Monday, September 14, 2015

Treetown Throws: A Beginner's Guide to Ultimate Frisbee in and around Ann Arbor

This is Part 2 of 2 in a special series about Ultimate Frisbee in and around Ann Arbor. Are you a UM student interested in playing? Click here to check out Part I, all about Ultimate at UMich!    


    Hannah gave a great overview of college ultimate in Part I, but there are tons of other ways for Ann Arborites not currently studying at UM to get involved! I, a more veteran (read: *sigh* older), player will describe some of the other aspects of competitive Ultimate Frisbee that aren’t specifically college-related.

The Community

    Firstly, Ultimate is a community that extends around the world. I have made friends from all over the world just because we both share a love for this amazing sport! I started playing Ultimate in 2005 in Townsville, Queensland, Australia. I was there for study abroad, and as the university did not have organized athletics, I took a break from my collegiate cross-country career. I had always been interested in ultimate, but the demanding practice schedule and all-year training for track and cross-country prohibited me from playing. 

    When I started playing, I wasn’t good. My throws were erratic, cutting was confusing, and ALL THOSE RULES?!?! It was overwhelming at first, BUT, Ultimate gets significantly better with experience and the right people around you. As Hannah covered in, any successful team is dependent on every single member being their best, and any good team will help even the greenest grasshoppers learn and succeed. After all, if you get better, the team gets better! Since I started a little over a decade ago, I’ve played all over the country with many different teams, all of whom have helped me develop as a player in their own way.

Competing at the World Level

    The most competitive level of play involves your team traveling all over the country to play in world championship tournaments hosted by the WFDF (World Flying Disc Federation). There are three different team structures allowed at these tournaments: "women’s", "mixed", and "open" teams. 

    A "mixed" team is comprised of men and women. A Women’s team is (surprise) only women, and "open" is mostly men, but women are not “banned” from playing. Tryouts aren't uncommon for ambitious athletes looking to join top-level teams, but the recruiting process pays off: two University of Michigan Flywheel players, Tracey Lo and Hannah Henkin, made the International U23 team, then went on to win the World Title last July. The WFDF was recently given recognition by the International Olympic Committee, and will hopefully make an appearance at the 2024 Olympic Games!

Club Ultimate Frisbee

    One level down from the rigors of international competition is Club. A Club is typically formed when a few experienced players with a vision come together to recruit a small, core team who share the same tangible goals for the Ultimate team. That goal is usually to make it to the national tournament, normally held in a warmer state in the month of October. Past venues have included Sarasota, Florida and now Frisco, Texas. Qualifying for the national tournament requires teams to place "Top 5" in a Sectional tournament then go on to podium (1st, 2nd, or 3rd place) at an elite Regional tournament.

    Teams normally hold skill-based tryouts, but these tryouts serve another purpose: through this recruitment process, you decide if your goals (and commitment level) align with the team. Large cities (like New York or San Francisco) typically have dozens of teams of varying skill and commitment levels. Some teams are lower level and "developmental" in nature, allowing a chance to work on skills and be challenged with higher-level play while still nailing the fundamentals of the sport. Club teams, in general, are much more relaxed than their nationally-competitive counterparts.

Club Ultimate in Ann Arbor

    The women’s team in the Ann Arbor area is called Rival, and boasts both an impressive competition record and a genuine friendship with deep bonds far outside of the sport. I currently play on a 50-50 women’s team, which means that half the team is comprised of women. It was designed as less competitive team to bring more new women into the sport and keep them playing. Leagues are a great way to break into ultimate, meet new people, plus learn the strategy, rules, and flow of the game.

    Those ultimate players (or future ultimate players!) not looking to commit their entire summer to the sport can find places to play on a team at the local level in what is called league play. Ann Arbor has year-round Ultimate Frisbee leagues that play during Summer, Fall, Late Fall, and Winter and can be found here. Sign-ups for fall league will be starting soon, so if you’re interested checkit out and sign up here!

Playing Casually

    A more casual approach to ultimate would be pick-up. Pick-up normally only requires a set time and place, discs and cones. People who want to play show up and when there are at least 5 on a side, play commences. The rules are modified slightly until 7 on a side are present, score is sometimes kept, and everyone wins! Some pick-up games will be more competitive than others, but the same basic rules will apply to every game.

    Ultimate can also be played on the BEACH (right?!). I think it’s fun, if you have a good beach! I’ve played in several including; Wildwood, Sandblast, and Lei Out. There are always many different divisions to place your team in from super competitive (WE WANT TO WIN ALL GAMES) to not-so-competitive (let’s play beer-in-hand points all day!), and everything in between.

    Wondering about that first picture up there? Wonder no more. There’s also an abnormal class of ultimate that I’ve saved for last, well, because it’s MY FAVORITE. That would be the "party tournament". Teams are formed for fun, party ability, and willingness to dress up in costumes. My most recent was Potlatch, where our team "Suck it, Trebek!" came up with a creative spirit game. We made a Jeopardy board out of a tarp, cut Frisbee sized holes in it and made our own questions based off of Celebrity Jeopardy for the other team’s MVP and spirit winners to play after the game. Pictures included for dramatic effect!

    Curious about the world of ultimate? Feel free to come into Bivouac talk to Hannah and I about it! Also, check out for cool stuff!

~Heather K. -Women's Tech


Bivouac: Where Outdoor Passion Meets Indoor Fashion.

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