When you start playing Ultimate, the first thing you may notice is the structure of the divisions. There are three of them: Mixed, Open and Women. Each of them feels a bit different and has something special to offer. They can vary according to the level of competitiveness and cultural aspects (self-referring, the Spirit Of The Game).
Mixed (Co-ed teams)
What makes Ultimate Frisbee unique is its Mixed division. Even the tournaments at the highest level (national and international) encourage the competition. In outdoor it’s usually 4 guys and 3 women playing on the field at each time. On both beach and indoor, you’ve got 3 guys and two women on the Ultimate field.
This kind of team seems like a good place to start. Mixed seems friendlier, though not less competitive than the other two categories. It’s more tactical and combines all the strengths and weaknesses of all the players. To achieve something the teams have a long way to go, that’s why it’s the easiest entry-level play. From communication to trust, there’s a lot to work with, but eventually it pays off. Once you know what your teammates can and can’t do, it’s easier to adjust to the flow of the game. Of course, Mixed has its issues, which gives some space for improvement.
You’ll encounter many people, who come to the training for different reasons. Some are there to just meet people and have fun. Others will take the game more seriously and want to achieve something. Attitudes like that need a bit of balance and that’s a handful to work with if the team is supposed to go beyond “just for fun” category.
Mixed is the only Ultimate Frisbee division, which you’ll see at The World Games. In some countries, Mixed division is a niche. Open and Women is popular in colleges or leagues, but it’s a higher level of entry to the sport. In other countries, Mixed is more popular as it’s where you start. The more experienced the teams become the easier it is to move on to the Open and Women divisions.
It’s fast-paced, thrilling to watch and exceedingly competitive. The Open division looks faster and more dynamic. You can see many examples in AUDL or MLU. It’s spectacular to watch: all those layouts, skying and the speed. While Mixed division needs some balance between the men and women players, here is no holding back. Guys are in most cases physically stronger than the ladies (though not in all cases). While playing Open, each team member can play at their full potential.
In countries, like the USA the focus is rather on Open division then Mixed. You can see that by watching AUDL or MLU. Some players prefer playing in this division just because they don’t need to hold back. While playing Mixed guys need to watch out a bit when going for the disc to avoid colliding with a female player. Even though Ultimate is a non-contact sport, you can’t always avoid that.
Open division is certainly not at such a low entry-level as mixed. Many players start their Ultimate adventure on Mixed teams. With time they become better and a natural step is creating an Open team. Here, the players need to have more experience. It is more competitive than Mixed. The attitude often shifts to winning the games. The “I want to win” mindset often overshadows the fair play. It’s hard to keep the balance between the competitiveness of the sport and the Spirit of the Game.
I often hear opinions that Women division is not as cool to watch as Open or Mixed. But it’s as fierce and competitive as the other two categories. Perhaps even more so than Mixed. The players need to be a bit more experienced or at least they need someone who’s played for a while to lead them. On Women teams, there’s more freedom, but also lot’s of responsibilities to handle. The dynamic of the game changes and so does the focus of the game.
Since the faster, more experienced guys can’t play here, it’s time for the girls to prove their skills. On Women teams, there’s a better chance to improve the skills as there is a chance of more time spent on the field. The responsibility shifts to the female players and they can take more risky decisions. In Mixed they may hold back in case they mess up or they depend more on their teammates.
I didn’t play much on Women teams, but during those few tournaments, I noticed something. The communication on the field with my female teammates improved a lot. Another benefit of women matches was that we improved our skills and decision-making. By working as a team we became more confident in the Mixed games and dared to take some risks. It’s a great chance of getting better at Ultimate as you get to play more and take tougher decisions. You have to try harder and give your 200%. There’s always something to prove. The teamwork can either go all wrong… or result in a better team spirit and mutual understanding. I was once told that the moment I play in Women division I won’t ever want to come back to Mixed. I don’t think I could choose.
Assembling a women team is a tedious task. It’s difficult, especially that Ultimate is still a niche sport. I met many girls who see it as “brutal”, “too physical” and a “too demanding activity”. Recruiting is tough. Not enough girls on the team mean that you need dedicated teammates to make it work. In the end, it’s worth it.
Each of the three divisions has something special to offer to its players. Some will prefer the fast-paced Open to strategic Mixed. Some girls will prefer to play in Women division just because they get the disc more often. Some will prefer the lighter mood of the Mixed tournaments. In each situation, Ultimate Frisbee demands from its players a high level of sport’s competitiveness, fair play and commitment to become a better team player.