Why Coaching Ultimate is Different

By Jake Hendersen

Growing up I played hockey and baseball.  I had some wonderful coaches in my hockey and baseball career.  I was often a leader on my hockey and baseball teams.  I led the team in warm-ups, had meetings with officials, relayed messages to my coach, and tried to lead by example.  But I don’t recall ever being asked what I thought we should do or what strategy we should play, that was strictly a coach decision.  


Is coaching ultimate different?  I think it is, at least on the teams I have coached.

I began coaching high school ultimate in 2006.  Eight years later, I still love it.  More recently, I have been given the opportunity to coach an elite group of adults on Drag’n Thrust.  I feel I’ve grown as a coach in the past eight years.  I know more about ultimate skills, the strategy, my teams, and the ultimate community.  I still have growing to do.

Coaches are relatively new to ultimate.  It has historically been a player run sport, with team management, logistics, officiating, all being left up to players.  This is stil the case in many levels of the sport: some high school teams I come across still have a parent chaperone and most mid-level club teams have no coach.  Only in recent years have many of the top club teams added a coach.  Maybe that’s why coaching ultimate is different.

As a coach, I want all of my players to be leaders:

  • In high school I have players lead the warm-ups, make decisions on the line about defensive strategy, force, match-ups and offensive strategy, and speak up in huddles.  I want input from my captains on any strategic overhauls we will look to make in the season.
  • On Drag’n most of the players have been team leaders and captains in the past.  I trust them to make all the above decisions, but also ask much more of them.  I want them to take on logistical and management duties, to lead practices, and be a large part of teaching and making strategy decisions.

I am the coach of the team and as that coach I need to make unbiased decisions; but I want the players to know I use their input to make those decisions.  I remain decisive and make strategic calls when it comes down to it, but players know I have taken their ideas into consideration in that game and throughout the season.

I think that coaching ultimate is different from other sports.  I think that difference is a good practice, and helps develop not just a players ability as an athlete but also their capability as a leader.  Its not my place to determine if this style of coaching is best for other sports, but I am excited and grateful to coach in such a unique and collaborative environment.

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