Tuesday Tips: How Parents Can Support Their Ultimate-Playing Children, Presented By Five Ultimate

Parents can do more than drive their children to ultimate practice; here are some great options.

Photo: Kevin Leclaire  --  UltiPhotos.com
Photo: Kevin Leclaire — UltiPhotos.com

This article is presented by Five Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Five Ultimate!

As the club season begins to wind down, it signals the preseason for school-based ultimate. Players are beginning the transition back to a high school season, whether returning from competing in club or simply trying to shake off the rust from a long summer off.

Some youth players are already seasoned veterans of the sport, while others are new and just discovering the excitement of ultimate. Regardless of the level of experience, for newcomers and veterans alike, parents play an understated but vital role in children’s success. Below are some ways that you, as parents, can support your ultimate-playing children.

Handle Or Support The Logistics

The obvious and most functional role parents have for their children in high school is handling the logistics of travel, costs, and scheduling. Most high school students, unless they are upperclassmen, do not have rides, their own source of income, or experience with managing their own busy schedules. They are entering the formative years of adulthood where they will learn how to balance all of these considerations in preparation for college or their careers beyond high school. Ultimate offers a good learning opportunity to develop skills in managing the logistics related to fulfilling their commitments.

As a parent, ask your children questions about their involvement with the sport — about uniform costs, sponsorships, practice times, tournament schedules, and other expectations. In conjunction with the questions, help them formulate a plan on how to schedule school responsibilities around practice along with work, other sports, community service, or any other obligations high school students enjoy. Discuss with them how to manage finances, especially whether you, they, or fundraising will handle the costs of their playing ultimate.

Speaking of costs, it’s never too early to begin discussing future college plans. If they have their minds set on continuing to play ultimate beyond high school, talk to your children about looking into scholarships and college club teams in order to get their names out there. Schools like UNC have scholarships for incoming and returning players, while others like Harvard have endowments from alumni to support their clubs. Other schools—including my alma mater, UCF—are contemplating getting in on the scholarship party as well, so it’s worth having your children ask about any funding available once they have narrowed down their college search list.

You can also position ultimate as a bridge to making the college transition easier by ensuring they have friends with similar interests before they even arrive. From my personal college experience, it was daunting thinking that I was one in over 60,000 in attendance at the school. Knowing that I had one hundred other people who shared the same interest as me made my first year much more enjoyable.

Come To Tournaments

Perhaps even more important than managing logistics, parents’ biggest role is to be fans and cheerleaders. In asking my players about how they would want their parents to support them, aside from a select few, players overwhelmingly wanted their parents to come to tournaments.

As I mentioned in a previous article, the school where I teach and coach is in a severely underserved area for high school ultimate, so competitions are hard to come by. But as one of my players lamented, “It would be nice if we had more fans, though.” Children want to be supported in their ultimate career, and it’s as easy as showing up and watching tournaments.

What’s special about parental support is that the desire for you to be there often continues through college and even into club ultimate. While at UCF, I was always impressed by how many parents we had attending our tournaments—and not just at tournaments that were right in our backyard. Parents found ways to join us in Colorado, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Texas, and California—no easy feat when traveling from Florida, especially when scheduling around work.

If you do end up making the journey out to watch some ultimate, you’ll be surprised at how exciting and enjoyable it is. Oh, and it never hurts if you bring the team food, drinks, tents, and chairs!

Value Ultimate’s Legitimacy As A Sport

The best advice I can give to parents is the following: if your child comes home telling you about ultimate, don’t laugh or shrug it off. The most painful comment I received when I polled my players was, “[I’d] love to know that my parents value it as a real sport and team.”

Nearly everyone who plays has his or her own experience with this issue. I faced it during college when I went to the sports injury doctor and he asked me how I hurt myself. After saying it was from playing ultimate, he asked, “Oh, the one you play with your dog?” Ouch. A few years later, when I was introduced to the faculty of my high school, I could see the questioning and doubtful looks from some of my peers about the legitimacy of ultimate. I can’t tell you how grateful I felt when our yearbook sponsor came up to me and shared that her son played for Raleigh’s Ring of Fire.

That being said, the barbs and jabs from coaches and other adults alike become tiresome. Just imagine how difficult it can be for our high school players who are still growing into themselves. The questions of legitimacy can easily wear your children out and make them not want to play anymore, especially when players get questions like, “Who plays ultimate? Is Frisbee even a sport?” That’s why your support becomes so vital.

In case you haven’t heard, the International Olympic Committee recently awarded the World Flying Disc Federation with full recognition—a key step on the path to being included in the Olympic Games. Big name athletes and celebrities have shown interest in the sport as well. Bill Nye played it at Cornell. Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh visited a practice at Michigan. Pittsburgh Steelers star wide receiver Antonio Brown raved about it after a workout.

So my question is: why shouldn’t ultimate earn your own respect? Start by valuing your children’s interests and do your best to find out more information. Ultiworld and USA Ultimate are good places to start, as well as any of your local leagues or universities.

On a related note, if you have a daughter playing on the team, especially if it’s a mixed team, reinforce that she is just as deserving and capable as any other player. Ultimate values sportsmanship, diversity, and gender equity—which is one major factor that led to its relatively rapid Olympic recognition. It is also unique through its Spirit of the Game tenant. On the very first page of the USA Ultimate rulebook:

Ultimate relies upon a spirit of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, adherence to the agreed upon rules, or the basic joy of play. Protection of these vital elements serves to eliminate unsportsmanlike conduct from the Ultimate field. Such actions as taunting opposing players, dangerous aggression, belligerent intimidation, intentional infractions, or other ‘win-at-all-costs’ behavior are contrary to the Spirit of the Game and must be avoided by all players.

If you want to find out more about the Spirit of the Game, just head over to USA Ultimate.

Spread Positive Publicity About The Sport

As a parent, you have a significant impact on your child’s desire and success with ultimate. Despite any lingering concerns over whether ultimate is a “real sport,” now that your children are playing it, spread the good word! Parents of players on my team universally agree that their children loved playing ultimate last year. Specifically, players enjoyed the camaraderie, the support from their teammates, the excitement of the sport itself, and simply found the game fun.

In my parent-player questionnaire, my last question was: “What would you say to other players whose children approached them wanting to play ultimate?” Emphatically, their response was “Do it!”

That leaves me telling you, do it! Help them with the logistics, be their biggest fan, and show them how much you truly care by valuing the sport.

  1. William Furiosi
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    Will Furiosi is an AP Biology and Chemistry teacher at Oviedo High School and coach of their youth ultimate team (@ohs_ultimate). He has been playing competitive ultimate for six years, including four years at UCF. You can reach him by email (william_furiosi@scps.k12.fl.us) or on Twitter (@WillFuriosi).

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