I’ve been playing ultimate frisbee for five years. People often confuse that with disc golf – which I also like to play – but the two are different beasts. For instance, I am generally sober when I play ultimate and am generally not when I play disc golf. (This is not to say that people don’t play ultimate drunk or that people don’t play disc golf sober. That’s definitely up to personal preference.)
“Ultimate frisbee” was developed by a group of Columbia High School students in Maplewood, New Jersey in 1968. It is a non-contact sport typically played 7 versus 7 on a 120×40-yard field. Teams score by working their way up to and catching the disc in their opponent’s endzone. Players may not move with possession of the disc, but can pivot like in basketball. With a ten second possession limit or “stall count,” the disc and the game are constantly moving. The term frisbee is a registered trademark of the Wham-O toy company, so officially the sport is just called ultimate.
Levels of play range from casual pickup games to the more competitive club divisions to professional and international ultimate. The American Ultimate Disc League started the 2017 professional season in April, and club season is just about here. In 2015, the International Olympics Committee deemed ultimate eligible for the Olympic games. I don’t know if that actually means you’ll be seeing it at the Olympics anytime soon, but IOC recognition definitely points to the sport’s growing popularity.
My first year in college, I wanted to play club basketball. I figured it would better my chances against the Freshman 15 and would help make me new friends. It was also the only sport I was not embarrassingly bad at. I sought out the basketball tent at the sports fair the school puts on every year, but never actually made it there.
Instead, I met Spyro.
Spyro co-captained the women’s ultimate team and was the reason why I made most of my college friends. She asked if I was interested in playing ultimate and I told her yes because freshman me said yes to everything. Spyro was her nickname, because that’s a thing you get when you play college ultimate. Spyro assured me that most of the players they recruited had little, if any experience with the sport outside of grade school PE. Before college, my athletic career peaked as a benchwarmer for my 8th grade basketball team, so learning something at square one with everyone else appealed to me. That and the prospect of getting a sweet ass nickname.
Ultimate is founded on a concept called the Spirit of the Game, which encourages honesty and respect between players over a win-at-all-costs mentality. Most ultimate games are self-refereed. Players call fouls and other rule violations and settle disputes among themselves. If a disagreement arises, the disc simply resets to where it was before the call and play continues. The expectation that your teammates and opponents all play not just competitively, but honestly makes for a uniquely enjoyable experience. Most times I can trust that the people I play with are there to have fun more than anything else, and that just makes the game better for me.
I joined ultimate because I wanted a more active hobby than constantly lurking through Tumblr and AO3, and I gained a community of people willing to offer you a spot on their couch even though they’ve never met you. I gained a community of people who sometimes recognize specific players on the opposing team for their skill and sportsmanship by giving them one of those mini alcohol bottles as a token of appreciation. Who wear rainbow shorts and tutus to games and tournaments because why not.
During the school year, I played with people my age, give or take a few years. Ultimate outside of college is another story. The last club tryouts I went to included a high school junior. The average age of my winter league team hit the 40s. A woman I play beach ultimate with is somewhere in her 60s and easily runs circles around me. There isn’t an age limit to the game and it’s never too late to learn.
I lost against my war with the Freshman 15, but that’s fine. I did end up making friends with a group of people I’ll probably never shake, so that’s a win.
Where to play ultimate
If ultimate sounds like something you’d be into and you’re around Los Angeles, take a look at laout.org for leagues or pickup games to join. No experience necessary – really. Every season I play with people just getting into the sport, and more often than not I see them again. I’m not saying it’s because we’re all super awesome, but Bill Nye used to play ultimate, so we’re all super awesome.
Not in LA? Take a look at these handy maps on usaultimate.org and pickupultimate.com for ultimate around the US.
For you college students, check if your school has a club or intramural team.
Not interested at all?
But look at this highlight video!