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Do We Get Chemically Addicted To Ultimate?

On John Korber’s piece yesterday presenting and analyzing his survey results, reader Pads left a very insightful comment:

[quote]I think a fact that has a lot to do with the popularity of ultimate is the ‘addiction’ that most new players develop in the sport, and I think this comes from the open ended technical nature of the sport. I’d like to see some figures on the ‘churn rate’ of new players, who have played or trained for more than, say, 10 hours. My guess would be that the number of players who leave after this point for reasons other than lifestyle changes or major injury is relatively low, because players seem to be drawn back to the sport by this ‘addiction’ to improve.[/quote]

[quote]Compared to some other technical sports (Rowing [my background sport], Athletics, or even American Football) where basic form is taught and constantly revised for small increases in ability, Ultimate (like other open ended sports like Basketball or Soccer) allows small technical improvements to make big differences to a player’s game. From being able to throw a backhand, to a flick, to varying release heights and flightpaths, hammers, scoobers, to being able to throw to a man on man contest coming under or going deep, being able to break a mark, or break a zone, or lay out. There is an almost endless amount of possible improvements that will result in tangible benefits to a player’s game.

There’s an interesting article by Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, Outliers, The Tipping Point) contained in his anthology ‘What the Dog Saw‘ where he interviews an options trader, Nassim Taleb (The Black Swan, Antifragile). As context to the interview, Gladwell points to studies suggesting that human ‘happiness’ most benefits from small constant ‘wins’ resulting in dopamine releases in the brain over a sustained period. Additionally, ‘losses’ should be minimised and where possible grouped together.

Applying this research to ultimate, I’d suggest there are a significant number of technical ‘wins’ available to a player of any level from the second they pick up a disc, and very limited ‘losses.’ This ability to constantly improve through non-physical effort (i.e. throwing practice vs. gym sessions), and backed up by the vast amount of constant improvement that can be gained from physical practice is the cornerstone of the ultimate ‘addiction’ that grabs so many newcomers to the sport. The fact that the sport caters to so many ability levels allows that ‘addiction to improvement’ to be maintained to the highest level.

Personally, I think the team bonds that are formed and the fitness aspect of the sport are a massive part of why I play, but the ‘happiness’ gained from seeing practice immediately turn into additional skills in throwing or cutting is what drives me to play and train nearly every day. If ultimate clubs and the community can take these findings on board to structure their development programs, I think all players will benefit.

In the end, it’s really interesting research, and it’s awesome to watch the development of statistics and market research to aid the growth of the sport to which I’m well and truly addicted.[/quote]

  1. Charlie Eisenhood
    Charlie Eisenhood

    Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld. You can reach him by email (charlie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).

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