Hard Work v Talent, why being bold and ambitious should be encouraged in Ultimate

In most sports very few players still have the potential to play at the highest level by the time they turn 18. In Basketball & American Football for example, a tiny portion of the population have the natural athleticism required to make the NBA or NFL. And when these athletes squander their talent and waste the opportunity we regard it as a great shame and criticise the athletes for being so wasteful. But every 18 year old that turns up to a taster session in October is in that position. Ultimate may not be a professional or Olympic sport (just yet) but it still offers a great deal. At the highest level you travel all over the world, competing to be the very best in a sport you love. And whether’s it the Super Bowl or the WUGC Final, won’t reaching the pinnacle of the sport feel just as rewarding? Just as much of an accomplishment? If so, why are we content to squander the opportunity?

Becoming an elite player is not easy however. It takes an obsessive level of commitment and determination. The best students are analysts of their own performances and the games they watch. And the dedication required to become a student rather than a player of the game is significant. It’s only realistic to chase such a level of commitment once you love playing Ultimate enough. I enjoyed Ultimate during my first year but not enough to commit. During first term of second year I caught ‘the bug’ and decided I wanted to be really good. Unfortunately it was just too late to properly try out for EMO that season*. Anyway, I’m not arguing that every player should want to become elite because not everyone loves Ultimate and loves competition enough. But if and when that bug catches I think it’s really important that people hear and believe that if they want to, they can play at the very highest level. The rest of this article intends to make you believe just that.


An unrelated photo from Varsity to break up the content.

1) Athleticism

Admittedly very few people have the athletic ability to be an NBA star but Ultimate is a different game. The level of athleticism required to play Ultimate can be earnt. Take a look at this video of EMO’s Robbie Tink (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3h4Y-dh0p8&index=2&list=PLgw2OHFHdIRVs_-NFOo_tXXtmi0-8WK7) at the beginning of his 2nd season. Compared to his performances today, this video demonstrates the athletic development a player can undergo in a couple of seasons by committing to track, field and gym work. Athleticism is far more malleable that most people expect. The general expectation with Yoga is that commitment and practise will make you more flexible, the exact same is true for our ability to run faster, change direction sharper and jump higher.

2) Technical Ability

This is the easiest one. Obviously with a sport as technical challenging as Ultimate the time and effort you put in will massively eclipse natural talent. I’m a prime example as a player who initially demonstrated absolutely no talent for throwing a frisbee. The improvement to my throwing ability since October is proof to my mind that hard work is the key factor. Before then I hadn’t properly committed to becoming an accomplished thrower ** but after less than six months I’m now on the handler rotation for a team going to Worlds.

3) Awareness and Intelligence

After a year of Ultimate most players are clueless about the subtle intricacies of the sport. The ability to improve your awareness and understanding on the pitch is purely down to your approach rather than a natural talent. Most players are happy to play the game and subconsciously build up a map of effective and ineffective actions based on trial and error. Aspiring elite players learn to be analysts. They consider why certain actions were and were not effective, reflect on the bad decisions they make and why they made them. They listen to other players and take on advice, they read and watch Ultimate with an analytical focus. At Regionals in my first year UBU played horizontal stack. Despite watching and playing a game against it, I didn’t have a clue how it worked. I wasn’t perceiving the game with the intention of understanding, I was just letting it wash by. Two years on and it’s now a strength of my game because I worked at it.

It’s impossible to become an elite Ultimate player unless you believe that you’re capable of it. I think that’s the primary reason holding players back. And at a fairly modest club like Warwick Bears we have to make a deliberate effort to be bold. So even if you can’t yet say it to someone else, pick a long-term goal and say to yourself “if I really want to, I could ____________________________. And that would be awesome. ”

Here are some key events to help you construct your goal:

UKU Club Nationals (September, every year)
Euro Club Championships (October, every year)
Under 23 International Championships (2015, 2017, 2019)
Euro International Championships (2015, 2019)
World Club Championships (2018, 2022)
World International Championships (2016, 2020)
World Games (2017, 2021)
Olympics (2024, 2028) ???

