5 Questions With Johanna von Toggenburg

The end of the year is approaching so fast! December is right around the corner and in the Ultimate Frisbee world the indoor season is in full swing. The outdoor tournament nostalgia hits you from time to time. Last month you’ve had the chance to read an interview with Geoff Schwartz, who introduced Poland to Ultimate!

This time I’ve wanted to introduce you to someone with a mission! Johanna has been playing Ultimate for a while but at the same time, she’s working towards making a difference. The majority of the players are mostly into playing the game and growing as the player. Some people want to raise awareness about the sport and change the world with it. Think about it. It’s actually possible. Just define the world and what you can do by working with others. Meet Johanna and her ultimate frisbee life!

5 Questions With...Johanna von Toggenburg

Name: Johanna von Toggenburg
Number: 27
Height: 169cm
PlaysUltimate Since: 2003
Team: Flying Cedars (Beirut) and in the past with Mohawks (Brighton), Monkey Foo (Grenoble), XLR8RS (Brussels), CUSB (Bologna)
Cutter/Handler: Cutter, Defense
Favourite throw: Forehand
Favourite type of the tournament: Beach
Favourite division: Mixed
Favourite thing outside of Ultimate: All things water

1. How did you first get into Ultimate Frisbee?

My Ultimate experience started with Mohawks, the Sussex University (UK) team in Brighton. My first practice was under a drizzle on an earthy field in October 2003. I fell in love with it, because despite the rain, slippery discs and mud, we all had smiles on our faces.

I have been playing on and off for 15 years, including the European Championships in 2007 with the Belgian Women’s team. Since I lived in countries and regions where Ultimate is a new and growing sport I dedicated myself to spreading and coaching the sport. First in Palestine and since 2015 in Lebanon.

5 Questions With...Johanna von Toggenburg

2. What does this sport mean to you?

Personally, Ultimate means happiness to me. Whenever I am stressed at work, or feel tired from a long day, all I need to do is head to the field with a disc to throw and run. Ultimate embodies everything I love – being outdoors, getting a good work-out, challenging myself, seeing friends and creating a sense of community.

Passing on the sport and the concept of Spirit of the Game when coaching has been a really rewarding experience for me. Recently, together with GIZ (German Development Cooperation) Jordan, we developed a Manual on how to integrate life skills into coaching Ultimate for children and youth based on the GIZ Sport for Development methodology.

Ultimate was chosen as one of the four disciplines of the program since its fundamental principles of Spirit of the Game, such as fair-mindedness, communication and positive attitude and self-control are core social competencies that can help children and youth to succeed in their lives.

We organized focus group discussions with social workers, education experts, teachers and Ultimate players to think about how to integrate social skills more consciously into coaching Ultimate, which was an inspiring experience. One way I integrate this when coaching my team is to hold a Spirit Circle at the end of every practice, where players are encouraged to reflect on the physical and social skills they learned.

5 Questions With...Johanna von Toggenburg

3. How was your experience in joining teams and playing Ultimate in different countries?

Ultimate is a great way to get to know people. Having lived in 9 countries since I started playing, the first thing I do is check whether the place I move to has a team I can join and practice with. I always have butterflies in my stomach before the first practice in a new place, but as soon as I arrive, I am greeted with open arms and quickly develop friendships with local players.

Coaching a team in Beirut now, I get to be on the other side of the equation, welcoming many new or visiting players and making sure that the whole team creates a safe and friendly, while competitive environment.

Playing Ultimate in the Middle East presents challenges different from the ones we are used to in Europe or in the US. A major difficulty are sports facilities since professional fields are expensive, public space is limited and schools often have small asphalted fields.

Visa requirements make travelling expensive and time-consuming, in addition to complete travel restrictions for some countries.

A third challenge is the difficulty to attract women players, which is an issue globally, but accentuated in Middle Eastern and North Africa partly due to cultural habits.

5 Questions With...Johanna von Toggenburg

4. How did Ultimate develop in Lebanon?

In March 2015, together with Colin Campbell, I started organizing regular pick-up games in Beirut. These turned into the first official mixed Ultimate team in Lebanon, the Flying Cedars.

Later that year, a few experienced players started coaching the American University of Beirut team and from there, further teams started building. In January 2017, Lebanon Ultimate established the Lebanon Flying Disc Association and in May 2017, the LebanonFlying Disc Association was approved as Member in the World FlyingDisc Federation. Teams from Lebanon participated in three Middle East and North Africa Club Championships every year since 2015.

One of the accomplishments I am proud of is the organization of a Coaching Clinic through a WFDF Development Grant that paved the way for twenty-five Lebanese and Jordanian players to become coaches and that helped make the sport independent of support from expats. If you visit Lebanon now, you can join a practice in Beirut on four days travelling, as well as in Zahle and hopefully in Tyre soon.

5 Questions With...Johanna von Toggenburg

5. What are your plans for the future?

Several small projects are in the pipelines for coaching Ultimate to refugees and less privileged children and youth in Lebanon and surrounding countries, with focus on teaching life skills. I also want to attract more female players to my team and organize fundraisers for the team to be able to travel to an international tournament.

Finally, I am hoping to exchange more with other coaches about how we can more actively transmit SOTG values through our practices, starting from the handshake over rituals to regular reflections about what these values mean in Ultimate as well as our lives in general.

I just started the discussion on the Rise UP Captain and Coach Bootcamp Facebook group (best coaching resource I’ve encountered). If you’reinterested, join in! 

5 Questions With...Johanna von Toggenburg

I hope that you this interview gives you a nice dose of inspiration. Everyone can contribute to the ultimate frisbee community in various ways. That’s why ultimate is so amazing. Anything’s possible. I’m just going to quote my favourite actor.

Never, ever, let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do. Prove the cynics wrong. Pity them for they have no imagination. The sky’s the limit. Your sky. Your limit. 

– Tom Hiddleston

What’s your Ultimate Frisbee story? Would you like to share it? Feel free to message me on Introverted Ultimate or via email. I’ll get back to you with 5 Questions. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

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