Fit in my 40s: fancy a game of Ultimate? Let the battle commence


Never having had much of a sport ethic as a child, and coming from a broken home with no pedigree of hand-eye coordination on either side, Frisbee has always baffled me. I’d watch people in the park, tossing a thing at each other, endlessly. Why that shape of a thing? Why not your cardigan, or a ball? Crucially, what’s the point? I always assumed it was just a complicated way for people who loved fresh air to indicate that they fancied each other.

Ultimate flying disc, on the other hand, has a competitive purpose, and competition I understand, maybe too well. I’m going to tell you the rules, and you’re going to cut this article out and keep it in your pocket, in the event of an Ultimate emergency. Otherwise you’ll spend roughly 50% of the game arguing about them. Trust me.

You can make the pitch as big as you like (assuming you’re in a park), and rather than goals, you have sizable “end zones” at each end, running the width of the pitch. (You can mark them with cardigans. Finally, a sport that involves cardigans.) You score a goal by getting the flying disc across the pitch to a teammate, who’s standing in the end zone. You cannot run or walk with it; it all has to be done by passing. If it hits the ground, the other team gains possession, regardless of who last touched it. Change ends after each point. And that’s it. Who knew such bitter enmities could be forged by so few real points of debate.

We played four against four; ideally it should be seven v seven outdoors, but this is also a family thing, so even if you were prepared to plan ahead, think what size car you’d need. We were soon a man down after the youngest claimed to have broken her toe, but considering she is as much use as a chocolate fireguard (genes, huh?), that wasn’t the problem. No, the problem was that the other family were crazy. Extremely driven and outrageously tenacious.

It might have made sense if we were playing some kind of ball game that enabled you to predict where the projectile would end up, and then strategise around a series of outcomes. But flying discs don’t care about your plans. They could land anywhere. They could sail off the field altogether and hit a dog (which actually is what happened). This leads to a building frustration which ends with two opposing members fighting over the disc, in a complicated, much more psychodynamic game of “who’s going to let go first”. (Well, obviously, me! What’s my alternative, punching a 14-year-old in the nose?)

“Highly competitive play is encouraged, but should never sacrifice the mutual respect between players, adherence to the rules of the game, or the basic joy of play,” according to the World Flying Disc Federation Rules of Ultimate. Well, the respect I’m going to have to claw back. But I did get a lot of basic joy. Also, as cardio it is wildly good.

What I learned
It’s against the rules to touch the disc or the hand or arm of the thrower before it is released. I learned this too late, for all of us.