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Ultimate Frisbee: The Awesome Bits

163   //    01 Oct 2017, 20:26 IST

Zev Fishman Portrait Session
Ultimate is one of the best sports ever invented

Disclaimer: I’m an Ultimate player myself, so this article might be a little bit biased.

You’ve probably never heard of Ultimate (or Ultimate Frisbee) before, and that’s really unfortunate. Because, Ultimate, my friend, is one of the best sports ever invented.

Ultimate, previously called Ultimate Frisbee, is a wonderfully unique sport that was invented in the 1960s, by Jared Kass and a bunch of his friends, in Amherst College in Massachusetts, USA. It’s a sport that combines certain parts of football, basketball and American football, along with a few innovative aspects like a non-contact nature, and the absence of referees. 

The Basics

Let me first describe how the sport works. Ultimate is a non-contact sport, played 7v7 on grass, and 5v5 on the beach. The game is played on a 100x37m field, with two end-zones of 18m each marked on the two ends. A team scores a point by reaching the end-zone, but since no player can run with the disc, the only way for a score to happen is for a pass to be successfully caught in the end-zone, which means teamwork is an important part of the sport. Since it’s a non-contact sport, the only way for a turnover to happen is for a pass to be intercepted by the defence, or the throw to be incomplete (too far from the receiver, or a drop by the receiver). 

World Championship of Ultimate Frisbee Tournament Held in Honolulu
Ultimate Frisbee is played by millions all over the world

Ultimate in India

This sport, starting from its humble origins around 50 years ago, is now played by millions of players all around the world, with many teams in America, Europe, and Asia. USA, Australia and Japan are some of the premier national teams of the world, and now, the craze has started to spread in India as well.

Under the sport’s governing body, UPAI (Ultimate Players’ Association of India), there are more than 50 club teams registered in the country, with regular tournaments happening in different parts of the country. Just this weekend, a tournament took place in Chennai, named the Chennai Heat, which saw 16 teams congregate in the city for three days of intense Ultimate, and a load of fun.

There are teams in all the major cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, etc. along with places like Ahmadabad, Surat and Hyderabad. The teams consist of all kinds of players, from 10-year-olds learning the game to working professionals who play Ultimate every weekend because it’s just that much fun.

Zev Fishman Portrait Session
Zev Fishman in action

Ultimately Unique

So, what makes Ultimate unique? A lot of Ultimate’s basic rules make it a sport unlike any other. For one, there’s no referee: players are expected to settle all disputes on the field themselves, with fair-mindedness and respect.

Secondly, it’s a non-contact sport, and every player is expected to do all that they can to avoid contact. The rulebook even says that if a player, while going for the disc, sees that they might cause contact with another player, they should not go for the disc, as not going for the disc and avoiding contact is seen as better than going for the disc and leading to dangerous contact.

Another interesting facet of the sport is that it is gender-neutral, that is, both men and women play together on the field, usually in the ratio of 3:4 or 4:3. Both men and women are treated as equal on the field, something that stands out as a great thing in today's day and age.

The American Ultimate Disc League, one of the best Ultimate leagues in the world, is an Open League, where a player’s gender is irrelevant: if you’re good enough, you play, no matter who you are. Perhaps the most unique thing about Ultimate is the Spirit of the Game, an integral part of the sport which encourages respect, fairness, clear communication and honesty.

The fact that there are no referees, no contact and gender-neutrality mean that this Spirit of the Game is essential for the sport to function the way it should. You will never see people shouting at each other on the field when fouls are called; the players involved will simply take part in a discussion. You will never see opposing players trash-talking or shouting insults, you’ll probably see players commending each other on good throws, or good defence.

You will never see opposing teams acting aggressively towards each other, but after the game, you’ll see everyone sitting together and discussing how the game transpired. The feeling on the Ultimate field, of camaraderie coupled with competition, is a wonderful thing, something you’ll be unlikely to feel very often, if you don’t play the sport.

The Awesome Bits

Now, let’s get to the awesome bits of the game. You start to play Ultimate by learning how to throw the disc, the two basic throws being called forehand and backhand. When you finally get a hang of it (which usually takes just 15-20 minutes), you’ll start to appreciate how the disc spins furiously in the air.

You’ll probably see the logo on top of the disc get blurred as you throw it, with many rotations taking place per minute as the disc flies through the air, a beautiful sight. And it’s just as good being on the other side of it. When you catch the disc, after seeing it travel through the air with speed and curve, it feels like a moment of perfect harmony, like everything’s right with the world.

As I’ve pointed out many times to my friends, I don't think it’s possible to be sad while throwing a disc. These are just the basics of the game. Imagine throwing a long, curving pass into the end-zone and seeing it slot into the receiver’s hands with aplomb.

Or imagine running long and hard, jumping high into the air to claim a disc before landing in the end-zone having scored a point. It’s bliss, I can assure you of that. Defending, or to be more accurate, defending well, is amazing fun as well. Intercepting a pass, and hitting it into the ground with authority gives you a heady feeling of power, while blocking a throw with a hand or a foot makes you feel invincible.

Diving for a catch, or laying out, as it’s called, is the most stylish thing ever, and a successful layout is always cheered so loudly that you’ll feel like the King of the World after it. And the best thing about Ultimate? All these wonderful bits I’ve written about are common parts of the game.

Zev Fishman Portrait Session
Successfully catching a disc can be quite satisfying

So, to sum up, what are the awesome bits of Ultimate Frisbee? All of them.

"I just remember one time running for a pass and leaping up in the air and just feeling the Frisbee making it into my hand and feeling the perfect synchrony and the joy of the moment, and as I landed I said to myself, 'This is the ultimate game. This is the ultimate game.'"—?Jared Kass, one of the inventors of Ultimate.

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