What diversity looks like

Beginnings

Ultimate Frisbee came into my life back in 2008 or so, when a bunch of American youngsters were playing it at Om beach in Gokarna and my brother, a couple of friends and I joined in.

We came back home and started our own games at Cubbon Park. We played a fairly random game back then with no regard to technique. And not being the athletic sort, I quite consistently sucked at the sport, but it was so much fun, that I played it, anyway. I remember even getting the first few discs for us to play with, from Life is Good.

This is what photography with a point-and-shoot looked like in 2009 😀

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Blurry me on the field with 4 of my favourite guys in the whole universe

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Cut to current times & climes

Two from that earlier photo followed their hearts and started the bicycle store (THE bicycle store – Crankmeister) 6 years ago.

The other two, who are fundamentally teachers, teamed up a couple of months ago to start The Flying Disc School of India.

Their journey here has been through tournaments and league matches with different Ultimate Frisbee teams over years. They’re now clear that they want to work with kids, and grow this sport which is in equal parts a sport, a way of life, a nice method to impart lessons in integrity and fairness and having a barrel full of fun.

The warm-up

Ultimate Frisbee is not just a fun and fast-paced game. It is truly a sport for the changing times.

Older sports are struggling with “Why are women getting paid less… maybe because they are playing fewer sets”… or “Why do we still not have a grand tour as tough as the men’s?”… or “The referee called a foul when they shouldn’t have”… or “How much heckling is acceptable?”

Ultimate Frisbee is unique in these ways:

  • There are no referees. Players self-referee each game.
  • There are guidelines called Spirit of the Game. Look them up. If you tear up, that’s legit emotion, in context.
  • Boys and girls play in the same teams. In fact, there are rules to ensure that there is no discrimination on the basis of age, athleticism, height, gender or any of those things.
  • It is a non-contact sport. So, grown-ups can play with children, and everyone takes responsibility to not touch the other, inadvertently hurt them or come too close for comfort.

That’s what play looks like. There are times when the grown-ups have the advantage of height. They use it – fair play. But they will also pat the younger one on the back with a “better luck next time” face. This builds resilience and kids ask themselves, “I will come across people who carry seemingly unfair advantages with them. How will I deal with and get past that?”

Spirit Circle

At the end of each game, both teams get together to appreciate the Most Spirited Player, Most Valuable Player and Most Improved Player. They also talk about how they experienced the game.

They then share their experiences in a bigger circle with the other team. They appreciate as well as share what they perceived was not right. They do this with equanimity and respect. Watch these tiny ones speak up, with a little encouragement from people ranging from 18-year olds to slightly older folk.

Here is another Spirit Circle at the end of a practice session, with the India team captain, Jashan Shetty leading from the front, and sharing appreciation for one person in the circle.

In this blogpost, I’m intending to document the journey of the Flying Disc School’s first workshop and the first game, the JustDisc League Tournament, on 25th November, 2018.

The workshop had about 16 children enrolling, with parents driving, or taking the metro from as far off as Uttarahalli.

It gave me an insight into the lives of parents who literally go miles to give their children a great learning experience. As someone who grew up with both parents spending hours taking my brother and me to dance classes, Tabla classes, art classes, pottery classes, school and state tournaments, library trips, culture tours, watching live performances and lots, lots more, I know how much that has shaped both our personalities and outlooks. Looking at it from the lens of these parents being people my age, I’m awed by them and just how much they are willing to give.

The #1 skill for a coach: Emotional Intelligence

The two coaches, Arvind and Naveen are usually having the time of their lives, they debrief the day’s coaching with such big smiles, and talk of not just whose game has improved by how much, but also discussing the “Spirit” levels of the kids and how can we gently move them forward.

They’ve both spent time talking to parents about the benefits of the game in improving gross and fine motor skills, with examples, and how it builds emotional intelligence, empathy, the ability to apologise for a mistake made, and developing a spirit of fairplay on the field and off of it.

Guest appearance: Team India’s Skipper

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A particularly special treat was on the last day of camp, with Jashan Shetty, team India’s captain took the session.

When this was announced, the kids had questions like, “But what if he doesn’t like kids?” and “What if he thinks we are not good enough?” Arvind confidently responded with, “If he was that kind of person, he wouldn’t be the captain of the India team. He will love you guys” I privately thought, “What a strange response.” Since I was scheduled to be there, I figured that I could pitch in if there was any discomfort on either side. Boy, was I in for a surprise!

