So, say the words ultimate and frisbee together and what do you think? Dogs on a beach? Kids in a park? Well you’d be wrong. In reality ultimate frisbee is a fast paced team sport, like a mix between netball and American football, only played with your much loved childhood toy. It requires skill, fitness and athleticism to play at a high level but a good sense of humour and some enthusiasm is all you need to start as a beginner, with most universities *cough* especially Newcastle *cough* providing great beginners programs to introduce you to the sport. Sound good to you? Keep reading and it’ll only start to sound better, but beware, what starts as a little hobby has the ability to change your life in ways you’d never imagine.
After spending my childhood playing netball, along with various other sports, I’d grown bored of the problems that came with a large group girls spending so much time together. Enter ultimate frisbee. The mixed trainings were much more relaxed and fun, reminding me what the point of sport should be, something which I’d forgotten whilst playing netball a long time a before. I was excited to get up and go and play. I was keen to throw a frisbee every day and loved watching myself improve. I must admit I’m less keen to throw a frisbee around now, 4 years later, but when you start it really is a novelty, especially a forehand, that just seems crazy.
Going to junior or beginners tournaments at an early stage adds extra encouragement and fueled my competitive fire, showing me the athleticism and skill that it took to actually be good at this sport, as by now I’d realised it was, in fact, a sport. A year later, all of my effort accumulated in selection for the U17 GB Girls team that would compete in the 2011 European Championships, and little did I know then, return with a gold medal.
Three years of GB U20s, a summer working with UK Ultimate, the governing body, and at least 30 other tournaments later, university reminded me why I still love the sport that turned from a novelty into a huge part of my life. It’s easy to resent something that takes over your life, and I was starting to, until I arrived in Newcastle and was reminded of why switching from a popular sport to something a little less conventional was the greatest thing I’ve ever done. Here’s why.
1) The People
I was shy as a kid, something which my friends now would never believe. I credit that transformation to spending my later teenage years around frisbee players in many different forms, from coaches to junior team mates to experienced local players. The growing nature of the sport provides you with a community of people who all want to support each other, both on and off the pitch. I don’t know why it is, maybe the self-refereed nature of the sport makes interaction with each other a basic requirement, but you’ll soon have a group of friends who become your weekend family, travelling together around the country, playing with or against each other, going out together in the evenings. I think the mixed aspect of the sport definitely helps keep the peace, setting it apart from most conventional sports.
Meeting people all over the country is, for me, the biggest benefit of the sport and it starts early. My best friends live all over the country and that’s not rare. Clubs at universities provide a great place for freshers to meet people with the same kind of mentality, open minded and willing to try something new. Participating in something like this, as with any sport I assume, makes you closer to your team than you’d think. All working towards the same goal, especially in higher level teams and the GB squads, gives you a strong connection to each other pretty quickly, and that’s something that will stay with you.
2) The Travelling
I’ve always loved the idea of travel. I want to see the world. Frisbee hasn’t taken me all the way there yet but I’m on my way. Any team, from the national champions to beginners teams at university, travel the country to compete. Being in a different city every weekend was a great way to keep me interested but the real travelling started with GB. I’ve been to Italy, Poland, Dublin, Germany and France to play, with older squads heading to Japan and Toronto to pit themselves against the rest of the world. This just adds to the motivation to improve, sort of like an added reward for all your hard work.
I spent last weekend in the French Alps with a group of friends, relaxing, drinking, having fun and playing a bit of frisbee on the side. That bit on the side resulted in us placing first against some of the best mixed teams in France, no thanks to me I had the worst weekend on the field, but this was just the icing on the cake of a fantastic trip that was basically just a holiday with friends whilst doing a little bit of what we love. What could be better?
3) The Pride
Representing your country is a feeling that’s like no other, and definitely something I never thought I’d experience. Lining up on the pitch in the red, white and blue is really something else, and wearing the kit in the gym really messes with people’s mind too. I do not look like I should be classed as the best of Britain. It’s the pinnacle of what you can aim for and the junior program is an incredibly good way to encourage younger players to aim high and commit to improving. I owe a lot to the coaches and organisers. Thank you.
Whilst playing for GB is my greatest achievement, my club team, Pingu Jam, has just qualified for the European Club Championships, something which, for some reason, feels totally different. GB is a great acknowledgment of my personal ability but building a team of friends into a team heading to Euros is a feeling like no other. I could discuss the controversy that surrounds Pingu Jam for days but why would I want to? What matters is that we started at the bottom and worked our way to the top, and I couldn’t be more proud of every single person on our roster, my pingu family.
I get asked about my sport all the time, usually in a mocking tone, but I still find it hard to describe why it means so much to me. So here. That’s what frisbee is. That’s why I’m never around. But, most importantly, that’s why I don’t care about what you think. I was one of you once. Someone who thought they played a “real sport” who laughed at frisbee players in the park. I was stupid but I saw the error of my ways. And it was the best lesson I ever learned.