Tuesday, June 21


"The saddest moment in the career of a great athlete

is the one when he's tagged with the word "still." One day you're fast. One day you're slow. There's an in-between day when you're "still fast," and that's the day when everything hollows out."

Wow. That's a hell of a paragraph.

And it fits right in with the self-acknowledged pretentiousness of the piece (Though if we're not aiming for the stars, where exactly are we aiming?).

The thing that comes to mind to me is the timeline of ultimate. What was it? What is it now? What will it be in the future?

Well, to think of it a little more critically, what sports is ultimate like? Hmm... You need crazy motor control in order to throw and catch the thing. You need to be able to sprint. Repeatedly. You need to be able to play defense with aggression. You need to be able to focus. You need to be able to do this over time, both in terms of over a weekend and over a season and over years. It's like running a marathon. But with defense. And instead of "at a steady pace", it is all in fits and starts. And for two (or more) consecutive days. Oh, and you need to be able to jump, not just run. You need to be able to stop, not just start.

Yikes. So, what's the corollary?

Well, it is something like tennis in terms of "Forehands, backhands, overheads" and the incredible sheer hours of repetition it takes to truly master the variations of sending the plastic through the sky. It is also similar in the grueling nature of the thing. Sure, you get to take more time off, you have coaches and teammates to help you mentally and physically, but you also have actual physical contact with your opponents. Your movements are not without impediment.

To get to the understanding of when the ultimate player begins to decline, we can look at the ages of champions over the years. I won't do the research, I will just make it up based on memory, but the average age of "the champs" has to have declined from when Boston was running shit. I would imagine this is because players now have had more time as kids throwing. Also, more and more people are training for real. So, an old guy and a young guy train the same amount, the young guy is better quipped to win the athletics of the competition. If he old guy outworks the young guy... You get DoG, as I recall.

But what about the compounding of physical wear-n-tear as a result of doing all of this necessary training? All this necessary competing? If you star playing tournaments in middle school and play high school, club, summer league, winter league, college, club... how much punishment are you giving yourself? How much can one body take?

That is to say "Where does space under the curve of mastery most overlap with the space under the curve of physical prowess" w/r/t ultimate?

Baseball players can play near-forever. Almost as long as golfers can hang on. Not so much running, lots of ways to contribute to overall effectiveness in the sport, etc.
Basketball players can last, depending on attributes like physical gifts, work ethic, role on the floor and the like. Much like soccer in this respect.
Football players can play their roles for extended periods based on physical gifts (being large enough and coordinated enough to play O-line, for example) or understanding of the game (QBs, some DBs) but with the exception of some outliers (as in all rambling examples) RBs, WRs, LBs and other high-collision positions have very limited lifespans.
Tennis players drop like a rock. They've barely had time to develop/understand their games before they can no longer play anymore.

I think ultimate is most like tennis in this respect. I could keep rambling on, but the thing is that the future of ultimate is a combination of grueling play and high technical acuity. The closest comparison to me still seems to be tennis.

Here ends this hastily-typed previously-aired-in-conversation bloggery about the timeline of ultimate.


Anonymous said...

How does Phillips write that article and not at least reference David Foster Wallace? Borderline theft, both style and subject matter.

Jughandle10 said...

Anon: I felt it was more part 2 to DFW's piece on Roger Federer as a religious experienec.

Interestingly here is your counterpoint dusty: Ultimate is still not so developed that if you are a receiver you could pick up the game at 23 or 24. Similarly, some handlers I think probably got the wrong education as an early player, either at a bad high school or bad university or whatnot, so maybe even for a gifted thrower you can put the work in and start late.

(Counterpoint to my counterpoint: sometime after starting a 70 hour week job i lost my enthusiasm to going to the nearest football field and measuring exact distances based on tiny changes in release angles and such with my stack of ~=20 discs, so throwing may best be developed at a younger age)

I'd also say that while it is very easy to burn out on elite ultimate emotionally (as your blog beautifully describes the grind), is it not possible to play elite for 2-3 years (from say 23-25), take a few summers off, and still come back reasonably fresh at 28? In my experience the age is part of it, but its the collective miles on your engine that matter more, and injuries accumulated.

I have seen incredible players not even want to play club, too many injuries, not enough satisfaction or perhaps a strong desire to start a real life. But if they came back and trained, even with 5 years off they could still be very useful players.

Lastly at the highest levels there is a place for guile, for accumulated experience. Things that maybe get you pieces of the disc on your mark an extra 2 times in 100 throws. On it's own this sounds insignificant but it adds up to a relatively huge number of turns for a good player. Maybe they have in their old age lost their explosive hop but as they've picked up weight boxed their body out. Trey was still playing at an incredible level at 38. (he also had about as many miles on his engine as you did).

But yeah, when the breakdown happens, and it will happen earlier (we're ignoring the emotional toll ultimate takes as well), its pretty close to irreversible.

Watching you play recently though I'd say rumors of your demise are exaggerated.

Be well my friend.

gapoole said...

It's probably worth thinking about, too, when considering what kind of training you're going to do for the sport. What training style/philosophy is going to get you where you want to be in three months, three years, six years? What does the curve look like, benefit for Ultimate (given your personal position or playing style) vs time until burnout?