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Being Ulti @being_ulti
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Alrighty - time to talk about mental toughness and emotional intelligence. I'll also talk about how to be a good teammate. All three of these were lessons that I've learned over the past three years, starting with my time playing for @SeattleSockeye .
This is a hard one for me and I've been pushing it off, at least sub-consciously, until now. I'll do my best to be honest and sincere. I'll also try to keep the typos to a minimum and keep things in chronological order. This'll probably be a long one. Good thing most are asleep!
On Monday I told my story up through the end of playing for @PrideofNY . In that thread I mentioned that I tore my [right] ACL. It was a complete tear (you can partially tear it) without any meniscus damage.
I don't remember exactly how it worked out, but I was lucky enough to see the sports medicine group at the University at Buffalo. Their surgery team would see athletes from the Buffalo Bills and Sabres, along with the UB Bulls.
When getting an ACL replacement surgery, I know of three paths you can take (there may be more - I don't know sorry): grafts from the hamstring muscle, patellar tendon, or from a cadaver. I was to have the hamstring graft.
After the tear, I had to wait about a month before I was able to schedule a MRI, then another for results and for the swelling to go down so they could operate. After the surgery, it would be 6 months before I was completely cleared for activity, probably 7-8 for competition.
I was fortunate enough to have my parents drive out for my surgery. Up until that point, I had never had an major injuries - no broken bones or anything of the like. I'd be on narcotics for the short term and be on crutches with an immobilizer for at least two weeks.
For those that don't know, it snows a lot in Buffalo. The school is constructed in a way that all of the buildings are connected - you don't have to go outside, but those paths aren't the most direct (or very accessible on crutches).
Anyway, I was really lucky that they were there. I've never felt so awful in my life and thankfully haven't since (knock on wood please). I was in a constant haze from the drugs, which didn't always do a great job at removing the pain.
The medication would last about three hours at most, but doses were at every four. I (and unfortunately my parents) remember me crying and screaming for another dose so it would go away. My parents have had to watch both sons through operations like this, I can't imagine.
They stayed for a long weekend, and then I was on my own. Thankfully I was living with two really awesome people during my sophomore year. One of my classmates and very close friends named Nick Martin took care of me that year - driving me to campus and also to PT.
We've lost touch and I don't think I'll ever be able to properly thank him - I saw some photos on Facebook of his recent wedding and he looked incredible and happy. Probably the only reason I keep an account is for stuff like that. #considerdeletingfacebook
Injury rehab is a very long process. It was two weeks on crutches and then another 2.5 months until I was allowed to run on a treadmill. You basically have to teach yourself how to walk again with your first exercises focusing on quad & hamstring strength and knee bending.
I had probably learned other mental toughness lessons in my athletic career (to that point), but this felt like the first big one. I'm an impatient person and it's easy to get discouraged looking at the total recovery timeline. Can you remember what you were doing 8 months ago?
It's about setting short term goals:
"I'm going to make sure I do my exercises three times a day, every day this week like the PT said."
"I'm going to use the ice machine every day when I'm studying and when I go to sleep."
"I can't wait to use the fan bike after one month."
You can't look past more than a day or until your next PT appointment. It's about meeting those small challenges head on and crushing them. Just like when playing frisbee, you'll likely play at your best by focusing on the moment in front of you and not thinking passed that.
I made it through that surgery & stepped back on the field for the first time in the Sept. 2008. That was a great season, we set out to make regionals for the second time in team history & did it. That summer I played club for the first time - mixed for "Lake Effect" in Buffalo.
Recapping from Monday - Bryan, David, and I were driven to bring Buffalo to the next level. We all trained like crazy - I was hitting them gym almost five days a week. Doesn't sound insane, but it was a change for me. Problem was, I trained like an idiot.
I wanted to jump higher and people were throwing ideas at me like "Air Alert". I didn't do that one, but let's just say I made up my own version. I was doing way too many plyometric exercises - too many ground contacts, too many times in a week.
We were gearing up for our home tournament in September 2009. We had marketed the tournament well - Pittsburgh was going to come and we were stoked to take a swing at them. It would be a split-squad tryout tournament for us, but we just wanted to play top teams.
Game two on Saturday and we're playing a vertical stack set on offense. I make an out cut to set up an under on the thrower's forehand side (right handed). I get separation and he throws it, but a little behind me (to my right as I came under).
