The ultimate culture

By Anthony Esbensen

Man dives in a field to catch a frisbee.
Liam Ullman of Radnor gets more out of ultimate than winning games. He enjoys camaraderie, even with opponents, which is the culture of the sport.
Photo courtesy of Diana Huang

Culture is one of the biggest aspects preached in sports at the professional, college, high school, and club levels. One sport with a unique culture is ultimate (formerly called ultimate Frisbee®) in which opponents are almost treated like teammates. 

The spirit of ultimate makes a massive difference in younger people, from the way they look at the world to the type of people they will become.  

Liam Ullman played ultimate for Radnor High School and now for the University of Pittsburgh. He talks about the sport, but specifically culture. 

He reflects on his time playing on different teams under five or six coaches. He has seen teams run different ways. He has also interacted with many kinds of people. 

Ullman’s perspective is interesting. When most people think of their favorite memories, it usually involves accomplishments. With Ullman, it is more about being in the moment. He talks about just the moments when he’s around his teammates. 

How long have you been playing ultimate? What are you doing right now?

I’ve been playing ultimate since the fall of my sophomore year of high school. I heard about it the previous year from my neighbor, but I only began the following year. I now play on Pitt’s B-team. Their first team is ranked 13th in the country, and I intend on trying out if given the opportunity this spring.

What are your favorite moments as a player?

I’d say my favorite memories from ultimate mainly have to do with the people I play with on my team. I think ultimate is really the engine for building relationships for myself and a lot of my friends a lot of times. So, when I think of good moments, I think of when everybody on the field is laughing. 

How do you feel specifically about ultimate culture? 

I think what sets ultimate apart as a different sport from the rest is the spirit of the game. Ultimate is the only sport that affords you the opportunity of wanting to make more friends rather than rivals. 

How important is culture, how have you impacted the culture, and how much have teammates helped you grow? 

“I would definitely say the coach has a lot to do with setting the culture. Each of the coaches I have played for has added unique qualities to the culture.

My main coach in high school wasn’t really hands-on but encouraged camaraderie on the team. I had a very different experience with a coach for a summer team. He [concentrated] on conditioning and individual improvement rather than focusing on the team as a unit.

Those two cultures resulted in my high school team being really team-focused. [At Radnor], there was never one player specifically standing out, while on that summer team, two players at a time had control of the entire game. 

I would say my impacts [in games] weren’t always great. But I would like to think when I was injured my senior year of high school during the spring season, I spent more time focusing on helping people and being a positive force. 

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