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Embracing the Ultimate Adventure

By Geoff Richman
Embracing the Ultimate Adventure

Each September, International School of Amsterdam’s (ISA) IB Diploma Programme hosts two days of workshops to consider the responsibilities and expectations that will come to bear over the two years. To help with blood flow and introduce the programme’s rookies to what creative, active, and service (to paraphrase CAS) opportunities can be, we offer four “tasters” from which to sample. I host an hour of Ultimate.
Because our physical and health education teachers share this game with students at all ages of Upper School, our taster focuses less on the rules of the game and more on how to excel at it. But with familiarity comes a certain blasé attitude best expressed by a closed-mouth yawn.
Such worldly sixteen-year-olds need a jolt, so I oblige: “In 2015, the International Olympic Committee fully recognized Ultimate, which means the sport is eligible for inclusion in future Olympic games. Perhaps Paris in 2024 or Los Angeles in 2028 will choose it. Oh, I can see your math wheels turning; you will be just about at your athletic prime for your Olympic debut.”
Later, as we learn to throw a forehand, I swear there is more attention to finger placement and wrist snap among the students and a marked determination among some to master this crucial skill.
Following our first CAS taster in the autumn of 2016, some of those Grade 11 students enjoyed the experience enough that they created an Ultimate club and asked me to coach it. With an assist from our athletic director, we secured field space for one afternoon each week during the spring season.
In the hope of seeing our program grow into a sustainable team to give more kids the chance to play this wonderful game, I opened it up to boys and girls in Grades 6 and older. Throughout the spring, we had a fairly stable group of 20 players. While most were those Grade 11 acolytes, there were five Grade 7 students whose games developed rapidly.
A brief bit about the game: Ultimate (formerly “Ultimate Frisbee”) is a sport played in more than 80 countries by an estimated seven million men and women, girls and boys. Combining the non-stop movement and athletic endurance of football with the aerial passing skills of American football, a game of Ultimate is played by two teams of seven. The object of the game is to score by catching a pass in the opponent’s end zone.
Beyond the evident athleticism required—a boon for players of all skill levels as the sport keeps us active—Ultimate develops character. It is the “spirit of the game” that governs action on the field; without referees, the responsibility for fair play rests with the players, and from this has emerged a tradition of both sportsmanship and camaraderie that can sometimes be lacking in other sports. At our international schools, such a community of fair-minded athletes connected to this “non-traditional” sport can be of benefit for those interested in making friends.
Ultimate is a sport that anyone can play; I have described it as having a “low barrier to entry.” It is a game uniquely positioned for young women and men, girls and boys, who want to play a sport but do not believe their skills and talents meet expectations for other sports. We know who is a good shooter of the basketball, who can curl an accurate free kick, whose 50 breaststroke time is fast enough. But we don’t really know who can throw a disc with any accuracy.
Therefore, those who develop a forehand throw to accompany their natural backhand will find immediate success on the field. (I forever enjoy watching a player throw a moderately smooth forehand for the first time, internalizing the discrete steps to produce a fluid whole.)
Ultimate can capture a portion of our schools’ populations who might not otherwise play a sport. Indeed, on our team this year we have choir members, musicians, anime acolytes, actors, budding biologists, and more. Our first year, the Physics Club decided to move their meeting time in order to accommodate the significant number of members playing with us.
As you might imagine, I emphatically encourage all international schools to create a team. Bringing people together beneath the banner of Ultimate will have many benefits for many of our kids. And, once your team is up and, ahem, running, contact me so we can schedule a friendly competition. l
Geoff Richman is Head of Upper School Learning Support at The International School of Amsterdam.

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