How the game of ultimate frisbee is a metaphor for a good life

I came to the game of ultimate when I was 42, spending most of my time running after women who were young enough to be my daughter. When I bumped into someone off the field, who I thought I might know from ultimate, I would ask them to put their hair in a ponytail and run away, and we would both have a good laugh. Now, 10 years since my last game, my son's grade 4 class is learning to play the sport. My husband has continued to play as a Master, and we have been invited by the teacher to teach the kids about ultimate. I am sure that my husband will do an excellent job of teaching them techniques, explaining rules and strategies and introducing the sport to them in the hopes of fostering an enduring fondness for the sport.

Today, as I wandered the redwood forest not far from the country school where this will all transpire, it occurred to me that I wanted to impart something deeper with these kids. Something that may not land today, but hopefully will bounce around in their subconscious through their "screenage" years and pop out somewhere in their twenties like some kind of random wisdom pixel, catching their forever scanning eye and connecting somewhere.

Mindfulness leads to flow

Mindfulness is buzzing all around these days, and with good reason, it is a key to wellness. Mindfulness in ultimate means paying attention to where other players are on the field, noticing who has the disk, and what their capabilities are, where your defender is, how much time has transpired before the throw must be made. Good ultimate players are constantly looking all around them, observing and connecting all these pieces of insight that will lead to flow, the perfect place to be on an ultimate field. Ultimate players even talk about just playing "flow", no predetermined plays or strategies. Part of the joy of playing is that the sport demands this mindfulness, a playful meditation that is appealing and refreshing, you are meditating with joy, from a playful heart, where magic happens.

Celebration fosters success & happiness

Recently, it has become clear that noticing something, and celebrating the notice, is a powerful way to rebuild the brain for success and happiness. Not only do ultimate players often end a match with a goofy cheer or a game, to celebrate the fun of playing, I think we each experience a tiny jolt of joy each time we catch the disk, make a throw or execute a successful defence. So, that means there are dozens of little loops of effort and learning, all in the context of mindfulness and flow that we get to experience and celebrate every time we play.

Continuous improvement comes from experimenting and learning in iterations

Ultimate frisbee is usually played without coaches or referees. In this free-form environment, players are able to try things out as they learn about each other and discover how to get into flow. Competitive teams constantly experiment with different offensive and defensive strategies. And every time the disk is launched into the air to begin play, an experiment is in place. Players discuss and/or celebrate the previous point as they line up to begin again, feeding information, enthusiasm and learning into each play, and setting up the next experiment, based on what they just learned. 

There is a ying and yang aspect that provides balance and tension which makes the game just challenging enough to be fun.

There is a ying and yang aspect to the game, where each defensive strategy recognizes that by "taking away" certain options, it "forces" the disk to a certain area of the field, thus making it "easier" to defend, as players only concern themselves with a portion of the field, rather than the whole field. Offensively, there are easy throws and harder ones, easier ways to get "open" and trickier ones. Each playing with the balance between what is easy, and what is harder.

Collaboration and inclusiveness are necessary for success

Ultimate is designed in such a way that men and women can play, even competitively, without one gender dominating in strength or speed over the other. In fact, mixed teams that ensure their women are equally included in all plays are more successful. By nature, with a minimum of three women per team on the field if the other four players do not engage with them, almost 50% of their team's strength and potential is wasted. As the game is physically tiring as well, only teams that play in an inclusive way succeed with consistency.

Success through collaboration is also built in, no one person can grab the disk and run into the end zone for a point. Players must pass among themselves to move the disk down the field and to score. Finally, because of the flow aspect of the game, people can play together who do not even speak the same language, as the elements of the game are universally understood.

Kindness is a must

Ultimate, with its deliberate lack of coaches and officials, calls upon its players to reach into their compassion for others, to act with integrity and to engender "spirit" into a sport that is very physical and can be very competitive. We often assume that certain activities, especially competitive ones, are not environments where kindness can thrive, and yet ultimate has proven that kindness can (and should) be present in our lives whenever and wherever we are.

Thank you for reading this and pondering this metaphor with me..what metaphors for good life come up for you?