Category - sports

Life Lessons I’ve Learned from Ultimate Frisbee

I love ultimate Frisbee. So much. If I could play every day of the week, I would. I just find it so fulfilling and fun because it’s competitive, exciting, and a workout – and it requires digging deep and pushing oneself to run and jump faster, harder, and higher than those around you. For those of you who have never played, allow me to provide some background before I tell you what ultimate Frisbee has been teaching me about life.

Perhaps the best way to describe the sport is that it is like soccer, except that you can’t dribble (that is, you can’t possess the Frisbee and make your way up or down the field). You have to catch it, immediately come to a stop, and then throw it to a teammate before the person defending you counts to 10 seconds). And the way you score is like football, except with only passing plays. That is, the Frisbee gets moved down the field – teammate to teammate – until someone catches it in the end zone and gets both of their feet down in bounds before falling or running out of it.

There are certain things about the sport which fill me with so much joy while playing. I like trying to juke my defender to try to get open to receive a pass from my teammate. I like when the Frisbee is in the air and those on offense and defense both sky high to try to grab it and come down with it. And most of all, I love going for all the glory. This is where I am quite far away from my team’s end zone, but my teammates are running down the field and calling for a long pass, and I just reach back and chuck the disc with all my might in their direction. And hopefully, hopefully, one of them catches it for a goal, and the crowd goes wild and my friends go absolutely bananas hugging and hive-fiving each other, and even the other team marvels in astonishment and gives us props for making such a sensational and perhaps even miraculous play.

I choose to live wisely and in fiscally responsible ways, but want to go on adventures and epic trips now – when my body is able to do all the things that I want it to.

The feeling of throwing such a pass and scoring that point is pretty epic, but what is even better is when I am on the receiving end. I seriously cannot think of anything better in all of my years of playing sports or doing anything outdoorsy. I just look over to one of my teammates who can throw well, make eye-contact and give them a confident nod and smile so they know I am about to go deep, and then I just take off. And hopefully, I have a couple steps on my defender, and I’m running as hard as I possibly can, and the Frisbee is launched on a perfect parabola that cuts through the air like a ninja star, and hangs up on the breeze long enough for me to reach out at the best possible moment to snag it and come down with it in bounds for a goal. Sometimes I have to jump really high for it. Sometimes I have to launch myself horizontally and dive for it. And sometimes I have to turn on my afterburners and give every last ounce of energy and strength to stretch towards it and rip it out of the air. I just don’t know how to truly convey to you how tremendous it is when it happens – to be a part of something which at that time and in that context feels so rewarding, redemptive, and downright magical. Nothing comes close to that feeling. It is absolutely glorious.

There is a problem, though. And that problem is that…I want it all the time. I want the long throws. I want the glory points. I want the legendary pass plays every single time my team gets on offense. But this is not a good thing. Why? Well, for a number of reasons. First off, scoring goals like these is a high reward but a high risk. Perfect passes down the length of the field do not happen the majority of the time. Plus, other elements must perfectly coalesce simultaneously – the receivers need to know what side of the end zone to run to, they need to have at least a few steps on their defenders to create space in which to make the catch, they need to “read” the disc and the direction in which it is turning in flight, and they have to actually make what is usually a challenging catch with one or both hands.

I want the long throws. I want the glory points. I want the legendary pass plays every single time my team gets on offense. But this is not a good thing.

In addition, we are playing against a defense. They can specifically guard against deep passes by having one or more team members play “safety” to provide more coverage near or in the end zone. They know we like to go long and try to make these epic passes and scores, and they will obviously adapt their strategy to make it more difficult of us. With all of this in mind, you would think that I would be deterred from trying to go for the glory plays…. But I have some stubbornness in me, and I just don’t get deterred. And you’re probably thinking that the lesson here is that it is still worth it, to go for it, because it is how you become legendary. But to be honest, it is not.

Given the circumstances I have described, if I keep going long as a thrower or a receiver and keep prioritizing that as the best way to score points, I am sandbagging my team. I am putting them at an extreme disadvantage, and setting them up for failure. What I have found in ultimate Frisbee is that yes, the glory plays are spectacular and pretty much the best thing ever…but they are very rare. And they are not how a team wins games. They may lead to a point here or there – and maybe even a few during a match. But the majority of scores are made when the team methodically moves up the field with short passes.

