Even without games, an ultimate team is still a team
With the Ultimate world on hold due to COVID-19, Five Ultimate co-founder, Seattle Cascades co-owner, and USNT coach Rohre Titcomb has been thinking a lot about her teams — and leaning on them to get through this difficult time. Keep reading for Rohre's thoughts on what it really means to be part of a team.
Ultimate has been a consistent thread in my life since I was 8 years old. It was always there for me. At first, it was pickup in Seattle and the inaugural Spring Reign, and then it was throwing between AP US History and Geometry classes at boarding school. Then, it was bleeding green for Dartmouth, proudly helping us earn our first-ever quarterfinals appearance at College Nationals — back then, Dartmouth used to be fighting just to make Nationals. Then it was commuting from Maine to Boston to play my first club season with Brutesquad. In 2010, after a cross-country return home, I found my heart with Seattle Riot, where I’ve played, captained or coached since.
The corresponding life milestones that others (read: non-ultimate fanatics) might be looking at would be graduations and first loves and first jobs and life moves. But to us ultimate players, the cadence of our lives is measured in tournaments played, throws mastered, new teammates found, personal bests in the gym, and roster spots earned. Club or college or high school seasons mark the years, as do friendships forged on tracks, tournament victories, ACL tears (three for me), and for the lucky who earn it, medals and championships, too. Each group we work with is something unique and special and inimitable: a team.
Us ultimate players, we’re measuring our lives in teams. And in seasons with those teams.
There is something special about being on a team. You go from being an individual to being a teammate. When you sweat or bleed or puke or suffer alongside someone in pursuit of a goal greater than the both of you, there is a bond formed that is unlike any other. The connections between teammates are unique and unlike any other. The best teams embrace differences, viewing them as opportunities to bring out the best in everyone. They strive to maximize the superpower of every individual involved, and they work relentlessly, unified, toward a common goal. In that pursuit, each individual finds a way to contribute to the success, and they get the gratification associated with the work they put in. Being a great teammate, that means something.
My favorite part of the Team USA application this year was, “who is your favorite teammate, and why?” Reading all the responses brought so much joy, and said so much about the applicant. Each person’s answer spoke to their values, to their aspirations, to what truly matters to them. There are many ways to be a great teammate, and teams help us discover the best in ourselves, as well as giving us an opportunity to work on our growth.
Teams provide structure and meaning and depth to our lives. But at its core, what is a team? What makes a group of people a team? Without a season, without practices or games, is a team still a team?
Throughout the last month, I have been musing on this. With both the WUL and AUDL seasons postponed and WUGC canceled/delayed (which of the two it is, we still don’t know), I’ve seen all my coaching commitments and the ultimate community put into a state of flux. My teams, stripped of their immediate competitive context, have looked to me, to our leadership, and to each other, to wonder what's next.
In each conversation, I’ve come back to the fact that a team is not just about the ultimate we play on a field. I have been reminded constantly that a team is much more than the medals it tries to earn. It’s the sum of all the relationships formed between all individuals. It’s the sum of each step sprinted, burpee jumped, and disc thrown. It’s the cumulative hours of warmups completed, songs sung-along to in the car, film watched to scout, and so much more.
Right now, this week, the Cascades open players are shining a light and lifting me up. A few weeks ago, we proclaimed, yes, we are a team, and will continue to be one. Sure, we’re building relationships differently, virtually, than we might otherwise. For example, we have a Slack channel (#plantsclub) where we post pictures of our plants and give advice when needed. We run practices where we watch film or discuss our mental toughness goals and how to stay accountable to maintaining our fitness. We lift, we watch film, we run stairs, and together, collectively, we yearn for the day we get to put our cleats on again. Only time will tell how we look when we take the field, but my challenge to our players was this: let’s be the most fit, most-tight-knit AUDL team out there. This, we can control.
This does not come without its challenges. But like every other season, like every other competitive context, I keep going back to focusing on the controllables. (Is it an understatement and probably insensitive to compare COVID-19 to forehand-defeating wind at regionals? Yes. But the fundamental response I have as an athlete is the same: focus on controllables.)
My controllables? My hydration, my sleep, my consumption of news, my nutrition, my workout routine, my posture at my desk, who I reach out to, my Facetime dates, what film I watch. The focus on those controllables is what gets me through these dark times.
I awaken each day with fear a-plenty, but thanks to ultimate, most days I can focus on what is within my control. And in doing so, I find a lift in my heart thanks to the resiliency our sport taught me.
I hope you too can find that lift through this community, and through this incredible sport.