And to add a little background, choose a location to set your goal:

Sakai, Japan (WUGC 2012)
Cali, Colombia (World Games 2013)
Toronto, Canada (WU23C 2013)
Bordeaux, France (EUCC 2013)
Lecco, Italy (WUCC 2014)
Perth, Australia (WUCC 2006)
Honolulu, Hawaii (WUCC 2002)
Dubai, UAE (BULA 2015)
and finally Southampton, UK for anyone boring enough to pick Club Nationals..

And finally an article from UnderstandingUltimate supporting my argument:


(more persuasive than me on why hard work is more important than natural ability)

*(a big regret of mine last season and the reason I pushed people to trials this season. For those people intending to play beyond University, EMO should be a big part of your development. Embrace that fact early because they only hand out opportunities once a year and that’s a long time in Ultimate.)

**(I reckon I didn’t think I was naturally a good enough thrower and was better concentrating on defence and cutting, if only I’d read this article first)

Andrew Hillman


  1. Like you said, my memories of you last year are mainly as a cutter and D player, which is hard to believe when you watch the zone offence points of the regionals final! Roughly how many hours a week do you reckon you put into throwing on average over the course of the year?

  2. On average I think about 5 hours a week. So that’s only 50 hours, half the time you’re expected to spend on a 12 cat module. Admittedly I think my decision making on throws is stronger than my technical ability, so I still have to keep practising. But now I know for certain that with enough work it will become the strongest part of my game

    • How does your 5 hours break down? How much time do you spend throwing against a force or just throwing in a pair? What sort of ratio of your time would you recommend? Or do you have other ways than throwing in pairs or a small drill such as the break mark drill that you use to practice your throwing?

      • that’s question deserves another article of its own. In term 1 a lot of that throwing was with beginners so I couldn’t throw with too much focus.
        In 2nd year I ironed out my technique so by the start of term it was about becoming comfortable throwing so I threw lots of different throws from different pivots.
        For me throwing was really difficult for two years and then suddenly very easy. I think it mainly comes down to being really patient and throwing as much as possible even when it’s not going very well

  3. Out of those three things mentioned: Athleticism, Technical Ability and Awareness and Intelligence, how would you rank them?,

    For Me, I think at Bears with nearly everyone starting out as a complete beginner I think Technical Ability is most important to work on, and next Athleticism as it will help you to play more and to play harder, which will help improvement and then Awareness and Intelligence will develop overtime. However for non-beginners, I’m not so sure how those would be ranked as they seem pretty equal in my opinion.

    • if you’re aiming to become an elite player then you have to commit to developing all of them eventually. I think as a beginner it makes sense to focus on throwing. Until you can throw you can’t play fully fledged Ultimate and that’s the best way to improve. I’m not a fan of letting awareness and intelligence develop over time because it’s so important to your ability. Furthermore it can be developed independently of the other two, by asking questions and watching games studiously when on the sideline, by watching game tape on youtube, reading articles etc.

    • My first thought is that there is no definitive ranking, and that is the wrong way to approach the issue of development. I think every player’s development is different and therefore priorities should fluctuate over time for each individual.

      For beginners, it is often a good idea to encourage them to work on something they are already good at because they are more likely to go and do it, rather than being put off by being told do do something they like less. Once they are more committed to the sport, they should re-evaluate and work more on their weaker aspects. This process should be done periodically from then on, each time thinking about current capabilities, roles, goals etc.

      However, I would agree that throwing is crucial for all beginners so they can play proper ultimate so that should be a fairly high priority for improvement for a good while.

  4. I have been a strong proponent of the theory of hard work over everything else for quite a while and even more so after reading a book called ‘Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Pracitce’ last year – it’s a good read if you have time. There is now so much evidence to back it up that anyone who thinks “natural talent” alone can get you anywhere is pretty much an idiot.

    Obviously I appreciate the mention, Andy =P. The video in the article was from around the time I started taking parts of ultimate other than throwing seriously and 2 .5 years on I am going to WUCC as part of an athletic D-line – that is the sort of result you can get from consistent hard work and commitment.

    If you want to be a great player, get out and do it!

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