Welcome to our newest advice series, where we ask players from all over about what wisdom they'd give to their fledgling selves as they begin their journey into ultimate. We start things off with Claire Jencks, whose long and storied career provides us with a wealth of knowledge!
Dear College Claire,
You’ll never guess what you’re getting yourself into. Over the next ten years you’ll play competitive ultimate all over the nation. You’ll play for Brütesquad, Nightlock, Heist, and a multitude of slapdash teams made for wreaking tournament havoc. You’ll go to thousands of practices, throw and catch hundreds of thousands of discs, make lifelong friends and establish something pretty damn meaningful. Most importantly your college reunion team will absolutely crush Trouble in Vegas while wearing only outfits made of denim.
It wasn’t all fun and games though, you battled injury and burnout, isolation and identity crisis and well, I’ll just get to the point - you could have taken a few less bumpy roads. So here is something from me to you to guide you forward through the next few years.
Learn how to move.
Repetitions add up over time - every handler cut, throw, bid, every tournament- it’s all wear and tear on your body that can be minimized by better movement. Preventable injuries in your hips and knees are one of the reasons you retired from high-level ultimate. Please, do yourself a huge favor and find a strength coach who will take the time to teach you push, pull, squat, lunge and run in efficient and effective ways. Not only will it make your game better, it will 100% make getting out of bed feel better when you reach ripe old age. If you can’t afford a coach, take to the youtube university - there is a ton of great content out there. Moving well is worth its weight in gold. Take my word for it.
Learn how to think
Yogi Berra said “Baseball [Ultimate] is 90% mental and the other half is physical.” It’s oh so true. You’ve got a fiery temper and use Ultimate as your outlet, so do yourself and your matchups a favor and learn to meditate and visualize. Mental resilience and clarity will be even more important than the fittest bod and flyest arsenal of throws. In lieu of a professional sports psychologist, I recommend Mind Gym, and 10 Minute Toughness.
Learn how to learn
You are an obstinate, bull-headed creature. You’re used to being pretty good at most things and when you’re not immediately good you tend to give up. Stop that nonsense and learn how to be a beginner. Not only will it help you empathize with your teammates, it will allow you the grace to prepare and keep at things that don’t come naturally, like moving from College to Club ultimate (what a rough transition that will be for you), or playing neverending points in sleeting two-feet-of-mud conditions like that one weekend at Midwest Throwdown.
Tips for learning:
Start early - Even earlier than you think. There’s no cramming in Ultimate (or life).
Plan it out, Write it down - Prepping for Nationals? What skillwork do you need to learn in the preceding weeks/month/year.
Break things into chunks -the tinier the better. A handler cut can be broken down into a mental choice, a physical juke (with multiple variations), and then a forward movement. Practice each in isolation. Put them together one by one.
Quality over Quantity - 10 focused throwing minutes is far superior to an hour while chatting. (10 focused minutes every day is even better).
Toggle - Try something hard first, then go back to something easy, then hard. It will stimulate important parts of your brain and even more importantly, help you appreciate the things you already do know how to do.
Recognize the difference between failure and defeat
Failure is not completing a given task at a given time. Defeat means that you decide not to try again. Realize that failure is actually a good thing. Dropping a disc, getting beat upline, forgetting a play - all these are failures that can lead to useful learning. Failure exposes weakness, which can be worked on to make a strength. Just because you fail at something doesn’t make you less of a person or a worse frisbee player. You will fail thousands of times, get scored on by Claire Chastain, Dominique Fontenette, and seemingly every Fury player ever. If you get over your initial frustration, you can get back up and score on them too. This applies to frisbee and to life.
Use injury as a valuable tool
You will play at the highest level at the time for a woman ultimate player. This will mean tournaments in the heat, in the snow, in the rain and wind. You will be working a full time job, training, and traveling. When you hurt your hip you will feel like the world is falling and you will descend into a cloud of mental darkness. Because Ultimate is a large part of your identity you will feel like your value as a frisbee player and as a human has diminished due to your physical state. Do not fear and don’t beat yourself up about it. If you harness your injury you will come out a better human and player for it. Use this time to work on your mental game. Use this time to work on your team spirit. Use this time to study film, study the best player on your team, work on your flicks. Use this time to do anything but lament your body’s state. There are events, and then there is how you choose to interpret them. You always have a choice. Also, refer to advice #1 and #2.
Take care of the people around you
I can’t stress this one enough. Lucky for you the people you’ll play with are rad. They are smart, hard-working, passionate. Cultivate their friendships both on and off the field - especially off the field. These people can be your closest allies. They’ll laugh with you, cry with you and even help you job hunt when the time comes. For two years you’ll live with 10 of them in a house in Berkeley and have the most complex excel house finance spreadsheet the world will ever see. Make sure your people know you appreciate them.
Enjoy the process
At the risk of sounding like your grandmother, let me just say that your ultimate career will fly by. E.N.J.O.Y it. In the next few years this sport will expose to you to experiences you never could have imagined and people you will regret not getting to know better. Put your phone down (yep, even that silver Motorola Razr with the super cool snake game) and begin to care deeply about those people. You will be lucky enough travel to what feels like every sports field in the U.S. Take the extra day or two to spend time in those cities those fields live in. Understand the privilege you have been granted and celebrate every game whether the score reflects your effort or not. Every day you get out there, you’re winning. Enjoy the ride.
A former Brute Squad, Nightlock, and Heist player, Claire Jencks knows what it means to live and breathe Ultimate. During her non-Ultimate life, she is a freelance writer and designer who works with outdoor and athletic brands to tell engaging stories. She is based out of Seattle, WA.
OVER TO YOU
If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself? Let us know in the comments and we might feature your #knowledgebombs in the next post!