Tuesday Tips: How To Be Competitive, But Still Have Fun

It comes down to three simple concepts: positivity, humility, and integrity.

Photo: Jeff Bell -- UltiPhotos.com
Photo: Jeff Bell — UltiPhotos.com

Tuesday Tips are presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Spin Ultimate

Ultimate is a sport where competitive energy, Spirit of the Game, and fun combine in a clash of different ideas. For the most part, this is a good thing. In fact, it is one of the reasons many people give for why they enjoy ultimate so much ⁠— the game is a chance for people to compete on a multitude of levels, in a variety of areas ranging from strategy to speed to athleticism to technique, all the while having a blast and promoting a concept of sportsmanship to the world.

However, that does make for occasional ⁠— okay, frequent ⁠— debates about the appropriate balance between these concepts among the diverse people who espouse them.

Nearly everyone can agree that competition, Spirit of the Game, and fun are not inherently incompatible, but most also agree that there is a line to walk regarding the way you and your team represent your priorities on the field. This might be a discussion of how serious (or not so serious) to take the game, or an argument over how important winning really is, or even a debate about the importance of sideline shenanigans versus projecting a more professional representation. It can be an argument over a single play and the way it went down. It can be a discussion of an entire team and what it stands for or tries to achieve. It can all make a player’s head spin.

So let’s talk tangibles. Let’s talk practical situations. Let’s talk application. Let’s talk about how you as a player can be competitive in the game of ultimate and still have fun.

It comes down to three simple concepts: positivity, humility, and integrity. And they can be explained by connecting to three amazing sports movies.

Positivity

This is such an easy thing. It is so easy, in fact, that most people overlook how powerful positivity can be. Or, even worse, people purposely overlook what it can do.

It’s a simple idea: be positive in all you do. Think not in terms of putting others down, but in lifting up. It can be tough, especially when opponents don’t reciprocate. But there’s a lesson to be learned (specifically from “D2: The Mighty Ducks,” but more on that later).

How does this look practically? Think in basic terms: cheering. A valuable lesson that a wise coach teaches a young player is to cheer (or communicate) from the sideline in positive terms.

Not so helpful cheers or communication include:

  • “Don’t get broken!”
  • “Stop getting beat under!”
  • “He is a worse player than you!”
  • “Come on, we are better than this!”
  • “We’re playing like trash!”
  • “That was a terrible call!”

Positive phrasing can change the tone of the entire game or practice:

  • “Watch the around side! Protect the around side!”
  • “She’s going under! Stay with her under!”
  • “Stay with him! Keep it up!”
  • “Let’s go! We got this!”

Simple stuff, no? And yet it can have a big impact on the way you are perceived and the way your team responds. A mood can shift based on one comment. A player can change an attitude based on one yell. Even mindless, positive affirmations — simple stuff about cheering on your city or your squad — can serve you better than vocalizing frustration or disappointment.

  • In terms of feedback — especially criticism — do your best to compliment-sandwich, to recognize positive work and effort before giving correction or advice.
  • Calling out a teammate or opponent for a bad play is easy, but calling out a player for a good play can be hard, especially if it’s an opponent.
  • A high-five after getting scored on can be a bitter pill to swallow. But, if done genuinely, it should only fuel competitive fire. No one likes losing or being beat, but your team can still strive to succeed and win, while recognizing opponents’ success.

Now, there are those who will argue that they cannot play this way. There are a few that are fueled by anger, that claim to play better when they hate their foes.

In my opinion, this is simply not true. Go to any practice, and any truly competitive player will be just as (or more) fired up to test themselves against a teammate as anyone else. If your best friend and you are both going deep, you don’t let up — if anything you dig deeper to find even more drive. The same can be true from play against an opponent.

It can be hardest to stay positive when others are negative, when voices are angry, insulting, or cruel. To them, you’ll require patience, sometimes silence, and oftentimes internalized motivation to be better both with your results and in the way you achieve them. Think Mighty Ducks here. Don’t sink to their level. Rise above, and feel all the better for winning with positivity and class.

Then go shake their hands. And smile when you do it.

