Monday, September 22, 2014

All In

by Lauren Sadler

I missed the memo and joined ultimate late, as a sophomore in 2010. Four years ago, at my first American University Dirty Ladies (the original AUDL!) practice, a captain introduced me to the basics of the sport. I was hooked, and ultimate quickly became not only my pastime, but also my community. Since then, I’ve won championships with Scandal and the Under-23 Women’s National Team. Diving in head first is what made it happen.

When I started playing, I was good at running, decent at catching, and terrible at throwing. In order to remedy this situation I set up “tossing dates” on the quad with people from both my team and the men’s team. On sunny days, it was nearly impossible not to get sucked into the tossing circle that congregated between meals, classes, and practice. Still, despite how hard I worked, my throws were improving at a frustratingly slow rate.

Luckily, ultimate at AU was more than what happened on the field. Despite being small school and whose ultimate program was relatively new, AU had knowledgeable veterans and coaches that helped me learn and grow as player. More importantly, AU’s team was enthusiastic about using ultimate to bring people together. We ate together, studied in groups, and put together themed social gatherings. Within two weeks of joining the team, ultimate wasn’t just my new form of exercise; it was my life, and my on-field shortcomings were an afterthought.

Photo courtesy of Tino Tran.

The summer after my first year, all I wanted to do was play more ultimate. My coaches and captains encouraged me to try out for club teams, and since I was studying abroad in the fall, I wound up as a practice player with both a mixed and a women’s team. Even just trying out exposed me to a higher level of play than I had seen with the Dirty Ladies. In college, I could get by with just being a good athlete, but on club teams I had to learn to play intelligently. My advice is to go to any and all tryouts you can because the worst-case scenario is you learn something new and have fun playing ultimate.

After testing the practice player waters of club, I came back to the Dirty Ladies motivated and excited to learn and have fun with my teammates. I dedicated as much time and energy into ultimate as I could between school and my internship on the Hill. The payoff: I made Scandal in 2012.

On Scandal, I am surrounded by DC’s best handlers and cutters. I observe and play against the country’s best players. My teammates are my teachers. Despite my inability to throw a backhand that first year, Scandal took me in and taught me, and now I’m a national champion. Even if you feel like you are under-skilled, people will respect someone who is coachable, hardworking, and a positive teammate.

My Scandal experience led to something beyond my wildest dreams: a spot on the U-23 team. Tryouts and training camp were intense, and being the only member of the team who had never played with anyone else on the squad didn’t make me any less nervous. But when Worlds came around, my perspective had shifted thanks to hard work with three amazing coaches and absurdly talented teammates. My mark improved, my throwing technique was critiqued, and I got lots of reps with the world’s absolute best players of my age group. I came home with hardware and a new sense of patriotism, both of which helped me return to Scandal with more confidence in my ultimate abilities and myself. When Earl Thomas, a Seattle Seahawk who just won the Super Bowl, declared, “Confidence is everything,” he was definitely onto something.

You can start at a small school and go on to play for national and world championship teams. You don’t have to play for a D-1, nationally ranked school to be successful, but I believe you do have to go beyond your college program. Playing club maximizes player development, allowing you access to more experienced players and situations you may not have encountered in the college game. Never waste an opportunity to learn from anyone. Never stop working to improve. Set goals and believe you can achieve them, and then find the tools or people to help you improve. In addition to the tangible skills, you have to show people– yourself included— that you have heart and drive.

What I’m trying to say is this: I made Scandal and the U-23 team team because of the hours of work with teammates, coaches, and myself. I fell in love with ultimate because the Dirty Ladies grounded me with the belief that Spirit of the Game, competitiveness, fun, and community make all the hours worth it. I approached this sport with a go big or go home attitude. All clichés aside, I’m still swinging for the fences.

Sadler 2

Inspired to pay forward all that the ultimate community has given her, Lauren started coaching high school in the spring of 2014 despite working full time, taking a grad class, and training for the upcoming club season with Scandal. She says coaching is among the most humbling challenges she’s ever undertaken, and that her team’s spirit and talent give her great hope for ultimate’s future.