The Malaysia U24 Ultimate Frisbee Team Story – Road to Worlds 2018

Shares 381

Grabbing the Perfect Opportunity

When the World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF) announced that the 2017 U24 Worlds Games will be hosted in Perth, Ben Ong and Amir Moslim, who are the president and vice president of the Malaysia Flying Disc Association (MFDA) respectively, agreed that it was the perfect timing for Malaysia to grab this opportunity.

“Having the games in Australia definitely makes it attractive logistically and financially for our Malaysian players as compared to if the venue is hosted in North America or Europe” said Ben. He further added that “We want to make this one of our main projects to establish the association’s presence in the country.”

“This is also a good opportunity to build a strong foundation and help develop the future talent of Malaysia’s Ultimate Frisbee players. Imagine having the 28 players passing on their valuable experience, gained from their trainings over a year and competing against the world’s best players, to the younger generation of players. It would be a good breakthrough for the next generation.” shared Amir. He also mentioned “As this is our first structured campaign, we realized we had a lot to learn, so we decided to focus on sending only one team, instead of going big-bang for all 3 divisions.” The mixed division was selected as the Malaysian scene has always been largely focused on mixed, and it would provide a good opportunity for both male and female players to represent the country. 

The timing of the announcement meant that the Malaysian team had more than 12 months of preparation time, which was necessary to work on the talent gap in order to put up a strong fight against other leading national teams in the world. It was important to get the campaign started to identify players and coaches early on to have a good foundation laid out.

Since the start of the bid, the board members of MFDA have put in a lot of their efforts despite their full time jobs and worked together to ensure the whole process were smooth sailing as possible. Amir decided to take up the team manager role which involved getting in touch with the tournament director, bridging the necessary communications between the players, coaches and tournament organisers as well as arranging the accommodations and transportation for the players.

On the other hand, Ben is involved in mainly coming up with various methods to fund raise for the squad as well as hosting the Trio Invitational tournament for the U24 team to gain exposure against high level clubs.

The other board members – Rahayu Raziff, Nico Mong, Erwin Wee, Nizam Muuti and Ida Kaled also pulled through their weight to support both Ben and Amir in ensuring the campaign was executed smoothly.

Coaches who are truly Malaysians at Heart

(From Left) – Martin Page, Jamie Craig, Christina Hunter, Billy, Samuel

The MFDA first put up an expression of interest form to gather interested candidates for the coaching position. “Having someone who has a good depth of experience in a high level tournament and the similar vision with what we want to achieve through this tournament was crucial for this campaign” said Amir.

From the list of applicants, one name stood out. With elite level club experience with GOAT and Phoenix, 6 medals picked up in the past Canadian Ultimate Championships and represented Canada 4 times at Worlds, Jamie Craig was appointed to be the head coach of the U24 team. Christina Hunter (Chrissy) and Mr. Martin Page were appointed as assistant coaches, to work together with Jamie throughout the campaign.

Chrissy, who is originally from the UK, was selected for her depth of experience playing high level ultimate for more than 10 years, notably with the Great Britain Mixed Nationals Senior team in the recent years. Her passion and enthusiasm to develop the Asian Ultimate scene, particularly in the areas of gender equity, spirit and athleticism can also be seen through her recent involvement in Penang Islanders’ coaching team.

Martin, who is also Canadian like Jamie, has had many years in coaching various sports, including ultimate and ice hockey. His passion in developing the local Ultimate scene through the inception of Malaysia’s Project X team and being one of the main coaches of local Malaysian team, Rojaks, added more firepower to the coaching team as well.

MFDA also opened up a few slots for the shadow coaching roles for interested Malaysian candidates to pick up coaching knowledge through assisting the coaches during the tryout and training sessions.

“I hope that Malaysia will continue to invest in the Ultimate scene on the junior level. Coaching this U24 Worlds team is us wanting to give back the things that we have previously benefited from our past Ultimate experience. Apart from that, we want to build up local coaches who can spread in depth knowledge to other teams as well,” shared Chrissy. She further added “There are also benefits of Malaysia being an intercultural and interracial country as there is a large pool of talent from various skill sets and athleticism that we can draw from, and this excites me to take on this role as I myself is also a mix from British and Filipino.”