Our default is “go long,” but I have to keep vocally reminding myself and my teammates that the short game works best. It’s not very exciting or sexy, and it requires a lot more running around as you try to get open to catch a pass in a short radius around the teammate with the disc, and it involves every one of your players catching pass after pass after pass as you move down the field. But it actually works better more consistently. And, more often than not, it leads to victories. And I would definitely rather win entire games on a regular basis than catch epic scores on an irregular basis and lose the matches we play.

So, back to my life. How is this even applicable? Well, I am realizing that I need to stop scheming and pining for the long passes and the glory scores when it comes to my goals and dreams. I mean, I want to accomplish the things I set out to achieve in a quick-strike and explosively awesome manner, but that pretty much doesn’t really happen. For me, or for anyone. No matter how much we want it to. Major goals and major dreams require major effort – effort that is calculated, planned out, involving multiple people who can help you, and set out over an extended period of time.

There are no quick strike successes when it comes to the things I really want: to be an amazing husband, to maintain my physical fitness, to keep my childlike faith, to maintain a sensitive heart, to be a writer that impacts the world with my words, and to stay close to God. We all want to go viral and have immediate, massive success – but those occurrences are like strikes of lighting. We can’t bank on them and have to have another plan. A plan that demonstrates stick-to-ituiveness, sweat equity, and time. Lots and lots of time. What’s also cool is that it’s a biblical principle. For example, in Proverbs 21:5 (TLB), it says that “Steady plodding brings prosperity” while “hasty speculation brings poverty.” The RSV translation puts it this way: “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but every one who is hasty comes only to want.” That sounds about right – both in terms of logic, and in terms of my own experiences.

We all want to go viral and have immediate, massive success – but those occurrences are like strikes of lighting. We can’t bank on them and have to have another plan. A plan that demonstrates stick-to-ituiveness, sweat equity, and time.

I can identify things in my life that remind me that I keep throwing the proverbial Frisbee way down the field, and no one is catching it. And they point out that I really need to stop going for the glory, and stick to short passes and steady progress. I can’t take my wife on an idyllic romantic getaway and then expect to coast for a while with how I demonstrate love to her when we return to normal life. I can’t work out in the gym like a beast for a week, or even for a month, and expect to stay fit for the next year. I can’t write a really great blog entry and just hope it gets discovered by a major publishing house who invites me to write a book for them. And I can’t expect opportunities to change the world when I haven’t demonstrated that I am regularly changing the lives of those immediately around me.

I didn’t get my degree or build up our research center with a quick strike. I didn’t build my character, or learn how to speak or write eloquently, or become decent at guitar in that way either. I didn’t become a true friend to others, or learn compassion, humility, or patience that way. Nothing that has really meant something, and truly been worth it, has come quickly or easily. Oh, how I wanted it to. And oh, how I have prayed to just wake up one morning with some fantastical ability or accomplishment. I know that shows some pretty awesome childlike faith, but it hasn’t (yet) happened. And it typically won’t.

I need a bunch of teammates not just in Frisbee but in life – a solid group of people to continually cheer me on and support me in symbolic and tangible ways.

I do know that I need to rely more on others. Not just like, my best friend, or a couple people I’ve known all of my life. I guess I kind of want a band of merry men (and women), like Robin Hood! The bottom line is that I need a bunch of teammates not just in Frisbee but in life – a solid group of people to continually cheer me on and support me in symbolic and tangible ways. I know I have come through for so many others over the years, but it’s hard to let others come through for me. But for the short pass strategy to work, I need them just as much as they need me. And if I seek that out and make it a constant in my life, all of us can help one another to make our dreams into reality. This may remind you of that verse from Ecclesiastes which lays it out pretty bluntly: “It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, But if there’s no one to help, tough!” (4:9-10, MSG). Man, I have struggled so many times trying to do epic things on my own. And it has been so rough. I need a support system. Deperately. And pretty much all the time.

