The greatest sport you've never tried

It is truly sad that the arrival of September seems to usher in fall then that sickening thud of winter.  For me, September also marks the end of Ultimate season and more drama than a Trump rally. Week in and week out, my wife and I find ourselves on fields throughout Winnipeg with our group of friends and team mates.  There are ups and downs throughout the season: last year we finished on a twelve game winning streak, while this year we’ve had about four wins all summer. Despite the anger and frustration of losing, Ultimate is our summer and has been for many years now, but it certainly wasn’t our sport of choice.

I became aware of Ultimate many years ago when a workmate used to talk about it all the time.  He used to say it was a great sport and that it was a lot of fun, blah… blah… blah, but what I knew about it was that it was some hippy sport from New Jersey played college kids throwing around a Frisbee and saying “dude” more than the commentators at a snowboarding championship: “nice catch dude.”  I ignored him for years and didn’t think much about it. Some of you may also, but I implore you to look further!

He eventually convinced us to start playing, so I donned some cheap cleats then set about learning how to throw a flying disc.  Some call this disc a Frisbee, however, “Frisbee” is the brand of flying disc from the Wham-O company—yes, Wham-O is the name of a company.  The first year, 2007, was rough. I could neither throw nor catch this flying disc and running in the game was nearly impossible for someone like me who was more familiar with a TV remote than turf stains, a cold beer than bruises.  But we persisted and in 2008 we decided to form our own team, called “team,” after the no-name brand at Superstore. We were so bad we finished at the bottom of the league by country mile. I imagine our level of ineptitude still holds today, maybe in the back pages of Guinness’s Book of World’s Records somewhere.  Now I play in B division and D division, far higher than in 2008, and I can no longer image how bad I must have been in the early years. This year also marks the end of nine years of Ultimate for me and I just turned 49. Next year I hit two milestones: ten years of Ultimate and 50 years old, so consider that all you 40 year olds, you can still play Ultimate for another 10 years and I’ll see you on the field when I’m 60!

So what makes Ultimate so fun and why should you play?  This is a question I have thought about a lot. What makes Ultimate truly special is a concept called “Spirit of the Game,” which is basically the ideal that you can have a good competitive game while still respecting your opponent and upholding the rules.  Basically it’s a code of sportsmanship that’s built right into the game. Few sports possess this. Spirit is important because Ultimate is also one of the only team sports without a referee. If there is a dispute of any kind on the field, the players on the field must discuss then resolve the disagreement before play continues.  It requires that you know the rules of the game, but are also prepared to listen to someone else’s version of events without dropping gloves and punching them in the face.

This may seem foreign to many, but it really is fundamental to Ultimate’s survival.  This also makes Ultimate the perfect sport for newcomers. Communication is vital on the field, with both your teammates and with the opposition, and of course everyone’s common language is English.  Perfect! Oh, but it doesn’t stop there: Ultimate is also non-contact and while contact sometimes take place; it’s not part of the strategy. Ultimate is also a great way to meet new people. Most of the players on our current teams have been adopted from our former opposition mostly because I used to hate playing against them (they were good) and because I get along with them both on the field and off the field.  Ultimate players also tend to be a very diverse group with interesting professions and pastimes, so it’s a good place to make contacts and network. Most importantly, though, there is nothing better for your self-esteem and overall health than getting out, running around and learning a new sport. Ultimate is one of the most popular sports in Canada and might soon find a place at the Olympics. It’s fairly easy to learn, affordable and fun and it gives you something to look forward to in those long, dark days of winter.  <Thud!>