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There’s Strength in Disc Diversity

This article appeared first in the Summer 1995 edition of Disc Golf World News. I think that the sentiments expressed are relevant to all of us. Despite the fact that I am an ultimate player, I have gotten a lot out of the other disc sports, and I certainly think that any ability I have at ultimate has been helped by “cross-training”, so to speak.

From an ultimate point of view, all of the other disc sports have something to contribute to ultimate, and the converse is probably also true. Disc golf helps with distance, MTA and TRC with disc reading, and DDC and Guts with catching, just to name a few. The thing to remember is that there are other disc sports out there, and it may be worth your while to investigate them, even if they are not your chosen game.

There was a pretty feisty thread years ago on the usenet discussion group. It centered around the basic question of whether or not the group should discuss all disc sports, or if there should be separate groups for each discipline. The comments are understandable as ultimate players, who made up about 85 percent of the participants, periodically complained about the distraction of golf or freestyle postings, and of course, the minority enthusiasts bemoaned the lack of discussion on their interests.

An argument that has been mentioned several times is that all the ball sports could never share one discussion group. Obviously, a point well taken. An esoteric discussion of traveling rules in ultimate is just not of high interest to a dedicated disc golfer. Conversely, the vagaries of golf disc flight paths bore the double disc court player. There are, however, some dramatic differences between ball and disc sports. The relatively short history of disc play has shared roots. All the games and disciplines have evolved from a surprisingly small group of enthusiasts, who responded creatively to the magic of this new sports object. As recently as the early eighties, most disc enthusiasts participated in all the activities that were available. As things got bigger, specialization was inevitable. There is, of course, nothing wrong with specialization. If a person is introduced to just one of our sports and likes it, that’s just fine. The important thing to recognize, however, is that by choosing a disc sport, this new player has actually taken on one of a whole family of related activities. It’s like the difference between joining a health club that has just one facility near your home versus joining a club that has outlets that you can visit all over the world.

Physical education and recreation folks are always pushing for “lifetime” or “carryover” sports. Classic examples are tennis and swimming versus something like football. In my admittedly prejudiced opinion, disc sports as a group offer an unparalleled lifetime activity. By that, I mean that time committed to development of disc skills provides exceptional return on the investment of time and energy to learn the basic skills required to play. Lacrosse is a wonderful sport, but after you’ve finished your all-American days of play at Johns Hopkins, you are a retired lacrosse player at age 21. There just aren’t that many opportunities to play the game in later life, and the nature of the game is not necessarily a good fit with your needs as you grow older. The skills you have learned also have limited application. Rug beating and shouldering your way into crowded elevators are the only two that come to mind for me. But don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great game as long as you’re 18 and living in the dorm. What we’re talking about here however is the wisdom of your time investment.

Let’s imagine that our guy played ultimate for Johns Hopkins instead. Most readers of this magazine would say that he’s already playing a better game. But that’s beside the point. He graduates, and his first job is with the Department of Health in Cincinnati. Our lacrosse player is already in trouble. A football player would be in similar straits in that there just isn’t much organized team athletics for people after college. If you happen to be a woman, the outlook is even bleaker. Hope you like aerobics. The ultimate player however finds a pretty good club team to hook up with in Cincinnati. Life is good. But at the regionals, that old ankle injury comes back again, and the season is over. The doctor says “That’s it; no more sharp cuts for that ankle.” Hmmmn.

Well, he’s in luck. This is where the investment in disc play really starts to pay off. While our lacrosse player is now deep in the throes of mid-life crisis, our ultimate player should have only a brief mourning for his lost youth. Everybody on the ultimate team knows that disc golf is thriving in greater Cincinnati with over a dozen courses within twenty minutes of town. Sure the first trip to the course might be a little reluctant with mumblings of, “I always thought that discs are to be thrown to people, not into barbecues.” After a few holes, though, our guy is pleasantly surprised. That big disc backhand makes a pretty good transition to the tee shot and he even seems to have a nice touch around the basket. It’s hard not to like a game when people tell you how good you are the first time out. Maybe he is set for the rest of his life…but no. The department lays him off (right sizing), and the only job he can get is in Fargo, North Dakota. Not a golf course for miles. Well, maybe it’s time to set one up. Or maybe self-caught flight and distance. A year of isolation passes slowly, but our guy stays fit, and learns some new disc skills.

The next job is in San Diego and the competitive juices are still flowing, so it’s time for some double disc court play. Or maybe he meets a freestyler and goes to the La Jolla cove every evening to learn that game. In each case, the new activity is a very different proposition, but he’s off to a flying start with his ever-growing array of disc skills. The story may seem a bit far-fetched, but it’s surprising how closely it mirrors the actual experiences of life-long disc players. The sport offers such a rich array of activities that you can almost always find one to meet your needs.

A magazine such as this one fosters the usefulness of our sport’s diversity because it keeps players in touch with the alternatives and make diversification easier. If you already know a little bit about golf when you move to Cincinnati or blow out your ankle, all the better. There’s another important reason to keep the disc sport families together…survival. It’s a very competitive world. Each special interest in our culture contends for public attention and support. We need that support to survive. Ultimate needs field space; golf needs courses; events need sponsors; magazines need subscribers and advertisers. We are still a micro sport, even when considered together. Separately, we risk fading into complete insignificance. We need all the clout we can get with the public and with other organizations that deal with sport. We are simply more of a factor together than we are separately. That doesn’t mean that each sport can’t pursue its own future, or that there shouldn’t be a separate discussion group for freestyle. Each area of disc sports faces different challenges and opportunities. The point is that we need all the friends that we can get. That’s what the World Flying Disc Federation is all about; trying to maximize the benefits of cooperation within all of the disc sports, without limiting any of them, and continuing to explore the potential of the flying disc. Over the years, we have built an amazingly rich and diverse family of sports that offers us a unique range of pleasures. Let’s enjoy it to the fullest.