Ultimate frisbee teams can vary drastically in terms of culture, dynamics and playing style. As a beginner, joining the right team will make a big impact on how much fun you have and how quickly your skills improve.
Essentially, you want to belong to a team where everyone gets plenty of time with the disc during games. This type of team tends not to be overly concerned with winning every game, but focuses more on player development.
At the same time, it’s important to find a balance between taking risks and encouraging “responsible” or “high-percentage” throws. In my opinion, riskier (longer or more heavily defended) throws inject a lot of fun into the game.
So if having fun is one of your goals for playing ultimate frisbee, then you need to find a team that supports its players attempting throws that are at the edge of their ability.
Players encouraged to play at their “edge” will progress faster than players who don’t get to take as many chances during games.
Once you’ve found that team, it’s important to still earn trust by being responsible with the disc most of the time. Otherwise, excessive risk-taking (and losing possession for your team) will result in nobody wanting to throw to you.
Are Handlers “Looking Off” Beginners?
Avoid playing for teams that are overly concerned with winning at all costs. Sometimes an overly competitive handler or two can ruin a beginner’s odds of getting the disc during games.
One of the most obvious hints that a team is trying too hard to win is when its beginners are being “looked off”.
Being “looked off” refers to a handler seeing a wide-open player, but not making the throw. This usually happens to beginners and players with less developed handling and catching skills. Sub-consciously, the handler may be worried that throwing to them might results in a turn over.
While “looking-off” less-experience players can be an effective short-term strategy for winning games, it results in teams with lopsided skill distribution.
Experienced players continue to get almost all of the passes in games, and so they also make most of the throws. Inexperienced players don’t get many passes in games, and so they don’t develop throwing skills. You can see how this isn’t an ideal position for a new player to find themselves in.
On the other hand, there are also teams which utilize their inexperienced players as readily as veteran players. These teams actually become more formidable over shorter timelines because the net skill acquisition is much higher for the team as a whole. This is because beginners experience more dramatic “beginner gains” when given favourable conditions to try, fail, learn and grow.
A team that cares about the development of all players over the long term is going to be more enjoyable to belong to than a team that wins games by excluding weaker players at key moments.
So when looking for a team to join, find one where all players get lots of passes during games.
Are Beginners “Allowed” To Throw Upfield?
Be wary of joining teams where the handlers always expect beginners to “dump” (throw backwards) to the handler. The key word here is “always”, because the reality is that dumping back to the handler is a key part of the game and one of the best throws for a beginner to become proficient at early on.
The problem arises when handlers put too much pressure on beginners to only dump. This prevents the beginner from learning how to spot upfield opportunities and attempt tougher throws.
On the other hand, it’s often challenging for a beginner to not get fixated on only looking upfield when they have the disc. This is especially true of beginners who are not yet confident at pivoting. In these cases, it’s actually helpful for a handler to call for a dump because it reminds the beginner that a backward pass is a viable option!
The thing to remember is that everyone should have the opportunity to take chances. That’s how players get better. So make sure the team you choose to play for is supportive of new players trying out their upfield throwing during games.
Avoid altogether teams where beginners are heavily discouraged from making any throw but the backward handler dump.
Does Everyone Get Equal Playing Time?
It’s easy for everyone to get equal playing time during low-pressure games. The temptation for veterans to take more time for themselves increases during playoffs, or any game where the score is close.
What we need to remember here is that it’s only frisbee, and we’re all out to have fun. This philosophy is slightly different if you belong to a touring or club team, but most of us are just playing recreational frisbee. We’ve all paid the same registration fee. We should all get equal playing time, regardless of ability.
Even when your team is short players, and it’s necessary to double shift to field a team, everyone should get the option to double if they want to.
Again, when you look at the big picture, a team that gets its newer players to double shift during games along with the veterans will experience greater overall improvement over a season than a team where only the veterans double shift.
Look for a team where everyone gets all the playing time they want, regardless of player ability or game circumstances.
How to Find a Team as a Beginner Ultimate Frisbee Player
In writing this article I’ve made the assumption that you have some say over what team you play for. Hopefully this is the case, and you have access to a league with enough teams that you can make yourself available as a substitute player for several of them – eventually joining the roster of the one you have the most fun on.
Your local recreational ultimate frisbee league likely has coordinators you can contact directly. When speaking to a coordinator, be sure to impress upon them the fact that you’re new to the game and want to be placed on a team where the focus is on fun and player development.
Not all captains are the same. Some team captains are more competitive while others are more relaxed and patient. You want a captain with a relaxed, patient, fun attitude. This will be someone who you can learn from, and whose team will likely exhibit a more beginner-friendly culture.
Lower Tiered Teams Aren’t Necessarily Less Competitive
An easy mistake to make is thinking that lower tiered teams that don’t win many games are also more relaxed and fun-loving. Low-tier teams can be just as bad for wanting to win as high-tier teams – only they tend to also have more general frustration at losing so many games.
It’s not always like this of course, sometimes teams can lose every game and still have a great overall attitude. Just make sure that if you join a low-tier team that there are sufficiently skilled players to learn from.
Aim for a Middle-Tier Team
From what I’ve seen, the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle of the league. Teams at the very bottom of the league sometimes lack players with sufficient experience to help the individual players on the team develop the skills needed for the team to become more competitive as a whole.
Over a period of years, this can produce frustration because the team just isn’t getting any better. Players get discouraged, and captains get frustrated.
Of course, this isn’t always the case. But it’s useful to be wary of teams that have spent years at the bottom of the league. Sometimes those are also the teams with problematic team culture. Players become so afraid to make mistakes that they never take risks, and so their skill development is hobbled.
This is by no means a strict rule, but I’d say most of the time beginners will have the best experience playing for middle-tier teams. Middle tier teams tend to have a good mix of experienced players to guide the newer players.
The fact that the team is ranked somewhere in the middle also suggests that they win and lose games regularly. This is a good thing, because at the higher levels, the expectation of winning games is higher, and so the pressure to win can be higher too. As a beginner, you want to have a fairly low pressure to win. A team that does its best to win, but still throws to all of its players (beginners and veterans alike), is the kind of team to look for.
Sub On Several Teams Before Joining One
Maybe it’s possible for you to watch teams play before you join a roster. Or maybe you can act as a substitute player until you find a team that you seem to have good chemistry with.
Trying out a bunch of teams as a substitute player is a great way to get a sense for different team cultures and to get an idea of what kinds of players you want to spend time with.
Is your main reason for playing ultimate frisbee is to have fun, exercise, gain skills and make friends? If so, look for teams where the players are laughing and having fun whether they’re winning or losing. Look for teams with high-level players that spend time helping newer players learn the game.
Choosing the right team is one of the most important decisions you can make as a beginner ultimate frisbee player. Your team’s culture will have a big impact on how you experience the game, and how rapidly you learn and apply your skills in games. I wish you the best of luck in finding your ideal team!