Harsh Lessons In Ultimate Frisbee

September brings around crispy, just a tad bit chilly mornings. After a long 9 to 5 work week, all that I can dream about is wrapping myself around a warm, fuzzy blanket. With a warm mug of coffee in my hands, I catch up with my favourite Netflix show or a still growing pile of books. I turn off the hectic, demanding world and let out a slow breath of relief.

However, for the 4th time in a row, I’ve switched that laid back September morning for a warm up on the still dew-covered grass. Instead of a warm coffee, I’m reaching out for a frisbee and make last-minute throwing practice. Instead of a Netflix show, I try to focus on the match that my team and I are supposed to play in just a bit.

We’re at the Mixed Division Nationals. I didn’t expect we’d make it this year. I take a deep breath to calm the “what-if’s” running through my head. Something is missing. It feels like we’ve already lost the game. But indeed, we’ve lost. In our heads. The moment when at least one person began that game of doubts and confined trust.

And I can’t help it, but be the guilty person of thinking it first.

Before you pick up the disc.

Nationals in Ultimate Frisbee – it’s that one moment during the year when a team can show what they’ve been working on the past few months. It’s the final test. That one moment when you take up the challenge and show others that they shouldn’t underestimate you. The goal doesn’t have to be grand. Being in the top 10 is a dream good enough. For me at least. Success takes time, focus, commitment and belief. It’s those small steps along the way that matter. There are also things, which work in favour of backfiring. They’re what you should leave behind before you pick up the disc.

Emotions and those nagging thoughts.

Emotions can blur the whole picture. They get in the way and sometimes lead to overthinking. Gaining focus and the calm in the game sometimes requires you to separate from the others. You’re here to have fun, be competitive and support each other.

I don’t know anyone who’s ever benefitted from obvious comments about a bad throw or a decision voiced on the sideline. In most cases, a non-constructive comment leads to frustration and irritation. Playing a game with those emotions in the back of your head isn’t helpful. You’re probably already kicking yourself over that bad throw. You don’t need to hear the captain obvious once again. It’s not about being nice to each other all the time.

It’s about respect.

It’s about that on-field trust. It’s about not boosting that negative, nagging voice in your head: you’re so bad at Ultimate, you’re not going to make it. Because at some point you start to believe that voice even though you know it’s just a mirage. You’re not “enough”. You need to prove to others that you’re an equal player constantly. The emotions are building up inside. You go off like a bomb. Other times you just keep it locked up inside. You question everything. You don’t feel comfortable anymore on the team. You lose belief and confidence.

How did you ever make it this far? Do you even deserve it?

Those emotions are bubbling under your skin. You analyse and overthink. The focus in the game is long lost gone. Do you remember how much happiness it used to bring you? To chase that disc. To score a point. To cheer for a teammate.

Is it really a good time to overthink and beat yourself up? It’s not. The time is never right.

Mindset

Many teams go into the game with heads held high. Despite the fallbacks, they keep going. A team, which has a common goal, is driven, supports each other is the one that is going to triumph. Somehow along the way I’ve found myself doubting my team. Doubting I’m a part of this. I’ve found myself outside the system. It takes little to sway us into the defeated mode. Our heads no longer raise as the motivation is fleetingly leaving the space. If you start the match with thoughts that you’re weaker than others, then you’ve already lost.

If you lack confidence, then your throws will lack conviction. Low team spirit gives off the loser vibe and the impression that there is nothing else to do. You start to make mistakes. You repeat them.

Do you remember those games that you’ve somehow made through during the impossible cup points? They are legends now, but they were those rare moments when nothing was impossible until that very last point. Turnover after turnover you kept fighting trying to make that one last D because you’re not a quitter. It’s the mindset of the invincible teams that go up against the odds. Because Ultimate is not only about the skills, athleticism and wits. It’s also about a strong mind that won’t give up despite the situation.

Ambitions

It should be fun, but at some point along the way, it goes wrong. You’re fake happy. You feel like such a fraud. You’ve got high ambitions, but the reality knocks you back down. You try to make everything about your game perfect, but you end up making mistakes. You beat yourself up about it. Constantly. At some point, you blame yourself for someone not catching the disc.

Perhaps the throw was bad after all? Was that decision really necessary?

A goal you want to reach turns into a dramatic task you need to fulfil. What if it doesn’t work out? What next? Is it the end of the road? You want more, but the insecurities hold you back down. As a team, something is holding you down.

Two matches with a loser attitude. Two highly focused, close games to be proud of. One game, which decided about everything. One game to instil the numb resignation. The harshest, toughest, most hurtful Nationals in a team’s history. Leaving the field after the last Spirit Circle, I was so lost for words. Almost not there. Disbelief is an understatement. The reality still doesn’t hit with its full force. It’s all over, isn’t it?

Resignation

This numb feeling after losing everything still lingers. It’s a tournament hangover amplified with heartbreak and resignation. That negative voice says it’s time to call it quits. The rational one points out that it’s time to let go of ambition and get back to work. I write down those empty words about getting back to hard work to come back stronger the next year. It feels like such an easy lie. I wonder if anyone actually believes it. I don’t. At least not right now.With motivation in pieces, I try to figure out where I fit in these puzzles.

Is it still worth it to commit so much time and make sacrifices when it’s all for nothing? Sometimes the things you love the most become the things that hurt the most. They suffocate you, and you’re stuck in the limbo. You don’t know where’s the next step.

You want just to make everything stop for a minute. Stop acting strong and driven. You need someone to tell you that it’s all going to be okay. It’s not the end of the world. After all, the loses are what makes you stronger. If you let it. It’s a harsh lesson even though the emotions are bitter. Sometimes it seems that there’s no way of bouncing off the bottom. I’m familiar with losing, but this time it feels harder to get back up. We gave it up all too easily. It’s different to walk off the field with your head held high and the sense of giving your best despite the final score. But when your heart is not in it…

It’s yet another September and the world is still spinning, still moving forward. As the time passes, the raw emotions will slowly fade, but they leave their mark. A team needs to figure out what it stands for together, not individually. Does it learn from the experience or gives up? Being a quitter is easy. That’s why it’s so important to remind yourself why are you doing this. Why do you keep playing this sport? Why do you play on this team? In the end, it’s all about trust, understanding and an engagement from all those who want to build a strong, lasting team.

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