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By Megan Cousins
For a large number of us on the tour, this summer has consisted of an unusual amount of ultimate. Just last month, eleven out of seventeen of us competed at the U23 World Championships in London, eight of whom brought home a silver medal with me in a disappointing loss but well-fought match with the Japanese women. After competing in U23 Worlds two years ago, I learned that such an incredible experience, not to mention the recoil after coming short of the placement goal, requires a large amount of mental and emotional energy to fully decompress and process everything that occurred. During this particular summer, there was only one week between Worlds and the tour, so there was not enough time for that to happen. In some ways, the two experiences have blended and grown together in my mind, as if they are two parts in one experience with the same overarching goal.
It’s fun to imagine Worlds and this tour as a six-week long summer camp; when it comes down to it, that’s essentially what it is. Having the opportunity to meet awesome and new people, form friendships, and play some of the best ultimate we will play in our lives is nothing to overlook. Between the two experiences, there have been numerous jokes, giggles, dance parties, and late night conversations you live for. Not to mention, playing on teams that are so short-lived sparks an amazing team energy that is sustainable the entire time. I didn’t know I could love doing warm ups as much as I have this summer. I believe that through these experiences I have grown a tremendous amount both on and off the field, and will carry forth many tidbits from all the amazing people I have met along the way.
There are definitely differences between Worlds and the tour as well. Worlds was more structured, which makes sense based on the experience and nature of the tournament, while the tour requires much more self-sufficiency. In the same vein, it’s interesting to transition from a style of ultimate where there is something to lose, verses playing with nothing to lose. That concept has been one of the major mental transitions which the Worlds players have had to face. It’s not to say that one style is better or worse than the other, but the transition itself has been quite fascinating.
There are certain components associated with that transition. In the beginning of the tour, it was difficult to comprehend how we would be able to come together as a team without the extensive playbooks, training sessions, and coaching that we had just a week earlier. Although we are all competitive athletes and want to win games, the mentality going into the first game against Riot was about having fun and playing with nothing to lose. There were no expectations leading into the experience, and it was really exhilarating to jump in blind.
On the other hand, in every game at Worlds, there was something on the line. I don’t think that mentality dictated our everyday actions, as the vibes were always light and fun. For the most part, that’s how we approached the games as well – having fun with teammates, dancing on the sideline, being goofballs in general. I think that rather than the team creating a mentality of playing with something to lose, the mentality was created by the environment and teams that surrounded us. Playing against the various countries always reminded me that it wasn’t a normal tournament and I was playing on a world stage.
Seeing as the opportunity to win a gold medal doesn’t come around often, I would say that on some level, this did influence my mindset towards playing with something to lose. I’d like to think that I should approach every game I play as if there is nothing to lose, but it’s difficult to forget about the overarching goal of winning a gold medal when you are there to represent the USA. The pressure in those high level games is exhilarating and is why we all play the sport. But, there is also something to be said for playing to have fun and showcase the sport. In many ways, I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, which is another reason why the transition has been so fascinating.
Losing in the finals at Worlds was rough. It still makes my heart sink to go back to the moment on the field when I saw that final Japanese pass go up to win the world championship. With that said, it’s also not fun or easy to lose games on the tour. The same feelings of disappointment and wanting to give more were just as vivid for me after losing to Traffic and Molly Brown on the tour.
However, something that we continually remind ourselves and our opponents on this tour is that win or lose, each game is a win for women’s ultimate. The more I thought about that, the more I realized that the biggest similarity between Worlds and the tour is so subtle but extremely important. In the end, it’s about the overarching goal: raising the level of women’s ultimate. As hard as losing to Japan was for my team, women’s ultimate took one large step forward that day in the same way that each game on this tour is one step forward for women’s ultimate. Both these experiences have meant a great deal to me and have helped me grow immensely on an individual level. It’s even more surreal to think that my six-week adventure has helped women’s ultimate grow just as much.