Ultimate Interviews – Joel Högberg – TD of Hello Stockholm

written by Mark Earley 19/12/2013
Ultimate Interviews – Joel Högberg – TD of Hello Stockholm

Hi Joel, how are you? How are things in Sweden?

I’m excellent thank you. Enjoying the off-season 🙂

Tell us about how and when you first got into Ultimate.

I had a school teacher back in ’96 that was coaching the local team in the small city where I grew up. He persuaded me and some classmates to try the sport and I got hooked.

Since then, how much have you seen the game change in Sweden?

Not enough. The sport was pretty big already in ’96 in by Swedish standards. Sweden was hosting Worlds that year and won gold in the women, junior and master divisions, and silver in open.

Since then Swedish Ultimate has suffered from a national trend of people moving from team sports to individual sports. But lately we  have seen ultimate gaining traction again, which is awesome. Very positive about where Swedish ultimate is heading right now.

What are your fondest memories of your club career in Sweden?

Ever since my junior years the comradery of going with your team to a tournament is one of the main reasons I’m still playing today I believe. Naturally, moments of success are also easy to remember. I’ve had the pleasure to experience many big wins in Europe with Skogs. That journey has been amazing to be a part of. I think at our peak we didn’t lose a single game during a period of 2 years. All tough battles against Clapham are good memories.

You’ve also been a long-standing member of the national squad too. What has that experience been like for you?

It has always been great fun and an honor to play for team Sweden. It’s extremely beneficial to play with players you know well but normally battle against, it’s an opportunity to develop as a player. The European and World cups are something special and the success we had, most recently the gold in Maribor 2011 and in Osaka 2012 when we managed to beat Japan in Quarters as the obvious underdogs, were incredible experiences. The feeling of that amazing win was almost as strong of an emotion as the disappointment I felt after my most devastating loss when we, a couple of hours later, lost the semi to GB on double game point for a spot in the final. That was a hard fall.

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Most recently you won a gold medal at ECBU. Describe the week in Spain to us.

The team was rather inexperienced as a mixed squad but got into it fast. Playing mixed adds some interesting complexity. I believe one key to our success was our recognition that we had very strong women and managed to use that efficiently.  Even more important probably though was the amazing vibe in the team from the first camp all the way to the gold. We suffered an early loss against Germany that helped us focus and sharpen our game. After that we played great. It was an amazing feeling to win the final. Even though I prefer grass ultimate there is something about beach and ultimate that goes very well together. I guess the disc will always have a special place on the beach.

Looking at Ultimate in Europe at the moment, who do you think are the strongest nation and why? And, who will be the next challengers to their throne?

I believe GB is strongest as a nation at the moment. They are performing in all divisions and have built up a broad and very competitive national arena, which Sweden has yet to do. The Swiss and the Germans have developed tremendously over the last years too. I think it’s great to see the sport taking these leaps forward all over Europe. The fact that many more nations have a shot at the medals nowadays shows that we have progressed greatly as a sport.

How many tournaments are there each year in Sweden? How vibrant is the club scene?

I think many would be surprised to see how small the sport actually is in Sweden still. Swedish teams have a tradition of playing on a high level around Europe but we have had problems developing within Sweden. There are a handful of quality tournaments in Sweden each year, but many teams go abroad to play more competitively. But a vibrant domestic club scene is of utmost importance. That is partly why Hello Stockholm is starting up in March.

You are currently planning a new tournament, correct? What is the tournament called and when is it?

It is called Hello Stockholm and takes place 29-30th of March 2014.

How many teams can you cater for? What is the main aim of the event?

We wanted to create a new interesting game format that bridges the gap between indoors and outdoors. 5 vs 5 on quality turf fields in beach ultimate size. We will have 24 open teams and 16 women teams in 2014. The aim is a high level international tournament that delivers a great overall experience to participants, both on and off the field. The expressed interest in this new concept has exceeded our expectations, which we think is awesome.

What sort of facilities will players have access to? And, will there be a good party?!

The facilities are top-notch which I believe will be greatly appreciated by the players. Everything is hosted at Sweden’s national sport centre Bosön, beautifully located in the archipelago 10 min from Stockholm city which has everything one can possibly need as an athlete -amazing sport facilities, great hotels and a restaurant serving meals composed by dietitians specifically for athletes. Many Olympic athletes come and live at Bosön during their pre-season phases and the national soccer team uses the fields we will be playing on for their winter season training.

The party is gonna be spectacular! It will take place in a genuine, very classy, 100 year old villa overlooking the water. DJ Pavlin is booked. Gonna be great.

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Where can people find out more information about the tournament?

The best place for info is hellostockholm.se. We are also on Facebook, Twitter (@HelloSthlm) and Instagram (@HelloSthlm, #HelloStockholm).

You’ve been to lots of tournaments over the years. What makes a tournament memorable for you? And, what do you expect from a big tournament?

That the food and accommodation options are of good quality and convenient to get to. Having to navigate through a bunch of connections across a big city to get back to the hotel often takes up way too much precious tournament time in my opinion. Field quality is important and that the game schedule is well planned. Information on when/where you play and what happens if you win/lose should be crystal clear. It’s important as an organizer to manage all aspects of the players’ tournament experience, not only the game related stuff.

What are you three favourite tournaments and why?

I’ve been part of the Winter Trophy organizing team for many years and I believe it’s very well organized. Hotel, food and games are well planned, the party is always hot and the level of the teams is top notch within Europe. Paganello has an amazing setup, but I believe it was even better some years ago. I’ve played US nationals once and that’s definitely a favourite simply because of the extremely high level of all teams that make it there. ECC outside Seattle is another great high level tourney.
Looking back over your years as an Ultimate player, who has influenced you the most? How and why?

As a junior I looked up to players on the Swedish open team such as Anders Jerhamre and Mikael Forsgren. A few year later, Mike Grant’s way to dominate all aspects of the game when he was active was very impressive. When I played with Goat in 2009 John Hassel was a great inspiration – incredibly smart in tactics and a great leader.

And lastly, if you could play against any team in the world who would you choose and why?

The Japanese Buzz Bullets. I’ve played them 2 times on the national team but I’d like to play them again. I think it’s very interesting how they play such a different game. They are much shorter and still manage to play evenly with the top teams in the world. I believe we have a lot to learn from their playing style.

Thanks for your time Joel and good luck with your tournament! 

Photo courtesy of Edmundo Mercier (More ECBU photos here).