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Athletes spin tales of Ultimate Frisbee

Update: October, 04/2015 - 03:25
Catch and release: The sport is for both men and women, and it requires players to be very quick.

Ultimate Frisbee, a casual sport introduced to Ha Noi by expats, has grown increasingly popular through word of mouth. Thuy Dung reports.

Ultimate Frisbee was first introduced in Ha Noi in 1997 by a handful of expatriates, and has informally continued for decades by a local group named the "Ha Noi Ultimate Club" (HUC).

On Tuesday at 8.30pm, at the Hacinco Student Village Stadium, there are many football matches being played on the field. It is not difficult, however, to spot HUC in a corner, where HUC members appear to be the only mixed group of boys and girls training there.

"This sport is for both male and female. It's probably the reason I quit football for Ultimate. Unlike other sports, I can easily invite my friends, my family, or even my girlfriend to play," said Nguyen Quang, the leader of HUC.

Quang continued: "Compared to many mainstream sports which have large coverage and newspaper sections dedicated to them, Ultimate is less popular, especially in Ha Noi. Most people learn about Ultimate through a friend who plays it, which is like word of mouth marketing. However, this turns it into a very personal and communal system, from the beginning."

Ultimate Frisbee, or Ultimate, is a non-contact sport. It is played with several people on each side on a football-sized pitch. Ultimate is known as a combination of netball - when you cannot run with the disc and American football - when you score a point by catching the disc at the other team's end zone. If the offensive players drops the disc or it is intercepted, the game immediately switches from offense to defence.

In his book "Frisbee: Practitioner's Manual and Definitive Treatise", psychiatrist Dr. Stancil Johnson wrote: "When a ball dreams, it dreams like a Frisbee."

In the white-neon lights at the stadium that night, the balls might be jealous to see Frisbees float, arc and bend through the air. The game happens as if it's playing in slow motion. However, in fact, the players must run through exhaustion.

Constant sprinting: Players must run to catch the frisbees, even when they're exhausted. — VNS Photos Doan Tung

The game is fast-paced and intensely physical. When a player receives the disc, he has to stop running and pass the disc to a team member in 7 to 10 seconds. Players on the opposing team will try to block the passes, but without physical contact.

"That's why there is no bullying in Ultimate. We don't have or need referees. We all play with a commitment to fairness," Quang said.

This means it is up to players to settle any disputes about fouls, which is different from any other sport. According to Quang, being "spirited" is our "ultimate" goal.

Generally, the spirit of sportsmanship and respect is always the top priority in any sport. In Ultimate, however, there is a much higher emphasis on it, since the game is self-refereed and all players are responsible for adhering to the rules.

Quang stressed that after each training sessions finish, all members gather to discuss whether they had made any foul that strictly violated "the spirit" of the game.

Apart from the self-officiating principle, Ultimate also features co-ed teams, with male and female players together on one team."It is one of the few sports whose games make no distinction between gender divisions. If you ask most other players, including me, we would say we prefer mixed teams," said Quang.

The key to its success is not being influenced by physical differences, but mostly relies on the dynamic between members, according to Samuel Jones, a senior player in an American local team.

"In football, sometimes you see a win is gained by only one player, which has been called a solo performance or one-man team. But in Ultimate, that ‘fortune' doesn't happen. Even if you have the best players, the team won't work if they don't fight for each other," Jones said.

Quang said: "The physical difference won't be a drawback, if a female player is flexible in moving and anticipates the direction of the disc."

In early August, Ultimate Frisbee was officially recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) after 30 years of requests. However, as an Ultimate enthusiast, Quang showed his concern about future commercialisation, due to this recognition.

"Things can change in an instant. You can see what recently has been part of the transition, which is the presence of the referees in league games. The higher level of professionalism can interfere with the friendliness and spirit of the game."

However, Quang added that the theory of evolution is applied to everything, not to mention Ultimate."But players would have to adapt to changes and remember to fight for the spirit of the game." — VNS

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