So it’s about time for your first college tournament. You’re probably looking forward to it with a healthy mix of excitement and anxiety. Honestly, I don’t remember much from my first tournament other than I threw a goal, chased my man around the field like a chicken with his head cut off, and that when I tried to throw a flick upfield, it immediately arced like a roller coaster and bladed into the ground at the cutter’s feet. Most people’s first college tournament isn’t too different.
You see a lot of tips for new players at the beginning of every college season, but what I haven’t seen is advice on how to act at a tournament. You know, the place where team leaders will gauge how much of what you were taught at practice has stuck to your impressionable freshman brain.
Here are the things I wish someone had told me before my first tournament five years ago.
1. Pay attention on the line
Yay! You were called on for a point. Exciting, isn’t it? Well, make sure you aren’t so overwhelmed by the high you’re feeling that you miss out on some vital information. What’s the force? Are you lining up on the dude with the red hat or the guy with the white shorts? Are you running a vert stack or ho after a turnover? If you run down the pull and immediately get beat to the force side then put on the wrong mark, you’re going to catch flak on the sideline.
2. Play at your level
You likely aren’t a major team contributor yet, so do the little things right. It’s great if you look upfield every time you catch an in-cut, but if it gets to be the fourth time in a row that you’ve hucked it immediately out of bounds or into the ground, you aren’t helping your team. If you’re great at getting open under but can’t throw, it’s okay to catch it, turn upfield for a second, then immediately look to dump it. Over time, your abilities will expand and you’ll be able to do more. That wide arsenal of throws comes with time. You have a four to five year journey ahead of you; don’t try to live it all in one weekend.
3. Lay out
Just do it. If you think the disc might be remotely within reach, fully extend your body to make sure you would or would not have been able to get it. As someone who only got the gist of how to layout properly his senior year, I’m telling you: start doing it now. If your form is bad, you’ll feel it yourself and a veteran will show you how to do it. Every team has someone with flawless-looking bids. Find him and either straight up copy his form or ask some pointed questions about technique. Whether you get the D or just come close, good lay out form will have veterans taking a longer look at adding you to the A team.
4. Cheer on your team
Be loud on the sideline. No college team has a good enough sideline presence. If your team scores, get up, clap, do something, and congratulate them as they come off the field. Be careful about what you say during points though. Cheer the right things. You probably don’t know a lot of the lingo yet and if you’re telling Johnboy to “find a man” when your team is running zone, you just look dumb. Try to stick to the more generic things for now, sayings such as “no around/inside throws,” “#22 is poaching,” or “No big!”
5. Throw on the sideline
Odds are you are still learning all the intricacies of throwing a disc. Just because it’s a tournament doesn’t mean your throwing ability is locked in for the weekend. During bye rounds and downtime between games or even points, find someone to throw with and work on the part of the game you can always improve. Veteran players will appreciate seeing this much more than seeing you curled up and napping between games.
6. Ask questions
If you see something happening that befuddles you, like if the opposing team runs a zone or junk defense, ask a veteran what’s going on. Ask what a certain play call aims to take away and what it gives up. You may not see anything too confusing this early in the year, but keep this in mind for future tournaments as well. That being said, don’t be the guy who asks every conceivable question all the time. “Why did he throw a flick?”, “Why didn’t he throw it to that guy?”, “Why did everyone stop moving?”, etc. There’s a fine line between asking a detailed question about something interesting and simply not paying a lick of attention to what’s happening on the field. Try not to cross it.
7. Do something fun Saturday night
Maybe the tournament you’re at has a party, maybe your teammates are playing a delightful game of hide the salami in one of the hotel rooms, or maybe something is going down in the hallway that will soon get your hotel shut down. Whatever is going on, try to do whatever you can to interact with your teammates in a fun way. Once the ultimate ends, a tournament is a mini-vacation. You are completely stripped of all the authority figures in your life. Exploit that opportunity. What not to do has been said best by my teammate, Jeremy Kanter.
Finally, as much as I hate to mention school and ultimate in the same breath, I always tried to look at ultimate as another class on my schedule. It’s the best class I’ve ever taken, but still a class I had to make time for. Practices were equal parts lecture and homework, with about three per week where you learn something then polish the technique that night. Tournaments were exams, where all you were taught up to that point in the year was checked in a game situation. And to top it off you don’t know ahead of time what exactly will be tested. The point is, if you miss the occasional practice, your grade doesn’t suffer much and it’s possible to make it up. Miss a tournament and you can fall far, far behind. You could be great at beating up on other freshmen at practice, but if no one knows how you grade out in the real world, it’s tough to analyze you further.
Go to tournaments with your team and use the opportunity to show the veterans what they can look forward to from you in the future.
Thanks to Carnegie-Mellon’s Canute Haroldson for the photo!