Yesterday, on a rainy afternoon after a gloomy and stressful day at work I sat on the wet grass, put on my Nike cleats, and began to throw with my teammates. Practice continued, and as the drills, games and conditioning progressed, my focus on the task at hand increased and the concern for the rest of my mental worries decreased. I soon got lost in the catching and throwing of the disc, and slowly stopped focusing on myself as an individual and rather as myself as a teammate. How could I contribute? What could I do to make us collectively succeed? Practice ended and I walked off the field with sweat, rainwater and mud plastered to my skin and unfurrowed eyebrows. Practice left me fulfilled, physically tired- and easily was the best part of my day.
To all appearances Ultimate is just another team field sport. And sure, all sports have the ability to teach people good values and practices. Yet in my experience as an athlete- I maintain that Ultimate is something very special in comparison, and is unlike any other sport I have encountered.
What makes this sport stand out from the rest I believe are two things- 1) the culture and community around the sport and 2) the spirit in which the game is played.
On the latter point- Ultimate is a self-officiated sport, requiring players to be responsible for referring the game. The rules have a check and balances system built into it that requires players to call and reconcile illegal plays on the field. This rule system ties into a bigger value set dubbed “Spirit of the game” – and teammates are either “spirited” or “not-spirited” depending on how much respect, integrity and humility they demonstrate on and off the field. Ultimate therefore takes “sportsmanship” to a whole new level in through the structure of how it is played.
This “spirit” I believe creates the compelling culture of Ultimate Frisbee. Tournaments include highly competitive play and athleticism during the game, but also incorporate cheers and social events that have all the teams naturally mingling and hanging out with one another. It is natural to arrive at a tournament and have more friends on other teams you are playing than on the team you are affiliated with. Therefore, players have a strong love and loyalty for the sport, along with a strong sense of camaraderie for everyone who is involved with the game. Ultimate to many represents not only a sport, but a culture, a community and a lifestyle in which people play fair, have fun, respect each other and work together. Ultimate at its core is a value set, and a big metaphor for how to live your life.