I landed back to work with a bump this morning. Crowding in among passengers on the tube seemed a million miles away from standing on a beach in Portugal 48 hours earlier representing Great Britain in the sport of Ultimate Frisbee.
‘Ultimate’ has been around since the 1960s and was fully recognised by the International Olympic Committee in 2015, a significant milestone, we hope, in the inclusion at a future Olympic Games. It’s a team sport played on both grass and sand; in Portugal 88 teams from 21 countries were all competing in the four yearly European Beach Ultimate Championships. This represents the pinnacle of the sport – the chance to duel it out to become champions of Europe – and all of the 1300 athletes present in Portugal will have worked incredibly hard to make it to this tournament.
One of the attributes of Ultimate that makes it somewhat unique, is that the game is self-refereed right up to the highest level. The sport relies upon the Spirit of the Game, which is the mindful behaviour practiced by players worldwide prior to, during and after a game. It encompasses attitudes and skills such as good knowledge and application of the rules, fair-mindedness, safe play and spatial awareness, clear and calm communication, and a positive and respectful attitude towards teammates, fans, and opponents, in a mutual effort to protect the basic joy of play.
And so as I disengaged myself from the soaring highs (beating Ireland in a televised game) and crushing lows (being eliminated by Spain in a tight knockout game) of elite level sport and plugged back into life as a Management Consultant, I was reflecting on what lessons can be learned from my near 20 years competing in this amazing game.
There’s no substitute for hard work
Hard work, graft and grit are the building blocks of success. We spent the whole winter slogging it out in cold, windy Bournemouth as preparation for the tournament. The effort you put in pays off later, and you’d be surprised how far you can push yourself if you have done the groundwork and really, really want something.
Nurture talent and embrace diversity
Our captain had a philosophical approach to running our team that was based on allowing individuals to express themselves through their own styles of play, rather than being overly directive with rigid formations or structures. In sport as in business, diversity is something that should be embraced and individuals nurtured to allow their natural talents to develop.
Uphold the fundamental principles of respect and fair play
The Spirit of the Game is ubiquitous and pervasive in Ultimate – it is the cornerstone of the sport and characterises the ethos both on and off the field. This is evident in critical moments of high intensity games, where contentious calls are still discussed calmly and objectively. What a great world it would be if everyone started from a position of fair-mindedness and positive intent.
At Gate One, these are always at the forefront of our thinking and embodied by our values. The final words, though, go to VC Ultimate, a major supplier of clothing and merchandise to the Ultimate community. This business has fully embraced the grassroots principles of Ultimate in the way they operate, demonstrating that these core lessons can be congruent with a successful business. By way of example, a large banner at the entrance to their merchandise tent in Portugal had the following message, which is so beautifully put that I do not think it needs any further comment: