What on earth is a hat tournament? It’s an Ultimate Frisbee tournament format where teams are formed spur of the moment – literally, taken out of a hat. Teams are formed, and with no prep time, they start to play together. Think of it as a sort of improv meets sport moment. They figure out team names, captains, rules of engagement etc. on the go. Everything is new and full of possibilities – within the safe boundaries of a benevolent Spirit of the Game. The glory!
We were inducting 2 girls and 3 boys aged 12-14 and 2 college girls (one of whom is an APU runner and Frisbee player) into this format. Joining in was Arvind – coach, my brother, and ultimate player since 2008 or therabouts. I went on an open-ended, no-agenda trip, which itself was big. More on that, another time.
In this post, my purpose is to share what went down, and how that played out as life-level drama. The biggest takeaway for me was the value of a hard reset (The second biggest takeaway was the chocolate croissants from the Auroville Boulangerie). As grown ups, we don’t have too many instances of resets in safe environments. We experience resets in new jobs, new ventures and new relationships. There is a lot at stake and very little emotional safety. Which is why, the value of a reset, with high stakes but in a safe environment is an excellent exercise.
Auroville Hat 2019: In other play formats, you play strategies you’ve decided on with team members whose styles you know, and with whom your play culture is already established. At Auroville Hat, 80% of the players either knew each other – majority of them being from a Chennai or Auroville or Bangalore – or they play for recognisable teams. Our gang were rank outsiders, majority of them didn’t understand Tamil, and with the exception of 3, were among the youngest and smallest folks in the field. There was a lot loaded against them, as they went in.
The beginning: Teams were assigned randomly. None of our group were in the same team as the other. The kids stood, uncomfortably, as others interacted with each other, unintelligibly to them, in Tamil. They looked more uncomfortable by the minute till… one player from the orange jersey team saw one of our girls in this group wearing an orange jersey. He brought another girl from his team, introduced himself and the girl to our little girl. They shook hands solemnly, asked her name, shared theirs and what she could call them… and led her away to meet her team. It had begun! Soon all the kids were claimed by teams. The ones that hadn’t, bravely walked up to clusters with their team jerseys, introduced themselves, and started off.
How wonderful, that the young ones at this age were experiencing uncertainty (with inbuilt safety of parents in the sidelines).
Most often, uncertainty – the first stage of a reset – looks like this –
- A moment of frozen inaction
- Discomfiture and doubt
- A hope for rescue from outside
- Wistfully looking at others who “already belong”
- Wondering if this was a mistake
A side note: Two of our girls, too young to participate in the tournament, were accompanying their sisters as the introductions were happening. They went with their sisters, till they were introduced to the teams, they saw them off, shook hands with the sisters team folk, and came out of the field. This little act of support, it was evident, meant something of value to the older siblings. This side note was too heartwarming to not mention. Once the matches started, these two plucked tamarind off some trees and set up “shop”. The shop was called T-Emojis (tamarind-emojis). They drew emojis on tamarind and “sold” it to players in exchange for twigs and leaves. One young man even brought them a whole bunch of different leaves including a nice smelling one in payment – all this, in the middle of his own matches.
The tentative first steps: In the first match, all the kids, but none of the young adults were on the periphery of the game. The kids were unsure of their skills and hung back, testing how the others did. Also, they possibly put pressure on themselves to not to let the team down. The parents, though, were happy for the early confidence of simple successful receives and passes that their kids got.
The young adults on the other hand, had a different strategy. One of them became friends with an influential guy in her team, learnt drills from him and he pulled her into the thick of the team’s action. Before you knew it, she was making up her own names for her team members and cheering them from within the game and from the sidelines. The other, possessing considerable skill, and being intensely outgoing just eased her way into the thick of things very naturally and consistently raked up MVPs. Her confidence in her own skills meant she took up space every single time in every game. The other big benefit she had was, she is highly outgoing and extroverted. Making new friends and establishing herself in fresh new settings is a natural move for her. Another realisation for me: While that’s the extrovert’s strength and it propels then forward, reflecting and deriving meaning from it, as I am doing with this blog post, is the strength of introverts like me. We all play our best games 🙂
Regrouping (even mentally) – the next stage of a reset – therefore looks like :
- Fall back on what one is definitely good at
- Demonstrate that ability to others
- Establish a place in the team – small or big. In the centre or periphery
- Do your best from that position
- Keep an eye out for recognition
Two other noteworthy things here:
Among the earliest bit of data players came back with was how they felt about their captain, and that depended entirely on how included they felt.
Something else I learnt yesterday when talking about how the parents and kids experienced it was, one of the 13 year old girls said about her team and captain, “They didn’t use the girls in the team well”. That warmed my heart, that she wasn’t taking any of the rap for not being included. Such clear holding others accountable for their inability.
Blending in: As the end of day approached, everyone had played 3-4 matches, experienced wins and losses, and things became more settled but also more real. The players got mentions at the end of game spirit circles. Our gang played against each other. Some of them got so caught up in play, they relegated thoughts of food and hydration and just focused – some, to their later detriment. Though some of them were at the end of their tether on energy levels, they still carried on for the sake of the team. A couple of them got their second (or possibly eighth) wind after the matches for the day were over, to sprint around the field.
The third stage of the reset is when new facets of our old selves emerged. The same blend of strengths, maybe, but showed up and applied differently. The same relationships but viewed in a new light. The same me… but also definitely different. New signature strengths, new insights and new ways of being emerged. In 6 hours.
A new day: Day 2 of the tournament was a new normal. Our guys, including the youngest, walked into the field, confident of a welcome. Within walking a few feet, everyone smiled at someone they recognised, got warm smiles in response, and instant belonging happened.
Rani, Spirit of the TourneyDog also kept us occupied with her cuteness overload, giving cuddles to people who needed it, just in the nick of time.
On this day, the new ways of being became the new norm. There were far fewer instances of the young ones returning to base. Actually, they just came back for food and headed right back to play.
As the players began to wind down for the day, for me, what was visible was the normal go-to response patterns of the kids and adults… and as though a new and slightly diffused version of them was walking, behind their footsteps… different responses followed by a surprised look on their own faces. The kids were very aware of their new powers and strengths.
Arvind spoke about how he was feeling, in the aftermath of experiencing a new team, establishing himself, and the freedom to discover new Arvinds in the process. Vennela experienced the freedom of exploring more of who she is and can be, while claiming her space with her new team.
On a high note: Finals were at 5pm and we had a 6 hour drive back home, and work starting Monday morning. So we had to leave by the time the semi finals got over.
The college kids had decided to change travel plans for a chance to play the finals. This was new for them – instead of doing the safe thing and returning with us in the safety and comfort of a car, they took a bus back (a first for them in life) for the chance of sticking with the team till the end.
The younger kids came back with lots of questions about how game strategies are used, how to play more technically and with a lot of appreciation for various players and team captains. This is what enabling growth looks like.
They said bye to their new team members and left knowing that that they would be missed. Arvind played the semis, and their team played an 85 min game, with a close call. He walked away, not feeling the loss of the match at all, with the satisfaction of having given it all he had. As we headed back home, the news that Vennela’s team won the tournament made the trip back sweeter.
A closing note: If you listen to our spectator comments in that video, it is clear, the losing team demonstrated such spirit, we couldn’t understand who won. This makes me wonder, what are situations in our grown-up lives, where we can create such situations of reset for ourselves and others. How can we see such significant growth in the safety of supportive environments? And if we managed to crack that questions, can you imagine how much more potent we could be!
Photos courtesy: Aashti Mudnani, Deepika Mogilishetty & Madiha Ali,