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.