Why Do I Play Ultimate? (part 2 of 2)

By Josh “Shwa” Hemmesch

Before this season started, I contemplated the question about “Why do I play Ultimate?”. There are tons of quick answers such as ‘fun’, ‘active’,  and ‘fast-paced’. Yet, I wanted something more involved, something more meaty. In deciding to reach out to several other Ultimate players with differing backgrounds, I got some thoughtful, passionate responses. In Part 1 of this article, I highlighted community as a contributor to Ultimate enjoyment.

Photo by F/GO - http://f-go.smugmug.com/

Photo by F/GO – http://f-go.smugmug.com/

Today, I want to feature a full and complete response that I received to this question. When asked about why she plays, Robyn Wiseman (captain of Madison’s Heist) gave me a more in depth answer than I could have hoped for. She talks about the dynamics of the sport and how we are involved as players. Her message is one that really resonated with me. I share it today, hoping it does the same for you.

 

Why Do I Play?
By Robyn Wiseman

My immediate answer: “Ultimate is the best sport in the entire world that I have ever played.” I felt embarrassed that I almost typed that sentence into an email and hit send.

I realized that the question needed to change, because my answer was not going to change. I play Ultimate because it is the best sport I have ever played; it highlights everything I believe in about team sports. Soon, the question morphed into something more appropriate: “Why is Ultimate the best sport ever?”

“What about Ultimate makes it so special?” The answer to this question is twofold: the team-nature of the game and the fact that there is a place for every type of athlete.

Ultimate: the Most Dynamic Team-Oriented Game Ever

I love that Ultimate, like other sports, can be either a fast-paced, fast-break style sport that showcases athleticism in its finest, or a game of finesse, possession, and disc skills. There is a time and place for using one or both of these styles. In fact, teams and players with the ability to excel in both ends of the spectrum tend to be the most successful and most exciting to watch or play with.

The large size of the field and physics of the disc play roles in why different paced games can be successful. The large field size creates opportunities for one-on-one matchups, assuming that we effectively create and use space. Since the disc floats, throwers work in tandem with the receiver, often choosing to float it out to space while the off-disc 1v1 matchup unfolds before our eyes.

What I just described was the scenario I envision when I daydream about Ultimate. I dream about throwing the perfect huck to space, allowing my receiver to catch the disc in stride after she set up the perfect cut. I imagine effortlessly breaking my mark as I step out around her, and my teammates continuing the disc in offensive flow. I even envision generating a layout block, getting up and streaking aggressively to the endzone, where my teammate places a perfect huck for me to run down. The fact that one person cannot win a game alone dictates Ultimate’s pace and style; I cannot take advantage of a 1v1 matchup by advancing the disc to myself.

This fact is largely untrue for most other team sports. In basketball, we see 1v1 matchups when the ball is in the hands of a player attacking the basket. They do a series of moves, whether it is a post getting big down low, pivoting into their defender and doing an up-and-under, or a guard juking quickly to blow past their defender for an easy layup, and they do not HAVE to rely on a teammate. In fact a player in basketball, football, hockey, soccer, or even team handball can steal the ball, intercept a pass, get a rebound, or dozens of other scenarios and they can advance it alone to score.

The comparison holds true for other sports too. In volleyball, a player can receive a serve and get a bump-kill for a score in one hit (in rally scoring!), block the other team’s spike attempt, or serve a series of service aces for a solo win.

Baseball and softball are really some of the only instances where you rely on teammates, and that is because there is no stealing of possession. One team plays D for three outs while another team plays O for three outs, and when that is done, they switch. These sports are also not directly comparable since the D controls the ball. Even so, these sports support my thesis. A pitcher needs a catcher on D (every put-out needs an assist); however, on O you can literally score a point all by yourself with a homerun (and that one point can win the game, even if you never touch the ball individually on D).

In Ultimate, the only unassisted score is a Callahan (and we know that Callahans happen so infrequently that they are not a main means of scoring). The crucial aspect to this team sport rests on someone having ten seconds to advance the disc and relying on a teammate to get open in that time frame. Sure, you can be the best thrower or receiver, but without the other, you’re not throwing goals or you’re not scoring points. Every thrower needs a receiver and every receiver needs a thrower. Under this system, unselfish, team-oriented players flourish.

Something for Everyone

I am fast, but never the fastest. I am quick, but never the quickest. I am athletic, but not the best athlete. I have a suite of throws, but am certainly not the best thrower. I am well-conditioned, but not in the best shape. I am what many coaches have called me, “fairly well-rounded.” In today’s world where athletes, especially young ones, are pressured to specialize, there is still a place for the generalist in Ultimate.

I was a three sport varsity athlete in high school; I played any sport that I could with anyone who would let me. If I was in high school today, I would likely be forced to specialize in one or two, if I was lucky. I would have developed a special set of skills that would have allowed me to excel in that one sport. Who knows, maybe that set of skills would have translated well for Ultimate, maybe not.

Ultimate’s best athletes are that: they are the best all-around athletes. They must learn finesse with their throws, develop power to have deep pulls, they must have strength to throw it deep, they must have a good vertical to sky their opponents. Ultimate players must be agile to shut down a handler and explosive to lay out past their defender for a block. They must be good enough to play both offense and defense, and ready to do so at any time.

Photo by F/GO - http://f-go.smugmug.com/

Photo by F/GO – http://f-go.smugmug.com/

Yet, at the same time, you do not have to be the fastest or the strongest or even have the best disc skills. Smart teams and leaders are able to take advantage of your skill set based on the pieces set around you. At the same time, those of us who are generalists, can offer a lot to our teams by filling several different roles or transitioning seamlessly from one position to the next in the flow of an offense.

I think of the various Ultimate teams I have been part of throughout the years. On every team, we had some fantastic all-around athletes. We also had players with strong disc skills, but were not strikingly athletic. We had strong shut-down defenders who were not the savviest with the disc. We had players who were not great at getting open at will, but had the ability to see the field well from the sideline, communicate to those on the field, or identify key adjustments that were crucial to our team’s success. Quite frankly, there is room for all of these people on every team out there. Someday it might change as our sport matures, but since we’re still growing, there is still room for everyone to contribute.

Being team-oriented and open to acknowledging and experiencing what everyone has to offer has allowed me to get more enjoyment out of Ultimate than any of my other athletic endeavors. I liked those sports. I liked those sports A LOT, but I never LOVED them the way I do Ultimate. As I begin this new club season, I get to look forward to building something with my teammates and appreciating all that they do to make our team better. Ultimate is a sport totally unlike any other sport in the world. That is why I play.

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