Mind Games: The Return to Ultimate

A few weeks ago, I underwent LASEK eye surgery to correct my severe astigmatism. I wrote a little bit about my experience shortly after the fact. Since then, my eyes have gradually been getting better and better. Objects are becoming less blurry, and I am able to see more clearly every day. However, there were some restrictions placed on me by the surgery, including being unable to engage in sweat-inducing sports (including my beloved Ultimate) for a month. That ban was lifted two weeks ago, and I have participated in two Ultimate weekends since then, with varying degrees of success.

My first Ultimate weekend post-surgery was a club tournament held in the coastal city of Ulsan. It was my first club tournament, and I was rather nervous for multiple reasons. I wasn’t sure how my eyes would cope with strenuous activity again. I wasn’t sure if I could keep up with my opponents, as I am normally not very quick and I hadn’t done any rigorous exercise for an entire month. I thought I might have lost some of my skills. Our wonderful, cheerful team also had many male substitutes. So, I decided to take it easy, only playing when needed and not putting myself onto the field too much.

This proved to be a wise approach. Even in the warm-ups before each game, I struggled slightly with depth perception and generally seeing the disc coming at me. I felt off-balance a lot of the time. I got winded more quickly than usual. I had lost a dash of speed. All of these played a role in not meeting my own personal expectations for the weekend. I dropped catches I should have caught. Opponents that wouldn’t have beaten me a month ago got past me for the score on multiple occasions. I even had to remove myself from the team environment during a break to listen to music and re-centre and re-focus myself.

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The wonderful band of rapscallions that I played with in Ulsan

These mistakes and shortcomings aside, I enjoyed the first weekend back. Overall, I think I did alright – I didn’t let the team down too much, and we ended up with some great results. More importantly, there was always a positive attitude and atmosphere within the team, and we had great fun together. I took what I could from the Ulsan tournament, and looked ahead to my first weekend with my ROK-U team, the Wonju Knights.

Sadly for me, I hadn’t truly overcome the problems of the Ulsan weekend. I was still slower than I was, and for some reason my head just wasn’t in the right space. The Knights managed to win our first game of the weekend (something that would have been cause for celebration a season before), but I felt frustrated with my own performance. On the club team, I was a minnow and I knew it. On the Knights, I thought I would get more game time and play a more crucial role in the team. And yet, I would let others go on the field before me. I will generally sacrifice my own play time to make sure the more under-utilized men on our team get a run. It’s all about the spirit of the game and making sure everyone feels valued. Normally I would be okay with it – it’s what I do. But this time, I wasn’t mentally prepared for it. I both wanted to and didn’t want to sacrifice, but I did it anyway because that’s who I am. Once again, the team had a great time around me and enjoyed decent success, winning two of the three games that we played in and generally keeping spirits high in the process.

I guess the biggest impact that LASEK has had on my Ultimate game is not anything physical. I can see well enough to play at a decent level. My fitness (whatever small level I had to begin with) will return. The most significant hit I’ve taken appears to be mental. With a big weekend of important games this weekend, I need to take time to work through the mental obstacles preventing me from performing and enjoying the game I love. I need to stop thinking about dozens of different things and just get out there and have fun throwing a piece of plastic with my friends.

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