Forget About the Highlight Reel

Photo Copyright © 2013 Micah Tapman/CBMT Creative

A lot of people mistake flashy ultimate for “good” ultimate—they think that chest-high layouts or 10-foot grabs in wolf packs are hallmarks of the elite game. But I beg to differ. It’s true, sometimes incredible feats of athleticism are the only way to save a possession or get a block—and they aren’t easy to execute. Still, it’s the most mundane things that often make the biggest impacts on the field.

It’s easy to see the things at which players like Beau, Alex, or Surge excel. Surely we’ve all seen the video of Beau jumping over that poor guy; Alex shredding zone defenses in 30 mph gusts; and Surge beating her girl to the disc 9 out of 10 times regardless of whether she’s on O or D. They’re all unquestionably talented ultimate players at face value, but if you look closer you’ll see that they are so dominant because they do the little things right. I had the privilege of being teammates with these and 16 other amazing players, and here’s what they taught me.

Go back to basics. The best elite ultimate players have impeccable fundamentals, and they use them constantly and consistently. They take what the defense is giving them, get good body position, throw with balance, move the mark with fakes, maintain good footwork, and match hips on defense. Everything else is just fluff. Now, there’s nothing wrong with fluff per se, and I enjoy it as much as the next spectator, but I guarantee that a fundamentally sound player is always more reliable and therefore more valuable than a highlight reel player. When you stray from the fundamentals, you make your life and your teammates’ lives harder. For instance, without balance, you can’t throw with accuracy. Without accuracy, you throw more incompletions, or someone has to make big plays to save your butt—I’ve been plenty guilty of this myself. So as counterintuitive as it may seem, if you want to elevate your game, always go back to the basics.

Play smarter, not just harder. Here’s the thing: if you constantly have to layout or make other big plays, you’re probably doing something wrong. To be fair, big plays can result from good work ethic. If you D’d a player who’s faster than you because you put in the track work all season or because you showed more grit, awesome! But physical ability and grit are just two of the three tools that can make you a great player. The third and far too underrated of this trifecta, if you will, is field IQ, and learning how to strike a good balance between these three is the key to success. For example, fitness and grit enhance good field IQ. You may know where you need to be (IQ), but sometimes you have to fight fatigue to get yourself there (fitness, grit). Conversely, field IQ can enhance fitness. You may be able to burn your defender deep (fitness), but if you don’t give your thrower a good throwing window or if you don’t time your cut well (IQ), you’re not setting yourself up for success.

On another point, better fitness frees up your energy for better mental focus. If you’re constantly on the verge of puking from fatigue, chances are you’re in no mental state to make good decisions on the field. Strike that balance.

Playing against my USA teammates taught me that you can’t just muscle your way through a point against the best opponents. You have to play with good fundamentals and with intelligence. No matter what level you reach in ultimate, you’ll never stop learning these lessons. That definitely stood true for me throughout the World Games experience, and I’ve grown as a player because of it. So to sum up:

  • Basic ultimate = beautiful ultimate. And there’s nothing boring about that.
  • Play smart. Your brain is as crucial to making a good cut as are your quads and hamstrings.
  • Keep working hard. Better fitness allows you to make those last resort athletic plays, but more importantly, it frees up your energy to use for mental focus.

Team USA taught me the importance of applying these principles whenever I step onto the field. It won’t be easy, but I welcome the challenge.

Issue No. 2 | World Games

October 2, 2013

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