“Culture” is one of those words that can look and feel differently to a variety of people. In the usual ultimate team sense, it is the phenomenon of behavior and interaction between players centralized around a common goal or philosophy. This week we will review a unique approach to this social atmosphere called Character Culture. We believe in this emerging model because of the paramount focus it puts on peer-to-peer support, character building, and team-bonding, more than a national title or temporary glory.
The major mindset shift when considering Character Culture is viewing ultimate less as a sport and more as a self-improvement opportunity. While ultimate is definitely a sport with great gameplay and officiating structure, it also provides many more opportunities than most recognize initially. When developing your team’s goals or philosophy, you must start thinking outside the box regarding what makes this sport meaningful to people, rather than just focusing on a placement at regionals or outcome in rival matches. Titles are insignificant compared to the friendships you have the chance to develop and the variety of skills you can improve. Only one team can win a national championship each year, so more focus should be placed on what every team gets to experience: Connection.
The attributes of Character Culture can be best described when imagining a team as a tribe. A tribe can only be as strong as the weakest member when trying to survive, so everyone must be involved in the pursuit of development. Everyone has special skills, a specific role, and they must do their job well to carry their weight and honor the tribe. A tribe goes into battle together but seeks peace first to avoid any tragic loss. In the life journey a tribe faces together, they must understand each other and work together in order to survive, and eventually thrive. When using Character Culture for your Ultimate tribe, there are three unique approaches to consider.
1. Recognize everyone and empower the dormant.
Before thinking about recruiting methods, tryout structure, rostering criteria, or team traditions, consider a new foundation. With Character Culture, your goal is to make everyone feel like they belong, which means giving individual attention and defining specific roles. While there are many systems to accomplish this such as rookie mentoring, developmental rosters, and team management staff, let’s review why you want everyone interested to be a part of your tribe.
When a tribe truly believes they are building toward something great, their doors should be open for new members at all times. Mahatma Gandhi once said “No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.” If you want your tribe’s culture to mean something and live on, you must accept anyone and everyone. It doesn’t matter if they are they are rude, short-fused, or goofy today. When your culture respects everyone’s starting points, focuses on connection, and works together in development, they can be better people tomorrow. A tribe doesn’t just need hunters. It needs caregivers, cooks, shelter builders, and tool crafters too.
What happens when you let everyone join your tribe? You discover the diamonds in the rough. “Dormants”, as we call them, are the tryouts who don’t make the cut based on their physical abilities today, but have the most incredible mindsets of self-improvement and determination for tomorrow. Without looking for your dormants, cutting them from the program in any traditional tryout, you could be missing a few star athletes or key role players in a few years. This is why developmental rosters exist, hoping those dormants climb to the surface over time. But in most cases the B-team is not given enough attention or resources for them to succeed, possibly making them your tribe’s savage kindergarteners. If you truly wish to realize your full potential as a tribe, give equal respect and attention to all rosters and players to work toward the higher goals together.
2. Build noble warriors and aggressive peacekeepers.
It is clear today that team sports must consider the contagion of “monkey see, monkey do”. At the high school and even college levels, players are still adaptive to what they see more experienced players doing. Without careful focus on the character of those athletes, not controlling their athletics and energy, that raw power could be used in a negative way. There is a way to channel this pursuit of elite play that considers the mind and heart of aspiring athletes.
Ultimate tribes shouldn’t just have “warriors”, but they should have noble warriors. They can’t simply throw the spear and ask questions later, they need to consider the safety of others and the social influence of their behavior. A noble warrior plays a smart game and uses keen methodology to box out an opponent, get a clean huck through, or precisely positions their layout for a low-contact block. There are no disgraceful body-checks, arm-slams, marking-flops, or diving-torpedoes. Teach your warriors the careful craft of playing with precision, spirit, and respect.
Yet not every player on the field is a warrior to begin with. You will have “peacekeepers”, who tend to overcompensate the sensitivity of their interaction with opponents, potentially making them an unreliable throwing target. They also possess a dormant ability to seek justice, but lack the spark to speak their minds in foul calls. While letting the peacekeepers stay true to their roots, you must teach them to make peace with the assertive type of aggression. Additional energy doesn’t need to be mean or nasty, but it does need to honor the goals of the tribe and the effort of other members.
In order to teach to teach your warriors to play with respect, and your peacekeepers to play with energy, you must incorporate a curriculum that focuses on this balance at every practice. Even yourself, the tribe chief, must embody this spirit in everything you say and do. Luckily, there is a go-to philosophy that Ultimate already has to speak about this positive balance between safety and aggression. We believe 1997 UPA Executive Director, Holly Larrison, said it best. “Spirit of the Game was never meant to prohibit the drive and competitiveness that athletes must have to reach the top of a field, but rather to intensify the challenge – to reach the top with sheer talent, skill and physical discipline and not rely on tactics that undermine the efforts of the opposing team.”
3. Form alliances and trade expertise.
One of Character Culture’s biggest differences from traditional cultures is it’s approach toward other teams. Instead of dwelling on the differences and conflicts with another tribe, the Ultimate tribe passionately recognizes the similarities in values and goals. In doing so, every scrimmage becomes a treaty to help each tribe grow and learn. Tournaments provide an amazing opportunity to celebrate culture and passion, bringing together so many people with different backgrounds and experiences, yet all with an Ultimate mindset. When present in these gatherings, allow your noble warriors and aggressive peacekeepers to engage with strangers and create alliances in the form of friendships. Meet with your “bye-buddies”, a team that has the same bye round, and play a spirit game or two. Positive energy is the first great thing to trade.
As ultimate continues to grow, there will be more teams settling in your region and they must be welcomed them to keep the Ultimate community alive and well. Get to know the new tribes, seek wisdom from the older tribes, and make arrangements to collaborate. Older tribes must realize that if they wish to make greater strides in improvement toward a higher level, they must have more opponents with different approaches that can challenge them. This is why Character Culture teams keep an open playbook and trade techniques with other teams. In order to build a stronger challenger, you must give them the tribal knowledge that they can take to the next level or variation. Even when they know your strategy and tricks, this forces your team to develop improvisational tactics and expand your playbook and fundamentals even further. While a perfect playbook is thought to win one championship after another, it truly comes down to execution, which can only be perfected when your standard plan is compromised. If choosing to use this approach, make the alliance with one other team at a time to evaluate if the challenge is right for you.
If your head is spinning and you question some of the fundamentals of Character Culture, give it some time. The people most open to its values have separated themselves from the hype of mainstream and professional sports to understand that connection with others is more fulfilling than individual glory. With any team that uses Character Culture starting out, they will find more energy in recruitment and team-bonding when keeping the doors open. With many types of players, it is important to teach character and the playing style that considers mind, body and spirit while letting players draw from their root approach. Finally, by connecting with other teams and sharing knowledge, the Ultimate community can continue to innovate and develop individuals with an outstanding view of the game and it’s social-physical-mental factors, applying it to their ambitions and interactions. With Ultimate being staged for the mainstream in the near future, if all teams used Character Culture, the world will become a better place.
Hang on to your seats, athletes; we know you’ve been patient. Next week is for you, with Team Organics: Part 4 – Athletic Attitude.