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The Inner Game of Ultimate

September 6, 2010

Long time no Blog, UltiTrainees! I’ve been working a bunch, playing club Ultimate, and even training a bit — got myself a TRX, but more on that in another post.

So far, this blog has focused a lot on what you might call the “Outer Game” of Ultimate–ways to train your body to be “better, faster, stronger”, whether via strength training, conditioning, movement prep, or better ways to recover physically. But often times this element is all too easy to overfocus on at the expense of what you might call the “Inner Game” of Ultimate.

That is, it’s worth remembering that just being quicker, faster, stronger isn’t always enough. At USA Ultimate Nationals this year in Madison, WI, we saw teams who weren’t always as well conditioned triumph over teams that seemed “better, faster, stronger”. So what gives?

In The Inner Game of Tennis, Gallwey writes about how you plays the outer game against your opponent, whereas the inner game is played against one’s self. And following in Gallwey’s tradition there are a number of books out there on this inner game, whether Mind Gym or 10 Minute Toughness, or the classic In Pursuit of Excellence.

I’m still reading through the first of these and the last of these (The Inner Game and In Pursuit of Excellence) so no specific recommendations yet, except perhaps to browse your bookstore or think about how much time you spend in the gym / on the track vs working on your confidence or focus, mental toughness or team spirit.

In the past, I haven’t always played as aggressively as I could have, and so when I was reminded recently of this I stumbled upon this Sports Psychology Podcast which gave me some food for thought re: the importance of cleating up and Standing on the Line with confidence and composure, and of being reactive rather than over-analytical.

In the last blog post, 5 Laws to Train By, we were reminded that S&C (strength&conditioning) is only a means to an end, that one generally needs to decide whether fitness or Ultimate is your sport. In terms of inner game v outer game, I’ve been thinking of this as a pyramid (okay triangle), of Inner Game and Outer Game as the base foundations, upon which you build your “Game-Game” =), your skill and ability on the field itself.

Super strong but lacking bravado, go-for-it-ness? Killer legs and conditioning but not enough grr? Game-game, as they (we) say, then suffers like a chair with one less leg. Super scrappy and determined, mentally tough but failing all your FMS (functional movement) screens and with movement asymmetries and gluteal amnesia? Well if your out game is lacking, then eventually your game-game will suffer too.

I guess the key here is balance, however hard that seems.

I’ll end with a thought that has been running through my head these last few weeks.

How you do one thing is how you do everything

I don’t remember where I first or last heard this phrase, but it reminds me how even though life on the field isn’t life out there, in a sense it is, or rather you are who you are, cleats on or cleats off. Whether you think too much or too little, are trigger happy or willing to lay it out for your team, it’s a good bet you act in a similar way in Life life as you do in Ultimate life.

Not to get too self helpy but this sometimes makes me think of improving one part of my life as it spans different segments of that life. They say you could tell a lot about a person by the way they play, and with sports perhaps the hope isn’t just that learning to play at sport helps you play at life but the other way around as well ^_^.

It’s labor day here in the States, so rest, recover, but then go back & “Do Work” as Coach Dos says, and Train for Life, with all your heart =D

7 Comments leave one →
  1. keith krieger permalink
    September 8, 2010 7:06 pm

    it is great to learn about mental preparation. mental prep is a great way to prepare for any and all of life’s challenges, from tests to meeting people. blah blah blah… do you have any suggestions for building the winning feeling or confidence in a team? the group i play with is quite diverse and we are also new to the club scene. one of our strengths (which is also one of our weaknesses) is our age (read maturity). the majority of our team is over 25, has been in the workforce as professionals for at least a 5 years and have had to deal with many of the adult things in life such as buying a house, getting married and tragic illnesses. these challenges really put ultimate into perspective and enable us to play fairly loose frisbee. however, we would like to build up our group mental strength as it is one of the differences between elite teams (not us) and the teams that want to be elite-like. thoughts suggestions comments?

    • Leslie Wu permalink
      October 24, 2010 11:54 pm

      Tough question, have been thinking about this on and off since you asked. Not sure I have a great response but will give it a try?

      It is true that the blog post focuses on single-mind strength, for younger players, but I think some of these resources are applicable to group-tenacity/strength, for club players as well.

      For example, is there a “Concrete and Specific” Performance Statement that works for how the team plays? (re:

      I mentioned a recent NYTimes article,
      which talked about
      “ Mental tenacity — and the ability to manage and even thrive on and push through pain — is a key segregator between the mortals and immortals in running,”

      “Our hypothesis is that elite athletes are able to motivate themselves continuously and are able to run the gantlet between pushing too hard — and failing to finish — and underperforming,” Dr. Swart said.

      So is this true for elite teams?

      Still, I suppose I don’t know how I would address the question of “group mental strength”, especially for a 25+ crowd which has had to deal with different life paths and struggles. Perhaps I’d look more into the leadership and group-forming literature, as it seems to be strongly tied into the social bonds between and amongst the team. Club teams may come from different areas or States, so it’s harder perhaps to have those social bonds, but this also is an area where both organizer work and doing simple things like sharing team highlight reels with each other verbally while stretching after a tournament might help.

      Best of luck! Would be curious to know how your experience has gone so far =)

  2. September 8, 2010 11:50 pm

    I can’t recommend Inner Game of Tennis enough. It is the first book I read that really got me thinking about how to approach the game as a coach.

  3. September 9, 2010 3:53 am

    Hey thanks for linking me. I live by that quote with everything i do!

  4. December 14, 2011 4:16 am

    I read the inner game of tennisa couple of months ago, and just finished the inner game of work. I’m very interested in applying the principles as an ultimate disc player and coach. I definitely suggest that you read the inner game of work too. I got to it for very different reasons but it was absolutely inspiring and it is sparking a lot of ideas. It has a specific chapter on the role of a coach in general. Worth the read for ultimate disc coaches and players I believe.


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