Players and those involved in the campaign all concurred that they don’t think anyone from the community can thank the coaches enough for their dedication and time spent over the past year. The amount of effort, time and energy they have channeled towards this campaign just shows the genuine love they have for the sport and the people here. Despite not having “Malaysia” stamped on their passports, they’re truly Malaysians at heart!

Tryouts & Training Camps

From then on, it was time for the coaches to plan, design and propose the tryouts as well as training schedules for the whole of 2017. “We trust the coaches to make the best decisions as they have a wealth of experience going through similar preparation processes for high level ultimate tournaments in their ultimate career. Having said that, we do also take feedback from players into consideration and bounce it off the coaches to see how things can be further improved throughout the campaign. Since it’s the first time we are putting together an official campaign with structure, it was expected to have some bumps along the way, but I believe we did manage the expectations of the players right from the beginning,” shared Amir.

Learning about how the tryouts were carried out and the planning behind it was really eye opening to me. The entire campaign started off in October with tryouts hosted regionally in both East and West Malaysia. Tryout coordinators were selected in several regions to help observe and identify good quality players based on their athleticism and basic skill level.

Oct 15 & 16 – Kuala Lumpur
Oct 16 – Penang (coordinated by Victor Wu)
Oct 16 – Kuching (coordinated by Donny)
Oct 22 – Bintulu (coordinated by Ah Yin)
Oct 30 – Kota Kinabalu (coordinated by Dinoza and Julia)

After that, the combined tryout was held for 2 days in Kuala Lumpur, where a total of 76 selected individuals from the regional tryouts would come together to bid a spot in the 50 available slots.

“I was amazed by the talent pool we had when everyone across thec country came together for the tryout. It was really competitive but my focus was learning as much as possible from the coaches as I wanted to improve as a player in the long run,” shared Kim Sim, a member of the final 28 players.

Many players agreed that the 2-day tryout was probably the most tiring tryout they have ever been to as the drills given by the coaches were very intense and players had to make sure they give a hard time against their match in the scrimmages. Moreover, the selected 76 players had pretty similar skill level overall and the talent gap was very small as compared to the first tryout.

“It was essentially the make or break weekend for everyone to make it to the next round, so you could see every player giving their all and still looked freaking awesome doing it.” said Lai Peng, one of the captains of the U24 squad. He further added “One challenge was not knowing what other players’ play styles were since there were so many players I have not met and that unpredictability made me nervous. But at the same time, it also amazed me that we have so much more great talent in the country than I thought, which is a good thing.”

“The coaches also had us going up against players head to head, so everyone was giving everything they had to win against their matchup. I remember having a hard time catching up with my teammate Pravin, as he was dashing really fast on the field. At the end of Day 2, I could feel my whole body was wrecked. It was really the most intense tryouts I have ever been,” said Gregory, the spirit captain of the U24 squad.

Laura, the other captain of the squad also shared “It was a good way to see what my level is and benchmark myself against the best of the best in the country. It was really intense and the coaches were pushing us non-stop with drills that are designed to push us to our limits.”

One of the thing that I think was admirable from the interview was knowing that the coaches had already instilled the sense of a family culture right from the start. This was evident as players from Kuala Lumpur would chip in a very small sum of money for every tryout and training which would then be redistributed to players from out of Kuala Lumpur to assist them financially to attend the training sessions.

Once the 50 players were announced for the training squad in late December, the training weekend schedules were then sent to everyone. The schedule listed out one training weekend designated per month, in which some of the weekends were categorised as priority weekend whereby players would have to work around their commitments to attend those weekends to stand a chance to be in the final squad.

They had an opportunity to split into 2 equally skilled teams to compete in the King of the North tournament in February 2017. It was a good opportunity to see how the players were able to buy into the new system and adapt to what was taught by the coaches. In the end they managed to get 8th and 9th place from the tournament, which they walked away with a lot of valuable lessons.

Jamie sharing some pointers to the players

In the first few training camps, the players started off with working more on the basics of the players and lesser on learning new plays. All the minor details like getting the right distance for a disc reset, knowing which of the opponent’s shoulder should be attacked, making pump fake communications and many more are what the essentials for a high level player is.

