Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ultimate Fighting Championship

Ultimate frisbee seems to get its fair share of criticism. I must admit that I was quite skeptical of the game before I started playing it. Even though I will openly admit to enjoying the game, I do understand why it is so reviled. For one, most of the people who play the game are (or were at one time) nerds and/or hippies. No one is surprised when marching bands, chess clubs, and tree huggers get ripped on. In fact, it would be surprising if these people were not ridiculed. Ultimate players are even worse than the aforementioned misfits in some ways, since they are working against the stereotype that nerds and hippies are neither interested in nor capable of strenuous physical activity.

In addition to the oddball reputation of its players, the game of ultimate is a bit strange as well. For one, it's played with a frisbee, which is considered by most of the world to be little more than a child's toy. I also don't think that ultimate is much of a spectator sport. It's just not that much fun to watch, even if you understand what's going on and you're watching people competing at a high level. At least, that's my take on it. I seem to be developing a case of sports-related ADD that is preventing me from being able to pay attention to any sporting event for more than 30 seconds at a time, so it could be me.

Ultimate also has this idea called "spirit of the game". It's really just good sportsmanship, which is theoretically part of every sport, but in ultimate, it's really part of the mythology of the game. There is no other sport (that I know of) where you can seriously tell someone that they are dishonoring the game they are playing with their poor sportsmanship. If, for example, the NFL were to adopt a "spirit of the game" bylaw, I would probably stop being a football fan. People don't shell out hundreds of dollars to watch good sportsmanship. Sportsmanship is great, however, when you want to play a pick-up game after work for fun. Because of ultimate's insistence on sportsmanship and it's attractiveness to misfits, you don't run into a lot of jerks on playing field. Most of the athletes who enjoy turning a meaningless game into a street fight wouldn't even consider playing ultimate.

The key to the success of ultimate frisbee is its outsider status. Were it to become a more mainstream sport, the laid-back atmosphere and spirit of the game would probably disappear. At that point, most of the nerds and hippies would split and ultimate would have to compete with every other sport for athletes. In the end, all sports are made-up arbitrary games, but I don't see how chasing after a plastic disc could ever be considered as respectable as kicking a soccer ball, hitting a baseball, or catching a football.

6 comments:

MDS said...

I'm pretty sure I've never criticized ultimate frisbee because I've never given it enough thought to criticize it. You and Michelle are really the only people I know who play it. I don't know the rules. I don't know what happens other than I assume there's some throwing and catching of frisbees. And I know you're actually supposed to capitalize the word Frisbee.

To what extent would you say ability in UF correlates to ability in other sports? For instance, if you've got a group of friends who all get together to play football, you have a good enough idea of their relative athletic abilities that if one day you decide to play basketball instead, you'd be able to predict with a fairly high degree of accuracy which players are the best at basketball. Is that true of UF as well? Based on what you know of our athletic abilities, would you be able to predict how good Wu and I are at UF? (Not that we'd ever play that pussy sport.)

DannyNoonan said...

I would say that, for the most part, the correlation is the same. Being good at ultimate requires being fast and quick and being able to jump. You need good endurance too. If a great basketball or football player knows the rules and strategies of ultimate and can throw a relatively consistant forehand, he will be a good ultimate player.

There are a lot of not-so-athletic hippies in the ultimate community that are good because they can throw the hell out of the disc and have good fundamentals. But that's true in any sport.

"And I know you're actually supposed to capitalize the word Frisbee."

Actually, you're not supposed to use the word Frisbee. Frisbee is a brand name (Wammo makes it) and that particular type of disc is too light under "official" ultimate rules.

DannyNoonan said...

I'd also add that your more traditional athletes are starting to play ultimate. At least where I live. It isn't all hippies anymore. I would wager that almost every guy on UW's club ultimate team (The Hodags) is more athletic than any guy on any other club sport team at similar sized schools. Obviously varsity football/basketball/soccer players would have a leg up, but it's hard to compare because there are no Varsity ultimate teams or scholarships or anything. The guys on that team are crazy athletic though.

dhodge said...

I'd say the correlation is similar to other sports, except that physical size and strength is not as important , since it's explicitly non-contact. That being said, height is probably as much of an asset as it is in basketball. Also, in the same way that a good quarterback with poor mobility can be successful in football, a person who understands the game well and can make great passes can be very successful without having to be especially fast or tall.

As for my predictions, I think that at least initially, you'd be a better player than Wu because (at least in other sports), you tend to play more disciplined defense. A single defensive breakdown by a single player can quickly turn into a complete breakdown for the whole team, so it's important to be dilligent.

gregorykwu said...

