Taking the Off-Ramp Before College Nationals

Feeling the post-Regionals blues? Help give yourself and your team a clean exit.

UNC Wilmington celebrates their victory while Pittsburgh’s Pat Earles laments his club’s loss. Photo: Kevin Leclaire — UltiPhotos.com

This article is presented by the National Ultimate Training Camp! Registration for 2023 is open! Scholarships available. More info at www.NUTC.net

There is little joy in Eliminationville today. Your team or the team that you love is not wending its way to Ohio later this month. Plans are being scuttled reluctantly and early goodbyes are tearful and painful. This iteration of your team will never exist again.

I am not sure I can remember a season with more upsets or shortfalls than 2023. I have a few theories about this that essentially boil down to: you can’t take away almost two years of development and not expect to see some consequences. COVID wounded us all and we have not recovered, as individuals or as teams. Emotions are heightened. That’s why, except for the most solid and talented of programs, results and performances have been random and inconsistent throughout this spring.

And none of this is helpful if your season is over. Here are a few things you can do to take the sting away,

Stay with the Sad

In my experience, turning away from the pain and pretending everything is ok is only a temporary fix. As uncomfortable as it is, staying with the sad and being with your sad teammates is important. Your common experience on the team, and all the memories, will be healing.

With that said, do not expect everyone to feel or look the same as they deal with this form of grief. No judging. The newest players do not have years with the team and its history. The grads are most likely mourning the end of their college life also. Extend grace to each other and expect grace in return.

Limit the What Ifs

A crucial drop. A turfed throw. A coaching miscalculation. These things happen. Its sports. It is silly to think that coaches or players can quickly move on. And equally misguided to think that your last game defines the entire year. When you are able to, take a step back and look at the breadth of the year. Focus on your successes and let the frustrations fade into the background. Take notes and then close your laptop. Distance and perspective will give you some answers and remember that hindsight is 20/20.

Honor your Last-Years

Hopefully you have some team traditions that are not connected to competitive outcomes. These observances are even more important now. The seniors in particular need formal recognition from their team. And I mean all the seniors, not just the captains or the star players. These rituals will allow everyone to formally recognize these soon-to-be-alums and provide a closing that dims the memory of sobbing on the field.

Back on the Horse

Maybe you don’t feel like playing ultimate today or even this week. But how about a round of disc golf? Maybe sign up for club team tryouts, sign up for summer league, or work at a frisbee camp. Or, Heaven forbid, play another sport. These will help fill the hole where you once dwelled with your teammates. For those of you returning to college in the fall, other athletic adventures will make you a better player and leader.

Turning the Corner

Which brings me to plans for next fall. Returners are probably already talking about next year’s team and how things are going to be different. And better. These conversations are understandable as they take you away from the immediate disappointment. But without any plans for action, nothing will change.

Turning the corner means that a team is going to commit to prioritizing team-building and competition over almost everything else. Many teams – not just college – see a conflict between having fun and playing well. Teams decide they want to make their fun a core part of that identity, and that means players are not going to be accountable to the team in terms of training, learning and commitment. Instead, captains or coaches have obvious favorites. Different players show up randomly for random practices. Players bail on a tournament at the last minute. This kind of culture eats itself.

If you are on a team that truly wants to turn the corner, then summer planning is essential. You will not have 100% agreement on what needs to be done and there will be challenging discussions over the purpose and trajectory of the team. Sometimes it takes years to bring a team around the corner. But trying to improve the team experience for everyone is never a waste of time.

Competitive sports open the door to deep drama and ultimate is no different. Clearly losing a frisbee game is not on par with the real challenges that are rattling our world. Yet for many of us, playing ultimate distracts and helps us cope. When the structure of a team is dismantled, it is human to feel its loss keenly. If it didn’t hurt at the end, it means it didn’t matter. We all know that is not true.

And if your team made Nationals, bookmark this article for early June. Because most of this is coming your way, even if you made it to Ohio.

  1. Tiina Booth
    Tiina Booth

    Tiina Booth is the founder and director of the National Ultimate Training Camp, as well as an assistant coach for the University of Massachusetts women. She founded the Amherst Invitational in 1992 and co-founded Junior Nationals in 1998. In 2006, she published a book about ultimate with Michael Baccarini, entitled Essential Ultimate. She has coached teams to numerous national and international titles. Her ongoing passion is running sports psychology seminars for coaches and players, mainly through the Global Ultimate Training School, which she founded in 2020. More info can be found at www.NUTC.net.Tiina was inducted into the Ultimate Hall of Fame in October 2018.

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