Beginner’s Guide to Ultimate Frisbee

by Jacob St. John

Football, basketball, baseball, soccer, and hockey. Each of these professional sports are a staple in American culture. But it’s the more rugged sports that deserve some celebration. I’m talking about ultimate frisbee. Spikeball. Four-square. Gaga ball. Heck, even throw tag in there. Each of these sports are a staple in youth-group culture, and believe it or not, each of them has a professional league. You’re not going to make any money if you go pro, however, because they’re quite simply not mainstream enough. Patrick Mahomes, the highest paid player in the NFL, is earning half-a-billion dollars on his latest contract to throw a ball down the field, and occasionally run. The average ultimate frisbee player needs to run all the time, throw most of the time, and doesn’t get breaks in between every play. Despite that, the average AUDL (American Ultimate Disc League) salary per season is 400 dollars. Yep. Only a three-digit number to play a more physically demanding sport more times per year. If ultimate was more well-known, we’d be speaking of Beau Kittridge in the same breath as Tom Brady.

Ultimate shares a lot in common with American football, even being played on the same exact field. You move the frisbee downfield, but the catch is that when you have the frisbee, you can’t move. You have to pass it off to one of your teammates until you reach the endzone. You score one goal at a time (like soccer), and there are seven players per team on the field.

Whenever the disc is dropped or intercepted, you immediately switch to defense, which is part of why ultimate is difficult endurance-wise. You play quarterback, wide receiver, and cornerback when you’re out on the field with your only rest coming when a touchdown is scored or when a disc goes out of bounds. It took me quite a while to even play a standard 40 minute game without getting completely gassed by the end. 

But what makes this beautiful sport worth it is how fun it is. It’s fun to unleash a throw down the field and have it sail into a teammate’s hands. It’s fun to pluck a frisbee out of the sky and land on the ground to a chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” and “whoas.” It’s fun to finally master a forehand throw and uncork it down the field. What you lose in water weight, you gain in the time of your life. 

That’s not to say it’s always fun. After a few pickup games, there’s usually a few injuries here and there, and someone will usually be bleeding. I’ve seen a man sprain both ankles on back-to-back plays; funny now that he’s healed, but he wasn’t able to play for a few weeks. I myself sprained my right ACL, and it was a non-contact injury. I felt the top half of my knee just kind of shift over the bottom half, and there was some immense, serious pain for a good bit afterwards. 

The weather is also quite unkind to ultimate players, as even the tiniest gust can send your perfectly placed frisbee out of bounds. The bright sun doesn’t help, as you’re constantly looking up, searching for the disc. In the cold weather, this frisbee’s painful to catch. And rain is just awful, ensuring that the frisbee will slip out of your hands whether you’re catching or throwing. 

And then there’s the season. For the past two years of playing intramural frisbee at HBU, I’ve had some brutal playoff losses. The first one was when my team, the Triangles, were heavy underdogs, going winless. We were set to go against a good, solid team, or at least one that had beaten us by 6 in the regular season. We took them all the way to double overtime before losing in sudden death. And then there was this year, not even a month ago, in which we lost a hard-fought battle (to a team named Hammeriods) through the 15 MPH wind, where the other team scored a game-winner with 15 seconds left. 

I haven’t won a championship yet, and that’s part of the reason I still play ultimate. I want to hone my skills and improve until I become a respected force on the field. But I also play because it’s just so much fun. Ultimate is a game of redemption. In-game, if you drop a disc or misfire a throw, it’s easy to redeem yourself, as there’s plenty of time to make a defensive play on the other end, or to correct your mistake at a later time. I haven’t hit my season redemption yet, but finding it in the game is always satisfying. 

At HBU, ultimate players gather on the football field Tuesday and Thursday at 9:30  at night to play to their heart’s content. Oftentimes we’ll go past midnight because we’re caught up in the game, and new faces are always welcome. The community here’s great, and I myself have made a ton of friends playing this great sport. 

I’ll close with some tips for beginner ultimate players: Don’t panic. You’ve got 10 seconds to throw the disc after you catch it, so don’t feel pressured to throw it away immediately. Don’t stress out about your mistakes, because as I said before, ultimate is a game of redemption. And finally, use the game as a way to meet people. Those you meet are an amazing group of athletes, ready to run, sweat, and most importantly, have fun. 

Jacob St. John is a Cinematic Arts major and a Creative Writing minor at HBU. In his spare time he likes to make music, play ultimate frisbee, and lament the fact that his favorite sports teams are terrible.

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