By IKHWAN THARWAN
“Learn the fundamentals of the game.”
“Look for other developmental team training.”
“[It’s] Important to learn from the right person.”
These are some of the things mentioned to me when I received the news that I had failed to join one of the competitive ultimate frisbee teams two years ago. While it was good feedback, it left me with more questions rather than answers.
The competitive teams that I know of in Kuala Lumpur/Selangor (where I am currently based) have a particular focus. They want to be better – better than other teams in Malaysia, better than the teams around the region (Singapore, Philippines), and one day, hopefully, better than the teams from other continents. This means that their coaching resources are focused on players with skills from the intermediate level and beyond.
For somebody who started playing ulty (ultimate frisbee) at a relatively late age of 27, I’m severely lacking in the fundamentals as well as time (being a working adult). Therefore, during try-outs, I’m far from being an ideal candidate who is athletic, and has the basic fundamentals of the game. Most of the better players started playing ulty in university where they would be provided with team training to build their skills and techniques from scratch.
So, being club-less, off I went wandering around in search of opportunities to improve my fundamental skills.
1st Opportunity: Pick-ups
‘Pick-ups’ are where a bunch of ulty players get together to play for ‘fun’. Participating in pick-ups is great, but it does not solve my desire to learn fundamentals, as players who attend pick-ups just want to play.
For newbies like me, pick-ups can be chaotic at times and can make me feel like a headless chicken. This is mainly because there is a lack of cohesiveness – when I try to stick to the strategy, some do not follow accordingly or when I play in a ‘free-and-easy’ manner, some will reprimand me for not playing ‘properly’.
2nd Opportunity: Ulty community initiatives
There were some ulty community initiatives organised at various places to teach participants the fundamentals of the game. I was reaaaaaaaaally grateful when I chanced upon those and I attended as many as I could.
However, one of the main challenges of these initiatives is its sustainability as it depends on the goodwill of the coaches. This means that either the initiatives die out due to the lack of commitment from participants, or from the coaches themselves.
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Being a working adult, weekends are very precious to me, as any spare time would either be allocated to catch-up with friends and family or to do extra work. Therefore, this lack of consistency causes my weekends to be in disarray, as I would sometimes only know a few minutes before the agreed time that the training had been cancelled.
These two opportunities mentioned above still do not fix my situation. I was annoyed because I wanted something and somewhere I could consistently learn week-in and week-out rather than mindlessly joining tournaments to gain functional game/tournament experience.
Then, one day, in one of the mamak sessions (where people get together to eat, drink and chat) with my fellow club-less friends, I realised that there are a number of us in a similar predicament. We are busy working adults who still want to improve in and play ulty. Hence, I decided to start a support group called ‘Abs-Seen’.
Abs-Seen group photo
Here are some of our ‘Abs-Seen’ guiding principles:
1. Good coach, good player
We would invite more experienced players to coach us. Players who are better than us are likely able to pinpoint our areas of development, as well as guide us on the technical know-hows of the game. However, due care is needed as good players are not necessarily good coaches.
A real good coach need not be a good player, but has the ability to break down knowledge into smaller chunks so that it is easier to digest. Good coaches also have the patience to give constructive and nurturing feedback.
2. Coaching each other
If no experienced players were available, we would take turns to coach each other.
70 : 20 : 10 rule – 70% hands-on, 20% by coaching, and 10% in class. You learn better when you practice what you’ve learned. It also re-emphasises whatever you’ve learned because in order for you to teach, you’d need to internalise your knowledge and be able to verbalise it to your audience.
3. Toxic behaviour? Stay away
Only players who are internally motivated to grow, and with non-toxic behaviour would be allowed to join.
Two hours of training time is very very precious. Therefore, I stayed away from asking individuals who are emotionally high maintenance (constantly needs attention) as well as potentially toxic/disruptive to join. As the focus is to get the fundamentals right, it means a lot of repeating basic drills over and over again. I’ve come across players who think certain drills are beneath them; the lack of humility can be very disruptive.
Read this: How Successful People Handle Toxic People
This support group has had its ups-and-downs. My fellow ‘Sinners’ (what we call the members of ‘Abs-Seen’) and I have been blessed by the presence and sharing of some highly experienced yet humble players.
We’ve had internal conflicts on the direction of the support group, challenges to ensure we remain relevant, as well as maintaining the group dynamics, values, and commitment. At one point, we also had a permanent weekly coach, but due to the changes in commitment as well as vision, we parted ways.
One year after the creation of Abs-Seen, Sinners have improved and are very much motivated to be even better. We are also still very ‘hungry’ and in need of someone to coach us.
Two years after my rejection, I’ve learned that if the eco-system is lacking, then you need to be the change that you want to see and take the right action steps. Eventually, like-minded people will somehow band together.
The author, Ikhwan, during a tournament in Jakarta.
Huddling it up together, this journey has taught me to:
1. Be as positive and as hopeful as possible
Rather than being a victim to my situation and whine about what is lacking, just go ahead and see what you can do about it. Using the principle of the ‘Circle of Control’, if you’re unhappy about a situation, assess what can you do about it. If you can influence the situation, do it; if you can’t do anything about it, then do something about your own attitude.
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2. Pause and reflect a lot
Reflection helps you to assess your situation as objectively as possible and notice the learnings behind it. There’s always something to improve, and something to gain, no matter what the experience or situation is. One of my pleasant surprises is how the skills I have learned from the workplace (I’m a human resource person) proved very useful even in ulty, and vice versa!
While I’m currently club-less, I have finally found a personal coach who is gracious enough to adapt to my work schedules as well as look into the teeny-tiny details of my techniques, focusing on the fundamentals of the game. I’m grabbing this opportunity greedily so that one day, my hope to join a competitive club to see how far can I go in this sport called ultimate frisbee can be fulfilled.
Woof woof, for the uninformed, when people see us ulty players tossing the disc around, they think we are playing with dogs. Woof woof, we, ulty players, train hard to run faster than dogs.