The good thing is that when I search the depths of my heart, I know that I am trying. And I really do feel like I am putting in the effort each day – even though I long for a quick and epic score every once in a while. I mean, they do happen. And I’ve snagged a few (thanks, God!). But I just have to stick with the short passes, and be content with the small gains, and keep looking to and relying on my teammates. And eventually – like many times before – I find myself in the end zone with the disc in my hand. And I once again realize that victories devoid of the flash and the fanfare are still, upon reflection, really sweet.

Testing our Strength

testing our strength
I have this friend, Wil, who I have known since he was eight.  He will be turning sixteen in January.  I hang out with him and his siblings (they are so much fun, and such great kids!), and his parents mentor me in a variety of ways that help me through life.  It’s been really neat to see Wil grow up.  I remember being able to toss him in the air so easily in the pool.  And I remember constantly playing this game we called “KIOSSSSSSSSK!” because that’s such a fun thing to yell out when you are about to pretend karate chop or kick someone while jumping and spinning and running around the house (and throwing couch pillows at each other like ninja stars).  I should mention here that Wil’s parents were a very good sport and way too gracious for letting us play as long as we did, because it was loud, and violent, but also ridiculously enjoyable game for boys growing up (I guess I’m still growing up!).

Wil was tough and athletic and brave even at age eight, but also still a kid and therefore vulnerable in certain ways.  I remember throwing a pillow from across the room right into his face, and making him cry.  I of course felt awful, but it helped me to remember that wow, he’s eight, and he can be hurt and wounded and broken to the point of tears.  And the next time we played, I went a little easier on him.  But he didn’t play any less hard.  At all.  In fact, being reduced to tears the previous time somehow made him a little braver.  And yes, it was a cautious bravery…he had realized what could happen and the pain that could result…but he wasn’t going to let it immobilize him, or otherwise keep him from playing KIOSSSSSSSSK! and having incredible amounts of fun just because of the fear of something bad or undesirable happening.  He probably didn’t consciously process all of this, but it was quite observable to me.

Fast forward almost eight years.  We were hanging out during Thanksgiving weekend.  And playing football out in the yard.  And it was touch football, with a bunch of other boys because we didn’t want anyone to get injured as we weren’t wearing pads.  But Wil has grown into a young man at this point.  And touch football – without any real contact, without any bumps and dives and collisions – just doesn’t cut it anymore. It is just kind of lame to him.  So, he would push off a little at the line of scrimmage when the ball was snapped (perfectly legal), he would use his arms and his body to get better position when attempting to catch a ball (again, perfectly legal), and he would let me or whoever else was guarding him feel the weight of who he was, who he is.  And honestly, I got a little annoyed.  I remember kind of snapping at him after a particularly rough play (I was a bit upset!), saying “Dude I am seriously going to LEVEL you.”  And I partially meant it.  And he smiled, and replied, “Alright!”

And then we played basketball.  Wil has made his high school’s basketball team, and we’ve been shooting hoops together with his awesome brother Davis for years.  But here again, lots of physical contact, and demonstrations of strength and power and presence were visible in full force.  Wil would lower his shoulder just a bit (perfectly legal, he didn’t charge into me) when driving the lane towards the hoop.  And he would use his lower body position and arms to box out and make room to get a rebound.  And he went up HARD for blocks, and shots, and would do anything he needed to do to help his team win.  He didn’t care about whether he was possibly being careless.  He didn’t care about potentially getting hurt by playing too intensely or recklessly.  He didn’t hold back.  He just let it all out, with no hesitation or regrets.

And all of this was absolutely wonderful.  I freaking LOVED seeing it and experiencing it, and it made me so happy.  Wil has firmly entered the phase in his developmental trajectory where it is all about him testing his strength.  Seeing what he is capable of.  And tangibly believing and understanding he is capable of absolutely anything.  John Eldredge (one of my favorite authors) writes about how when he came home from work, his three young sons would lie in wait to pounce on him and tackle him, to rise up against and push against their dad and his strength and what he represented.  And personally challenge the current order of things, where the father was bigger and stronger and dominant over the sons.  And those sons were recognizing their own potential, realizing that they were growing into their own, and seeing that they too “have what it takes.”  And how beautiful of a thing it truly is, because we all need to do this at some point, at many points.

