A few weeks ago I was playing ultimate but not having fun. It wasn’t because there were too many calls. I just felt more like I was working rather than playing. In the middle of my summer league game a questions crystallized in my mind: “what the hell am I even playing this game for?” It wasn’t just about summer league. It seemed to be more about ultimate in general. Or maybe life.
I find that the cure for general malaise is a good old fashioned g-chat. That evening I ended up chatting with a far better player than I’ll ever be. I was oddly reassured when he said “just about every season I’ve had the ‘what the hell am I doing spending all this time on this’ moment.” We all have these moments I’m sure. The training, the travelling,the throwing practice, the ultimate blog reading…Why do we do it all?
A few years ago I went to Nationals with Hooray. It was my first time there as a player. We spent four days in Sarasota interacting almost exclusively with other ultimate players. Everyone stays in the same hotels and goes to the same bars after playing all day against the same people. Leaving Sarasota we stopped at a Cracker Barrel for dinner on the way to the airport. I felt like I had landed on some alien planet. “Why is everyone here so ENORMOUS?” “What is going on?!” Oh yea! This is normal. A village full of athletic, svelte ultimate players is not normal. Welcome back to mainstream America. Yes, I experienced culture shock at a Cracker Barrel.
Not too long after that I kinda stopped playing. I still went to the gym and lifted weights. I wasn’t training with a purpose. I was “just staying fit”–except I wasn’t. Like nearly everyone who’s left a college campus before me, I started driving everywhere, working longer hours, sitting down a lot, and eating convenient food. I spent about two years like this until one day in November I looked in the mirror and asked, “what the hell am I doing?” I was overweight, injury prone, and unhappy. I was on the verge of being one of those people who count walking as exercise.
Now I’m back to playing again. I realize that when I want to skip a day’s training or desire take a day off from practice or summer league it’s not because I’d rather be biking or doing some other form of exercise. It’s because I’d rather be sitting on my butt reading a book. It’s because I wonder what life would be like with a few more hours available not “wasted” on activities that make me better at chasing plastic. I wonder what it would be like to be a normal person again — a mall walking, buffet loving, television watching normal person.
What is the normal to which you’re comparing yourself? When I was in the worst shape of my life, I was still in far better shape than everyone at the office. I was even comparatively thin. But when I’m with Scandal I feel that I’m not fast enough. When I talk to Tim Morrill, I feel that I’m not strong enough. This is a good thing. I play ultimate because it keeps me healthy – physically, socially, and mentally. The alternative is a kind of normal that I don’t want to be.
I know from talking to other players that I’m not alone. Sometimes we wonder if our obsession with ultimate is healthy or disfunctional. It helps to remember that the average American watches more than three hours of television per day. Somehow the American obsession with watching hours of sports on TV is okay, but you’re made to feel like an oddity training seriously for a sport no one ever sees.
I want to encourage you to let yourself be a little obsessed. Train like an animal – because you are one. Your body is meant to move- a lot. Don’t let “normal” (or Cracker Barrel) tell you otherwise.