Friday, June 19, 2015

Paradise with Shopski

This past weekend, I had the incredible opportunity to play in an international ultimate frisbee tournament in Jena, Germany with the Sofia-based team, Shopski Otryad. Although I haven't played real, competitive ultimate in two years, frisbee has strangely been a key thread in my time in BG. I've written about this before, how it sort of became the unofficial sport of the BEST Foundation tournaments, how my students like to play, and how one of my closest American ETA friends is a fellow frisbee lady. Into all of this is woven Shopski, the most spirited and welcoming group of men and women I have encountered, and that's saying a lot because I LOVE my ultimate community back home. Shopski possesses something special, and I think that something is this openness to growth, to help, to love, to spreading the heart of what the sport is. To them I owe the greatest thanks for welcoming me onto their team this year.

This was my first international tournament, and some of the rituals and activities struck me as very different from what I know in the U.S. It should be noted that I've only played college ultimate, and have only tagged along as a groupie to a few club level tournaments, and my international experiences are limited to this one weekend. These are simply the differences that I noticed, as one averagely- experienced American ultimate player.  Onto the meat of this fine sandwich!

Tournament Structure.

This tournament took place on four fields for 24 teams. Gameplay was 35 minutes long, and each game ended with a loudspeaker broadcast of Superstar DJ. Every. Thirty-five. Minutes. Needless to say, it is my new favorite jam.

I must say, this was quite a challenge for me mentally. 35 minute games doesn't give anyone the time to really dig deep into their willpower, nor did it allow for teams to throw some experiment plays. This is probably the only part of the tournament I would have changed if I were queen.

The Spirit.

Rarely this weekend did I feel any animosity from other teams, and when I did it was just one random rotten apple on a team during intense moments. Oh wait, those rotten apples also sincerely apologized for distasteful behavior such as yelling, slamming/ spiking discs, etc after games in post-game spirit circles. Like, an apology that told me they knew their behavior detracted from spirited ultimate.

!!! My beach tourney trucker hat off to you, brave honest people.

Now, I know spirit circles are becoming more of a thing stateside (it wasn't a norm I observed at tournaments when I played two years ago), but I have to say how genuinely jovial they felt at this tournament. Players clapped after each team spoke, words were chosen carefully and praise was given where praise was due. Criticism was constructive and well-received. Special gifts were given (ahem rakia ot bulgaria) and silly games were played.

Side note, I've talked to many American players who think the spirit stuff is fake and cheesy, and to them I say HOGWASH. If true camaraderie became the norm, we wouldn't have to assume that spirit was forced or spirited activities were useless. Myself, I value the community and the love that supports ultimate more than the actual game. One doesn't exist without the other. I vote to keep playing ships and sailors with a side of schnapps passed around the circle.

At the Saturday night tournament party, the dj only had vinyl discs from the 60s and 70s. o.O That was...different.

Awards Ceremony. 

The Jena tournament closed out with a big, hilarious ceremony, which a teammate thinks is more of a norm for ultimate in Europe. Do we do this, U.S.? I just recall teams leaving after they lost on the last day of gameplay, not sticking around to play out consolation games. I loved the closing ceremony, and thought it was a great way to build community and end an already wonderful weekend. Lots of pictures with other teams, (like so),

recognition for things other than simply winning first place, true beauty happened (and no, I'm not just talking about my own face). I really hope this is something that starts showing up at American tournaments.


Co-ed and communal. Yowza, was not quite prepared for that. All but three of the 24 teams were from Germany, so this shower situation was normal for most people at the tournament. The normalcy of it all pushed me to, you know, just accept it if I wanted to feel clean after a day's play. And verdict? Ain't half bad. Luckily, some of the shower goers brought jars of pickles to share, along with some wonderfully loud and boisterously echoing shower songs from the menfolk. Perhaps this is all just another attempt at building the ultimate community? One might say, a nakedly unabashed attempt?

The Takeaways.

Overall, the spirit at this tournament seeped into every second of my experience. Where I've often felt that Spirit of the Game was an idealized notion that we sometimes catch shining glimpses of during game play, this tournament was SOTG realized, come to fruition in reality. Perhaps this was just the one time a German tournament got it perfectly right, or maybe SOTG was clearly a part of the recipe because it wasn't a series type of tournament, but I don't think that's the case. Based on discussions I had with other Americans at the tournament and with German players, this type of spirited play is the norm and is an expectation.

There are many, many wonderful things about ultimate in the U.S., and there was incredible spirit to be found in nearly every tournament I have attended, but I for one want to make the personal effort to reach out to more players at tournaments.

I will always shake hands with my opponents.

I will strike up more conversations with players from other teams on the sidelines, because we are all part of one big community.

I will cheer for other teams and applaud their efforts when they make big plays.

I think as a group of athletes, we can do something for one another by focusing on what we give to other teams in addition to what we take away at the end of the day. I ALWAYS go in to win, and I try to leave it all on the field like everyone else, but glory tarnishes over time, while the wonderfulness of spreading fondness and being supportive breathes new life at every turn.

To Paradisco Jena, thank you for putting your all into this tournament, what a pleasure it was to be a guest among the other teams taking part, and THANK YOU for the beautiful contribution your support made to ultimate in Bulgaria. I will remember this tournament.....ehhh... probably forever. I'm so excited to see Bulgarian ultimate players on an international stage, and I can't wait to watch the growth that will explode in this country over the next few years.