The playbook came much later and even then, the coaches showed the players how to literally walk through the plays. “I have never experienced someone asking me to do a strategy play by walking on the field instead of a slow jog and this is something really good to pick up,” shared Gregory.

“The coaches built a really good system for the players to adapt. Considering a lot of players are from different clubs, after some time, we managed to carry out the given plays, regardless of the role a player is taking on,” added Sze Shen, another captain of the squad.

The coaches were doing a review together

Through all the training weekends, the coaches were keeping their eye on each player to evaluate the qualities and skills that they are able to bring to the team. They had to cut a few players after every few training weekends as they needed to have the final squad by July.

“Some of the important qualities we look for are
Spirit – the ability to get themselves and opposition to play their absolute best at full athleticism and full competitiveness so both teams can enjoy the game.
Resilience or mental toughness – the ability to bounce back from difficult in-game situations and understand that words said can have an impact on the team mates.
Learning – the ability to learn and see the bigger purpose of doing something which includes investing their time in improving their understanding of the game, awareness of their own strengths and skills and creating their own development plan to reach their goal.” shared Chrissy.

The final cut of 28 players was announced in July, where the coaches had a difficult time choosing the 12 female players and 16 male players for the squad. The full team list can be seen at the end of the article. Denis Hii and Breanna Craig were the only 2 aged under 18 selected for the squad.

Denis, who is the youngest on the team, has been playing since 2013. “I never thought that I would be chosen this time around as there were many more experienced players in the tryouts, but it has always been my dream to be a national player one day. I’m really grateful for the opportunity given and I thank the coaches for teaching me the meaning of trust and the importance of having trust towards the team and the system,” expressed the 17-year old. 

Breanna, who is also 17, started her ultimate journey in Ottawa when she was 12. Influenced by her father to pick up the sport, she worked hard to improve herself after being accepted by the club “Wicked” in Ottawa. Fast forward 5 years, she is delighted to be able to represent her national team at such a young age. “Being so young compared to my teammates motivated me to do better and with their encouragement, my confidence has increased significantly,” said Breanna. 

“We are happy with the players selected in the end as it represents the diversity of Malaysia, with players across all races from both East and West Malaysia. Bringing these diverse group of individuals together definitely serves as an advantage going to Perth,” shared Chrissy.

Building the Team Culture

Any player would say that the biggest challenge for a national team is always having everyone to be aligned on the strategic plays, mindset and most importantly values.

When asked how did the U24 team overcome this, they collectively agreed that the coaches made a big impact in shaping the team culture. “The coaches introduced these three values to us – commitment (be ready), athleticism (be stronger) and spirit (be better) and I think that helped build a good foundation for the team as it brought everyone to be on the same page on the way we would uphold ourselves and the way we would treat each other,” said Lai Peng.

“Through our previous experience in playing high level ultimate, realising that having a little mantra to draw upon, like who we are as a team and what we stood, definitely helped us throughout our ultimate campaign, especially on game day. Hence it’s important for us to discuss with the U24 team on which values would that the team needed and that it would resonate with them. I’m glad that us coaches were able to align very fast at the early stages on how we things would run,” expressed Chrissy.

“We actually had a session purely focusing on understanding these values together as a team. It wasn’t just a these-are-the-values-of-our-team-session, but more of having everyone discussing among ourselves what each value really meant and what it would look like both on and off the field, and that really set the expectation of how much weight each player has to put in”, shared Laura.

Another big impact left by the coaches was the introduction of having every player to hold themselves accountable for their own actions. “This accountability culture really brought us to the next level. We have to be conscious of our actions and how it would impact ourselves as well as our teammates. Being accountable also means acknowledging that when an avoidable mistake is done, the team will have a price to pay together, which usually we will end up doing sprints together. I think this really brought everyone together to encourage each other through the pain and failures, and through all these, there is a sense of satisfaction when we strive together through the difficulties,” expressed Gregory.

Lastly, the introduction of the kneeling culture was something new for the team to learn to adapt. Whenever a point ends and before the next pull begins, all players from the sideline would go into the field and kneel in front of the “called line” and listen to what the coaches have to share with the team. “This built a sense of togetherness for the team as players who are on and off the field would always be present to support each other mentally and emotionally. It also made sure everyone was present to listen and be aligned with what the coaches were sharing after every point,” said Lai Peng.

