Thomas Wiygul knows ultimate. A rising junior at Madison Central High School in Madison, Mississippi, Wiygul can tell you the difference between an explosion cut, a commitment cut, and a shoulder cut. He understands that the dump-swing is crucial to any quality offense. He reveres strong coaching and is currently seeking outside influence to better himself and his team.
People use the term “the future” a lot when talking about young ultimate players, and with good reason: our sport is still in its adolescence and the number of kids playing the game is growing by the day. But there’s a difference between “the future” when it means anyone who picks up a disc today and plans to do so again at some point in their lives and the future, as in players that embody change and progress that is to come. Wiygul, along with about 50 other campers at June 19th-23rd’s Spin Ultimate Academy are the future.
By making the experiences and insights of top coaches Jolian Dahl, Mark Poole, and Mario O’Brien standard lessons for beginning players, the Academy raised the bar for ultimate throughout the South. The level of detail and organization achieved at the camp touched a web of players that stretches from Georgia to Mississippi to Louisiana, and the bar for high-quality play in the region has been raised for years to come.
Wiygul and his Madison Slow Bros co-captain, Hunter Bonham, heard about the Academy at southern high school tournaments Deep Freeze, Terminus, and Southerns and signed up because they wanted to expand their horizons. “With a large part of the team graduating this year we thought that it would be good to learn new tactics and ways of teaching new guys the basics and all the fundamentals,” Wiygul said. “We also wanted to come to have fun and improve our ultimate skills on an individual level.”
From Tuesday morning on, campers reaped the benefits of the instructors’ understanding of how to structure lessons, days of play, and the entire week of camp. In morning sessions, campers received high-level concept instructions as a large group before breaking off into smaller groups for drills and individual feedback. In the afternoon, they scrimmaged with the day’s new concepts in mind. Curriculum ranged from a classification of different types of cuts to how to play handler offense and man defense. At lunch, coaches discussed nuances like the importance of eye contact in good leadership and Spirit of the Game’s place in ultimate.
The Academy coaches brought a level of professionalism and proficiency that few players had seen before. While many coaches struggle to teach the guidelines necessary to become a player that is both adherent to the strategy as well as capable of improvising when it breaks down, Dahl, Poole, and O’Brien excelled at slightly changing drills or shifting the focus of scrimmages to add a new wrinkle to a basic concept. Doing this effectively means opening eyes to the game in a matter of days where, on their own, it could take an entire high school or college career.
Not only was the coaching great, but there was also a conscious acknowledgement that it could help players far beyond the Academy. “The coaches encouraged us to take notes and write down all the drills so that we can remember them and teach them to our teams,” said Wiygul.
Dahl’s, Poole’s, and O’Brien’s coaching abilities made Wiygul’s camp experience enriching and productive. “You can’t compete with the way that they can explain stuff,” he said when asked to explain what made the Academy’s coaches so good. “If they realized you weren’t getting something, they’d have another way to say it. Both are excellent players and are very personable, and they weren’t afraid to get 1 on 1 if you were struggling individually.” They also left Wiygul feeling highly reverent of the instruction he received. “You have to trust the coaches and really know that they know what they’re talking about. If you try and maintain the old ways you were doing things you’re not going to get anything accomplished and you’re not going to learn anything at all.” As anyone who has coached at any level knows, gaining the players’ trust is the name of the game. The Academy’s efforts to teach coachability will benefit its campers for years to come.
In any activity, the most invested participants cross paths and assimilate by pushing their involvement, yielding progress and further development. It happens when kids go to Space Camp, play AAU Basketball, enter our country’s university system, and when they play ultimate with players other than their usual teammates. “It was exciting to get to play with all the guys that we usually playing against in the high school season,” said Wiygul. “We’re gonna be playing with these guys throughout college and club so the camaraderie is good. It’s cool to see different playing styles from different regions. Different kinds of stacks open your eyes and get you thinking about different styles of ultimate. Hunter [Bonham] and I met a lot of people that we’ll probably be playing with for the next couple years. It’s good to know people and to be able to hang out.”
After giving Wiygul a week’s worth of new instruction and ways to approach the technical aspects of ultimate, The Spin Academy made sure to remind him that playing is a privilege that he should appreciate because of the joy that it brings. “The coaches stressed that we make sure we were having fun and getting to know one another throughout the week,” said Wiygul. “They stressed Spirit of the Game constantly and made sure that we were playing with respect. We play ultimate for fun, and I took away that if you’re not having fun and learning a lot, you’re not playing ultimate.”
Feature photo by Christina Schmidt