A Reflection on Ultimate Frisbee

The Warmothers

The regulation dimensions of an ultimate frisbee disc include a diameter of around eleven inches, a rim around one and a half inches wide, and a weight of 175 grams. It is almost a wonder that an object so lightweight, with such a large surface area, can travel through the air — let alone have an entire sport dedicated to throwing it across a 320-foot long by 120-foot wide field. Yet ultimate frisbee — a game where the goal is to propel a slim disc through the air from team member to team member, down the field to the end zone, without dropping the disc or turning it over to the opposing team — exists, and I am one of the crazed individuals who play it as a competitive club sport. 

I joined the Warmothers, one of the two ultimate frisbee club teams on campus, at their annual interest meeting in the beginning of my freshman year during the fall of 2019. I don’t remember exactly what compelled me to join, but I have always played a sport and was looking for one to play in college. After three years on the team, I still sometimes struggle with understanding the objective of the game, and I often ask myself: why do I play? Why do I play a sport on such a big field, with such a small disc, that is so confusing? At first glance, ultimate frisbee seems simple: throw the disc to the end zone. Now that I am a senior with a few years of experience on the team, I know that the game is much harder than that. When I played ultimate in high school gym class, I wasn’t very good at throwing a frisbee. I would always stand in the end zone with no one defending me and wait for a deep huck from one of the stronger throwers. Today, I still do that sometimes, but it isn’t as easy as gym class. In a real game, there is almost always someone defending me and someone defending the thrower. There are also many different ways to configure our offense in response to an opponent’s defense, and many defensive strategies to challenge an opposing team on offense. These tactics make the game more complicated than simply catching and throwing.

I think one of the reasons the game is so confusing for me is that my objective on the field is constantly changing. One minute, I am on offense, close to my team’s end zone, trying to score. A second later, I am defending the other team who is trying to score in their own end zone. In ultimate, turnovers and interceptions can happen so quickly, with the positioning of offense and defense constantly changing. Before playing ultimate in college, the two sports I participated in were softball and rowing. In softball, there is always a clear separation between offense and defense with defined roles for each player on the field, and the countdown of three outs per half inning determines when the offense and defense will switch. In frisbee, this is not the case. While there are two different positions in frisbee — handling and cutting — the roles of both of these positions are always changing and moving across different positions on the field. This contrasts steeply with softball, which confines players to a single section of the field. It is not unlikely for a frisbee player to have to run across the entire surface area of the field over the course of an entire game. In rowing (I am part of the contingent of a few other team members who were also former coxswains — which is a person who steers a boat and shouts commands to the rowers), the finish line never moves, which is a feature of the sport I have always appreciated. In frisbee, the finish line always seems to be moving. While the goal is to gain yards going towards the end zone to score, it is possible to lose yards and to have the disc turnover to the other team who can move the disc in the opposite direction, going further away from the end zone. If turnovers keep happening in an ultimate frisbee game, we will keep on playing until one team scores a point, which can go on for a long time. 

In addition to the constant state of confusion I am in while on the field in an ultimate game, the sport gets even more challenging due to an array of other factors. There is a lot of logic involved regarding where to position yourself on the field in order to catch the disc or defend the other team. Even other obstacles, such as wind and temperature, are legitimate challenges affecting how the disc should be thrown. There are also other skills, such as speed and agility, which are needed to escape from your defender to catch the disc on offense. Though I often wish it were simpler and that I could just stand forever in the end zone waiting for a point-scoring throw, the challenges of frisbee are exciting. I enjoy continuing to learn how to face them. I am still learning, though, and I often forget basic frisbee terminology shouted by other team members or coaches that I cannot translate as quickly while I’m on the field. It makes me wish I could return to my coxswain days when I was the one yelling convoluted commands to the rowers, but still, frisbee can be a fun challenge.

Off the field, the frisbee community is enjoyable. I’ve been fortunate to play alongside so many talented players, play frisbee golf with the team (which does have a clear objective of throwing a disc directly at a target), and eat countless team meals in Sharples together. While I might not share as much love for the game as my teammates, and like to plainly state how confusing I think the game is, I still enjoy being part of the frisbee community and learning from the people around me.

If there weren’t the possibility of turnovers, no defensive configurations, and no creative ways to play offense, ultimate frisbee would, in fact, be boring. Now, when people ask me why I play frisbee, even though I still struggle to wrap my head around the objectives of the game, I still answer that I don’t know. But I do know. I play for the people that I’ve met throughout all my years on the team, for the Thursday night frisbee golf, and even in extreme temperatures, hot or cold, for the points we score as a team at tournaments, which show our success in a challenging, dynamic sport. 

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