Since moving to Mumbai back in March, I have been playing ultimate frisbee pretty regularly. There’s a great team here – the Storm Chasers – that play on the beach, in the morning. Ultimate. On the beach. All the time. What more could you ask for?!
It’s been a great 3 months getting back into ultimate. I’ve been lucky to watch – and participate – as the trajectory of the team has begun to shift. And this has given me reason to reflect on the role of leadership in building something you love.
When I first came out for ultimate in Mumbai, I found a great group of guys and girls, playing pickup. They came regularly, maintained an e-mail list serve, and organized trips to tournaments in other parts of India. Cool. There was no ultimate in Hyderabad, so I was thrilled to find it in Mumbai.
Over the last few weeks, however, something has changed. Instead of just two, there are now four sessions per week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings), with special days geared for novices and advanced players as well as open pickup. We do warm ups. We run drills. We scrimmage. We organize cheers. We’re even doing conditioning work. It’s organized ultimate…
These changes require effort. Someone has to step up, think through what the goals are and how to get there. It’s been decided, for example, that the focus in Mumbai Ultimate should be learning and inclusiveness – all are welcome, regardless of ability, and people will be rewarded for attendance, not necessarily for their skill. Someone had to come up with the new schedule, hold people to it, make it worthwhile to come out.
In ultimate – and in other organized activities – it’s easy to free-ride on others. Show up, play, have fun, go home. No need to get crazy about it. It’s ultimate, for god’s sake! And when I went out in March, I did just that – played, had fun, went home. But in the weeks since, I’ve gradually taken up more and more leadership responsibilities. Someone asked, innocently enough, to show the newer players how to throw a forehand. OK, no problem. Next time, someone asked me to show them how run a particular skills drill. Yep, sure. Suddenly, I’m part of a smaller group of guys who are trying to build the team and the sport. The leaders.
It’s harder to lead than to follow. You have to think about everyone’s needs, adapt to the situation, plan ahead, reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Before all this started, I followed: show up, play, have fun and go home. Now I have to think about drills, coach/encourage people, support my fellow leaders, do some logistics AND play. Oh, and everyone’s looking at me not to screw up, not to have bad spirit, and all the rest.
Of course, it’s not that I have tons of spare time to dedicate to thinking about ultimate – I’m busy with work, etc. etc. No one does. The problem is, I LOVE PLAYING ULTIMATE. It’s not extra work or dedication when it’s frisbee. It’s fun.
So it may be obvious to others, but these last few months have taught me something about love and leadership: when you love something, it’s not just easy to lead. It’s often natural.