Why I love ultimate

Cathy ZielskeCZ Life17 Comments

Photo by Alex Fraser Photography.

Photo by Alex Fraser Photography.
Photo by Alex Fraser. 

Yesterday wrapped up the 2017 Youth Club Championships (YCC) of ultimate at the fantastic National Sports Center in Blaine, MN. The YCC event brings the best youth ultimate players from around the country to compete for three days. Cole plays in the U20 boys division. The other divisions include: U20 girls, U17 girls and boys and U20 mixed, where female and male players are on the same team.

For those of you who’ve followed along with me all these years, you know that my kids both play the sport and that occasionally I’ll rent a big assed lens to take photos of them playing it.  This year is the first year I left my camera at home, choosing instead to spectate and volunteer.

That’s me and another ultimate parent from Cole’s high school, Monica, who took me under her wing as a volunteer scorekeeper. While I only scored two games, I have a new appreciation for all those people who stand on the sidelines recording every goal, assist, turnover and defensive move that caused the turnover. I was spent after two games, and come on! I wasn’t doing anything but pacing the sideline and muttering aloud to make sure I was following the action to the letter.

The Minnesota Superior U20 boys didn’t win a single game. They played SO much better than that sounds. The competition at this tournament is fierce. The talent is ridiculous. It just wasn’t the year for these boys to come out where they would have liked to in the overall standings.

Still, while I know my son is disappointed, I also know he loved the opportunity to play with this group of young men who represent some of the best players from our region. Sometimes winning isn’t actually everything. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck to lose, but experience counts for something.

Ultimate has something that feels special. It feels different from other sports. I’ve tried to capture it through photos and words but I am only coming at it from a mom’s perspective and that’s not the same as being a player.

There is a tradition in ultimate after each game where the two teams circle up into what is called a Spirt Circle. It’s one of my favorite things to witness. You’ve just finished 90 or more minutes of some of the fiercest, hardest game play, where calls are contested, bodies are flying through the air in defensive and offensive bids, and players are putting everything they have into the game, and yet you circle up and give respect to your opponents and remember why you love playing this game.

The thing that is so cool about this and ultimate in general, and this is coming from my perspective as a parent, is that my kids do this because they love it. They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t. I had no hand in pushing them into this sport or any other. This is all about them and their respective communities.

U20 boys team picture, where they all held up “Ls” to cap off their 0-7 weekend record.

There was a moment on Saturday afternoon where our boys team was on a break so I was catching our U20 Mixed Team’s game. I was sitting under a shady tree on the grass, watching them kind of crush the game and even though it wasn’t even my kid out there playing, I found myself getting a little weepy.

Getting to watch this sport is a gift. Getting to see your kids have a passion for something—whatever that passion may be—is also a gift.

These days are finite, so for the ones I have where I get to bear witness to all of this, I am so grateful.

Cole has one more year of high school.

Aidan has one more year of college.

That doesn’t mean ultimate is ending anytime soon, but it does remind me how fast all of this time is moving.

I’m just full of gratitude for getting to come along for the ride.

I count myself lucky to be an ultimate mom.


Thank you to everyone at Minnesota Ultimate for putting on such a fantastic event. We love having the YCC here, and now the ICC as well!

Also, check out this video from USA Ultimate. Really great spot!

Cathy ZielskeWhy I love ultimate

17 Comments on “Why I love ultimate”

  1. #1
    Lynne moore

    It is a unique game, originally, where the players do a lot of self referee calling. It always had a sense of respect for the opponent. Like all the teams are really one big squad and at the end you all come together as friends. My husband used to play in college.

    1. #1.1
      Cathy Zielske

      Yes! At the youth and non-pro level, they self officiate. And while calls can be hotly contested, they are respected. By MOST players. 🙂 It’s a cool thing to watch!

  2. #2

    I love love love your posts about ultimate. But remember, while they might only have one year left of high school/college, ultimate doesn’t stop there! There’s always leagues, clubs, master’s, grand master’s, and professional ultimate! The ultimate community is unlike anything I’ve ever known, and I appreciate you shedding light and sharing your stories. (Missed the u-games, but was able to watch club mixed and women’s on espn2!)

    1. #2.1
      Cathy Zielske

      Oh right! Don’t worry! I’m hoping Cole continues to play in college and beyond. And Aidan is playing club this summer as a captain of a new team. I have a feeling this will be a continuing thing for them!

