Dylan Tunnell grabs a contested disc.

Flipping the Layout Switch

Photo Copyright © 2013 Micah Tapman/CBMT Creative

I started playing ultimate in high school and was immediately infatuated with the sport. I idolized my older siblings and their friends who played and day-dreamed constantly about becoming as good as they were. I was overly impressed by even mediocre layouts, and wanted desperately to be able to copy those players. A devout but uninformed fanatic, I was perfectly happy to throw my body into the ground after a piece of plastic, but could only manage to do so in a clumsy, tangled way that always left me with scrapes, weird lumps, and bruises that I’d proudly show off to my aghast non-frisbee friends.

When I started playing ultimate I had only one other sport in my arsenal: volleyball, where I had been taught to dive for the ball with a knee tucked underneath in order to pop back up as quickly as possible. Not surprisingly, this technique doesn’t translate very well to ultimate, since it adds no momentum, very little distance, and more often than not leaves you with large contusions that eventually lead to leg paralysis and crutches for six weeks. What? No, you didn’t have that? Weird, yeah, me either…

Anyway, after recovering from multiple blown up knees and shins, my all-male almost-all-laying-out teammates decided it was time for an intervention. After practice one rainy day, they informed me that we going to do a layout drill, where they would cure of me of my inability to launch. Their strategy was to place a duffle bag in the way of a low-thrown disc and force me to dive over it rather than fall into it. After probably an hour of running over it, falling onto it, or just ignoring it completely, they finally gave up and I was once again left to my own devices.

It finally just happened on its own… unremarkably, with no fanfare and probably no one else noticing except me. I don’t remember what game it was or even what team I was playing with, but I remember someone swinging the disc just a little too far and I had only a couple of steps to change course and go after it. I took those steps and dove, really awkwardly and probably never even completely leaving the ground, but I landed flat on my stomach with the disc in my hand. No knee blow-ups, no shin scrapes, no pain, and best of all, with brand new confidence.

I wish I had better advice that could be followed about how I had systematically learned how to push off at the right time and land appropriately, but for me, it just had to come during a game when I had no other choice — but after that I knew. I knew it wouldn’t hurt if I actually got off the ground and landed flat, chest and stomach first. I knew I could suddenly add another couple feet of extension to my catches. I knew that I could now push myself further and higher and faster because I’d finally gotten that first success out of the way.

It had a way of turning off some switch in my subconscious that was making me think it was painful or impossible or I wasn’t ready. Honestly, sometimes that switch still gets turned back on: I find myself frustratingly not laying out for things that I should. I worry at those times that I’ve lost it – that I’m back to that scared, silly freshman who was too unsure of herself to take off. But there’s always that one perfect, tantalizing huck that leaves me no choice but to launch for it, and I’m back at it.

As for the logistics, for those players who can never screw up the courage to dive when they should: there is a window of time to react in between when the disc comes within range and when to either take off or don’t, but it’s very instinctual. I like to think back on that split-second after the fact – especially if I didn’t layout for something I probably could have gotten. I think through my emotions and mental state in that moment, and visualize feeling differently, acting differently, and going for that disc. It helps immensely, because next time I’m in a similar situation, it’s familiar and my instincts kick in like I’ve done it a million times instead of just in my imagination.

And ladies, as you watch explosive and exciting men’s ultimate where there are chest-high layout D’s every other point, don’t let yourself believe that you are at a disadvantage or can’t do that. I don’t think it’s true that girls have a harder time learning to layout than guys – at least not if a boy and a girl had the exact same background. I would imagine there are quite a few more high school boys playing ultimate that can layout than girls, but I think that that’s a product of most boys coming from sports backgrounds, where sacrificing your body is just part of playing the game. Many of the girls I had played with in high school or early college didn’t come from other sports and had to learn a lot of those athletic maneuvers (even jumping properly or sprinting efficiently) when they were older and their self-preservation and habits were harder to overcome. I could be wrong, maybe it’s other factors, but thinking back on the women I know who can layout well, most either played other sports a lot or have been playing ultimate for a very long time.

Laying out is one of the most rewarding, exhilarating, and distinctive parts of Ultimate. Being wiling to go that extra distance (quite literally) can turn around a game, even if all it did was fire up your teammates and make them want to try that hard for you. Enjoy, and don’t get hurt. Please.

Issue No. 2 | World Games

October 2, 2013

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