I have gone home from college and told people I know that I am now playing with the BYU Men’s Ultimate Team, and had to smile and laugh when they thought I was playing disc golf. To be clear, at CHI Ultimate, we are not tossing discs into metal cages around a 9-hole course - although that sounds fun, too. No, the ultimate I signed up for is what I have come to know as the best team sport in the world.
Like every other player on the team, I did not start out playing ultimate. I was a soccer player from birth, nearly, and I grew up running my tail off as a central midfielder. As a result of my soccer upbringing, I have always excelled at endurance running and nonstop hustling. I was introduced to the sport of ultimate in my high school years, and even played on the Colorado Springs city league for a bit. There, I learned from experienced players that there is so much more to organized ultimate than just running around, catching, and throwing. I learned that ultimate is as much a team sport as any other. I learned how an entire team works together to construct an organized offense and defense, where every player has a job to do and the team depends on every player consistently performing their role.
I was introduced to CHI Ultimate as a student at Brigham Young University by a good friend on the team. After attending one of their practices, I was struck by how welcoming and helpful everyone was. Over the next several months, I paid attention to how the team was doing and even went to the showcase game against the University of Utah. At some point, I decided that I had to be a part of this team, and that goal became the reason I would get out and go running during the summer or swim laps at the pool before my morning classes. By the time the preseason was ready to kick off in August, I couldn’t have been more excited.
If you asked me what the most important thing that I have learned from my experience with the team is, my answer would be the importance of mental toughness. Even in the first practice, Bryce Merrill, our coach, was already teaching that trait.
We ran a fatigue throwing drill where you essentially sprint two sides of a triangle marked by cones, catch a disc, turn, throw it upfield to a cutter, and then repeat until you have done twelve throws in succession. Our legs were still a bit tight after coming out of the off-season, and by the time we were getting to our ninth or tenth throws, we were losing good throwing technique because of the fatigue. Bryce took us all aside and explained that it was at this point, when we were most tired, that making the extra effort to ensure good throwing form was most critical. Imagine being in a game and having run hard all game long. When it comes time to throw the disc, it will not matter how tired your legs are, it matters how tough you are mentally to make your hips get low and maintain good technique.
The team played in our first tournament in Park City, UT, one weekend in September, and we did not do as well as we had hoped. The aftermath proved to be a huge learning experience for me. Leaders on the team stepped forward and provided encouragement to work harder and be more diligent. Matt DeLange sent out an inspirational video to the team that mirrored what motivates him to get out of bed in the morning and get to work. We learned as a team that victories are not decided on the day of the game, they are won weeks and months in advance by hitting the track, going to the gym, pushing yourself harder at practice. That’s easy to say, but actually prioritizing the work it takes to improve requires mental toughness. Sometimes my pillow and covers seemed to beg me to sleep in for once, but mental toughness is getting out of bed and getting to the gym. As a veteran central midfielder, I feel like I can run for days, but I have no hops! I can be skied, or out-jumped, by anyone on the team, but mental toughness is training day after day to improve my weaknesses. Workout regimens for improving your vertical make your legs start to hate you, but mental toughness is remembering the goal you made to jump 7 inches higher than you could before, and then finishing the workout despite the fatigue.
Currently, I am competing with myself for a spot on the A team. When the A and B team splits were announced, I was placed with four of my teammates in the bubble, meaning our tryout had essentially been extended a few more weeks to see where we best fit for CHI Ultimate. I never saw this tryout as a competition with my teammates, though; it was always a competition with myself. Do I have the mental toughness to improve where I am weak? Will I exercise the mental toughness to push myself at 100% even when, or especially when, no one is watching? Perhaps I have learned more about myself and my own integrity in this process than I have about ultimate.
Consequently, I know that no matter which team I make, it now only matters how true I am to my commitment to raise CHI Ultimate to a higher level. I want to make the A team because that is where I believe I can make the most difference. The A team will not win its games on the day of the tournaments. It will win or lose them months in advance depending on the effort and focus of the team. I have passed my own test of whether I will put forth my whole effort, so I know I am already contributing today to those victories months from now. And that’s just another reason why ultimate is the best team sport in the world.