  3. #3
    Deborah P

    You are my window to ultimate, Cathy, and it has been very interesting following along with your photos and stories of Cole’s and Aidan’s games. I don’t know whether it is big here in Alabama or whether I just don’t hear about it. Anyway, I’ve enjoyed, vicariously of course, their playing, and have even more respect for the game with the information in this post. LOVE the spirit circle. And that photo of Cole at the top – genius! So glad that the photographer shared it with you.

    1. #3.1
      Cathy Zielske

      That photo is great, huh? And I really loved being able to buy it and support Ultiphotos.com. They do great work!

  4. #4

    Really beautiful post Cathy. I know exactly what you mean about getting to see your kids passionate about something. It truly is a gift. And what a gift you’re giving them in treasuring these moments. I’m sure they can feel your love for them in your support of their interests. Ive got two daughters both heading into their junior year – one college, one high school…it definitely makes you pay attention to and get a bit philosophical about the time sliding by. You know what got me? Your beaming face under your floppy hat looking thrilled and maybe a bit petrified all at the same time. 😁 Thanks for sharing the joy.

  5. #5

    So cool! I never knew this sport existed until you started posting about it. I love reading about your perspective from the sidelines.

    1. #5.1
      Cathy Zielske

      Heidi, when my daughter first started talking about it, I got it confused with ultimate fighting. Oh, how wrong I was back then.

  6. #6

    I am a long-time elite player- I’ve played non-stop for the past 15 years in Women’s and Mixed (who also happens to scrapbook- an odd combo, I know) but I cannot tell you how many ways and times Ultimate has saved my life. (Even now, as I’m recovering from ACL / MCL/ LCL / Meniscus tear and femur fracture injury from playing, I love it dearly.)
    I love that it’s getting more popular and mainstream. Thanks for being a great UltiMom and ambassador.

    1. #6.1
      Cathy Zielske

      Well that is so cool! (the long time elite player, not the injuries!) And when ultimate and scrapbooking cross, double cool. 🙂 I really would love to see this sport grow. I feel like it offers so much to those who are involved, and you know that from your experience! 🙂 What area of the country are you in? What teams? You know I know facts that mean nothing to most people.

      Unrelated, I took a few clandestine pics of Jonathan (Lord) Nethercutt who was coaching Triforce this weekend when they were playing my son’s team, to text to my daughter. She told me I was a creeper. But my kids made me watch his Callahan video a number of years back. Can’t help but be a fan, too!

      1. #6.1.1

        Yes, unfortunately injuries tend to be pretty ubiquitous, but in the end, worth it. I’m in Portland, OR, and have played for Schwa, Montana Flycoons, DogFight, CLX, precursor team to Mixtape, ZFG, Safaritarians, US Beach team and a billion other teams.

        There’s a great article written by another ultiparent- http://blog.bayareadisc.org/2013/10/30/what-ultimate-does-for-daughters/
        and I send it to all the parents of kids I coach, regardless if they have a boy or girl, because I think it’s so, so great. People in ultimate are the very best- I can travel around the globe and always have somewhere to stay. People are educated, kind, thoughtful and hard-working.

        1. #
          Cathy Zielske

          Oh how cool! I watched MixTape play this weekend. So so good!

          Our MN Mixed Team took third, which was awesome for them.

          And yes, I have that article on bookmark. I love it. And this community. I’m looking forward to many more years of volunteering at the events so when other families and parents come they can relax and enjoy watching their kids play!

  7. #7
    Jenny B.

    My husband took my oldest son (12 years old) out to eat at Chili’s Sunday night, and when they came home, he casually mentioned that they had enjoyed watching an Ultimate tournament on TV while they ate. I got all excited and said, “Ooh! I ‘know’ someone who’s there and her son is playing in that tournament!” Then, I whipped out my phone and showed him the awesome shot of Cole that you had posted. 🙂 Sorry they didn’t have more success, but it sounds like a great experience either way. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    1. #7.1
      Cathy Zielske

      YES! That was very likely either the men’s final or the mixed final, and I watched both. SO fun!

  8. #8

    Thank you Cathy for being my partner/twin and sharing your friendship, passion, words and photos of ultimate. It is so much more than just a game-maybe a lifestyle?

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