Finding Strength Outside the Lines

By Jess Haller

Last week a teammate of mine, Pete Carr, broke down the importance of a strong sideline presence (the 8th player). He described several characteristics needed for every player on a team to make a constant positive impact to the seven players on the line. This week, I chose to take it one step further and highlight another aspect of the game we seem to all too often forget.

Since I was seven years old I have competed in some type of sport.  As the years passed I grew as a competitor, and the drive to analyze every opponent, game, and tournament became stronger. After winning club nationals with Drag’n Thrust, I couldn’t help but review every game over and over in my head. There were numerous plays that stood out both positively and negatively. Several were awesome feats of athleticism and skill, while others I recall our team losing focus.  Many teams have had the same opportunity as Drag’n Thrust, to be labeled National Champs, but what was it that tipped the scale in their favor?  Could it have been because of the complete roster of extremely skilled athletes? Maybe it was the strong sideline presence?  After analyzing my experiences I believe these factors contributed a large part to the success, but I also think none of these accomplishments would have been possible without the incredible support from family, friends, and the community off the field.

Throughout my ultimate career, I have played in multiple games that were won by less than 3 points. The difference between winning and losing in these close games often comes down to the mental and emotional strength of a team. Playing in these close games showed me just how important it is to have positive support from an off the field presence.  My first experience in finding emotional strength from an off-field presence comes from the encouragement I constantly receive from my family.  My freshman year of college was the first time I was introduced to ultimate.  When I attended the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire I had every intention of lacing up my track spikes and handing off relay batons.  Instead, a month in to my college career I found myself tying my soccer cleats and throwing a disc through the air.  After my first tournament with the Eau Claire Women’s team I was hooked.  I was so excited about the sport the first people I called to talk about my experience were my mom and dad. Instead of receiving praise, all I got was “What the heck is Ultimate Frisbee?”  My first year playing ultimate was a constant battle with my parents.  They couldn’t understand why I would work so hard during the week only to spend any extra money I made on an ultimate tournament.  It was mentally exhausting to deal with the constant pressure of explaining to my parents the reasons I was driven to play this game.

SOL at College Regionals

My sophomore year at College Regionals, in the game to go to Nationals, it was Eau Claire v. Carleton.  Each team showed incredible strength throughout the entire game, but in the end Eau Claire would lose by two points.  It wasn’t until my parents saw my reaction after losing the game to go where they finally understood my passion to play ultimate. Since then my family has been my fan club.  Before the championship game at nationals my parents took the time to write me an email full of encouragement and praise, and looking in the stands during warm-ups I could tell I wasn’t the only teammate who was feeling love from their family that day. Having that kind of support can lift a player to a higher level of focus and consecration, when their passion and drive is validated by those they care most about.

My second experience where I witnessed how powerful off-field support can be was at 2013 Club Regionals.  I was in the process of warming up when I made eye contact with one of my great friends Meredith Bray.  She and I have played on the same team since my sophomore year of college, but this season was going to be different.  Instead of putting on our hot pink SOL jerseys I would represent Drag’n Thrust and she would be representing NOISE.  Although we play on two different teams we are constantly encouraging each other to be great.  Right before the first game at regionals I received news Meredith’s grandmother, Adele Bray, had passed away a couple days earlier.  I had never met this woman, but I had heard multiple stories about the impact she had made on Meredith’s life and how much she loved hearing Meredith talk about ultimate.  At regionals we may have played on two different teams, but we had the same goal. Every point played was going to be in honor of Adele Bray.  At the end of the weekend although both teams did not advanced to nationals I had never seen Meredith play like she did on that day, and I don’t think it would have been possible had she not had strong off-field support.

Dragn Support

Photo taken by Jolie Lang at UltiPhotos.com

This brings me to the final game of the 2013 club season.  The morning of the championship game my teammates and I were blessed with hundreds of texts, phone calls, and emails from the community back home.  Everything our families, friends, and sponsors had to say filled our hearts with encouragement and positivity. This kind of support validates us as ultimate players. It shows us that we are a part of something larger than ourselves and that we are not alone in pursuing greatness in this sport we love so much. It is an incredible challenge to balance education, work, family, and other relationships while traveling the country chasing discs when you feel like you have to do it on your own. However, when you know that you’re supported in your pursuits by everyone else in your life it becomes something extremely special.

If you are a friend, family member, or sponsor to an ultimate player and/or the ultimate community, thank you for all that you do. We couldn’t be here without you.

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