Last night I traveled to Toronto for my first proper TUC league game and I was pleasantly surprised.
A bit of background first, I live in Waterloo on the far side away from Toronto. The drive there takes at least 80 to 90 minutes when there’s no traffic or snow (heading to very near Downtown Toronto) and costs a pretty penny in fuel when considering it’s to play a game for 55 minutes. Why do I do it?
It’s not the first time I’ve taken on extensive travels to play Ultimate aside my travels abroad and for UPA tournaments. Two years ago I played with a touring team out of Toronto (Roy, part of the TUC and UE system). As my first foray into Toronto Ultimate it was a good starting point even though I had played at a higher level in the past (I’ll talk about the arc in my Ultimate career in a later post). Practices were held in Scarborough which meant at least a two hour drive in good traffic in each direction twice a week. Many days it would be a three hour drive in one direction.
Practices themselves were on hard or uneven fields (but with grass!!) in humid Toronto summers where a storm could break out at any moment or the day would leave you to bake. Harsh conditions but good ones to develop players in and prepare them for touring. Why did I do it?
For the same reason I travel halfway around the world to play on a beach, or to Europe each Spring to play at Paganello, or to random Mixed Tournaments to play with teams where I don’t know anybody, or to a pickup tournament in West Virginia where most players don’t have cleats. It’s to learn more about the game, the people that play our sport, and to become a better player.
It’s really that last point that can be important. No matter what team you play with, you will become a better player. The ability to adapt should be a fundamental skill in Ultimate. Adaptation wins games especially when another team is obviously able to compromise your current plan. It can be as simple as changing a horizontal (flat) stack to a vertical, putting on a zone, forcing straight-up, or more complex in playing specific poaching strategies that confuse the handlers for a few moments. Adaptation goes hand in hand with communication and the more one travels and plays with people from all backgrounds the easier it becomes to relate what sort of conversation one can have with them. Some players will ignore you outright and require gentle prodding whereas others will appear to embrace change while falling back to bad habits. It’s hard to play with others. It’s hard to adapt and fit in. Nothing that makes you a better players is easy.
It’s not only my experiences that I learn from when I travel. I hear stories from around the world, learn of new strategies, and stories from events I wasn’t able to attend. Case in point is a conversation I had with Jason Lobb of Carleton about their game against Western at CUUC 2009 in Montreal. A final that Western was supposed to win easily may have been lost due to an inability to adapt. I hadn’t been able to get a straight answer from several players involved in the games but Jason provided insight into how the field may have affected certain throws (trees near the sideline may have prevented some bladey hucks), injuries to certain tall players may have tilted air battles in favour of Carleton, but most importantly was how Carleton team changed their strategy. According to Jason, Carleton showed patience amongst a key group of 3-5 handlers that avoided risky passes and worked hard to keep possession. In the past Carleton has played a generally impatient style of long hucks even if there was only a 50% chance but in the finals they played with extreme patience. Western bid on each disc but by not changing their game style to match the environment Carleton managed to capitalize on a few errors that made the difference in the end.
The things you learn are constant. Staying in a small league playing the same opponents year after year leads to stagnation of skills. Travel, play in other places as often as you can, you’ll become a better player.
By the way:
One of the best parts about playing in TUC also means playing against MONSTER. This team is incredibly spirited and by that I mean on field spirit during the game. Several incidences of fouls, violations, and so forth were calmly handled. Body contact was avoided whenever possible and in they’re a fun team to play against. If you get a chance to play with them anywhere in the world then jump at it.