I planted with my left leg and tried to layout of it, but all I got was "pop". I screamed "NO" at the top of my lungs, something my teammates would saw was blood-curdling. I knew it the moment it happened and I crawled off the field crying hysterically.
One year and seven months after tearing my right ACL, I completely tore my left ACL and partial tore my left meniscus. David would tell me later that he thought it was a sick practical joke someone was playing when they told him. I cried at tourney HQ all day.
There were some members of Buffalo who made fun of me in that moment, because they were idiots. They made fun of me screaming no and army crawling off of the field - I remember who and haven't forgiven them to this day. Be good teammates y'all, support one another, please.
That remains one of the most traumatic experiences in my life (which again, I'm pretty privileged in saying). In hearing that pop, I knew what the next year of my life was going to look like and I felt exhausted at the thought of taking one step.
I remember my surgery in October - right before I was outside by myself walking along the edge of a curb and pretending it was a balance beam. I knew that the next time I'd wake up, I wouldn't be able to do that - it would be months until I could.
My parents came to support again - I fucking love them. Weird thing was that the medication didn't have anything close to the same impact as the first time, probably since it was so short between the two surgeries. I was studying for my propulsion test that first night.
I also remember laying in my senior apartment, with the ice machine on (invest in this thing, it was called a polar cooler - I still have it), and watching the 2009 Club National Finals between Chain and Revolver. I committed to myself that I'd be there one day.
It was harder to be patient the second time around, I was numb to the fact that I was going through the process again. I had started staying at my girlfriend at-the-time's apartment - she's probably the only reason I got through it...certainly the only reason I went to PT.
That's lesson 1 folks - don't try to deal with this stuff alone. Whether it's stress at getting homework done, or going through a traumatic experience - find people to talk to and lean on. Fuck society's definition of masculinity and strength. Asking for help is true strength.
Lesson 2 is to listen to the professionals and NEVER, EVER, COME BACK EARLY. I did and it's the only thing that I regret in my life. I started running track workouts in my fourth month, including stairs. I was an idiot and I'm lucky I didn't re-injure myself.
I'd return to full strength, but my left knee (second injury) always swells up after a tournament. It's the one where I get pain from overuse - my right knee, the one where I did the PT properly, is like it never happened. Listen to the experts, don't be a fucking idiot.
Okay, transitioning away from injuries. I'm lucky enough to say that I haven't re-injured either knee, though I've had multiple other injuries. Broken toe, broken nose x2, and at least one concussion. First Broken nose and concussion courtesy of college boxing team.
Fast forward to my time on PoNY, which again was a blast. I got to play with some really awesome people, including a college teammate and multiple college regional rivals (Snyder, Katz, Childers, Sender, and Alarcon to name a few). Here's a shot of me from Chesapeake:
Rolled up leggings to look like 3/4: check. Headband: check. Eye-black: OH YOU KNOW IT, CHECK YEAH.
Again, PoNY was my first experience playing elite ultimate, which I'm still so thankful for. One of the biggest transitions from being the go-to person on a college or lower level club team is "star" to role-player.
I thought I would be able to handle it, but sometimes it was harder than others. I succeeded in being a strong sideline presence, but would get impatient with lack of PT at tournaments. But that's what it's like to be a rookie on most elite teams - you gotta pay your due.
My time at Skyd had given me lots of looks at the full picture, regarding offensive strategy. This helps me on defense - if you have a good idea of what a particular player will throw & when, or what will happen in the cutting lanes & when, you guess the progressions.
This helped me be a strong handler defender, particularly with my mark. Think about it - next time you're doing a break mark drill (dumb drill IMO) you know what's coming and when.
When I was off the field, I was able to relay this knowledge to one of my teammates. Pro-tips on sideline communication:
1. Assign someone on the sideline to talk to a person. Only one voice per person.
2. Don't tell someone what to do on the field, just give them info.
The season was awesome and obviously so was making nationals. I didn't get to play much there, which was a bummer. You put in a lot of work and maybe you drive ~700-800 miles a week, you want to help the team on the field. Again, you need to know your role.
In order to do that, sometimes you need to ask, and I think you need to get the honest answers, even if they suck. There's a trick to this (IMO), that I've learned over time...
We're at the field Friday of natties warming up for our prequarters game against Bravo. This was their year, they had Jimmy, Stanley and the Mamabird guys, but they also had Kurt, Keegan, Brodie (sorta), and Bart Watson. That was a squad - wonder if they would've beaten Revolver.