Bonding off the Field

The players also took initiatives to get to know each other better on a personal level off the field. “Our coaches always shared biggest difference between an elite level player and a great player is having a high level of mental strength. That is why it is essential for everyone to learn more about each other so that we know how to support one another mentally and emotionally throughout the whole campaign,” shared Lai Peng.

“Pairing players up during cool down sessions was a good sight to see as players became really close through the support they gave to each other. Apart from our usual together dinners after their training camps, we would also play fun random games to brighten the mood”, said Sze Shen.

Lai Peng further added “there was this time, Jesslyn hosted this 2 truth 1 lie game which was an extremely good ice breaker that helped all of us to get to know the funny side of everyone. Things like Shi Min….. Also when it rains, we would do this self-invented Ultimate Charades game where one player will imitate the throwing style of a teammate and everyone had to try to guess who the person was.”

A buddy system was also introduced by the coaches since the first combined tryouts where players were split into groups of 2, 3 and 4 and every player are encouraged to

  • Inform their buddies of their own goals and have their buddies hold them accountable on their progress towards achieving their goals
  • Observe and give feedback towards each other during training camps
  • Update their buddies with the drills and activities done at the training camps
  • Look out for their buddies off the field in terms of fitness, accommodation arrangements as well as transportation.

“Looking back, the buddy system, introduced about 12 months ago, made a big difference in bringing us closer. In the beginning, it was definitely something very new for the players to adapt to but trusting the system and carrying out the purpose of the buddy system definitely paid off now,” shared Gregory.

“When there was no training camps, players would get together within their region to also work on the basics like our fitness, throws and catches. We would also report our own training progress in our team’s chat group to make sure that we are on track with our progress. All these are entirely player motivated and without the fundamental culture built and the bond created, I don’t think we are able to support each other as much as this,” said Laura.

Besides their first team party hosted by their coach Jamie at his home in Penang, Gregory also hosted the players to a Christmas party at his house.

There was also a little surprise prepared by Esther, Pravin and Sze Shen at the Christmas party. “It was a video montage of family, friends, teammates giving each player well wishes for the tournament. Seeing everybody’s reaction and watching the video was really emotional and probably the best off field moment everyone ever had with the team,” shared Sze Shen.

Sacrifices & Challenges

A lot of people have made some sacrifices throughout this campaign. Most players had to re-prioritise their commitment to invest in this campaign for the year – from spending lesser time with friends and families to incurring extra financial expenses to attend trainings and tournament participation fees.

“One of the things we wish we could have done better to assist the players is our fundraising efforts as an association. If MFDA was to get recognised earlier by the government, we would have been able to approach various parties for sponsorships. Without an official certification from the government, we weren’t even able to open a bank account and that is a big obstacle for us. And it’s a shame that some talented players had to pull out due to financial constraints,” shared Amir. MFDA only recently received the recognition from the government in mid-December. 

Ben watching the players at the Trio Invitational

He further added “Ben did a tremendous job in helping the team to fundraise through his Trio Ulti business by selling the official U24 team jersey and taking a portion of the proceeds to help fund the campaign. A fan would also be able to further support a specific player on the team by opting to buy the jersey with a player’s chosen number printed on the back. An extra RM 10 will then be given to the player to further assist him personally. Fortunately, we also had a few personal donors who supported this campaign and we would like to thank them very much.”

Some final year students found it challenging to cope with their studies and assignments since being selected to be on the team. “I tried to allocate time for gym sessions in my busy schedule and had to burn midnight oil sometimes to finish my assignments in order to work on my fitness and to attend the training sessions. Having encouraging teammates was a big help to get me through this and looking back, I’m glad I manage to pull it off throughout the campaign. Besides that, my friend and I also have to put time aside to design and sell caps to earn extra money to fund for the campaign. It is time for my sacrifices to pay off next week on the field as I want to give my best to my teammates,” shared En Huey, a player of the 28 player squad.

Rey, a player from Penang, also shared “Driving to Kuala Lumpur for weekend trainings and back to Penang after can be quite tiring on a monthly basis. But going through this tough mental challenge is what grows us, as our coaches always emphasized that growing our mental strength is one of the key element to make us better players. Apart from my full time job, I did take up a part time job in a sushi shop to earn extra income. It is definitely a tough campaign but going through it with my teammates to work on our dream to represent the country is very rewarding.”

