Saturday, November 13

Burn Out or Fade Away?

Neil Young and I have the same problem

No, not hilarious yet awesome yet embarrassing yet captivating videos on the web.
(Well, maybe)

More that the things we promised never to do when we were younger, we did precisely. Promises take work to keep. Dreams take time to build.

I faded out of ultimate, like I never thought I could.

It started with my body. After the punishing Southpaw tryouts, I was a wreck. It was literally having one of the most taxing tournaments you've played in, but every weekend. From the second week in April through when I got cut the second to last week of May. My body literally cannot keep up that pace any longer. Every step I took on the field became a brutal chore rather than a joyous bounce. Everything burned in practice, which I used to hungrily lap in incomprehensible cats-solving-complex-four-dimensional-fluid-problems-with-little-more-than-a-tongue-water-and-evolution-like-ways and turn into fuel. Or sustenance. Or something.

This time, every single step hurt. I mean, during the week. Like, from Monday to Thursday. Everything hurt. My knees were on fire every day. Inflamed. Swollen. This is ACLs replaced and partial meniscectomies on both knees doing what all the doctors told me they would eventually do. There are only so many miles on a car. There are only so many miles pain-free in knees. I reached that mark during tryouts, if not before (without realizing it). I hadn't accepted it, but this is what occurred, as I know now.

I wasn't ready to accept this at all, so I tried out with PoNY. They eventually took me on as a full-time player, when previously I explained that I was interested in a practice player role, due to the way my body was feeling this season. I got to play a perfect amount of points at some great tourneys (YAY ECC!, CUT, Boston Invite, Chesapeake Open) but at some point it was just completely apparent to me that I didn't have it anymore.

I don't know what it was in the first place, but it wasn't there anymore. It was a blast to go to practices with PoNY. They were some of the best practices I've been at in terms of high-level execution, precision, competition and general good-attitude work. They were intense, brief and organized. I don't personally agree with all of the strategic decisions, but those decisions were well above my pay grade, and I knew that they were made with forethought and discussion. I offered my bits that I felt could be easily changed for the better without dramatically altering the plans in place. I left out the crazy stuff I think on re: Ultimate strategy.

I bought into what they did when I saw how it worked. I experienced the other side of what happens when you play PoNY. They wear you out. Everything feels like it is going swimmingly for your O, and then all of the sudden, you've given up a quintuple-bird-strike and the motherfuckers are all yelling about already doing work around the clock while a whole fresh 7 are on the line already while your O-team is walking back to the line knowing exactly what is coming their way because the hybrids have only shown what feels like one defensive look all game which is similar in execution to The Great Wall of China. That is, you keep bumping up against it, even though you know where it is, what it looks like and what it is going to do when you make casual contact. The problem is that the fucker is too stubborn to give up.

PoNY D-Line 2010 was approximately 10 handlers and 6 cutters. Some players are hybrids, some of them play O and D. This meant that there was never any reason to panic on O after the turn. In games where we played our game and just completed passes, we brutalized O-teams. In games where we got antsy and over-aggressive with our throws, we sometimes won, sometimes lost. If the O had a bad game with an antsy D game? Big loss.

This was a great team to play with. Great. The average skill-level on PoNY was off-the-charts. The average skill set of "game-ready" throws/catches/cuts was just kinda... impressive. No one was ever surprised at the huge plays. They were so damn... routine.

The way that I played this year? Not-great. So subpar by my own standards that I just... I couldn't commit to being that average. I couldn't buy in to going on the field and being just... so... irrelevant. I could no longer dictate where my guy should go when I was covering him because my feet just didn't move as quickly as I remember them doing. Mentally or physically, I don't know where the "it" that was missing resides, but it wasn't there. I was terrified of my guy busting deep on me in a way that never was before. As soon as the field opened up, everyone kept getting further away from me. It was like doing track workouts with Malcolm Baker back in 06-07 or whenever. That guy was always accelerating over whatever the distance was. That is what every single cut over 30 yards felt like. I had to work so hard to box guys into a little space so that they couldn't or wouldn't cut because if they got out of the little box I put them in, I was dead.

I was so used to folks only getting out of the box to learn that I had somehow suckered them into thinking that I was slow. Now I was suckering myself into thinking that I was still fast. What a nightmare. On a team where individual matchups are prioritized over help-d, switching, poaching, different zones and the like, the worst player on the field is the guy who doesn't know his strengths and weaknesses.

Offensively, I felt good. I had some timing/expectation issues early on in terms of adjusting to playing a primarily Vert Stack for the first time in 4 years. And a Vert stack with a very different plan on how to attack the field from that set. The Ho-stack that I had played for 3 years was now out. When we did run Ho, it was also very differently focused than the Pike Ho was.

