It’s a small world.
On Thursday, Pablo took me to the Desierto de los Leones, a national park atop a mountain on the outskirts of Mexico City. While we arrived by bus and then taxi, the plan was to hike back down through the forest after checking out the Carmelite convent. Long story short, Pablo decided that wasn’t such a good idea because it had been ten years since he last made the hike and he was afraid of getting lost, so we started walking the longer route back down the road.
I was down to make the trek, but we lucked out and ran into a taxi driver on the side of the road putting the finishing touches on a car wash. What he was doing shining his rims in the middle of a forest on the top of a mountain I don’t know, but when he said he would drive us back into town I was glad to hear it. Once in the cab, the three of us started talking about my first visit to Mexico, his observations on tourists from the US, and the time that he and Pablo had spent living in the States. After a few minutes the driver mentioned that he lived in Charlotte, Virginia for a year. “Charlotte?” I asked. “Do you mean Charlottesville?”
He did– he had worked various jobs there before returning home. I lived in Charlottesville for five years starting with my first year of college, and that’s where I really learned to play ultimate. It’s a small town, and the fact that a random taxi driver in Mexico City lived there for a year blew me away. I always enjoy a reminder of how easily we can all connect given the right circumstances.
The similarities between Mexican ultimate and many of the teams and organizations at home are another reminder of what we all have in common. When Xtehn and Alyssa arrived on Thursday night, we spent much of the evening hearing from Vanessa and Pepe about the challenges that their community faces. The sport is young here, so even the talented players are relatively inexperienced, and there is a dearth of knowledge in terms of how to improve. Pepe said that he often hears teams and players saying “we want to win” or “I want to get better”, but not developing a plan to make it happen. Likewise, a lot of the answers to the Next Level registration question of “what do you want to learn in the clinic?” were along the lines of “strategy and tactics” and “general ultimate.” Players here definitely want to improve, but they haven’t been taught the tools to focus on processes rather than the outcomes.
Becoming a better player in one fell swoop is impossible. If you want to get there, you have to focus on specifics: sharper dump throws, quicker movement on the mark, and more efficient footwork downfield. Winning and big plays are what first meet the eye when we play our sport, and submitting yourself to incremental, piece-by-piece improvement is daunting because of the hard work and time that it demands. Thinking about all of the ways in which you or your team could improve is overwhelming.
This challenge is compounded by the fact that many advanced players lack incentive to work on details in their games because they’re already winning. Additionally, their frustration with beginners keeps them from dedicating the time to coaching and development that would bring everybody’s level up. Furthermore, Pepe described how difficult continuity is even when enthusiasm gets drummed up. “We’ve had ultimate exhibitions in different cities and parts of town and everyone has loved them,” he said. “But after people have trouble finding places to play or people to learn from, field organizers tell us that there isn’t any interest in us returning.”
Sound familiar? It does to me. In fact, when Rohre and I gave a presentation to a group of youth players’ parents last night, I assured them that our conversation was a carbon copy of one that frequently happens in the US. These parents like ultimate, particularly that their kids’ teams are a source of leadership training and motivation to stay fit, but they worry that school administrators and other parents don’t think ultimate is a real sport. That you can get by even if you are lazy, and that ultimate doesn’t have a future. In short, they see ultimate as a sport where disorganization is rampant, and they are hesitant to trust that ultimate will ever “get there.”
Rohre and I assured them that while it’s a step-by-step process that demands patience, the change is already coming. We cited the States’ growing economy around the sport as proof that ultimate has a future, and we encouraged them to support their kids by using ourselves as living examples of people whose worlds have been opened up by ultimate. We also gave them some resources that included models for team parent organizations and websites to learn more about the game and to teach others. I’d do the same with any group of parents in any developing ultimate city in the world.
Que pequeno es el mundo.