Friday, October 16, 2015


The ultimate community is pretty cool.  At tournaments, I regularly meet new people and rekindle long-lost friendships from teams and years past.  While names sometimes escape me, the familiar faces and shared experiences do not.  It's one of my favorite parts of ultimate - mingling with teammates and friends from cities long removed when we meet on the cross-roads of the triple crown tour, fun tournaments or just plain summer/winter league.

As someone who is entrenched in the ultimate scene, I find myself transitioning into my fourth such community.  Madison is my first, Minneapolis for a minute, Boston had a nice run and now Texas I call home.  The part I find interesting is how these groups are so distinctly different and unique from each other.  The major differences are obvious - like winter league replacing summer league and the regional bias of each area.  But the subtle differences are the ones I focus on - like the college pipelines and reset systems of each offense.  Each niche has it's own style, leadership agenda and culture - all similar in some ways, but distinct in their own.  Some teams rely on the track - some teams rely on field time together and some teams rely on partying Friday nights.

This will be my 15th year of throwing plastic around, but I'm keenly more aware that the more ultimate I see, the more I notice what each group is missing from the others.  Most habits are hard to break and this will be my fourth tour of adjusting to the status quo and trying to fit in.  Most communities acknowledge that despite my best efforts, I don't always mesh into the way things run around here.  For me to buy in, I need to understand why.  Not just - this is always how we do it, but the more pressing question - why do we do it this way?  Until this question is sufficiently answered and embedded into my thinking - I naturally resist it - like a haphazard method for solving a jig-saw puzzle.  If I can't see the logic and purpose behind it - I wonder why the hell do it like that at all.  This is not to say that I categorically resist new ways of getting things done, but that I need to see the implied benefits of doing things this way.  The most common answer for why do it like this?  Tradition - that's how the college or club teams in the area prior to us did it - and that's how we will continue to do it.  Needless to say, I'm searching for "best practices" not outdated prehistoric nonsense someone came up with on a napkin 25 years ago.  But usually after enough persuasion and coercion, I come around to doing it the same as everybody else in the neighborhood.  Mostly because, that's the bus we are all riding, so I might as well get on board, even if this bus hits lots of bumps and can't make sharp left turns.  Usually, I find that each system has it's pros and cons and that if everyone buys in - most any system can run efficiently.  

But what am I really talking about here?  The horizontal, the vertical, split stack, side stack or just the reset system?  The manner in which offenses swirl?  The angles of attack downfield? Or maybe the cohesion of everyone working together seamlessly for the best outcome.  But who is overseeing the process?  The captains, the coaches, the leaders calling the sets and plays on the line?  Who is really in control of what?  Hundreds of decisions are made each point and it only takes a single error from one person to make a big mess.  

I think I've taken for granted how much individual sacrifice it takes to be in a winning team.  The play you want to make versus the "best" play for the team at the moment.  Moving the disc early for no gain versus holding the disc for an option that can break the defense wide open.  It's a delicate balance and feelings get hurt.  If trust is not quickly developed, it might never come to fruition.  Trust - both on and off the field.  Can I make this throw as you plant to cut?  Or will I be fooled by the double-move as well?  Can I lead a receiver to space, if he is expecting it at his chest?  And once the questioning begins, there is no stopping it.  Instincts are bludgeoned and hesitation takes over.  Now I begin to doubt the simplest of decisions and soon I begin to press - searching for signals and making decisions based on feeling.  

Every team is different, from the players to the culture to the leadership to the systems to the warm-ups and cool-downs.  Do you adapt quickly or go rogue?  Do you trust the players and captains in power?  They have to live with their decisions, but so do you.  And when things go sour down the stretch, frustration mounts and disgust boils over.  Suddenly, I'm just along for the ride on this bus, hitting bumps and making three right turns to go left.  

Wednesday, January 07, 2015



I regard myself as perpetually lucky.  Starting with #13, I consider myself superstitious to a fault.  In any competition, I believe I will win.  I've always thought this way.

So on my birthday this year, I decided to sneak in a lift.  I usually do my best not to make a big deal out of special occasions - shying away from attention.  But as I swiped my card into the fitness center, the 19 year old attendant, who rarely ever looks up, suddenly snarks, "Happy Birthday."

It caught me by surprise, as I had know idea my information was even visible before the gate sprang open.  I smiled and mumbled "Thanks," feeling bashful like he caught me doing something wrong.  Immediately I had a bad feeling.  I tried to shake it off and went HAM on my routine, crushing my last sets of hang cleans at 190x5 and 200x5, with half the gym watching.  I grabbed some beer with a buddy and headed home, only to realize something was wrong.  My foot kinda hurt.  Nothing serious, just a very small ache, exactly where I had broken my foot 3x before.  This had me in a tussle for about a week, before I was able to regain confidence in the 4 inch drywall screw holding my 5th metatarsal in place.

But that was only the half of the problem.  As my foot discomfort faded, I realized I had a more urgent problem in my hand.  Injuries accrue every season, but my middle finger wasn't feeling right.  From a dull ache to a shooting pain, the discomfort was increasing with my workload.  I started icing on the way to work, but found it much more difficult to ice while typing.  Soon, I couldn't throw a flick without pain.  Suddenly, everything I had worked so hard to gain was gone.  It was like starting over - nothing tangible to show despite all the work.  I finally realized that my game was entirely dependent on my big throws.  I was lost in the world.  Frustration and disappointment overwhelmed me in the coming weeks.  I couldn't contribute in my normal capacity.  Suddenly, I was mortal.

Before long, I was throwing just backhands.  Breaks, unders and swings, but all backhands.  Occasionally, I would summon the courage to shoot a midrange huck, but it wasn't the same.  The deep cuts stopped materializing; regardless, it was just pump fakes now anyway.  The situation culminated Sunday of Regionals.  My playing time faded and I watched helplessly was Ironside fell to Goat in finals and edged Pony in the backdoor.  I had nothing to contribute that day and it ate me up inside.

It made me realize that I had to change and adapt if I wanted to factor in down the stretch.  I became a game manager instead of a franchise quarterback.  So, I made strides in other departments, like cutting deep and fighting for resets just to throw the swing pass.  I turned up my defensive pressure, locked down on my man and stopped poaching entirely.  Ironside struggled to convert breaks in semifinals of Nationals against Sockeye and we lost on universe point.  I played hard that game, but couldn't make any difference.

When the off-season began, I focused on leg strength and hand rest.  I took roughly 7 months off before slowly increased my throwing regimen.  The cause of this injury?  Trying to throw 80 yard hammers on the turf with my college kids.  For some reason, I wanted 80 yards in all every capacity - flick, backhand, hammer.  If memory serves me, I maxed out at 72 yards in the moment of injury, partially tearing the collateral ligament of my right middle finger.

Despite the disappointing finish to the season, I learned that I needed to develop other parts of my game if I wanted to become a complete player.