People sometimes forget the essence of sports, and put too much weight on performance. Even though I’ve only been playing ultimate in Korea for less than year, on more than one occasion I’ve found myself focusing more on my individual play over team play, being obsessive about winning against the other team, while paying little attention to contents of the game, and participating in practices/drills without understanding why we are doing them. Rise Up Korea 2015 taught me about the true nature of frisbee, something that had been neglected in my ultimate education.
1 x 7 equals 10, not 7
Unlike golf, where your individual record itself determines your standing, ultimate is a team sport predicated on developing team chemistry and synergy between individual players. It is more important that every player on the team is on the same page, rather than one single superstar dominates the entire game. In practice, however, we see a lot of the time that people concentrate only on themselves: their own cutting skills, their own mark, their own defensive position, and do not consider the whole or the team. If there are mistakes resulting in turnovers, one considers them as ‘someone else’s fault’ rather than ‘a failure in team strategy.’
At the Rise Up clinic, Mario successfully led people to overcome their individualistic perspectives. One of his favorite words he used was ‘heads-up,’ by which he means one should be aware of what is going on in the field. He says that players should make a ‘continuation cut’ by checking whether the previous cut was successful and by timing their own cuts. Also, he argues players need to collect as much information as possible about the game, not only limited information about his own mark. Only then can our team create offensive flow and shut down our opponents.
As the clinic went on, I noticed that people who had been busy running here and there without purpose, were starting to think about the team as a whole. These people might still have clumsy throws and sloppy fakes, but they started to read each others’ countenance as well as to exchange discreet signals. As a result, there were fewer ineffective cuts that would have wasted energy. As we learned to work in pairs, the area of ground we could cover on defense got larger and made the offense have to work harder. Now I’m left to wonder: why did we spend so much time struggling on our own?
The right question is: WHY, WHY, and WHY
Some participants might have expected the answers to “In order to get better, what do I need to do and how should i do it?” Mario doesn’t answer questions. He is not here to give the right answers. There are countless guidelines regarding what to do and how to do it: one should properly fake before throw, huck should be thrown high enough, the angle of a cut should be sharp, and one should clear out if he or she did not receive the disc. Even those with little experience have already heard these guidelines before.
Mario persistently asks, “Why do you have to do that?” Ding. For the first time, people start to think about why. The fact that we have not given enough thought to why is the reason we have been struggling. Practices seem to be separated from real games; strategies that worked yesterday suddenly do not work today; and basic techniques learned do not move on to the next level. Something is wrong here. “Koreans seem to be more focused on results, not the process, although it is in the process where they can learn,” says Mario after a brief scrimmage.
Thanks to Mario constantly challenging us, there seemed to be a significant change in our attitude. Some try to fake twice, realistically, instead of just once; others make use of spontaneous shimmies and pivots as well. That is, players have a definite goal to ‘move the defense,’ and they are determined to do whatever it takes in order to achieve the goal. For a scrimmage, coaches no longer need to tell them to clear out; they already know why they should clear to the sideline – ‘to create a space for the next cutter.’
We are all leaders no matter what
Mario, Matt, and the rest of the staff were stoked to see players gain self-confidence by the end of the clinic. It seems like we had created a mental barrier prohibiting us from seeing our true potential: You are not allowed to practice hucking until your backhand/forehand is good enough; you should not attempt playing horizontal stack until you are confident with vertical stacks; cutters should be cutters, and handlers should be handlers. These imaginary boundaries have undermined our confidence.
However, at the Rise Up Clinic, I learned that those boundaries are not only unnecessary but also inappropriate. Everyone, regardless of his or her level of throwing, needs to know the right timing of the huck and the variables he or she needs to consider when hucking. The throw will soon get there as we practice. Why are we so nervous about playing handler? Every cutter becomes a handler as soon as they catch the disc. Cutters may have a chance to figure out why some of their cuts are ineffective and that there are other options than only open-side cuts. Taking these factors into account can markedly improve the team’s performance.
I remember myself telling captains and coaches, “I am only a beginner. I’ve yet to practice horizontal stack and don’t know about spacing or zone defense.” I have also heard other beginners saying, “there are so many other great male/foreigner players, so let them take the lead.” Let me tell you, those are lame excuses. “You may not be good at these right away, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to know them at all,” says Mario. After all, ultimate is a team sport, and we all are leaders.
Special thanks to
I’d like to thank KUPA and RISE UP Ultimate for offering such a great opportunity, and helping us to stop and think about what ultimate is really about. Thank you, Dave and Hilary for organizing such an amazing event, Paul and Nick for observing and giving us professional advice, and of course, Annie and Kathy who spent the entire weekend translating English for Korean participants.
This post was written by Hyunju Julie Kim.