“Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six”—I looked to my dump, the player to turn to for support. The language was different, but the game was still the same.
I flicked it back to him, and he then hucked it up the field where someone caught it in the end zone. After we scored that point I subbed out and began to chat on the sideline in a mesh of languages. Conversations were primarily in French and English, but there was also German, Spanish, and Chinese.
I’ve become accustomed to the reactions of family members, teachers, and acquaintances who learn I play Frisbee: “So is that like an organized sport?” “Why would you quit soccer for that?” To my surprise, the family I worked for as an au pair in Paris was thrilled to hear about my pickup Frisbee games at Cité Universitaire. My French “sister,” Iris, would tell me Frisbee was très cool and replay stories of Ultimate matches at school.
Ultimate Frisbee is indeed a real sport. It combines the endurance of soccer, the athleticism of football, and the rugged resolution of rugby. The objective is to catch the disc in the end zone, similar to football, but there is no running with the disc. There are seven players from each team on the field—throwing, catching, sprinting, cutting, jumping, making plays, following rules, and of course, laying out.
It is also self-policed: players call fouls on other players as they occur, discuss them on-field, and reach a consensus about the consequences. It is possibly the most fascinating—and sometimes frustrating—part of the game. It encourages honesty, sportsmanship, competitiveness, and spirit.
I only started playing Frisbee last spring; before I spent the summer in Paris, I had no idea how widespread the sport was. Bonnie Tsui of The New York Times writes, “In the last 10 years, Ultimate Frisbee has become one of the world’s fastest-growing sports. It is played in more than 42 countries. Ultimate’s success at the college level, attracting traditional athletes from other sports like soccer and football to compete on its teams, is largely what has elevated the game to this stage.” The game that started in 1968 in Maplewood, New Jersey is spreading across the globe—and fast.
The game is now recognized by the International Paralympic Committee. The World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF) 2015 World Under-23 Ultimate Championships will be held in London, and the WFDF 2015 Pan American Ultimate Championships will be held in Mexico. Pickupultimate.com helps players seek pickup game locations around the world. Membership of college club Ultimate has more than doubled in the past ten years, and it seems that Olympic status is in the near future for this up-and-coming sport.
No matter the place, language, or culture, I’ve found that Ultimate Frisbee’s common theme is community. Frisbee can be played competitively, or it can be played when no one remembers the score. It can be played in Huck-a-Hunk Halloween costumes, or in official Ultimate gear. Off the field, players go out to grab a drink or a meal and catch-up.
So when I found myself lonely in Paris, I reached out to the Frisbee community. They welcomed me in. Despite the range of player levels in our pickup games—from first time players to people who had participated in national competitions—they were always fun, good-spirited, competitive matches. They often ended with small get-togethers. I went to lunches and to grab drinks in the 14th arrondissement. I spent a night with fellow players cracking open a bottle of wine on the bank of the river Seine next to Notre-Dame. I was able to form friendships across the globe based on the commonality of Frisbee.
Frisbee is about hard work. It’s about sweat and grit, but it’s also about friendship. It’s about building strong bonds and relationships both on and off the field. We have our ‘dumps’ to depend on during play, but they also become people we rely on when tough life events and problems occur off the field. Love of the game brings together people with a wide array of experiences, cultures and backgrounds. The focus of Frisbee may be increasingly about building a sport and its recognition in the international arena, but it is also about building the “Ultimate” community across the globe.
Illustrated by Margaret Barry.