Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Flatball Radio

Last night I spoke at the world premiere of Flatball Radio at the Pike Place Market Theater- think ultimate frisbee meets TED talks.  I'll post video when it's baked up and ready, but here's the transcription of my talk.

I’m guessing...You love ultimate.  If you’re sitting in this theater tonight, you probably do.  I do.   

I love the culture of punny team names and shenanigans and cheers and costumes, I love being able to move to a city and know that I already have a community there, I love when an airplane is full of your loud stinky teammates, I love going Beast Mode on the field at high-stakes tournaments, I love huddling for a timeout and executing that redzone play, baiting Ds, completing hucks, I love getting better at something, I love peanut butter on bananas.  

Last month I finally went and got my stuff out of storage, and I found all my old ultimate treasures.  The jerseys, the nationals pint glasses, the upa magazines I'm in, my college captain binder with all my doodles trying to invent new drills.   

I remember I wanted to stay on so badly for a 5th college season, and I schemed on all the ways I could make it work, and I remember how ridiculous my parents thought that was.  They didn’t get it.  

And recently my friend Will broke his hand on day 1 of a tournament and then played the rest of the tournament with a cast on it and a plastic bag to rainproof it. And when I heard that, I was like, yup, woulda done the same thing.  

And when I was living in Asia, I would spend like $800 to go to Manila or Singapore for a long weekend tournament and barely see anything but the hotel and the fields, and it was so worth it.  

I’d see married couples on my coed team in Austin, with their ultimate babies playing together on the sidelines, and I was like, they totally have it figured out.  That’s gonna be me.  

I love ultimate.  But I quit.  

One of my friend’s favorite things to say is: “we are all people in the world trying to get our needs met.”  Ultimate has met a number of needs for me.  Among others, the needs for connection and belonging, the need for learning, and the needs for play and exercise.  But I’m learning that these needs can be met by something, or a combination of somethings, other than ultimate.  

Currently I'm- possiblykindofmostly- retired, and I never thought that would feel as ok as it does.

I kind of see now why my parents thought it was silly to stay an extra year for a non-sanctioned sport I was paying to play.  Not that I agree, but I get it now.  And when I think about playing with a broken hand, I’m like … mm.. I dunno about that.  I could hurt it worse, what does my insurance cover..

It boils down to priorities, and mine have shifted.  

For the first time in 9 years of playing ultimate, this past year I made the choice not to play ultimate at the highest level I could.  And I didn’t make that decision at the end of the season last year.  I signed up for tryouts in May of this year with the full intention of playing elite club again.  And I made the choice not to try out for Riot, but instead to play with Underground, like I did last year, as a returner.  And I felt relief at that decision, and I was proud of myself for being in touch with my priorities, that I wanted to dedicate more time and energy to growing my career and so I would choose the team that required just a little less of that time and energy.   

Buuut, as I went along, it turned out I needed more time and energy than that commitment would allow.  My work involves a lot of weekday evening events- panels, networking, that kind of thing, and every time there was one that conflicted with practice, there was a tension.  I had to make that choice over and over- do I go to the Seattle Tech Meetup and and get buy-in for my next project, or do I go to practice with my team?  And I started to resent and be exhausted by having to make that choice multiple times a week, because I was always letting myself down either way.  Always reneging on a commitment and having to stomach that.  

So, even though my body felt pretty recovered from the injuries I really struggled with last year, and the Underground girls were wonderful, and there was a strong coach on board, and I didn’t have family conflicts or hard money problems or some of the usual suspects of why ultimate players take a step back, I had to make a hard choice.  Was I going to prioritize my career, or ultimate?  

I avoided the decision.  I procrastinated and tried to do as much as I could to do All The Things, just running on my little hamster wheel, and I felt this mounting stress as the end of tryouts and the commitment to an official roster spot got closer and closer.  

Why was it so hard to make the choice and follow through on it?  

Because! It’s scary.

You find something like ultimate that meets your needs, and you get used to it meeting your needs that way, and it’s hard to take a step back and look at if your needs have changed, or allow the possibility that those needs can get met in other ways.   

I don’t want to let down the team.   
I don’t want to be a quitter.
I don’t wanna have to try to work out by myself because I know I’m terrible at that.  
What else would I do?
What if I'm not as good at other things?
Do I tell myself and everybody else I’m just taking a year off?  Will I really just take a year off?
Will I be invited to their parties anymore? I don’t want to be left out.
If I don’t play ultimate this season, can I still call myself an ultimate player?  How long from the time you last played can you still call yourself an ultimate player?  

I knew I wanted to prioritize my career, but I wanted to do it all.  Make time for everything, be good at everything.  

The heart of the issue was that ultimate was my identity.  I identified as an athlete, but specifically, an ultimate player.  When my college professor asked the class to go around and say one interesting thing about yourself, I said I play ultimate.  When I had to give a speech in korean class about a topic of my choice, when people ask me about my hobbies, or ask me about soccer when my cleats are tied to my bag in airports, I have always said, “I’m an ultimate frisbee player.”  Outside the community, it’s that thing that you’re known for, it’s that differentiator.  And then inside the community- I mean... all my friends played ultimate.  When thinking about not playing, It wasn’t just about choosing how to spend my time differently- it was about navigating an identity shift.  

Ultimate and the commitment to it is what I knew.  Just cutting it out and chancing what else I’d be left with was scary.  

But here I am not playing competitive ultimate, and I am ok.  It’s ok!  And I think it’s because I didn’t quit without a plan.  I thought about why I love ultimate- what needs it meets for me, and I intentionally sought out activities and social circles that would meet those needs and fill that void.  I am building my career in ways that are important to me, I’m crossfitting and even experimenting with what it feels like to do non-competitive exercise, I’m connecting with new amazing people and for the first time in a decade I hang out with more non-frisbee friends than frisbee friends, which is weird.

And I still go to fun tournaments like Lei Out, and I eat peanut butter bananas any time I want.

So if you’re thinking about what to do next season- if you should try out for the most competitive team, fart around in the park, take a year off, only play MLU, whatever- I invite you to take a look at what your needs are, allow the possibility that they can be met in other ways, and give yourself permission to step back if that’s what you discover you need.  I am, and YOU are, more than just an ultimate player.