Jashan is possibly in his early/ mid 20s. he got to the ground over 30 minutes ahead, helped me set up cones etc., and welcomed each kid as they walked in, asked their name, and started throwing the disc around.

That little act reminded me of a pearl of wisdom from anthropologist in training, good human being, spectacular film maker and amazing observer of humanity, Rishabh Raghavan: “A football is a great leveller. You just kick it at someone, they kick it back… 2 minutes later, a silent bond is formed, it doesn’t matter who you are and who the other person is.” The kids all got at ease, and quickly forgot that they were playing with one of the best in the country. By the time they were warming up, they cheerfully ignored his instruction to call him Jashan or Jay and were calling him India, because of the team jersey he was wearing, which said “India”.

He was a natural with the kids. He appreciated effort and results roughly about 7,44,500 times in an hour. He asked them what they wanted to learn from him. “Hammer throw” and “huck” were the answers. He didn’t say, “That’s too high level for you” He just taught them. I finally understood, what Arvind meant the day before – this is what it looks like when playing with “Spirit” becomes “way of life”.

Drills, drills, drills

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Focussing back to the workshop, for a bit… it consisted of warm-ups, drills, a short match, at every practice session.

The most gratifying thing was that we could see skill levels going up week by week for the kids.

Each day’s practice ended with Spirit Circle, and a fun spirit game. Even here, we saw the shy ones start to share, the verbally comfortable learn to share not just the positives but also what they didn’t like, and learn to share it factually, without anger.

JustDisc League, the tournament

25th November dawned nice and nippy. At 5.30 am, the organisers woke up, packed homemade egg sandwiches, PBJ sandwiches, cheese sandwiches and a gallon of lemonade. They threw these, a few discs, cones, a clipboard, a few pens, certificates and travelled 400 metres to the ground 😀 Wow, so much prep!

We had these nice crochet bracelets made by Sushila, this lovely lady who works at the home of a Cooke Towner. Sushila had 1 week to make 40 crochet bracelets and she burnt the midnight oil, to make them happen!  In fact, on that day, Sushila had another event – the Cooke Town garage sale. She made both happen, thanks to her large heart. We wanted the giveaway to be meaningful and in keeping with the spirit of the sport. We are glad it made a small impact in Sushila’s life, and hope she grows her craft and becomes a crocheting tour de force!

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The matches were played league style. The four teams were…

trailblazers

Team Trailblazers

flying dosas

Team Flying Dosas

dino discs

Team Dino Discs

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Team Ravenclaws

Each team had participants from the workshop. It also had one kid from Skylight Academy, the school Arvind teaches sports at, which aims at English medium education for children in the neighbourhood. The venue for all our fun is also the Skylight Academy/ Annaswamy School. These kids were chosen on the basis of their regularity with the sport, and their sporting spirit. Each team also had were college kids from Azim Premji University, and these are youngsters whom Arvind teaches running to, and plays Ultimate Frisbee with.  And finally, from the pick-up game we play every Sunday, there were 1 or two, for lack of a better term, grown-ups per team. This made for a lovely mishmash and ah, the sweet sound of age, gender, and social barriers being smashed!

All’s well that ends well

Each team played the other and the total scores decided the championship. However, after each match, there was a spirit circle, with each team rewarding chocolates to the Most Spirited Player of the other team, and appreciating one another. Special call out to Vamsi, one of Arvind’s APU students, who led all spirit circles with gusto. Special call outs also to Nithya, another APU student, and part of team Dino Discs, who was all heart in being honest, respectful and full of spirit. Watching her disarming candour and generosity of heart was as soothing as spiced hot chocolate in December.

All team scores were calculated and informed by the teams themselves. If there was a dispute, they talked it out amongst each other.

Vamsi and Arvind collated spirit points and league points, and announced these at the end.

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The most spirited team won a box of chocolates and for getting full marks from all other opponents on having the kind of generous spirit of friendliness and fairness, they got a rousing round of applause from parents, onlookers and their opponents.

And with that, the first of what is hopefully a glorious innings for Ultimate Frisbee for children in India, for the Flying Disc School and for my own learning comes to a close. In the words of the Hash House Harriers, On! On!

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2 Replies to “What diversity looks like”

  1. It’s rare to read about something so intuitively simple and just right. Like all great ideas , one wonders why one didn’t think of it oneself. The pictures speak volumes, and the warmth ripples through the prose. Well done, kids and, ahem, grown – ups!

  2. Pingback: Monica Pillai

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