Wednesday, February 16, 2011

After two days of rest to allow the knots and tightness to dissipate, the Hodags reconvene tonight at their winter lair, the Shell. With a long list of things to improve on but not much opportunity to touch on those that require discs, we can only turn our focus toward the one thing we have control over: team-wide fitness. Tonight Jerrybomb sets about as taskmaster to the team's athleticism. In his tenure as team fitness coordinator he has established himself as an efficient trainer with a splash of sadism that his civilian acquaintances, unfamiliar to the rigors of competitive Ultimate, don't get to see.

I drift now to moments on the sidelines this weekend whenever a call was made, in our games or otherwise, that nullified a score or big play made by one of the teams. Mostly I think of all the incredulity and snark that comes out of the mouths of players too far away to see any part of the play with clarity, or senseless noise coming from players who didn't see what happened at all.

It seems now we're at a moment where everyone provided with vocal chords claims as their right some permutation of best perspective; where every call's legitimacy is argued if it goes against your team; where even the worst calls a teammate can make are upheld as manifest truth.

It reminds me of a moment in Steven King's The Stand where the survivors of a biological apocalypse, after enjoying a period of camaraderie and tight communion, begin to lock the doors in their Boulder, CO homes as the size of the settlement swells, and distrust once again takes root within the cracks of unfamiliarity.

On the heels of the UPA (oops - USAU -old habits die hard) announcing that membership has reached an all-time high and junior memberships have now surpassed those of adults, I'm wondering if we're losing some of that closeness that allowed self-officiation to thrive, that community which allowed each of us as players to leave the doors of our trust unlocked during games.

At the captain's meeting this year at Club Nationals, there was nary a peep about the future of referees in Ultimate - quite the opposite, the corporate line from CEO Tom Crawford and everyone else who spoke from headquarters stressed the future of the sport as predicated on self-officiation as the keystone in the arch of selling points the USAU is using to push Ultimate to a wider market.

And I don't want you to get me wrong - I love self-officiation in this sport. But it's been my experience lately that the familiarity between players nationwide has diminished as our numbers have grown, and now the hardest thing to find on the field the moment after a contentious call is civility, and players with unsubstantiated opinions and no desire to base them on any hard reality sprout like uncontested weeds from the green of the pitch and sidelines. If our civility holds its current decaying trajectory, we're going to need to modify our rules eventually to allow for more observer empowerment, and not because self-officiation is dead or impossible, but because new generations of players simply aren't putting in the effort necessary to make it work. Trust and democratic spirit within a game are as difficult as any upfield break or off-handed sky, but while the latter two bring instant glory and praise, the former two affect the game with a subtlety not immediately tangible. It's only during the handshakes between teams, at the end of a long and hard-fought game that both felt was called fairly, that their true value comes to light.

It's my responsibility, and a primary focus since taking the helm of the Hodags, to make sure this team enjoys and promotes a style of play that is aggressive, intense, and competitive, but also fair, honest, and full of the sportsmanship that Spirit of the Game upholds but has hardly cornered within our sport. For the Hodags and teams nationwide, the challenge remains.


neeley said...

well said.

parinella said...

Countering this staggering growth is an increase in connectivity. How many teams at Club Nationals had former Hodags, for example? Once you are teammates with a player, it's much harder to be a jerk to him as an opponent or to think of him as a jerk (unless one or both of you truly is a jerk). Today's America is much more mobile.