Having said all that, all the players and MFDA committee are extremely thankful towards the coaches for their big sacrifices from family time on weekends just to give back to the players and the community of Malaysia Ultimate. They gave their all throughout the campaign without seeking anything in return.

“I still remember our coaches had to observe, take stats and coach back to back the entire 2 days of our first U24 tournament at King of the North. I don’t know how they could do it throughout the 2 days, but what they did was admirable and we, players, would really want to thank them from the bottom of our hearts for everything that they have done for us. It only fueled us to want to be better for each other and also for them,” shared Lai Peng.

The Big Test as a Team

The final squad of 28 players faced their biggest test ever playing together as a team when they went up against several top teams from Asia in October at the Trio Invitational (hosted by Trio Ulti).

On Day 1, the coaches had the players to be on the field at 6am for warm up (one and a half hours before the first game), which is something the players were not used to. The coaches wanted to plant a seed in the players’ mind that being over prepared is better than underprepared – taking the time to do proper physical warm up and drills as a team is essential in high level games. “This 1.5-hours-prior-to-game preparation is expected from us when we are competing in Perth,” said Lai Peng.

They ended Day 1 with a 1-2 result from the pool games, losing to Rascal and Shiok from Singapore while beating Ironman. Despite their 2 losses, their win against Badgers in the crossover games got them into the top 8 matchup in Day 2. Playing together throughout day 1 built the players’ trust and chemistry towards each other even more and most importantly the confidence in themselves that they are able to give the good teams a run for their money.

Day 2 began with a very tight quarter final matchup against Lagi Shiok which saw the team clawed back from 3 points down to beat Lagi Shiok by universal. I was there to witness the priceless joy in their faces when Laura caught Ian’s disc in the end zone. The sideline ran into the field to give their teammates high fives and hugs with a sense after going through the heart pounding game. The win against Lagi Shiok meant a lot to them and it boosted their belief and confidence as they realised now they have the capabilities to put up a strong fight against experienced team.

Their next game was against Shiok, which they knew it was going to be much tougher than Lagi Shiok. This time they were ready to work much harder than the similar match up against Shiok in Day 1. Unfortunately, the vast experience of Shiok’s players proved to be a big edge in beating the Malaysian U24 team in the semi-finals. The smaller score-gap result though did reflect the will and determination from the U24 players to perform better this round. However, that didn’t stop the team from picking up their bronze medal in the 3rd and 4th placing against Cookies and Cream.

“The variety of plays introduced by our coaches throughout the training camp proved vital in the tournament as it taught us how to utilise different offensive strategies based on the opposing team’s weakness as well as how to take away the opponent’s offense play more effectively on defense,” said Sze Shen.

“We were really grateful that Trio hosted this tournament to give us a platform to test our strength and after the two days of fun, it definitely enforced a strong sense of belief in every one of us that we have what it takes to give the teams in Perth a run for their money,” said Laura.

Chrissy also shared “Playing against Lagi Shiok in Trio and coming out with a win was a valuable experience to put into their arsenal. It instilled the belief that even if they are down by a few points during high level games, they can still stand a chance to come back. This would build their confidence going into Perth.”

“Throughout the tournament, our coaches were really supportive and they always tried to pull the team back together to do better, especially when we were down by points in the games. Their vast experience in playing high level of tournaments proved to be an added advantage for us. They always made sure we kept our heads in the game mentally and that helped us to edge past our opponents in the quarters as well as the 3rd & 4th placing game,” added Sze Shen.

Going Into Worlds

The Malaysian Team is seeded last in the Mixed division, 14th out of 14 teams who are going into this championship tournament, as they have not officially participated in any of the prior U24 Worlds. However, they see it as a motivation to hustle throughout the tournament to make sure that they are back with a higher seed for the next championship.

“The team has definitely done all the preparations that they can possibly do and I believe they will do their best and make our nation proud,” expressed Ben Ong.

