmania, and came across the TUA’s page, which was advertising registrations for Autumn League. Both Dad and I promptly signed up!
My first impressions were something along the lines of “Whoa! Awesome!” – I’d just seen Ash Martens (ex-Tassie ultimate superstar) throw a huge forehand to someone. I was playing with a lot of really enthusiastic and helpful people in that first league, and was pretty much hooked from the start. 6 months after my first game I was at a week-long development camp in Melbourne!
Finding out that you were selected for Thunder and off to Germany must have been pretty incredible! What did you take away from your experience at Worlds?
It was indeed an incredible moment. Having been in the Australian Squad but missing out on the team in 2008 meant that I was doubly desperate to make it in 2010. I was in The Hague for the initial squad selection camp, so was a bit worried about the whole thing… But the coach invited me to the next event anyway. When I found out I’d made the team it was so exciting, and I feel very privileged to have been given that opportunity.
The Worlds campaign as a whole was a real learning experience. Sustained, organised training for a 6-month period wasn’t something I’d done before, and that was something that I felt was really fantastic in many ways – not least the feeling of preparedness that you take in to the tournament, the sense that you are ready for 5 days of play against the best players of your age group (in this case) in the world.
The tournament itself was something that I will remember as a highlight of my ultimate life. Despite many ups and downs (including a heartbreaking 17-16 loss to Germany that essentially removed us from contention for semi-finals) I walked away feeling that I had done all I could. I think that the main lesson from the tournament to me was the importance of mental preparation as well as physical – is something I’ve attempted to implement since. It is also empowering to know that you can compete at that level.
There is a large mental aspect to playing competitively in sport, isn’t there! What kind of mental preparation did you do? Was there a particular mental challenge you had to overcome?
I think that mental preparation is quite a difficult thing. We did have some conversations about it as a team, but in retrospect I don’t think we quite did enough of it in the lead up to the tournament… I think this was demonstrated in the last couple of games of our tournament. Once we realised we weren’t able to make semis, a lot of the team seemed to give up. After losing to Finland 16-15 it was even worse, and we really capitulated badly in the 7th-8th playoff against an Italian team that we all knew we should have beaten.
For me this was really difficult, but in the long run I think the experience has made me mentally tougher as a player, and has shown me the importance of realistic and controllable goals.
We have one last question for you. Tasmania is relatively small in the ultimate scene, compared to other states in Australia. Do you have any advice for keen developing players who want to excel interstate or internationally?
The best thing you can do is expose yourself to as much high level ultimate as possible. Playing tournaments is invaluable, as is attending trainings where there is actually time to focus on key elements of your game and get ongoing feedback. Ask questions of experienced people – they will be happy to help. If you can develop self-analysis skills this well really help too. My next frisbee goal is to play at Under 23 World Championships next year in Toronto, and I know there are certain things I really need to improve on to get there. Knowing where your weaknesses are and working on them (rather than avoiding them) is very important.
Okay, we lied, that wasn’t quite the last question. Please indulge us with… The Final Fast Five!
1. Favourite throw?
Inside-out backhand huck
2. Favourite move/play/position?
Getting the disc in power position with a forwards dump cut when playing a horo
3. Favourite post-game meal?
Lots of pasta. And mushroom.
4. Who is your ultimate role model?
Owen Shepherd, for many reasons, not least the professional attitude, spirit, and thinking insights.
5. Who is your non-ultimate role model?
Noam Chomsky would be up there
Thanks to Steve for his time and insights. We wish him well for World Junior Championships in Dublin this year and his personal goal for Toronto 2013!