One of my favorite moments of this past weekend was a play by our captain Nat. She was cutting in for a throw from a handler with a tight D on her hip. The throw went up and out to space but was almost out of reach. The beauty of the play was the look on her face in the moment before she grabbed it. It was a look that I know we’ve all seen in someone, somewhere, in sports and hopefully a look we’ve all expressed. It was the look of sheer determination.
As I saw Nat’s face I knew, without a doubt, that this disc was hers. And as she scooped it out of the air, she pulled it in with such velocity, force, and conviction that I also knew there was no way she was going to let go of it.
That moment was, purely and simply, the epitome of the most important part of the game of ultimate: Valuing the disc.
Another beauty of the play was that it was not a universe point. It was not the finals nor the semi finals. It was not a game that mattered in anyway. If fact, it was the last game of tournament where we failed to meet our team goal and it was against a much weaker team in a game that we were clearly going to win. It was a trivial moment by most standards.
Nat didn’t have to want that disc, but she did. Why? If I asked her, she’d probably give a few practical reasons and talk about her role as a captain and setting an example. But I think the answer is much deeper.
That determination to get the disc is something that Nat has and can tap into at any moment. It is that determination that makes her one of the best players on the field and has earned her the respect of being a captain on Lotus. It is also the same determination with which she was able to compete against some of the top female ultimate players in the world while being a player on Capitals.
Valuing the disc is a huge part of ultimate. In fact, I would argue that it’s the most important part of ultimate, yet also the most basic and simple. On an O point, the line’s job is, quite simply, to value the disc enough to retain its possession all the way across the goal line and score a point as a result. On a D point, the line’s job is to value the disc enough to want it back in their possession to then keep possession successfully all the way until the final throw from teammate to teammate across the goal line. The team that does this the best, wins.
Practicing this concept comes in many forms, including a deep focus on technical skills that allow for this value to present itself in every throw and in every catch. The development of every offensive and defensive strategy and play also entirely comes down to this value. Even the moment before a team scores, this value is first and foremost more fundamental than scoring a point, because if the idea of scoring a point trumps valuing the disc… well, any ultimate player knows what happens 9 times out of 10 when we try to force a throw into the endzone without thinking about the value of the disc.
As captains and coaches this is difficult to teach. As players this is difficult to learn. But if we fail to learn it and fail to apply it, we will never achieve our potential in ultimate, as a team or as an individual. But if we remember and embody the concept that possession, and earning possession, IS the most important part of the game, we will.
The best players in ultimate already know this.
How to? Ultimately, it’s up to each player to find value for the disc. Treat the disc as your most valuable possession every time you play ultimate. Remind yourself of its value every time you go to practice, every time you step on the field, and in every moment of ultimate that you can. Even from the sideline, reminding yourself that possession is most important will help you be a better sideline teammate. Visualize yourself catching every disc and throwing every disc with 100% accuracy. Mentally warm-up to play with as much intention as you do physically so both your mind and body show up to the game ready to win. And then execute it on the field and let your body feel this value.
In many ways, I’m not sure it can be taught. Intrinsic determination and motivation are within each of us. As players, it’s our jobs to find it within us as our commitment to the team. As captains and coaches, and even other players, it’s our job to express it so that our teammates might feel the same absolute rush I felt inside MY body when I saw it come through Nat’s body in that moment.