I apologize for being a little late to the extended discussion on Frisbee Football. I'm currently on vacation, and these comments are coming to you from a Starbucks in Taipei. Not surprisingly, this Starbucks looks exactly like the 'bucks at home. But there's something very amusing about hearing these adorable Chinese girls yell out Starbucks jargon in a mix of chinese and broken English. But I digress.

Now I will admit that in my last post, I may have engaged in a little hyperbole when I called Ultimate "the worst sport ever." Mea culpa. I'll try to make my simpsons references a little clearer next time. But now I see Danny Noonan calling me out. Danny freakin Noonan! I don't even know this guy and already he's telling me to go home and get my shine box. Hey Noonan, the last time I saw a mouth that big it had a hook in it. Does everyone have to love Ultimate? This isn't Russia. Or is this Russia, Danny?

Sorry, I keed, I joke. I will say personally, that I don't enjoy playing the sport because I think it takes the worst elements of football and Frisbee and puts them together, creating a misbegotten activity that is neither fun to play nor watch.

Allow me to elaborate. Playing Frisbee (or disc tossing for fear of trademark infringement), to me, is not supposed to be particularly vigorous. It is best enjoyed drinking beer and smoking maryjane on a beach or field, or on a disc golf course. If I want to engage in a more strenuous physical activity that involves more running/strategy, then football, basketball and soccer are, IMHO, much more challenging and enjoyable sports, because the ball carrier is allowed to run/dribble with the ball. That's right, I'm talking about YAC. Don't deny that that it's the most important statistic in all of sports. To me, there's nothing more fun than catching a ball and then "breaking ankles" and evading defenders on the way to the goal. Unless I'm mistaken, that's not possible in Ultimate, and that I feel is the sport's biggest drawback because it limits individual expression.

I'm also skeptical of this "spirit of the game" concept. I'm just a caveman, and this notion of "really good sportsmanship" frightens and confuses me. What does that mean? Are there prayer circles after the game? Do you pat each other on the butt after helping someone who falls down? Do you congratulate someone who makes a nice play? Because that happens in other sports. What, do you gotta give a guy a blowie after he makes a score? Do you compliment everyone who catches a pass? Or do you hand out kudos to people for not tripping over their shoelaces? Sure, every sport has its fair share of jerks and dirty plays, but that's what happens when people get competitive. I think more often than not, people are good sports, and that inappropriate behavior and those kinds of players are quickly ostracized and asked to leave. Attempting to legislate good behavior is yet another reason the sport is intolerable.

In all seriousness, this comment has gone on long enough. Hodge, I'm glad to see that you enjoy playing Ultimate. Hopefully it will improve your football game. I'm planning on making a visit out there sometime soon, maybe you can show me a thing or too with the disc and embarass me in front of your buddies, particularly Noonan.

DannyNoonan said...

Well Greg, you are certainly welcome to your opinions. This isn't Russia. But...

"If I want to engage in a more strenuous physical activity that involves more running/strategy, then football, basketball and soccer are, IMHO, much more challenging and enjoyable sports, because the ball carrier is allowed to run/dribble with the ball. That's right, I'm talking about YAC. Don't deny that that it's the most important statistic in all of sports. To me, there's nothing more fun than catching a ball and then "breaking ankles" and evading defenders on the way to the goal. Unless I'm mistaken, that's not possible in Ultimate, and that I feel is the sport's biggest drawback because it limits individual expression."

That is one of the more ridiculous things I've ever read. That's like saying "I don't like soccer because you can't use your hands." I feel dumber having read that comment. Individual expression? Are you kidding me? If that's the case, why would you like any sport more than cross country running? That sport is entirely YAC, no?

To me, there's nothing more fun than juking a defender out of his socks and cutting deep to the endzone as your handler hucks the disc and you race for it meeting it in the far corner of the endzone with the guy defending you ten yards behind. But throwing on a tight zone-D and playing in the cup is a close second for "most fun thing in sports."

Spirit of the game does sound ridiculous, I'll admit that. But basically, it's just a method of self-officiating. There are no refs in ultimate. Not even at nationals. There are specific rules for when different fouls and things happen. For example, if I am fouled while trying to catch the disk, I call "Foul." If the person that fouled me agrees that he fouled me he says nothing and I get the disk where I was fouled. If he does not think he fouled me, he says "contest" and the disk goes back to the thrower. That's it. No arguing about the call. That's what spirit of the game is.