Riptide Add New Coaching Staff

By Scott Lewis

Photo copyright Jeff Bell

The makeover for the Vancouver Riptide of AUDL continues. Several top notch new players have already been added to the team, and now we can announce a very special coaching duo will be calling the shots.

Ladies and gentlemen, let us introduce two familiar names from the Vancouver Ultimate scene, Matt Doyle and Tasia Balding.

In the early days of Ultimate in Vancouver, when a touring player came to the end of his or her career, they might go out for a beer with their teammates after the last game. Some kept on playing recreationally in the Vancouver Ultimate League, and some would pop up on Masters teams put together for tournaments, but that was about it.

Things started to change in the 1990s when opportunities to coach high school teams came along, allowing the retirees to transfer the fruits of their experience to the next generation coming up in the game. Then about ten years ago Halls of Fame started being created, so they could get together once a year with their old buddies to swap stories at the annual awards banquet.

But it is only in the last decade that the local touring and professional teams started using coaches, giving retired players a chance to pass on to the current generation of touring players the knowledge and experience they had gathered during their playing careers. The Riptide are pleased to be able to offer such an opportunity to two people passing through that transition, albeit one for which they had been preparing for some time.

Tasia Balding first came across Ultimate in 1998 during her university days in Santa Cruz, and has been an enthusiast ever since. She started playing club ultimate the next year, and continued to compete at the top levels of the women’s game until she retired from Vancouver’s top touring team Traffic after last season.

But she caught the coaching bug even earlier, back in high school where she worked with her local field hockey league. She has always been the type of person who gets involved in helping run things, so when some of her teammates on the UBC women’s team asked her to take over coaching duties in 2010 she jumped at the chance, and has really enjoyed the experience

“The most success I feel as a coach is when my team outperforms expectations,” said Balding. “I love the moment when everything comes together just right and the look in peoples’ eyes tell me that they finally get it, that everything they have been working hard to achieve is resulting in peak performance.”

Matt Doyle first got hooked on Ultimate during a work placement in Hawaii around 2003, so when he returned to the University of Victoria he joined the university team. But his playing career really took off when he relocated to Vancouver in 2007 and joined Blackfish, and he subsequently worked his way up to being a captain on Vancouver’s top men’s touring team Furious George.

Like Balding, Doyle is the type of person who just naturally seems to get involved in running things. During his final season with Furious George in 2012, which included playing for Team Canada at the WFDF World Championships in Japan, he took on the role of calling defensive sets, exhibiting his propensity for one of the main duties of being a coach.

Doyle does have another feather on his coaching cap.

“As a player/coach, my top accomplishment so far has been pulling together a rag-tag bunch of people and winning three straight Pumpkin Pull tournaments in Victoria, with the plan of making it four straight this coming October. The combination of selective recruiting — bringing in younger, fitter players to do the running around on the field – plus an aggressive strategy — partying on the Friday night, so we’re too tired to party Saturday night before the important games on Sunday – plus instilling confidence in the squad — our team name in 2014 was ‘Pumpkin Pull Champs 2014 — has allowed this core group of players to begin building a dynasty perhaps unrivalled in all of sports. I take ~3% credit in this success.”

Yes, a disarming sense of humour is another of Doyle’s attributes…

Although Balding and Doyle have never worked together as coaches, they do have a shared history in the sport, having both taken the field for a number of co-ed teams, including Team Stache at the World Ultimate Club Championships. During this shared experience, there were many long discussions on team strategy, laying the groundwork for this new coaching partnership.

“The basic tenet of our working relationship is common goals but distinct responsibilities,” said Doyle. “We have a mutually respect for each other’s vision and understanding of the game, and have enough differences to be able to challenge each other on the direction. Both Tasia and I have the desire to improve players’ work ethic and on field decision making, and the desire to inject a little fun through some unique plays, defensive sets, and the like. That, and our combined love of Painkillers — not the pills, the tropical drink…”

“We are both pretty direct and blunt communicators,” added Balding “so I expect things will be efficient.”

And there are other ways in which Balding and Doyle complement each other. He has always been more focused on the defensive side of the game, while her natural inclination is towards offence. And while Doyle obviously has more experience with the men’s game, Balding is noted for her ability to run useful and efficient practise sessions. But both stress that they need to be ready to adapt and modify their approaches as the season goes on, given that this is the first tine they have worked together and with this team.

Something else they share is a common desire to make the game easy for the players.

“I would describe my approach to the game as ‘simplified’,” said Balding. “I focus on the fundamentals, with respect to both both skill and how to approach each game. This transfers over into the mental side of the game as well, zeroing in on how as individuals we can perform our best and stay focused and in the moment, and how we can teach good habits and decision making.”

“Working hard, working smart,” Doyle chimed in.

Balding will have one more new experience than Doyle this season, as it will be her first time coaching male players. Given the gender-friendly history of Ultimate compared to most other sports, she is confident this won’t be an issue.

“I don’t have experience yet coaching men, and am curious myself about how this is all going to play out. I do think the gender factor will be interesting, and it will also be something I will try to be very open about with the players throughout the season.”

“Ask me after the season…”

As to their goals for the season, it’s all about process.

“The core goal for the season is to develop and raise the level of elite men’s ultimate in Vancouver,” said Balding. “This will be achieved through a focus on improved work ethic, mainly driven from effective practices and creating a culture of accountability, plus improved decision making, i.e. field smarts. We haven’t specifically expressed a goal regarding scoreboard performance, as we believe that will come from focusing on the process.”

We’ll all be watching how that process unfolds for the Vancouver Riptide.

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