top of page

It’s actually happening. Professional Ultimate Frisbee team, The Detroit Mechanix is making the move to Grand Rapids. One of the original 6 teams to enter the American Ultimate Disc League in 2012, the team is moving 2 hours west and partnering with Zig Zag Ultimate and our growing youth scene.

Mechanix game at Grand Rapids Christian High School

We believe the move is a natural progression for our club. It only makes sense to have a pro team here since we have so many youth teams and adult leagues.

Pro Ultimate League in North America

The Mechanix are part of the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL). There are 21 teams across the United States and Canada. They play in the Central division along with teams from Chicago, Madison, Indianapolis, and Minnesota. After a 12 game season (with an all-star game in the middle) the top teams compete in a traditional playoff format to determine the league champion.

Wait, so Ultimate is a real sport? Yes.

The 60,000 fans at an NFL games between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears game on December 29 may have asked the same question. AUDL teams, Madison Radicals and Minnesota Wind Chill put on an exhibition at halftime of the game. Each of them got to see a sweet layout catch! The AUDL is working hard to raise awareness of the sport too.

Minnesota Wind Chil vs. Madison Radicals halftime exhibition

In addition to Zig Zag Ultimate's 10 coaches, