What Ultimate Does for Daughters

Stefani L Daughter4Feet come pounding down the field, shouts from teammates: “Go, go go!! Yes, you’ve got it!”

My eldest daughter jumps, catches, turns, lands on the grass in the end zone and leaps into her teammates’ arms.

For six years I’ve sat on a sideline, in heat, rain and wind, watching my children play other mothers’ children in Ultimate Frisbee. Those six years have coincided with tremendous growth for my daughter naturally, but the person into whom she has grown has been deeply shaped by this sport.

Whenever a parent of a daughter asks me what Ultimate did for my daughter, I say three things: It gives them a voice, gives them a body and gives them a tribe.

Since Ultimate Frisbee is self-refereed, the player herself has to make a call of foul, out of bounds or stall count. Her fellow players and coach can’t call it, and she might have to argue with the other player about her call. It might take her years to do that, as it did my daughter. But when she raises her head and yells, “Stall!” it’s all her. And here’s the thing — her take on the situation: a rule has been violated — is assumed to be valid. She and the other player will stop the game, decide if they can agree on the call and their decision stands. It can’t be overruled by outside agents. Even if they disagree, she gets to make that call and the game will resume either from that point or the one before it.

Richard Saada photoIf a girl wants to play well, she’ll spend a lot of time throwing a disc, running, diving, jumping and generally working very hard. She’ll learn that placing her fingers in just this kind of v-shape on the underside of the disc will make it curve this way or that. If she balances on the balls of her feet and swings an arm down, she’s more likely to make that hand block. For a society that puts a lot of messages out for girls to focus on the outsides of their bodies, and what they look like, Ultimate is the antidote. It forces them to inhabit their bodies fully in order to play. When my eldest daughter watched the girls on the high school team take the field when she was a skinny little thing, she’d sigh, and say, “They look like tigers. I want to be like that.” And they did. That arrogant, stalking walk, the way they’d line up for the pull — these were girls who had more on their minds than how they looked. They were there to play.

Stefani L Daughter1And those girls? They embraced the young woman my daughter was right as she was then — no matter that she wasn’t as tough as they were yet. The boys on the team formed the same kind of welcoming mob. Every tournament begins with an arm-linked circle. Every loss is met with supportive hugs. Every win celebrated with joy. The Spirit of the Game — the idea that there is a higher ideal than winning and fierce competition doesn’t mean acting in unsportsmanlike ways — supports the players. My girls play with kids younger than themselves; they play with adults and against teams of college students. In each case, it’s assumed that they are all the same kind of people — Ultimate people. These kind of people are family of a kind forged by lots of work, lots of experience and more fun than seems quite reasonable.

— Stefani Leto
Ultimate Mom

Bay Area Disc is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that relies on individual donations to fund its programs. Make a donation to strengthen the Ultimate community and create opportunities for youth Ultimate athletes to interact, develop and compete.

29 thoughts on “What Ultimate Does for Daughters

  1. Quality blog post. This is the reason why I play Ultimate and this is why I encourage those around me to play. It can sometime be an overwhelming sport and can often be discouraging, but once it starts to click, oh man it becomes something totally different. Calling my team a “Tribe” or “Family” is inspiring and fills my heart with fire.

  2. This echos beautifully the message and idea of this game we love so much, that you for the piece, I’ve sent it to all the parents of the kids I coach here in Seattle.

  3. Why my daughter went in for her high school physical this morning so she could join the Ultimate club at her high school here in Bellingham.

  4. Awesome comments. The only one that likes catching a Frisbee more than my daughter is our border collie. And that could be debated.

  5. Dan Roddick forwarded this post to me. Dan authored the Spirit of the Game about 40 years ago. I have been a zealous proponent of its simple yet profound implications for most of my life. Reading Stefani’s words today–shortly after getting David Barkan’s Ultimate Peace video, is powerfully encouraging. Ultimate’s spirit of the game finally has a foothold in an athletic culture–nationally and beyond which is desperate for some fairness and civility. So thanks Stefani. Thanks David.


  6. The truth behind ultimate is how it reveals character…when I saw I didn’t like certain aspects of myself on the field…I decided to change. thank you ultimate and community for the space.