“They are just a fantastic team for us to work with. Having the resilient and yet being able to find the humor in working through the intense campaign with one another is just amazing to watch. Everyone understands what they had to contribute to achieve the goal they want to achieve. What is important is for them to know that they have given their everything in each game so that they would come back with no regrets,” shared Christina.

“My hope is being able to put us, the Malaysian team who are usually known to be the underdog, on the map in the Ultimate global community,” said Gregory.

Lai Peng also added “One thing I want to make sure is to keep the tone up for the team to ensure that everyone is mentally strong and not easily triggered by emotions. I have to make sure I bring the best out of everyone from the team.”

“I believe everyone is looking forward to play hard and see how do we fare against other global players. That way it serves as a feedback for us to benchmark ourselves to know where we stand and bring back the experience and knowledge learnt to the community back home,” expressed Laura.

Sze Shen shared “Learning each other’s strengths and weakness over the year has allowed us to optimize what each player is capable of playing and taught us how to play to individuals’ strengths. With that, I believe we have the capability to finish within the top 8.”

“Our coach would always tell us that all the hard work we put in now are like the deposits we are making in the bank now, so that we can withdraw them in Perth. We all have more than what we think we have deep down and I believe we are able to achieve great things in Perth,” shared Breanna.  

“Investing one year throughout this campaign was definitely challenging and rewarding at the same time. We, the U24 players, would like to thank the MFDA for making it a reality for us to be able to compete in this tournament, the amazing coaches who have done their fair share of sacrifices to improve our country’s Ultimate scene, Trio Ulti for the sponsored jerseys, fundraising efforts and hosting the Trio invitational for us to play against, 175g Ultimate for the wonderful player profile photos, action photos as well as the video recordings throughout the campaign and lastly the entire Malaysian Ultimate Frisbee community for supporting us throughout the campaign,” expressed deeply by all 4 captains – Lai Peng, Sze Shen, Laura and Gregory.

 

You can catch the live stream game between Malaysian and New Zealand on January 8th, 11am (GMT +8) on the WFDF YouTube Channel here.

The Malaysian team will be facing Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore and India in their pool stage.

On the other hand, the other pool includes USA, Germany, Great Britain, Columbia, Denmark, Hong Kong and China.

It is also good to see the Asian Ultimate scene growing with a total of 8 teams from the Asia & Oceanic region participating in this championship. Good luck to all the teams who are competing.

Team List

Ben Jin Ong – MFDA President
Mohd Amir Moslim – MFDA Vice President

Jamie Craig – Head Coach
Chrissy Hunter – Assistant Coach
Martin Page – Assistant Coach
Samuel Ng – Shadow Coach

Women Players (12)

Breanna Craig (Canada/Penang)
En Huey Low (Selangor/Kuala Lumpur)
Esther Devadas (Negeri Sembilan)
Foong Mei Yap (Selangor/Kuala Lumpur)
Jen Nee Ng (Perak)
Jesslyn Ding (Selangor/Kuala Lumpur)
Kirsten Craig (Canada/Penang)
Laura Oh, Captain (Selangor/Kuala Lumpur)
Shi Min Lee (Selangor/Kuala Lumpur)
Sze Shen Ooi, Captain (Selangor/Kuala Lumpur)
Tracey Peh Eu Quin (Selangor/Kuala Lumpur)
Wan Yong Tee (Penang)

Men Players (16)

Chia Jie Lee (Selangor/Kuala Lumpur)
Chuan Jie Loy (Selangor/Kuala Lumpur)
Denis Hii (Sarawak)
George Chia Geng (Selangor/Kuala Lumpur)
Gregory Quah, Spirit Captain (Selangor/Kuala Lumpur)
Helmy Adnan Zainal Abidin (Selangor/Kuala Lumpur)
Ian Wen Wei Lim (Selangor/Kuala Lumpur)
Jacky Yong (Sarawak)
Jia Yuen Tan (Selangor/Kuala Lumpur)
Joseph Wong (Sarawak)
Kim Sim Lam (Pahang)
Lai Peng Chong, Captain (Selangor/Kuala Lumpur)
Pravin Sivakumar (Selangor/Kuala Lumpur)
Wei Sheng Teh (Penang)
Yih Ming Yeow (Selangor/Kuala Lumpur)
Yu Wei Tneh (Selangor/Kuala Lumpur)

Shares 381