Humility

Humility, at its core, is about perspective. It is the realization that you, where you come from, your team, your point of view, isn’t the center of the universe.

This comes at the beginning of empathy, the idea that you can imagine what the world is like from another person’s point of view. In truth, you will never be able to walk a mile in their shoes, but you can at least listen and try to understand them.

On the field, this translates into effort without attitude. It’s the concept of realizing that as hard as you play and as successful as you or your team are, you are still just a human playing a silly game that has low stakes in the grand scheme of things.

This might be tough for some to hear, but realizing it can also help ease pressure, tension, anxiety, and being a jerk.

  • Give your best, be proud of yourself when you make that big play, and then remember who you are and where you came from before you think about taunting the player on the ground behind you or adding humiliation to their defeat
  • Find ways to remind yourself of the fun of the game. Maybe that’s taking a few minutes during a timeout to sing a goofy song or play a game. Maybe it’s to wear some funky article of clothing or face paint. Maybe it’s to dance at a warmup or paint your toenails neon green.
  • And most of all, remember when you are talking to someone else, in person or on Twitter, that everyone is human, everyone makes mistakes, and that you are not always right and that you are not better. It is amazing how conversations can change when people are willing to listen and understand.

Think “Hoosiers,” here. In the end, what matters more? Winning and losing, or how you went about it?

If you give your full effort, if you remember where you came from and who you are, and the real reasons you want to win, you can still have pride. But you can also be humble. You can focus on yourself and you can respect others around you.

Integrity

The last and most crucial way to be competitive and have fun: remember integrity. Integrity means that you will follow your code. You will have principles. You will be honest. You will strive to be your best.

Integrity is at the very heart of competition. In any sport or game there are rules, standards, and concepts. In ultimate, you can’t run with the disc. You can’t shove another player. You can’t cheat.

The biggest and toughest part about ultimate is that last one. In a game most often played without refs or observers it comes down to this: Can you bend or break the rules? Sometimes, for example, it might be better for your team to grab that player to prevent the easy huck or call that travel to give your team a chance to rest. But in the end, it isn’t right.

Having integrity means being the best and winning in a way that no one can question. It means having respect for yourself and your teammates in a way that demands perfection, rather than questions.

  • Integrity might be admitting that you didn’t get fouled, even if you wanted so badly for that to have been the case. It might mean giving that disc you threw to the other team. But integrity means you will fight hard honestly to get the disc back.
  • It might mean rising above the calls from the other team, knowing they are getting the immediate score or advantage unjustly, promising yourself and your teammates that you will find a way to win regardless. What better fuel to the fire could there be?
  • And finally, integrity may even mean talking to your own teammates about their play. There is no sadder person than the person who stands silent while something they know is wrong is happening. If the player truly was out and you know it, you need to speak up.

The sport’s movie metaphor on this tip is from the greatest sports movie of all time (in my opinion), “Remember the Titans,” where there is proof that you can have pride in who you are, demand the highest standards of perfection for yourself, and still realize that you must have respect for the others around you.

Integrity means being willing to be the one to step up and make a change, even if it means calling out your friends.

Finally, it means leaving no doubt that you will try your honest best, even when you are being cheated, without excuses.

You can have integrity and still get fired up. You can have integrity and still be a beast on the field. You can have integrity and still be an opponent’s matchup nightmare. But, you will do it with respect.

Compete With Honor

To compete with honor means to be positive, humble, and to have integrity.

It may also mean admitting mistakes or admitting when you are wrong. It may mean going back to those on the field and apologizing for things you have done. It may mean making changes for the future.

Most of all, it will light a fire to win the right way, which will push you to give full effort, to care deeply about what you are doing, and push you to succeed at your highest level.

  1. Alex Rummelhart
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    Alex "UBER" Rummelhart is an Ultiworld reporter. He majored in English at the University of Iowa, where he played and captained IHUC. He lives and teaches in Chicago, Illinois, and has played for Haymaker, Chicago Club, and Machine. He currently plays for Chicago Wildfire. Alex loves writing of all types, especially telling interesting and engaging stories. He is the author of the novel The Ultimate Outsider, one of the first fictional works ever written about ultimate.

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