  7. My one and only, a daughter, just left for college this year. She played a few pick up games in high school and thought she’d look into the college team. She “made” the team. As I know nothing about the sport, via FaceTime, she explained it to me. She reverses her camera and explains the plays with her fingers on her bed! The only thing I understand about the game, is that it is about integrity, morals, honesty, and family! For a kid that had a rough experience in high school, hearing that she is part of an Ultimate family, I as her mother, can start to untie some of those strings that I have been so scared to let lose let alone let go! Hearing how “emotional” her initiation was from being a Rookie to not, to how a teammate listened, consoled, and assured her she was ok over a personal angst, comforts my heart knowing that she WILL be ok hundreds of miles away from ME because of HER Ultimate family! This is truly a blessing for her and an answer to a prayer for me!!! Thank you!

  8. Stefani, Beautiful words and I agree 100% with you, this is what Frisbee is about.
    I’ve played the game in The Netherlands and started when not many played it over there.
    I now have a son who just had his first tournament and grew so much.
    Yes, indeed it makes you happy and it felt so good when he jumped and made his first point and when he stood with all his teammates in a circle. What amjourney he can have and I hope he will continue and I will certainly let him read this. Thanks You.
    The only thing now is, where to play? because we live far away from it all, northern rivers. I know I have to travel and do it with pleisure as well as being frisbee mum, i like to shout and help out where I can.

  9. I too am a devoted Ultimate parent.. well I was. My son started playing at college in 1992 and we became hooked as avid fans. It brought our son and us much closer, even during his college years which is not always easy. After college we continued going to tournaments flying around the country and world. The sport changed our lives for the much, much better. Our son has played continuously since he started, but at almost 40 he’s beginning to slow down 🙂

    • “Devoted” is an understatement! Joe, you are the ultimate Ultimate parent! Thank you for all your support for this sport.

  10. Perfect summary of ultimate! Almost crying this is so accurate. I hope more and more girls will get the opportunity to join this family.

  11. Shame though, there so many parents (Including mine) who hate the fact I play this sport, countless times I’ve sat them down and showed them it’s a ‘proper’ sport, they have barely accepted I play it now. Since I go to a lot of tournies they get pretty pissed cos I’m not there most weekends, Ultimate problems….

    • I always wonder what the people who say Ultimate isn’t a “real sport” mean (get ’em to define their terms first, that’s the way!). If they tried to play it, or even watched, they’d see that it asks for a high level of athleticism, so that can’t be it. “On TV” — well, now it is. There are so many ridiculous human endeavors that are called sports it seems insupportable to say this one isn’t.
      Now, worrying that your kid will want to play Ultimate for the rest of their life and need to find work to support that habit, that I can understand!

  12. You know you love ultimate when this article brings you to tears! Makes me think about how my dad never got the chance to see me play. When I play now, I imagine him in the stands watching me and cheering me on. Just like the article says, this sport molded me into who I am now.

  13. I loved this article. I grew up with ultimate. My brothers always taught me whatever new thing they learned and it has always been a family sport/bonding activity. I haven’t been able to play with them in a few years now, but I look forward to the day where I hear “[family name] versus” again and show them how much I’ve learned.

  14. Wow. This post describes so much of what I’ve been experiencing for the past 30+ years as an ultimate player. I still play and enjoy the Never Never Land feel of still being out there trying to chase down women who are half my age or younger. I love the tribe! and many of us develop life-long connections with some of our teammates. My parents took years to understand my need to play Frisbee(r) sports eventually they came around. Thank you for your awesome description of your daughter’s journey.

  15. Last year a young lady I played pickup Ultimate with applied for a position with my non-profit. Having played disc with her for some time proved to tell me most of what I needed to know about her character. From how she played the game I knew how hard she worked and yet that she placed fairness and personal integrity above winning; that she could be serious about playing her best yet fun-loving with her teammates; that she made smart choices and didn’t force plays outside of her ability level; that she was coachable and asked questions directed at improving her game or her team’s performance; that she used everyone on her team, even if they were new to the game and didn’t play well yet; that she made everyone feel welcome to be part of our crew. The game was the ultimate interview and she proved to be the ultimate employee.

  16. Great post! Really captures a lot of what makes Ultimate great for girls in particular. I wrote 2 related blog posts about what Ultimate taught me about my own body and also what I learned as a parent of girl athletes.
    Check them out:


  17. I love that game! I am a 52 year old woman that had to stop playing ultimate after knee replacement. I started playing in my early 20’s and I cannot even begin to convey how much fun I had! Missing the greatest game ever! Oh, the people I met, the memories I hold dear to my heart!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *