Embracing Ultimate Frisbee
Photography by Brian Fitzsimmons
Ahh frisbee. A word, albeit my spell checker still refuses to acknowledge, slowly gaining acknowledgement around the world. I’m not talking the jaunt-to-the-park-with-your-pals-to-toss-a-frisbee, frisbee. I’m talking cleated, sprinting, stack-setting, field-hucking, lay-out soaring, goal-scoring frisbee. Ultimate frisbee.
Ultimate frisbee (Ultimate) is growing in popularity. It's being introduced in grade schools and popping up in high school and college arenas. Locally, Ultimate Players League of Austin provides varying levels of leagues and tournaments to compete on local, regional, and national levels. Austin is even home to professional team, Austin Sol. Additionally, Austinites can find a wide variety of pick-up games to enjoy any day of the week, suiting different skill levels and competitiveness. To the ultimate enthusiast, this is an exciting time, being validated in an endeared sport often associated with hacky sacks and hippies. To many, the draw to Ultimate is baffling.
I mean, is it even a real sport?
Yes. My GPS watch tells me I usually run between three and five miles during pick-up games. A game consists of two teams of seven players on a field resembling a small football field. The only way to advance the disc is via throwing. Players play both offense and defense until someone scores. The disc has to be caught in the end zone for a single-point score. Typically, the first team to seven points wins.
Over the last seven years, with few exceptions, I’ve played Ultimate in Austin anywhere from two to six days a week. Barefoot, cleated; 10 degrees, 110 degrees; score, no score, I don’t care — I’m into it. My introduction to Ultimate was simple. I stumbled upon a pick-up game at Zilker Park and essentially never left.
Growing up, I was too short for basketball, too hyper for softball, too intimidated by soccer, too team-oriented for track, and too deep in the Midwest for lacrosse. Ultimate was the perfect fit for me. It leveraged my assets and didn’t mind my lacking that shine in other sports. Ultimate takes the fun elements from all different field team sports, removes the dangerous elements, and leaves you with this level field where you can use whatever assets you do have to compete in a fulfilling game.
What I find addictive about Ultimate is that it is a unique and accessible outlet satisfying two very real needs: health and community. It’s a village sport. Regardless of age, gender, and ability — Ultimate has a place for you.
Sports bring people and communities together. Since the days of gladiators, neighbors have put their differences aside to rally in arenas to cheer for their team. As kids, we learn to socialize through play. Eventually we’re made to “grow up,” at which point, “athletes” are allowed to play games while the rest of us watch. Ultimate breaks this cycle. It allows us all to get back in the spirit of socializing through games. No one needs to be a bystander; everyone and anyone can play.
Ultimate allows all players to come with various strengths and weaknesses and play to their own competitive advantage. It doesn’t take adult strength to play Ultimate; I’ve seen a 13-year-old throw a disc as far as anyone else. Ultimate takes some cardio ability (though I’ve seen plenty get by without it), some coordination, some smarts on how to play the field, teamwork, and the desire to be there. Of course, you get players better than others, and you see some real superstars out there. But where else can you compete with a 21-year-old male college athlete and 65-year-old grandmother—at the same time?
Not only has Ultimate kept me in great cardio shape, it has also become a main avenue of socialization for me. Better than bars or noisy gatherings, Ultimate has shaped a community around me filled with people of all different stages of life, economic class, religion, culture, beliefs, and backgrounds that I would otherwise never know, much less consider friends. I have made career connections through Ultimate, found roommates, neighbors, mentors, mentees, and best friends.
To view Ultimate as a strange up-and-coming competitive sport better left to the hippies would be a significant disservice the unique benefit Ultimate has to offer individuals, schools, and communities. Ultimate offers a healthy space to compete in an inclusive team environment along with the opportunity to socialize not just with peers, but with a much broader communal demographic — the entire village.
There are pick-up games to fit all skills and abilities around Austin.
To find a pick-up game near you visit:
To participate in the Ultimate Players League of Austin visit:
For information and game schedule for professional team, Austin Sol, visit: