I’d trained with the Scotland squad once before but arriving at Pleasance on Saturday morning there was a whole different feeling. Big name players from across the world had flown in. People I remembered from my student days, grizzled veterans like Mike Brayne and what appeared to be a young Gary Oldman (Later identified as Dan Pratt). These players alongside the crème de la crème of Scottish Korfball created an atmosphere of intimidation. I was glad I’d got pumped up listening to the Karate Kid soundtrack on the way to the gym.
Gavin Legg took charge of the session and soon had us split into posts and running a variety of drills – runners, drop offs, veers. There was no time to dwell on the fear with shot after shot going up. These drills built up to a climax of 1 minute one on ones. Situated on a post with two of the faster members of the squad I was pushed to the point where I started questioning some of my life choices. In one particularly Oxygen deprived moment I think I may have saw God. The only comforting thing was by the end it seemed most of the squad were as exhausted as I was. There was some relief when Gav announced we’d be moving on to matches.
Occasionally training matches can get a little scrappy. This is enhanced when you’re playing with people you’ve never played with before. And whilst there was some of this in the matches that followed there was no shortage of effort. People were pushing through the pain barrier to fight for a spot on the plane to Stadscanaal. I ended up on the blue team, which we creatively christened Team Blue. We held our own pretty well and even managed to implement a little structure. Training is well enough but it’s hard to appreciate talent until you see it in the pressure of the game situation. Coach Beth sat watching – taking notes ready for day 2…
On Saturday night the team dragged their aching bodies to Dhabba Diner for some Indian style tapas and team bonding. Even the milder food proved on the spicy side but they delivered taste and value for money offering a discount due to Nicol’s Birthday the day before. Luckily it was BYOB so I could wash it all down with 50p bargain 6 weeks out of date light beer from the corner shop. It was nice to get to know some of my new teammates even if some of the stories from the current and former Ed Uni girls were wild enough to make John Terry blush (Because of sexual content not racial hatred).
After the meal SKA treasurer Poppy took on the role of Social Sec. First it was Revs for shots and then Espionage to finish the night. A hot dog cart and 1 Direction on the speakers – what more could you ask for? (Note: this is a rhetorical question, there’s nothing more to ask for). I left about half one with only a hearty few left busting a groove. On the walk home I tried to forget I’d have to do it all again in a couple of hours.
The next day people were surprisingly chipper. I guess the desire to represent Scotland is some kind of miracle hangover cure. Even more surprising they’d all fought through the chaos of the Edinburgh Run to make it to the Crags on time. The start of the session was similar to Saturday. We did drills and one on ones, there was even some hilarious dribbling action to demonstrate how both my football and korfball skills need improving. Yet, this was not the focus of the session.
Having spent Saturday taking notes Coach Beth took charge and moved to implement order where there had been chaos. Freestyle Korfball was out; Beth wanted korfball played with the precision and choreography of Gangnam Style. We split into divisions and with the help of battle-scarred Mike Brayne Beth broke the attacks down and reconstructed them based on the simple principle – collect from the front after making a pass. Variations were introduced and new elements were thrown in but this was the making of Scotland as a team.
The improvements were immediately apparent as we moved into matches. People were still pushing to impress but now there was a framework in place. It’s a testament to the ability of the players and flexibility of the tactics that despite every team knowing how the others wanted to play there were numerous good attacks and plenty of korfs. Despite my body telling me otherwise I was actually a little disappointed when Beth’s whistle went to signal the end of the session and the end of the trials.
All in all it was a tough but fun two days. The intimidation factor faded quite quickly – Gary Oldman might be a great actor and a national treasure but he’s just a normal guy when it comes down to it. After the second or third beer I felt part of a squad and by the end of Sunday’s session I felt I understood the philosophy of the team.
With the money and attention coming from the Sky TV deal it’s an exciting time for Scottish Korfball. The standard of the league continues to rise and I’m sure the standard of the national team will too. Thanks to Beth, Mike and Gav – I’ll look forward to the next session.