I’m on a plane from Los Angeles to Mexico City, and as I thumb through 501 Spanish Verbs, my head is spinning. A handful of great teachers and two years of work in the Outback Steakhouse kitchen made me a decent Spanish speaker in high school, but that was quite some time ago. Now I am beyond rusty, unable to remember the word for meet while trying to explain to the couple next to me how I’m getting around the city (Un amigo viene a buscarme, if you’re curious) and struggling to understand a single word of the flight attendant’s Spanish instructions. Filled with pages of past particibles, pluperfect tenses, and reflexive verbs, this book is overwhelming.
Over the next 13 days I will be coaching clinics and instructing classroom sessions for Juega Ultimate Frisbee‘s Semana Next Level. I’ll be the first US coach to arrive so I’m using the extra day to explore the city and meet up with a few Next Level players and coaches; on Thursday I’ll be joined by Alyssa Weatherford and Xtehn Titcomb, and on Friday by Justin Norden and Rohre Titcomb. Alyssa and Rohre both play for Riot, Xtehn plays for Sockeye, and though Justin and I played for Truck Stop this season, we’re coaching as members of Sockeye as well. This weekend we’ll run a clinic for players of various ages and abilities in and around Mexico City, next week we’ll do night time classroom sessions with a focus on academic topics like strategy, team organization, Spirit of the Game, and next weekend we’ll join various Mexican teams to play in a big tournament called Discopa.
Semana Next Level organizers Vanessa Rincones and Jose Luis Espinosa sent us a GoogleDoc with a number of topics they want us to cover, ranging from throwing grip to coordinated dump defense schemes to how to observe Spirit in a competitive environment. We’re finalizing lesson plans once everyone is in Mexico, but I’m also anticipating the need to tailor what we teach to participants’ questions as they arise. The other day, for example, a youth coach sent me a few detailed questions about how to get his youth team to play with more patience and discipline– my immediate answer was perhaps they don’t need to slow down, but rather change the way they attack so that it’s not all vertical. I know we’ll get more of the same, and the chance to personally impact individual teams and players in a developing ultimate community is exciting.
If you’re curious for more detail about JUF and La Semana Next Level, check out this interview with Jeremy Norden (he coached with the program last year and set this entire trip up) or Jose’s thoughts on the coming week. Also, if you’re interested in both ultimate and Spanish, I’ve learned a ton of sport-specific vocabulary (not to mention found a yet another way to appreciate The Huddle) by reading these Huddle en Espanol articles that Juan Sebastian Galeano translated a few years back.
It’s fitting that I’m travelling for ultimate. The last stamp in my passport is from Worlds 2010 in Prague, and the writing, playing, and coaching that I have done in the time since has deeply expanded my involvement with the game. That Skyd Magazine did not exist the last time I passed through a customs gate gives me the sense that a small part of my world has come full-circle.
The couple next to me has already encouraged my faith in the people that I’ll meet in Mexico. On top of their concern for how I’m getting around once we land, they have warmly shared thoughts on their recent travels in California and helped me outline a few Mexican sightseeing destinations, among them Pico de Orizaba and El Templo Mayor. Both have also chided me to explain myself in Spanish even if my offering is a tad broken, which is a huge favor for a guy trying to make the most of his short period of immersion.
My trepidation brought on by Spanish Verbs is only the tip of the iceberg. For the next two weeks I’ll be grasping to remember long-lost vocabulary and to conjugate newly-learned verbs mid-sentence, and that’s to nothing of my well-known dread of Tequila or reluctance to eat eggs made any way other than scrambled. But the language barrier will fade and I’ll get over the travel hang-ups, and the adventure will prevail. At the end of the day, I’m sure I’ll find myself speaking a common language with everyone I meet during Next Level: an appreciation for the beauty of a perfectly thrown inside-out flick huck, the gravity of a layout D on universe point, and the satisfaction of leaving practice a better player than you were at the beginning.
From there, lo que sera, sera.