I was inspired to write this today because in thinking back over my roughly 10 year ultimate career thus far, I got thinking about the moment that really changed the course of my game. It wasn’t hard to remember that day, nor was it hard to remember the advice given to me. Advice that would both humble and inspire me to work at my game with such dedication and passion that I would surprise even myself with how good I would become at throwing.
The story begins in 2001 when I first heard about DKUT (the Dalhousie King’s Ultimate Team). Comprised of students from both Dalhousie University and King’s College in Halifax, NS, the team had been around for a few years. As I later found out, the team was formed because a couple of guys wanted to go to Montreal for a university frisbee tournament but they needed a team in order to do to. So, they made their own.
I transferred to Dal from the University of Alberta in September 2001 where I was majoring in Electrical Engineering. I had spent the 8 months I was at the U of A going to school 8-5 and fitting in some time most nights throwing a frisbee I had bought during clubs week, in a field just next to my aunt & uncle’s house (where I was living while at the U of A).
Now, when I first saw the poster in Sept 2001 for DKUT, I had only thrown a frisbee – and had only played a few points ever back in high school during a pickup game. But, I loved sports and I had this desire to learn more about ultimate. I was athletic since I had played hockey, soccer, rugby and track in high school and since I had been throwing for 8 months, I could sort of throw but I wasn’t good. My first two years, I was cut from the team that went to Montreal for the university tournament. My first year I expected it; however, my 2nd year, in 2002, I thought I was skilled enough since I had just spent the summer of 2002 playing once a week (and a few tournaments) with SOS from Fredericton, NB.
But alas, I was cut in the fall of 2002 from the DKUT team going to Montreal. I remember asking the team captain/coach Dan Kehler what I could do to get better because I hated being cut and didn’t want that to happen again. I’ll never forget what he said and as the title of this post states, it was the best advice I ever got. He said:
Since you’re not tall you can’t be a striker but since you’re short and quick like me, you should work on your throws and become better so you can be a handler.*
That seemed easy enough to me. I already knew that I loved to throw so to go out and throw more seemed like an easy solution. Little did I know that my desire and love for the game would only grow from that point on and would be mostly due to how much I loved throwing.
I remember I ordered a bunch of discs from the Internet Disc Shoppe and would go to Wickwire Field on the Dal campus several times a week (sometimes everyday) and throw. It didn’t matter if it was windy, rainy, snowy or what – I would go out and throw because I knew that in order to become better, I had to practice.
I also remember another piece of advice that was given to me by 2 of the best players I ever met in Halifax – Gregor and Jacek. It was March 30 or 31, 2002 and I was playing in my first tournament of the year called the Tournament of Fools. I hadn’t been named to the DKUT team so I’m not sure how I ended up on this team of a lot of the top players in Halifax at the time (their coed team, Sugar, would go on to finish 5th at the 2002 Canadian Ultimate Championships in Ottawa, ONT) but I am forever grateful for that day. Our team actually ended up winning the whole tournament; not bad for being cut from DKUT at the tournament as well!
Anyway, it was during that way that I was having some trouble with the wind so I remember Gregor and Jacek taking some time to work with me and they taught me all about the edges of the frisbee and how when I was throwing in the wind, I needed to be aware of which direction the wind was and angle the disc accordingly. It is because of that day that I’m one of the best wind throwers you’ll meet (not being cocky – I’ve spent thousands of hours practicing so I’ve earned my skill throwing in the wind!)
For anyone who is reading this and is struggling with trying to find their place on their team (or in the sport of ultimate in general), or if you’re having trouble throwing (in the wind or not) or if you just want to become better, I offer you a few pieces of advice:
1. Natural talent is underrated. You can become a great player – with practice. You can learn new skills and you can master them – with practice. It takes a lot of time but just start off with a smaller goal in mind. A goal like “I will throw 3 times a week at 1 hour per time”. Before you know it, your throws will be more consistent and you will be more confident as a player.
2. Don’t really listen to others when they put you down or criticize you. Everyone started off as a beginner. Some people like putting others down but so what? Don’t listen to them. Know yourself and know that you can become better with practice. Noone is “better” than you just because they’re currently a better ultimate player than you. Many people are insecure in their lives and use ultimate to compensate. Don’t be taken in by those people. You’ll end up getting hurt. Listen to those who are positive – those who are encouraging and those who offer you their hand when you fall instead of pushing you down when you try to get back up.
3. Come up with a list of goals. Not everyone was destined to be a handler. Not everyone was meant to get lay out D’s every point. And not everyone is 6’5 with blazing speed and huge ups. Do your own inventory of your physical traits and the skills you currently possess. Work on those which you are weak on and continue to work on those which you’re strong on.
The rest is up to you. I encourage you to read books written by smart, inspirational people. They will help inspire you, they will help keep you focused and they will help you become the player you were meant to be.
And now I ask you…what is the best advice you have ever gotten?
*Note: Just because you’re short doesn’t mean you can’t be a striker as I would later come to learn. Some of the best deep threats are short fast guys who can jump, read the disc and box out their defender.