5 Things I Learned as an International Frisbee Competitor
Between September 2001 and 2006 I had one love: Ultimate Frisbee. What started as a University past time turned into a five year long obsession with the flying disc. But was there anything to learn from those years or was it all wasted time of a socially awkward late-teen?
What is Ultimate Frisbee?
Ultimate Frisbee (just known as ‘Ultimate’ to those inside the sport) is a team sport which involves two teams of 5-7 players attempting to score in the opposing endzone. Ultimate takes elements of different sports and fuses them together into a skill driven and high pace discipline.
I first picked up a frisbee aged 17 and would practice for several hours every week while at University, becoming a British champion with my team in 2004.
After leaving college, I played in the UK leagues for two seasons and finished my career with an appearance in the European Club Beach Championships in Italy where my team finished second place in our division.
All through those years I had a blast, met some awesome people and played in some incredible games. There were tears of joy and disappointment as well as the odd epic comeback.
Those formative years taught me a lot about life. Here are the highlights:
1. Real Skill Takes Time to Develop
When I first picked up a frisbee I could barely throw. My backhand (the basic throw) was poor, weak an inaccurate.
But over time, the movements started to click until eventually I reached a level of skill where I didn’t even need to think about where I was aiming the frisbee.
I just looked and threw.
That level of unconscious competence took well over a year to develop.
This taught me an important lesson: if you want to master a skill, it takes real, hard and consistent work. Sure there were people with natural talent that joined my club.
But if they weren’t prepared to put the work in, their ability suffered and they were passed by those who were.
If you’re looking to learn and master a new skill. Nothing beats hard work and persistence.
2. Pursue What You Love
I played Ultimate because I loved it. I loved the people, the ethos and the sport. I was never any good at soccer, tennis or any other sport for that matter. But something about Ultimate made a lot of sense.
I played with passion and zeal and sometimes with a bit too much arrogance. But I was committed and would travel for hours to play a handful of games with my teams.
It’s difficult to fake that level of commitment and I’m seeing that now that I’ve recently changed jobs into one that I enjoy and find plenty that challenges me.
If an activity, person or job gives you energy and a zest for life, does it not make more sense to follow that through.
3. Skill Without Fitness is Useless
I played for five years. But it was only when I took my fitness seriously that I started to progress. I was more aggressive, more explosive and had more endurance for the long points.
Fitness was foundational for improving my game. My only regret now is that my game could have been much stronger if I’d been able to incorporate more explosiveness and strength training into my regime.
This translates into your daily life as a man and Dad. Fitness complements:
Every Dad can exercise a little bit more. But if you’re reading this and don’t know where to start, just go for a walk. Start with 10 minutes and build it up from there. You’ll rapidly see a difference from even a small amount of increased activity.
4. Grab Opportunities While You’re Young
As a young man I’d travel miles to play. As a student, we’d pile into a clapped out minibus and drive for up to 12 hours to play in national competitions. It was fun and everything was done on a shoestring.
One competition was held in March and we camped out on the Bradford moor. We returned from the local pub to find our tents covered in ice. That was a long cold night.
Italy was a riot. I bought a ticket knowing only one thing: I was meeting the rest of my team in Pisa airport. The rest of the trip became zanier and more outrageous from there.
One of our quarter-final draws was against the Belgian women’s team. We were an all male, mainly 6 foot plus side. We were being resoundly beaten until we started using our height advantage. Then it was game over.
They were good times.
I’m glad I experienced these things when I was young. Being an opportunity taker means I’ve few regrets. If you’re still young, do the crazy stuff now or you’ll regret it when you’re old enough to know better.
5. Buy Memories, Not Things
OK, so I stole this line from James Altucher. But it’s a good point. I spent a fair bit of my own money on the sport. This was mainly on travel and tournament fees as well as clothing and equipment.
Sponsorship deals were almost impossible to get for such a fringe sport so we paid for everything ourselves.
The memories from those transitional years are clear and very dear to me. It was worth spending the money to go to those places and meet those people and experience those good, good times.
Think about that next time you want to buy the latest gadget or ‘thing’. Do you really need it? Could you spend the money on something else – something meaningful that will last a whole lifetime.
Ultimate Frisbee and Me: Good Times Well Spent
Has this been nostalgic? Sure, but it has value to look back on experiences and share the learning from those days. The world of competitive (even fringe) sports can be tough but I had a blast.
I’ve got incredible gratitude for coaches who gave me a chance and team mates that put up with my arrogance and showmanship.
Living a full life as a teenager, student, young man and now Dad is what I’m all about. I’m not about to stop now and neither should you.
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