At a post-victory BBQ a few weeks ago, my Ultimate teammates and I discussed an interesting question: is the BUDA (Boston Ultimate Disc Alliance) hat league’s orientation towards newer players bad for the league? Some of us argued that creating a rookie-friendly league increases the likelihood of people returning for future seasons, making Ultimate a larger part of their lives. Others argued that the prevalence of rookies has so watered down the competitive level that the many high-level club Ultimate players in Boston have left BUDA to play elsewhere.
Having sat through over half a dozen captains’ meetings, I can’t deny that BUDA – especially the hat league – is geared towards less experienced players. BUDA has instituted multiple rules to further that end, including prohibiting the more complicated “zone” defense until at least the third game, banning the effective but potentially dangerous foot-block while marking, and allowing stoppages of play to explain rules (with occasional do-overs). These rules seem to help: I’ve seen multiple Ultimate novices join teams and so enjoy the slow learning curve that they return for future seasons. As a captain, nothing gives me more pleasure than working with rookies, then seeing how much they’ve improved a year later.
In college, I played for Nietzsch Factor, Wesleyan University’s men’s team. We were a highly focused, highly intense, but also highly negative Ultimate team. For three years, this style was fun because, á la the early-2000s Patriots, we believed everyone hated us and it was us against the world. It stopped being fun when our negativity turned inward in my senior year.
I graduated from Wesleyan in 2005, and I’ve never played men’s Ultimate since. I played in an Ultimate tournament in Wisconsin last summer, and during a bye went to watch a men’s club game. That same intensity, that same anger, that same negativity were all still there. Up until that tournament, I had planned to play for Boston University’s men’s team in the fall. After watching that game, I realized I didn’t want to go back to that style of play. I no longer cared enough about a possible travel, a weak foul or a questionable pick. It no longer seemed worth all the bitching.
I love playing for BUDA because it offers a style of Ultimate devoid of all that. I won’t say I’ve never seen an argument on the field or a player with terrible spirit. I will say the majority of the BUDA games I’ve played have been positive experiences. I’ve played on teams that didn’t win a game, but the players still had fun were proud of their development across the season. And I’ve played on highly successful teams, and none have felt the need to show up their defeated opponents.
After watching an Ironside game, I believe that even if there are many high-level club Ultimate players in Boston, I do not believe want these players in my league. The idea of a higher competitive level at the expense of fun-loving teammates (it’s been my experience that regardless of gender, the more talented an Ultimate player is, the more obnoxious the on-the-field personality) does not appeal to me.
The teammates who argued for kicking Ultimate novices to a year-round learning league (for which no one could suggest a method of funding, by the way) talked about how playing more talented players “takes their game to the next level.” Quite simply, I don’t give a shit about that. I don’t believe there’s an Ironside or DoG player hidden inside of me that better competition would draw out. I would not improve playing far better opponents; I would just get discouraged and frustrated. I like when my teammates and opponents are all around my level. Some variation – a lot, even – is fine, but ultimately I want to feel like a contributor on my team, not a detractor. I want to get exercise, meet new people and have fun playing my favorite sport.
I imagine many BUDA hat players think the way I do. I’ve played enough seasons to recognize (and maybe even be counted among) the true veterans of the league. If they wanted a higher level of play, by now they would have left or at least supplemented BUDA Hat with a club team (as many players I know have done).
Those who stick around must surely do so because they like this level of competition. So I say keep letting the rookies in, acclimating in drips and drabs to the techniques and strategies of this most awesome sport. And If a player from Bhodi mocks our game behind my back, screw ’em.
It’s not their league, anyway.