Spirit of the Game

Ultimate frisbee: a physical and mental stress release

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A special mixture of adrenaline, pride and nausea. This is my reward at the end of a three-hour ultimate Frisbee practice.

The UC Santa Cruz women’s ultimate team, Sol, possesses a free-spirited culture unlike any other sport I’ve played and teaches me how to be confident while recognizing areas of self-improvement on and off the field.

I tried out for Sol this year after getting a taste of the welcoming and liberating culture of ultimate during my time on a recreation league in Portland over the summer. It quickly became a huge part of my life.

Ultimate rewards those who commit themselves to the sport. The more effort I put into practice and my relationships off the field, the more I receive in the form of physical, mental and emotional strength.

I used to play tennis; as an individualistic sport, it was harder for me to stay motivated. When I push myself mentally and physically on the ultimate field, the entire team is supporting me, which makes improvement even sweeter. That feeling of accomplishment sprawls into my personal and academic life.

On the first day of practice last fall, I warmed up throwing a disc back and forth with Renee, a fourth-year who instantly made me feel like I was in the right place. She has this unique ability to make people around her feel not only welcome but also important, a trait I began to find in many of my other teammates too.

After a couple months on the team, I developed strong bonds with a number of my teammates and soon we took a sunrise walk along West Cliff, several hikes in the forest and even a road trip to Portland.

The more time I spent with Renee and my other teammates, the more I realized that ultimate increases my sense of belonging and self-worth. This sport and its community teaches me that if I need an extra push or even just a hug, my teammates will be there to motivate me. It gives me the confidence to be that person for someone else — sometimes all it takes to brighten someone’s day is to take them aside and remind them why you need them.

I often hear my teammates shout things like, “Don’t be sorry, be better!” when I drop a disc. Although sarcasm accounts for about 70 percent of the interactions on my team, it always comes from a place of love and trust.

I’ve also started applying my teammates’ criticism and encouragement to other areas of my life. If I get a grade I don’t like on a paper, instead of immediately looking for reasons to blame my TA, ultimate teaches me to take a step back and try to see what I can learn from the comments.

Ultimate is a sport built on respect, and unlike other sports, is self-officiated. It’s important to make unbiased calls and own up to fouls if you commit them because the beauty of ultimate is its marriage of competition and integrity.

Similarly, if I make a mistake in a relationship, I can recognize the importance of owning it instead of digging my heels in and hurting a friend. Since I joined ultimate, I am more in touch with myself and my relationships and better at choosing when to prioritize myself versus friends or academics.

The amount of laughing and hugging I experience in a normal day playing ultimate is truly therapeutic. For those nine hours a week I am on the field practicing, I allow my long to-do list and assignments to slip to the back of my mind and I focus solely on the game. This sport is my stress release.

When I think back to that first practice of the season, I can’t remember exactly what drills we did or what we talked about. I remember the excitement and giddiness on each of the returning players’ faces. For them it must have been the best feeling in the world — to be reunited with their best friends after months apart.

That day, the returning players were about to embark on another season playing a sport that enveloped them the moment they became one of the seven on the line. I can’t wait to be in their shoes next year.