The latest interview in the Shred Global series is with Roy Klein, the founder of Footbag Front. Roy is from Israel so we had a chat about what’s happening there, his ideas behind the site and his plans for the future.
Here is a video from Israel to begin with.
- You have started Footbag Front – what got you started on the idea and what’s your goal with the site?
The idea for a modern social platform for footbag was born on Modified. People complained that the Facebook Freestyle group takes the power out of the community’s hands, and that we need a player owned and run alternative.
Someone linked to a Hoola Hoop community site as an example of how a modern alternative to Modified would look like, and there was a consensus that we ought to have a site like that for the sport. Having the skills to pull off something like this, I figured that if I’m not going to give it a shot, chances are the idea would be discussed to death and then abandoned.
The site is supposed to provide an alternative to both Modified and the Facebook group, in that it has the most popular feature of both. Namely, footblogs, discussion threads and a “wall”. Unlike Facebook, everything people write and share remains their property and not Facebook’s, interesting discussions from the past are easy to find and will not be lost, which is a real risk with Facebook, where old topics are always in risk of deletion. On FootbagFront The content remains players-owned and stored forever.
Before starting FootbagFront I was running a different side project called the Freestyle Footbag videos feed, which I was using to collect my favorite freestyle videos and make them searchable. That got incorporated into the site as well, so you can find videos posted to the site based on which players appear in it.
Having both blogs and videos connected to players, I made a neat player page showing everything they wrote and all the videos they appear in. At which point I got a little greedy and figured I could show their competition results as well. I wrote a whole framework for posting events information, who attended, who competed, what spots they got, etc., but since I don’t have the time to design and finalize it I removed access to this system.
Even though I didn’t pull it off, it was a first step in a direction I’m very interested in pursuing: Creating data collections of everything related to the freestyle footbag world and providing easy-to-use access to them. Databases with Footbag information like trick vaults or event results, where it is both easy to input information and easy to get the information out of them would provide more leverage than just a website with information written on it in HTML. For example, I imagine that FootbagFront could use an event results database to show very accurate Player Profiles, while some other site may use the same database to create a world ranking sheet. One data source with multiple usages.
The original goal of FootbagFront hasn’t been achieved yet, though: I still have a Facebook profile because that’s my only link to the Freestyle world. On the day I feel I can close my profile, then I know that the online freestyle presence is back in the hands of the players.
- You have been sharing the results of your training programs – what has been working best for you with the training programs?
When I left Worlds 2011 I was ready to quit footbag, as I felt like I played terrible, especially compared to players who have been playing far less time than I have. Rene Ruhr, who visited Israel a few seasons after, filmed most of our sessions together, and again, I was embarrassed by the videos. I had a respectable trick collection but I was very one sided, had terrible run length and I couldn’t play guiltless at all. At that point I had been practicing Freestyle for nearly 4 years. Even though I was very interested in training techniques and have been experimenting with them for a while, I was obviously not very good at training.
Therefore, I decided to figure out what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong by measuring my sessions, and gradually phase training methods in and out to see how they affect the measurements. After months of measurements I was able to hit a few “jackpots” of training principles that made my training measurably more efficient.
For example, I found that when trying to become consistent in a trick, there’s a big difference between hitting it and then hand catching, and hitting it and then linking to some other trick. The former is far more efficient. When I hit the same trick 50 times in a row with no other trick in between, within a few sessions I “get” the finer details of how to hit the trick so that consistency is easier to achieve: How to set the bag, how to position and move the body. Without this level of understanding of a trick, it’s very hard to become truly consistent in it.
As I’m still working on my basics, I feel that my venture with training programs and measurement is far from over and there’s a lot more to learn.
- How are things in Israel at the moment in terms of footbag?
Static. A few years back we ran footbag programs in a bunch of schools, and had a lot of talented youngsters playing freestyle. Alas, once we stopped the programs, due to lack of time, the youngsters stopped playing one by one and the circle shrunk to its original size.
Before I started freestyle there were a lot of hacky sackers. I recall circles 30 people strong when I just got started. I used to feel guilty that my freestyling in the hack circle turned all these people off from kicking, but I guess they were interested in casual play and wouldn’t have converted to freestyle. Our circle is 2 people strong now, but is purely freestyle.
- How about in general terms? What’s going to happen in the near future?
Israel is a bubble, isolated from its surrounding neighbors and in many ways, from the world. It breeds very odd politics: Israelis in general want a two state solution and at the same time don’t want to give up the settlements or make any concessions with the Palestinians. Right wing governments leverage this by promising a peace process while at the same time expanding the settlements and practically crushing any chance for peace.
If Israel is a bubble, Tel Aviv, the city I live in, is a bubble within a bubble: Most people here are left wing and progressive in comparison to the rest of the country. Living here makes you feel that there’s a strong opposition to the right wing government, but in reality they keep winning every election.
I love living here. The weather is great, the economy is good and Tel Aviv is an amazing city full of wonderful people. But I hate living inside the bubble, I hate being ashamed of what my country does sometimes, and I hate that I don’t know what the future holds for us.
- You have your tickets book to Worlds. This will be your first North American worlds – any expectations?
Worlds is always fun, so even though I’ll probably know less people this year I’m not worried about that. I am worried that once again I’ll feel uncomfortable with my game and come back home disappointed with myself.
I’ve never competed before (except for a last moment entry to intermediates request in 2011), and I think that this year will be THE year that I’ll go for it, in intermediates. I was hoping there would be a circle competition for intermediates, as it looks far more exciting to participate in compared to routines, but I guess there aren’t enough players of my breed to justify it.
- What are you working on in your game at the moment?
These last 7 months I’ve been working on basics and string lengths. My recent achievement was being able to hit a 20 guiltless string dropless every session. For now I plan on adding more 3 add tricks to my safe two sided arsenal and make my guiltless runs longer and more varied. I’m also working on paradons and barflies to keep things from being too monotonous.
- You are one of a few people who are getting various footbag projects off the ground – what do you see in the sport’s future?
I probably know less about the current state of the sport than most, being able to attend any kind of event only once every two years. I feel that our online presence needs more work, and that beginner and intermediate players should be encouraged to participate in it.
I vividly remember that during my first few years playing footbag I had a very twisted image of what an average player is, as only very talented or top players posted any videos at all.
Only when I started attending events and meeting more players did I realize that there’s this hidden biosphere of people who just enjoy playing and don’t plan on becoming professionals. I think our sport would benefit from having a thicker layer of that biosphere.
- You were in South America recently. Any future trips planned, and do you think South America could host a Worlds?
I’m learning Spanish, and if I had the opportunity I’d love to move to South America for a few years to streamline my learning and eat all the alfajores I can get my hands on. Until that happens I’ll probably keep coming for visits every year or every other year.
As far as worlds is concerned, it’s probably a question of the amount of players in South America. There ought to be a critical number of both net and freestyle players to make it happen, and I have no idea what that number is and how far S.A is from getting there. There’s always the issue that many players can’t afford to make it to worlds when it’s not on their continent, but for an international sport that’s an unavoidable problem, and a good one to have, too.
We’re much better off today than back in the day when worlds took place exclusively in the U.S. If it does happen, I hope it won’t be in Venezuela, as Israelis aren’t welcome there
Anything else to add, anyone to thank?
I want to thank everyone who has been participating in FootbagFront from the bottom of my heart. Your support made the project worthwhile.
I also want to thank everyone in the footbag world that contribute to the sport. I often find myself inspired and amazed by them, and I wish I’d let them know that more often than I do. Daniel, you’re one of them, so thank you for the interview series, they’re always a great read.