It was a young and inexperienced Chilly that headed to Cincinnati this year. And no, that's not a typo. With 11 players participating in their first worlds campaign, club development was firmly on the agenda.Yet our relative youth was not our most noteworthy element (nor was it our 0-5 win/loss record during pool play at Nationals). Instead, with 16 team members born overseas, we were a distinctly non-Australian, Australian team.
However, labelling the team ‘unaustralian’ would be inaccurate. Regular scrimmages against our fellow competitors Heads of State and Colony fostered a strong sense that we were all part of Team Australia. Despite multiple spirit circles conducted exclusively in Spanish, we proudly displayed the flag during post-game inter-team photos and ensured our Aussie credentials were not in question.
With this in mind, I want to discuss ‘what it means to be Australian’ in our sport. (Spoiler alert: there are more questions than answers in this article).
My challenge to our ultimate community, and perhaps particularly to our growing ranks of coaches and players with overseas playing experience, is this:
How is Australian Ultimate unique? What makes our on-field play distinctly Australian? And, if you’re struggling to answer that, is this something we should consider more closely as we look to win a World Championship?
Mark Evans’ recent article highlights how Japan and Colombia’s throwing prowess is a significant reason behind their successes challenging US dominance. I suggest that another important factor is these countries’ unique play-style. We recognise short, sharp break-throws and low-flying blading hucks as distinctly Japanese, and the Colombians distinguish themselves by their commitment to quick disc movement and a childlike fearlessness of getting horizontal (at shoulder height). Perhaps a generally smaller stature has forced these countries to develop a style of play to not only mitigate their physical limitations but even excel against taller opponents.
I am not convinced that we are able to define Australian ultimate as clearly. I often hear that Australians are athletic receivers, tenacious defenders, and have a willingness to put the disc long. But could we use the same terms to describe the US, Canada, Britain, or our Kiwi neighbours across the ditch? Necessity is often the mother of invention and unlike our Japanese and Colombian counterparts I get the sense that English-speaking nations have never felt the impetus to challenge the America-centric game-style norms.
With the North American ultimate community more deeply entrenched, are we trying to beat US and Canadian teams at their own game? It is not to say that Australia cannot succeed under this current status quo. Colony’s efforts against Ring of Fire and Doublewide, not to mention Ellipsis’ US Open Crown, are evidence of a nation closing the gap and knocking on the door of a major international title. Yet, could we give ourselves a better chance of success if we were willing to fundamentally change the way we play? If we could innovate in a manner which forces the rest of the world to face a new, distinctly Australian, style of frisbee. Are we learning enough lessons from sports where we are the world’s best such as netball, or where we host the only elite-level leagues such as AFL?
On her fan page, Mish Phillips provided an interesting perspective in response to the recent Serena Williams cartoon controversy. She highlighted how bias may be unintentional or internalised. On a similar train of thought, I am curious as to whether we can conceptualise a game-style that is distinct from those that are currently in practice around the world? Is our current bias towards a prototypically American brand of frisbee too ingrained or can we revolutionise the way we think about Australian ultimate? Are our players and coaches already in this phase?
Our community is increasingly asserting our off-field identity. The ABBA preference in mixed tournaments and the Australian Ultimate League initiative demonstrates a commitment to gender equity. Moreover, Aussie mateship is warmly received by international opponents on and off the field, not to mention our enviable reputation when it comes to winning the party. Do we equally distinguish ourselves by our on-field play?
A very wise man once told me that it is not good enough for your only response to opinion pieces be ‘I agree’ or ‘I disagree’. These articles are intended to add to communal knowledge and encourage the reader to think and reflect. So over to you frisbee fans. Am I off my rocker? Is uniqueness in ultimate overrated? How do non-anglophone European nations such as Italy, Germany, and France compare? Russia won beach worlds in the women’s division. Are they reinventing the wheel? Is it natural for newer frisbee nations to adopt tactics and play-styles from more established communities? In which case, is Japan leading the way in Asia? Are up-and-coming ultimate nations such as Singapore emulating Japanese play? What do we make of India’s emergence on the world stage? Are they doing anything differently?
Put simply, what do you think?