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  Needless to say, I'm searching for "best practices" not outdated prehistoric nonsense someone came up with on a napkin 25 years ago.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.