Last year, I watched with excitement and nervousness as the best in Australia competed each week to bid for the inaugural league championship title. Players sprinted lengths of the field, jostling for position as they leaped and churned across the field; commentators exclaimed and shouted and I did so along with them. Each game had highlight reels and replays of impossible scores and advertisements for player jerseys and merchandise. My social media feeds were awash with the same.
It could have been any televised professional sport, but in fact, I was watching the Australian Ultimate League, something I have chased for over a decade. I thought I knew the sport inside and out. Yet here on my 13” screen, it was presented to me in a way I had not appreciated before – a sport not just for the Ultimate community but for any spectator who could watch for the first time and immediately embrace.
I was overcome by an immediate desire to be part of this movement, whatever it was. Hopefully, many of you also shared this feeling when you tuned in last year.
If I were to hazard a guess, you are reading this article because you have some kind of personal connection to ultimate. Sadly, most of us are the presidents of our own fan clubs which have only ever had three general member categories – ourselves, ultimate friends and that rare parent, colleague or neighbour.
You could ask yourself the same question of any sport though. Why do we watch and fawn over complete strangers who kick a ball around for hours, often with no score, stay up until all hours to catch the latest updates on a league on the other side of the world or are content to settle in for five days to watch two people run as many times as they can between stumps?
Two simple reasons come to mind – that personal connection (what I would call the “Something to Get Around” factor) and Platform Pull (aka the Rebecca Black Friday phenomenon - would you really listen to it if it hadn’t been relentlessly blasted on the radio for months?).
The AUL endeavours to be a product that is accessible, shying away from Ultimate-centric references, to focus on core concepts that anyone can grapple onto – a round-robin competition consisting of state-based teams, a game based on points and sets with the ultimate goal of a league title. It is intended to be watchable, understandable and most importantly personal to Jane Doe from the non-Ultimate universe. It can be enjoyed even if you have never played and do not know who #35 is; don’t worry, you will soon find out.
As for the second point, well, sometimes you just have to put yourself on the pedestal first before anyone else will.
Let’s not forget, Ultimate is engaging and entertaining. For the uninitiated, ultimate produces incredible, almost superhuman, feats to score, with players throwing their bodies horizontally and vertically to get the disc. For those who have guzzled the Kool-Aid, you appreciate the detail - seemingly impossible break throws, detailed footwork, that sweet front edge forehand huck that floats perfectly into the receiver's hands.
More importantly, Ultimate is worth talking about. Our sport and its community is unique. It has evolved concepts and cultural norms that should be known by more than just those who find themselves caught in its very small orbit. Spirit, a concept that could be crudely summarised as sportspersonship and respect, and by extension gender equity, are but two topical and powerful aspects of Ultimate, not just the AUL.
Ultimate Peace and the Indigenous Ultimate Frisbee Development Program (a partnership between the Australian Flying Disc Association and Indigenous Ultimate Association) are a few examples of its outreach. It is also worth pointing out that the arguable pinnacle of our sport, World Games, is a mixed-gender competition and most recently the Melbourne “Equity” Hat changed its format to a 3 female, 3 men line split.
Ultimate suffers from a lack of exposure, but in my opinion, the material is all there and in the making. We deserve Hollywood blockbusters with catchy titles like Run ’n’ Gun 2, Breakback Mountain and Pick Perfect. We play enough games in a weekend tournament that could easily string out a free-to-air channel for weeks and I am sure you are all holding out for that TED Talk on How to Throw a Forehand.
Although whacking our cleats together to clean out the mud is the closest we come to a beating drum, the words from the Greatest Showman couldn’t be a more relevant anthem for this sport... “Look out 'cause here I come….”
Why do we do it?
The drive for the AUL comes from the same place that motivates you to walk to the line for the start of your third game for the day, recruit at university O-weeks, join your local club board, organise tournaments, get involved in youth or development coaching. It is why you may reflexively entice colleagues and friends to join social league, share your friends’ athlete profiles and posts, and watch and support national teams.
We love ultimate and like anything we love, we want more of it for ourselves and others. It deserves to be shared and experienced by a wider audience. At the end of the day, it is just something worth pursuing.
And so, we thank you for your support for AUL. This is only the second season. Let’s see how far we can go together.
The first round of the AUL begins on 22 August 2019 and is free to watch.
The AUL is a not-for-profit run by volunteers requiring hours of administration, editing and logistical organisation. It is an operation that spans media, marketing, design, communications, tournament direction, people management, sponsorship, supply chain and programming.
New ideas and improvements constantly abound, constrained not by lack of imagination and want, but by lack of time and resources. If you would like further information or to assist or donate, please visit our website https://australianultimateleague.com/.