Written by: Zahlen Titcomb, idea maker at Bamboxers.com, co-founder of Five Ultimate, Strategist at the All Star Ultimate Tour, and co-owner of the Seattle Cascades
This article was written by a guest writer. The opinions expressed in the post belong to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Ultimate Project.
On fields, beaches, and parks across the world, people are chasing plastic, taking part in a movement that is sweeping the globe: Ultimate Frisbee. Ultimate is a fast-paced, non-contact sport played 7v7 on a soccer sized field. One team passes to advance the disc down the field for a score in the opposite end zone, while the defending team tries to stop them with a turnover. Just a few decades ago, you would have needed this explanation because ‘ultimate’ was relatively unheard of. Today, twice as many people in the USA play ultimate than rugby and lacrosse combined, and there are thriving high school varsity programs across the country.
Connected by their love of the game, a fun, inclusive, and socially conscious community has been built around ultimate, and it is growing rapidly. This is not accidental. This is happening. In fact, this has already happened, and I’m here to dive deeper into the phenomenon.
Fast growing communities make us wonder what makes them so contagious and enticing. These days, if you don’t play ultimate frisbee yourself, you probably know someone, work with someone, or are parent to someone that does. We all want to be part of something unique, we want a sense of belonging, we want to feel the joie de vivre of participating in something successful, in the moment, and be part of the in crowd!
Communities have existed since the dawn of time. There are a myriad different ways to categorize them and a plethora of institutions that have studied them in depth in hopes of defining them. One such institution is the THNK School for Creative Leadership, an entity well entrenched in the study of the success of such communities, and an exemplar community in and of itself.
So what makes the sport ultimate unique? Well, many things, of course. Here are four notable elements:
It’s predominantly self officiated, with no referees, all the way up to the world championship level.
it’s cheap and accessible, as all it requires is a disc and an open field.
It is most commonly played co-ed, by design including men and women on the same playing field.
- It is a genuinely fun workout that combines skill and athleticism, with running on offense and defense, and a disc that can claim both simple and complex flight paths.
As fun and unique as ultimate is by design, the community that surrounds the sport is the backbone supporting its recent success, millions strong and growing.
But is ultimate’s success random, or can we draw some conclusions from its swift rise to center stage? Well, it turns out there are ingredients, a primordial concoction of essential elements that make up a strong community. Successful groupings of individuals, according to THNK, share 8 core pillars in their existence. These are: (1) collective intention, (2) a distinctive and unique identity, (3) a common working practice or ritual, (4) a safe place of being, (5) soul-feeding and momentous events, (6) a network of personal connections, (7) a distinction of distributed roles, and (8) a community platform.
As Ultimate continues its exponential growth around the world, we can break its success down into these 8 strong pillars that exemplify its welcoming community, a community that is nurtured by common experiences shared by diverse individuals playing together, fueled by a shared love of the sport.
Over the next weeks, we are going to explore these 8 pillars in more detail as we dissect what it is that makes ultimate so contagious and naturally welcoming to newcomers. I challenge you to investigate to what extent your community, ultimate or not, identifies with these.
From the end zone to the dance floor, join us!
8 Pillars of Community
1. Collective Intention
3. A Working Practice
4. A Safe Place
On the ultimate frisbee field, we know we can trust our teammates, as well as our opponents. In ultimate, self officiation allows us to relinquish our survival instinct, let our guard down, and truly play a sport to our best ability without having to worry about factors other than our mental and physical skill to succeed... (Read on)
Soul-feeding events are points in time and space where a community gets together and renews its energy. This can come in a group of old friends, or a crowd of complete strangers that share the same energy, values, and spirit. From the game-to-go, to the game-to-go at regionals, to a till-the-break-of-dawn beach party at the Boracay Open in the Philippines, ultimate frisbee is soul-feeding... (Read on)
6. Personal Connections
7. Distributed Roles
8. Community Platform
Zahlen is a sibling by birth, an idea maker by nature, and a social entrepreneur by religion. The oldest of five, Z grew up playing disc sports around the world with his siblings. He captained the ultimate team at UChicago back when it was cool to listen to Dave Matthews Band. He was a local boss (without the tattoos) of developing ultimate in China for many years. Zahlen believes ultimate can make the world a better place, and works daily beside his brothers and sisters on Five Ultimate, The All Star Ultimate Tour, the Seattle Cascades, and TUPO to boost the sport he loves.