The Ultimate Secret

by | December 8, 2011, 1:00pm 0

I have been curious for a long time how one team wins a championship and the other is sent home with silver.  Plenty preach about hard work, dedication, athleticism, strong coaching, and leadership.  While those will get your team to the finals, there is a stronger, more prominent factor that decides the outcome of championship games: brotherhood.

The Wisconsin Hodags were the first team that displayed to me just how closely team unity is correlated with success.  This is not to say championship teams before the 2007 Hodags were missing this vital ingredient.  It’s that their season wasn’t documented the way Wisconsin’s was. The Hodags talk about it in the trailer of their video The Blue Print a documentary of the Hodags’ 2008 season.  “It’s just a set of guys who love life. And it just so happens that they play frisbee too.”  Most championship teams I’ve observed have something in common: the sport comes second.  It’s the friendships within that people cherish most.  Those bonds allow them to be themselves and play relaxed when everything is on the line.

Photo by Andrew Davis

Carleton College from Northfield, MN won the title in 2009. In his post entitled Celebrate, Chris Kosednar, 2009 captain, says, “Derek (Carleton’s coach) told me that the reason he played so well in Finals of 2001 was because he stopped caring.”  Walking to the line with a “Meh, whatever” mentality seems preposterous. There had to be something that allowed him to view that game with that perspective.  The relationships that were built throughout that season were so strong that the 2001 team wasn’t worried about winning or losing.  They were just happy to share the moment together.

This was the same type of attitude Carleton carried into the finals in 2009. “Everyone was focused, not on the announcer, or the fans, or themselves, but the stupid silliness of a group of 20 guys with absolutely nothing to lose.” A moment before one of the biggest games of their career, ultimate was the furthest thing from their minds.

The brotherhood doesn’t just apply to ultimate.  It’s easily applicable to the Miami Heat’s failure. I recall the way LeBron was attempting to prepare his team for a big game during The Finals.  He was preaching about complete focus on basketball. LeBron’s whole demeanor seemed centered around the job at hand, while expending no energy on just enjoying the moment.

Ben Roethlisberger was advised to enjoy himself before his first Super Bowl game.  “Just embrace the moment kid, don’t think this is going to be a yearly thing.”  He won that game.

Colorado’s ultimate team was given the same advice Kosednar received from Derek, only they got the message at halftime when they were already trailing 8 – 2. Jolian Dahl, a Colorado alum, preached about enjoying the moment, enjoying your last minutes playing with these 20 something guys. He went on to say it was his regret during the finals in 2007 on that very same field. After half, Colorado began to claw back but it wasn’t enough.

Sam Kanner lets a disc rip. - Photo by Andrew Davis

Kosednar quotes his co-captain Sam Kanner, “It’s like we had the perfect recipe all along, though nobody knew it until the end, and had we lost, every detail would have been questioned.”  Every year, all of the dominant programs spend countless hours in the gym, on the track, and in practice, attempting to prepare themselves for 4 days of ultimate at the end of May.  And every year plenty of teams go home without a championship medal. (There can only be one HIGHLANDER!) Many of the programs have great athletes and fantastic coaches.  What if all that work means nothing in the finals? While you can understand and describe this, how do you implement it?

There is something to be said about working with your teammates through real struggles (finances, girlfriends, schoolwork, the like) that bring you closer together.  The strange thing is that every coach and captain in the world could know that this one factor might determine your season and no one can do a single thing about it.  Which means that championships come down to, in some sense, Luck. Is your team lucky enough to truly care about each other, to the point that you are going to pick each other up when it matters most?

Carleton celebrates victory. - Photo by Andrew Davis

I recall watching Game 7 of this year’s World Series with the Texas Rangers vs the St. Louis Cardinals.  One play really stood out to me.  It’s not just that the play was extremely impressive (A home run was stolen).  It was the reaction of the Cardinal’s pitcher Chris Carpenter: the scream, the grin, the fist pump.  I don’t know enough about baseball to know if the pitch got away from Carpenter, but whether or it did or not really isn’t that important.  After that moment, Texas didn’t have a chance.

Jolian Dahl states during a pump up speech for TiV 2008, “This tournament is about having each other’s back.”  In the early season it helps.  In the finals, it’s vital.

Feature photo of Chris Kosednar by Andrew Davis

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