How else do we come to fully discover and understand that our behaviors and choices and actions all have significance, and implications, and affect ourselves but also affect others…in good ways that might positively impact the world but also in bad ways which can cause unimaginable pain?

Perhaps the best examples occur when we are navigating the difficult years of adolescence, and trying to figure out exactly who we are, and what we are capable of.  Here, we tend to rebel against authority, and rules, and institutions, and the structure around us, and the reality set before us.  And it is a good thing, in part.  It helps us to really come into our own skin, to recognize our own power, and ability, and  – for the first time – really, truly own it.  How else do we come to fully discover and understand that our behaviors and choices and actions all have significance, and implications, and affect ourselves but also affect others…in good ways that might positively impact the world but also in bad ways which can cause unimaginable pain?  This has to happen; parents just hope it happens in a reasonably healthy manner.  With Wil, it definitely is.  And what I have seen in him is such an encouragement to me in terms of how I want to live, and how I want to keep living.

I feel so strongly that we need to test our strength not just while teenagers, but all the time.  And not just physical strength – it may have nothing to do with you being fierce on a sports field.  Perhaps for you, it’s more related to emotional strength, or spiritual strength.  We must test our strength, continually over the course of our lives, and not in possibly destructive ways, but in ways that somehow can make us better.  Perhaps by making us braver, and less concerned about the opinions of others, and less hesitant, and more operating from our heart’s desires – regardless of the outcome.  I posted a status update about this recently – how maybe we could love others more freely without being so afraid of rejection all the time.  Maybe we could put our reputations on the line more often instead of being paralyzed by our concern that the bottom is going to fall out and we need to hold ever so tightly to what we’ve gained, or gathered, or earned.

Maybe we could put our reputations on the line more often instead of being paralyzed by our concern that the bottom is going to fall out and we need to hold ever so tightly to what we’ve gained, or gathered, or earned.

Maybe we could just take more risks in general, in order to remind us that we are truly capable of doing anything.  I mean, it could be as simple as jumping into a freezing cold pool.  Or meaningfully complimenting the overworked cashier at the grocery store.  Or working to improve our punctuality for others, every time, no matter the inconvenience and cost to us.  Or actually sticking to a commitment to eat healthier no matter what, or spend more quality time with our significant other no matter what, or grow in self-control by not complaining and gossiping no matter what. 

Or maybe we could think about others and what benefits them so much more…instead of constantly thinking about ourselves, and what benefits us.  Yeah it’s hard.  Sometimes miserably hard.  And yeah, sometimes you won’t feel like doing it – perhaps most of the time.  But it matters.  And you know that.  Deep down, perhaps way deep down, something is telling you that you really should do it.  Because deep down, perhaps way deep down, you know how you want to be, you know how you dreamed you would be, and you know that it will help you make progress.  It will make things better, internally and eventually externally.

We need to tangibly and continually demonstrate to ourselves that we have strength, and resolve, and determination, and a weight to us that we can feel and that others can feel.

Doing all of these things DOES make us better.  And stronger.  It just does.  We need to grow in that direction, and we need to tangibly and continually demonstrate to ourselves that we have strength, and resolve, and determination, and a weight to us that we can feel and that others can feel.  We don’t just want to take up space, and we don’t want to just slowly waste away.  If we are alive, let us be fully alive.  Otherwise, what is the point?  Think about what God might be telling you right now, in terms of what you could do to come back to your truest self, to start moving again in the direction of “better” and “stronger.”  It could be one small but difficult thing.  Maybe do it today, as your first step.  And maybe tomorrow, or next week even, you can take a second step.  And let me know if I can help in any way.  Seriously.

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Playing Fair in Sports and Life

I went go to see Les Miserables recently…I had always loved the book and the storyline, and this was my first opportunity to see it on stage. The experience was amazing, and the portrayal of Jean Valjean’s inner struggle to do the right thing really gripped me. He had committed a crime (breaking parole) early on in life, and despite all the good that he had since done and was continuing to do, he still felt compelled to pay the penalty he was due to pay (prison time). And that is right of him. That is how it should be. “Choose to sin, choose to suffer,” as my favorite pastor James MacDonald always says. There are always consequences for one’s actions, no matter what. And Valjean wanted to do the right thing, no matter what. He could have easily rationalized staying free, hiding from the law, and never turning himself in. He was truly saving lives on the outside (like Cosette’s)…but he continued to feel convicted about past wrongs – and wanted deep down to make it right.