I'm stoked man, this was going to be a blast of a game. Shortly after arriving, Andrew Wilkes walks over to me. Wilkes was a PoNY captain, a strong defensive player, and someone I really looked up to. Unfortunately Wilkes had come to give some bad news:
"You're not going to play in this one." I told him respectfully that I understood, but man that hurt. Dismay turned to frustration, which turned to anger. But I decided to use that anger in a way that would benefit the team.
I approached warm-ups fired up and locked in. I knew that Bravo was going to play physical defense and so it was my job to prepare our offensive group for that. I'd be in their face and physical (unless they wanted me to back off, which happens) and get them ready to go.
Tiina Booth once gave me some free mental toughness lessons while running a coaching clinic for USAU in Rochester. One of those lessons was the idea of expectations as it relates to team and individual goals. Expectations are usually related to uncontrollables, which don't help.
That's a monster paraphrase, but the idea rings true. I was locked in from point one on the sidelines because I knew what my role was. I didn't bother getting frustrated about PT because I knew I wasn't getting any.
Knowing that ahead of time let me choose between being pouty and a distraction (someone who takes energy away from the team) or helpful (someone who gives his energy to the team). Funny enough, Milo (another team captain) came up to me on the first or second d point and said:
"You look locked in, get on there." I guarded Bart that point...I think he centered the pull and then did nothing while the line held.
If I could go back, I'd probably advocate for Wilkes to have told me the night before and give me that time to get over my own ego. But as a player, you need to realize that sometimes there isn't time to have all of the individual conversations. PLAY YOUR ROLE.
Another lesson came in consolation play. Our second to last game was against Sockeye, who had lost that infamous pre-quarters game to Rhino. I played a bunch in that game. But I didn't play a bunch in the Temper game after.
Sockeye relied upon fast moving give-and-go movement in 2014, a style of play that I was well equipped to guard. The Temper game was windy, & they had lots of tall receivers. Playtime isn't a given, especially on a defensive group. Sometimes the match-up fits, sometimes not.
Six months later and I landed in Seattle. My first weekend in town was the 2015 Northwest Challenge - I went to UW's turf field to go watch some games and ran into Danny Karlinsky and Phil Murray.
I remember they exchanged what looked like knowing glances when they realized I had moved into town. I remember something similar between Tyler Kinley and Will Chen, the first time I showed up for goaltimate pickup.
I hadn't mentioned this before, but I had wanted to play Sockeye since 2009, the first year I had started watching and following frisbee. I owned, and still own Ultivillage's 2008 WUGC coverage where Sockeye represented the USA.
I'd watch YouTube videos like this: and this: a stupid amount of times. When the Nexgen stuff came out and I saw how dominant their shorter players were, I knew that was a team I could and wanted to play for.
But this was one of the best teams in the world - despite a pre-quarters exit at nationals, they finished second at WUCC in 2014. I believed in myself, but I knew that as a role player for PoNY it would be a long shot. I fully expected to play for Voodoo that first summer.
I had set what I believed to be reasonable expectations, so I rolled into tryouts feeling pretty loose and had a really good first tryout because of it. Consecutive foot-blocks in the warm-up breakmark drill, getting open up-line on Burton on my first point and completing a huck.
Tightly guarding Spencer Wallis despite his million cuts per stall count. I made a solid first impression and was intentional in wearing my PoNY gear to tryouts. Another pro-tip: get noticed, as long as it's not at the expense of others.
I made it my mission to be the first one down on pulls every time and to try to make my mark's life a living hell. And it worked - I made that 2015 team, I had completed my goal of 7ish years - I was a Fish.
Outside of feeling pride for making that team, I was going to be teammates with MC, Ray Illian, and Aly Lenon! I had been watching these guys for years! I know Jack told me to be chill, but I was freaking out.
Being on that team was the time of my life - when I was on PoNY, I had felt like an outsider. I think the team was pretty tight, but I think I wasn't part of some of the culture because I wasn't there during the week. Sockeye felt like college again.
But we did everything together and I truly felt like part of the team despite having just arrived and many of them being friends since high school. That and the weekly grind - track workouts and 2-3 practices a week putting in work so that you could be the best.
And just the exposure, just being around all of that high level talent. Every practice I was marking Danny, Aly, Mario O'Brien, or @SuperChickenACS . Learning an actual offensive set for the first time in my playing career. I was stoked for every single practice.
