Sweet 16 years of ultimate
This year is the official point in time where I’ve been playing this sport of ultimate for half of my life. That’s exciting! From this month onward, I will have participated in this global community for over half of my life. That’s something to be proud about.
This is the crazy spot that I’ve dedicated many thousands of hours, and thousands of dollars, to play and compete in. Just because I love it!
Ultimate, the sport
I’ve written about why I love this sport before, here and here and here. I also wrote about this crazy face surgery that I had for an unfortunate injury 3 years ago from a tournament in Singapore (and an update post).
It was 16 years ago that I got roped into signing up for my high school’s girls’ team. It’s fitting that here I am 16 years later playing with an amazing group of women and sharing my love for the game.
I’ve played both Mixed and Women’s. I’ve played at hat tournaments and World Championships. I’ve played ultimate in 10 different countries, and have competed in national championships in 4 of them (ironically, none in my own country yet). I have probably 30+ discs at my parent’s house, and probably a similar number of jerseys.
I’ve played with really fun teams, and some not as fun teams. Nearly all of my closest friends I’ve met because of Ultimate, and most of my friends on Facebook are Ultimate players.
This past weekend was the official end of this year’s club season, and I’m feeling a mix of emotions. I’m happy that I will have more time to try other physical activities and focus on other parts of my life. (I have been trying for years to rock climb, but maybe this year I’ll actually stick with it. Maybe I will finally get better at climbing.)
But I’m also going to miss my teammates and the feeling of having a common goal to work towards. Fall and winter will be less busy and I’ll have my weekends back, but I’ll miss the camaraderie, fun times, and tournaments!
No end in sight?
This is a sport that has brought me most of my adult friends, all of my past boyfriends, and probably many of my future friends as well.
Sometimes I wonder when it will be enough. When will I feel like I’ve played enough ultimate and that I’m done and can retire. Many of my friends who’ve said they were retiring often return, and I imagine I would be the same.
I wonder if there is an expiration date on my body. How many more seasons of club ultimate will it let me get through before everything hurts too much?
I see friends leaving the sport and the community all the time, but I can’t see myself doing that willingly or long term.
These years in photos
Here is an old photo from when I first started playing in high school (2001-2002).
And here is a photo from 2010.
And here is one of the most recent photos from this 2017 season.
Ultimate around the world
It’s interesting now to think about how I’ve played ultimate on 4 different continents (North America, Australia, Asia, and Europe).
Each community will have its own vibe, but each country also has a general style that can be seen when teams get together for international tournaments.
Having spent the 4 years prior to 2017 playing in Asia and Europe, I was so glad to be back on US soil. The level of play in the States is still the highest of anywhere in the world. Although there are teams out there that can compete with American teams, usually they are the one best team in their country which sometimes makes playing ultimate within the country a little boring.
I found that I didn’t enjoy the structure or style of play in some of the places outside of the USA. I was surprised that I felt that way, because I had thought as long as I got to play ultimate that I would be happy as a clam. But that wasn’t true.
I do have some suggestions for the ultimate communities in Singapore and London, where I played 2 years in each location.
The UK situation
I loved my women’s team and university team in London, but the truth is that the women’s division in the United Kingdom (UK) is a bit lacking.
While the top women’s team in the country is trying to win European championships and trying to compete with US teams when they make the trip to the States, the women’s division in the UK overall is in pretty dire condition.
The country struggles each year to have an 8 team National tournament in the women’s division. The women’s finals is usually a blowout with the top team often winning by around 8 points or more. With a lot of the talent concentrated on one team, it makes for a stagnant and boring women’s division.
It’s not their fault and I’m not saying they should do anything in particular. I’m only left feeling like there is a lost opportunity there for the entire women’s division to do better, from the youth and college level all the way up to club level.
College teams are usually left to fend for themselves and try to coach themselves to success. They are basically on their own to get good enough to make it onto a club team where they can be coached. (Which can lead to some issues with entitlement and ego, but that’s another conversation.)
There is no reason why every college team in a major city in the UK shouldn’t have a coach, ESPECIALLY in London where there are tons of club level players!! NONE of the university teams in London have coaches, last I checked. I helped out my London college team when I could, but there is a limit to what college players can do on their own and without graduate students.
I could go on, but I won’t because it’ll get rant-y and boring.
The Singapore situation
For a small country, the proportion of the young population that plays ultimate is amazing!! You’ll see people in ultimate gear on public transportation all the time on the weekends.
The club teams, however, could be less insular. Singaporeans tend to be clique-y. Any time someone changes club teams, it’s a scandal (and so it doesn’t happen often).
Though there are new teams popping up all the time, there is no movement of people among teams. This leads to some stagnation and competition within clubs (to move up to the A team, because bigger clubs will have up to 3 squads).
While I agree that competition is healthy, if you feel like you are competing with everyone at your own club team’s practice, that is unhealthy overall in my opinion.
Again, I won’t go into too much detail, but if you’re interested I could probably talk about this for half an hour.
The US situation
I used to lament about how there was such high turnover in club teams in New York, how I had to try out for new teams nearly every year.
Now I appreciate it so much more that there is turnover and not stagnation in the ultimate communities in the States. It’s a blessing, not a curse.
It’s exciting to be playing in the States again. This is where I should be if I want to continue to improve. I know that now. It only took 4 years of playing in other countries to realize that. hahaha
I’m debating whether next year I’ll try out again for the top women’s club team in New York. Truly, I had a great season this year with my women’s team (we finished second in the section and fifth in the region!). These people are everything I could want in a team, and I love them to bits.
I don’t care as much about how we did (although it doesn’t hurt to do well), because after so many years of ultimate it has become mostly about the people for me. If you ask next year how we did at tournaments this year, I probably won’t remember most of it. But I will remember having a great time playing with these people, getting better together, and spending time at brunches and game nights. I knew I’d be happy on this team this year and I know I would be happy to play with them again next year.
I’m much more comfortable with who I am as an ultimate player than ever before and it feels so good! Here’s to hopefully many more years of ultimate!