I never really got used to looking downfield for more than 1 second. I'd trained myself to move the disc as quickly as possible to the first set of open hands I saw (be they 70 or .7 yards away) that I was very uncomfortable catching the disc, coming to a stop and waiting for a cutter to set up a cut. The time it takes to do that is all of... 2 seconds. But when my emphasis has been on getting the disc out before stall 2, waiting until stall 4 seems like an eternity. My problem, I know, and I worked on it, I just... it never felt *right* or I never got natural with it. I had a truly difficult time focusing on this when throwing/tossing with folks. I've always found this a great time to work on "Catch->throw" mechanics. Now I was trying to consciously stop all of my momentum, set my feet, and then step out and throw. Very difficult. I'm always working to never be stationary.

The worst part of Regionals and Nationals (the worst parts of the rest of the season were hearing "nice bid" on things that I knew should be blocks and feeling the surprise in the voices of my teammates when they learned I used to be able to dunk. Those moments cut in ways I can't describe without taking more time to find and parse the language than I want to do here. Suffice to say that previously non-existant issues re: "definition of self" and "identity" were left crashing and collapsing in upon themselves in an orgy of sadness.) was being on the sideline and knowing that my team needed the player that I used to be. Knowing that the little tiny chink in the d-teams armor was perfectly me-sized. The problem was that I was no longer me-sized. I was no longer utterly tireless. I was no longer ready to put myself on the line physically for the disc. I was no longer sure that I'd get there or that the other guy would blink before me. My confidence was shot, in a sense. I still don't know if my mental game weakened my physical game or if my physical game weakened my mental game, but this is again returning to the aforementioned missing "it".

Every time I went out for a run, my knees would burn for the rest of the day, and would be swollen for 2 days. So I stopped running so much. I replaced running with pullups, squats, medball slams, lunges, burpees, &c. Which leads me to my new favorite exercise: The pull-urpee. Do a burpee, but when you jump up, jump up to a pullup bar, and do a pullup. This is what kept me in something resembling "shape". It, along with the copious amounts of medball slamming and throwing (w/ 4lb variety to facilitate armspeed), made a perfect triangle for success in getting my throws better. I feel like another plane has been crossed in that department, and a whole new vista has opened up.

I still love throwing. LOVE it. The disc still fascinates me. The problems to be solved in-game with a disc are awesome. This is all good news. The problem is that the rest of "it" is so much more difficult now... blah blah blah.

(OH! a new fun fitness goal is the musclurpee. Yes, a burpee with a muscle-up on top.)

What this means for me is a mixed bag. Without "it" I should not be on a team with Nationals-level expectations. But I like to play. I am finding again how to find joy in each step, now that I can have it be fun rather than work (And yes, I found PoNY's method of convincing me to Do Work far more convincing than Southpaw's. But we are all wired differently). Then again, I can't take this game too hard anymore because I always said that if I had to take ibuprofen to play, I should be done. That finally happened this year. Depressing, but the only way to forget my knees for long enough to feel free to give on the field.

Yeah, if I'm running for my life, I won't notice. I used to be able to substitute in that equation based on "life=plastic". I can't now. I can't summon up the demon any more. The fiend for the disc. The part of me obsessed with beating you to that piece of plastic just up and R-U-N-N-O-F-T. The part of me that wants to beat you with my throws stopped, dropped and opened up shop, however.

(Yes, that's O Brother Where Art Thou? followed by DMX. I demand that they may or may not be congruous.

Yes, that's a Vroomfondel and Majikthise [Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy] reference.)

If Mosh is any indication, this means I still have a future in the fun-tourney circuit (However, the first round bye filled with hot tub and breakfast stouts may continue to make Sunday's play mentally optional). If PADA is any indication, I still have a future in the league circuit.


Neil Young is still putting out albums. They are still good. They still rock sometimes and they still folk-out sometimes. They are nowhere near as vital as what he put out earlier. They are not as incredible. They can't be. They come after and in the same vein as the the incredible things that done earlier. The incredible things born of a belief that what you're doing matters. That the moment is important. That every note is vital and could be part of a musical moment that is never forgotten. That every step on the field is vital and could be part of a physical moment that is never forgotten.

I don't believe any longer.

I'd rather exist on the field in meaningless moments that envelop me wholly than moment upon moment of "The most important moment of the game, your career, your life". Or, failing that, "At least as important as all the other moments which are not the most-important moments". I'm at the point where each point played is just another point. Each throw is just another throw.

I lose my( )self in the unimportance and impermanence of so many discrete moments.

This too shall pass.


smol dusaran said...

NIce article, I can totally relate to that.

AMW said...

I demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!

Thanks for continuing to blog. This post is amazing on many levels.