And the weird thing was, I would get playing time at tournaments. I figured that Sockeye, who classically finished higher than PoNY at tournaments, would be more strict with their PT. But that wasn't how they called lines - I don't think we called lines until Regionals.
It might've been the finals of Colorado Cup (Pro-Elite Challenge), but it was something that we had carried over from the Cascades. Defense didn't call lines, it was on us to make sure the seven made sense (handlers and cutters). Caps would sometimes make minor adjustments.
We were also coached by Roger Crafts, who I had watched play in the later years of his career. He probably fancies himself a Belichick, as you might be able to tell from his interviews, but he was another east coaster in Seattle.
He expected the best from you and was very good with individuals on a one on one basis. Sockeye was still a captain led team in terms of strategy, Roger was just really solid at keeping us together and mentally tough.
Another really cool thing about being on Sockeye were the lessons in emotional intelligence, mental toughness, and privilege. Sam Harkness gave a talk to the team about micro-aggressions and gender equity, which was my first education on either subject.
Aly Lenon, whose alter-ego is a teacher, was probably at the forefront of emotional intelligence. He taught us how to identify, name, and talk about our feelings with our teammates. He used this app called the "Mood Meter" to do this, which I still have on my phone.
I touched on this a little in my reply to @kellieannko 's question. Here's what this app looks like:
The dots shown on the phone are plotted on a graph. The x-axis represents negative to positive emotions. The y-axis represents low to high energy emotions. Blue on the bottom right is low energy negative, like depressed. Yellow on the top right is high energy positive, like glee.
We didn't really use this tool as it's intended, which is to journal your emotions throughout the day/week and then see trends. But it allowed us to identify where we were on the spectrum vs. where we wanted to be.
The running joke on the team and among close friends was that I was red incarnate. Funny enough because I was super close with Donnie Clark, who is about as gleeful as you can possible be.
We'd use these sessions to talk about our emotions. Despite all of the awesome things that I had mentioned about being on Sockeye, I was constantly feeling self-conscious. The resulting emotions would typically be sadness or jealously (related to being a role player).
This spawned from the beginning of the season - Tyler Kinley had unfortunately torn his ACL in an early season Cascades game. I felt that I was his replacement (similar builds) and that I was only on the team because he got hurt.
Lesson 3 y'all - if you're on a team, it's because you deserve to be there. You may be feeling emotions which are likely valid, but don't exaggerate them into something they're not.
We made nationals that year, though we had lost the regional final to Rhino in a very close game. I was excited to be going back, this time with realistic hopes of winning a national championship.
And that was the crazy thing - stepping on the field knowing that you can win every game. We had beaten Revolver in Colorado, though they were missing some big pieces, but I was only two seasons removed from the Rochester Dragons. I felt invincible on Sockeye.
We won our pool beating Florida United, GOAT (my first time beating them!), and Truck Stop. We beat Rhino in pre-quarters - we had a strong gameplan that mostly focused on never giving them our energy. Three games away from a national championship.
We played @MadisonClub in quarterfinals, which was one of the best games I've ever been a part of. It was a pretty back and forth game, with the wind kicking up sometime in the second half. That was the first game all season where another team destroyed us on the sideline.
Madison came roaring back in the second half, forcing a universe point. In what felt like a million throws, I think Mario threw it into the endzone behind Aly Lenon. Aly made this crazy catch from the ground for us to take the win and make semi-finals. It was awesome!
Semifinals were against Ironside, despite that team losing so many after the 2014 finals loss against Bravo. It was a super fun game, one that we ended up winning I think 15-11. Bummer that USAU and ESPN never posted the footage of that one.
In the stretching circle after that game, the adrenaline and highs began to wear off & a realization dawned on me. Every single player on Sockeye had played in that game, except for me. Remember when I said that you can't let emotions cascade into an avalanche? I fell apart HARD.
All of the negativity that I had been feeling inside, feelings that I didn't belong, that I shouldn't be there - they all felt validated in that singular moment. I couldn't come to terms with the fact that in a game that we won by 4, I didn't play a role on the field.
I lied before - I have two regrets in my life. The second was what I did that night at the hotel. After food, ice baths, and showering, the captains and Roger were getting set to head back to the fields to watch Revolver play Machine in the other semifinal.
I ran into them and asked Spencer if he had a second to talk. Spencer had gotten hurt in quarters and wouldn't be able to play in the finals. Here he was on crutches, while I asked to talk about the decision to not play me in semifinals.