I found that very noble, and not at all foolish. Too often we justify things and dismiss the Holy Spirit and what He is trying to tell us…and then we wonder why we can’t hear from God in other situations. It is because we have allowed that still, small voice to be drowned out in the noise of our own mental gymnastics. I mean seriously, how often do we do that on even a weekly basis???

For whosoever wants to love life and see good days…must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. ~ 1 Peter 3:10

This reminded me of myself and my choices…and how as I get older I keep wanting to completely get rid of all forms and types of deception in my life. And I’ve definitely made a huge amount of progress in this area, but I find that sometimes I still am at least willing and hopeful that the “rules” are bent a little for me. This is very messed up. And actually kind of awful. The Bible talks about “not even a hint” of any kind of impurity in Ephesians 5:3. That definitely includes lies. Lies of commission, lies of omission…fibs, white-lies, half-truths, whatever. It’s all the same when – when you’re doing it – you feel a lack of peace about it. And we know that Satan is the Father all of all lies. So how could we allow ourselves to directly or indirectly agree with him…to side with him….to be on the same page as him? That is crazy. I want nothing to do with Him, ever, with him never having even so much as a toehold in my life. Life is way too difficult as it is. But, even though I know all this in my head, I still don’t always do the right thing.

I was thinking specifically about me on the sand volleyball court. I’m playing intramurals at my school, and so we have these weekly competitive games. And I have noticed that I am very quick and vocal to call out when an opponent’s ball clearly hits outside the lines…but when the opponent’s ball very possibly hits the lines (and is in) or definitely could have been in…I stay silent…and allow the line judge to make the call. Aaaarrrghhh. It’s like, I want to catch a break. And I definitely see this in other areas of my life and the lives of others…it’s like, we want to get away with something…as if, we are entitled to catch a break because a lot in life goes against us (depending on the orientation of our perspective, of course). But I don’t want to be like that, and I don’t want to think like that. I shouldn’t want to try to manipulate the situation just so I earn a point, or get a break.

I want to be someone who doesn’t have any part of my identity wrapped up in my team winning or losing the game. I want to be completely disassociated from the plays…and I don’t want to be hoping for breaks in judges’ calls. If I think that one of my hits was probably not in, I want to be able to loudly and boldly say that from my vantage point, that looked out, the point goes to the other team. Even if it’s match point. If I definitely don’t know, then I can remain silent…but when I kind of probably know…I want to be speak up because honesty is more important than anything else. Seeking righteousness is more important than anything else. And there is definitely a wrong and a right, and I remain silent in order to scheme out a point to benefit me, it is so wrong. And I can’t rationalize it away.

Seeking righteousness is more important than anything else. And there is definitely a wrong and a right, and I remain silent in order to scheme out a point to benefit me, it is so wrong. And I can’t rationalize it away.

Don’t I trust God enough that if I am honest, no matter what, He will take care of me? That He will surround me with favor like a shield (Psalm 5:3)? And not just when playing sports (like, protecting me from injury, or helping me to play my best even if we lose) but also in life (in relationships, in opportunities, in work, in health, in family stuff)? Is not God big enough to work things out for me in those areas – the areas that actually matter – if I am being completely honest in all of my dealings (including line calls during sand volleyball)?

And maybe you are thinking, my goodness, calm down, it’s just a volleyball game. But then I wonder how many times have I missed God speaking to me – and a golden chance to grow closer to Him and have His heart beat in sync with mine – because I trivialize the situation and discard the life lesson that can and should be extracted. God wants to teach us stuff all the time, through every experience. And I don’t want to miss out on Him because I’ve allowed my conscience to get seared through repeated neglect. Everything is about choices. And this is one that I am glad He has pointed out…. Because I want to keep growing. And I want to do the right thing. Because He deserves it.

I wonder how many times have I missed God speaking to me – and a golden chance to grow closer to Him and have His heart beat in sync with mine – because I trivialize the situation and discard the life lesson that can and should be extracted.

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