Let's get something straight - there was likely no decision to not play me in semifinals. The team was looking to win as part of their goal of making finals. I was tripping because I wasn't part of that, and I was the only rookie who wasn't making a splash.
Zane was an o-line mainstay, DY and Sam Hart both were both blowing up. Jesse Bolton made this insane layout block during the semi. I felt out-classed and ashamed.
And I got super emotional about it because I couldn't reconcile my emotions. Spencer should've been at the field so he could watch and devise our defensive gameplan. He probably also needed space to cope with his injury and that he couldn't play a field-based role.
But I was a distraction in our team's biggest moment. I didn't appreciate what I had when I had it. Roger would talk to me the next morning & let me know that I probably wasn't playing in the final. I was able to focus just like the 2014 pre-quarter against Bravo & play my role.
Hell I even got to play a point. But we lost I think 8-15 or something crazy like that. From a super egotistical perspective, it was a telling metaphor. The team won semis but I didn't get what I wanted (PT). I got PT in the finals but the team would lose.
I wasn't prepared for the radio silence on the team GroupMe associated with the season ending - I was never really close to the PoNY guys so I didn't see it coming. Sockeye was my only friend group, having joined the team upon immediately moving to Seattle.
So a month after nationals I'm finally feeling the loneliness associated with moving across the country and not knowing anyone. This translated into a low self-esteem which hindered my relationships and my day-to-day life.
I was recommended to a therapist - one of the best decisions I've made in my life. I'm incredibly thankful to the person who made the recommendation - it made a monumental difference. Again, asking for help is strength.
In November or December of 2015, I had a post-season meeting with Spencer to talk about feedback. We talked about my meltdown at Nationals and that it could be beneficial for me to be "the guy" on Voodoo for a season or two. I told him that wasn't what I wanted.
That's when I really started to worry about my ability to make the team again in 2016. I worked my ass off and did everything in my power to make sure that wouldn't happen. Unfortunately the 2016 tryout class ended up being one of the strongest in recent memory.
Not many were walking away from the team, not satisfied with another silver medal courtesy of Revolver. But moving to Seattle were Kieran Kelly, Trent Dillon, Husayn Carnegie, and Simon Montague.
After six months of tryouts (January with Cascades through June), I was one of the final two out. I got a phone call from Roger and was an absolute mess for days. I had completely associated my identity with being on Sockeye, and now I wasn't.
I was also cut off from the social aspect of things - after being part of an incredibly tight knit group for a year and a half, all of the sudden that was gone. Though I would eventually find the drive to try and make it back on the team, I have been unsuccessful in three tries.
If I can I'll talk about training tomorrow, so I'll leave out what I did for now. I do want to quickly tough on some final thoughts, related to tryouts and getting cut.
If you're someone who recently got cut from a team, here's one of the most important things for you to know: it's not personal.
I did not get selected to Sockeye 2016, 2017, or 2018 because the captains didn't think it was the proper fit. That has to do with plenty of things, like tryout classes which have been very strong these past three years.
While this story shows that I brought baggage, it wasn't a large part of the decision making process. Which brings me to the second thing about getting cut:
If you are planning on trying out for a team you've been cut from, you need to show them something vastly different next time. Like it or not, you're a known quantity. If someone else shows up that's new and is almost on par with your skillset, teams will go for the new player.
They'll go with the best team that can get the job done, but also the people that they believe they can mold. This shouldn't stop you from asking for feedback - you absolutely should and you should try to get to the honest stuff.
Go find the person that will tell you the uncomfortable stuff, the things that leaders don't mention because they're afraid to hurt your feelings. Get your feelings hurt, if it means finding the information out to help you get better.
Again, remember that it's not personal - that's a great first step towards addressing the grief.
I've tried to make it back to Sockeye for three years and it took me getting cut in 2018 (and my associated feedback) to realize that I've been in denial. My grieving process has been that long, and once I was able to finally recognize that (through therapy), I was able to heal.
I'm thankful that I have @VoodooUltimate , another group of hardworking and incredibly talented players. We've improved every year since 2015, falling 2 points short of nationals this season. They are some of my closest friends and I appreciate my new frisbee family.
And that's my very long story - if I can I'll talk about coaching and captaining tomorrow to close things out, along with some specific skills I've learned about mental toughness from my therapist and this job coach we have at work. Thanks for reading and have a great night!
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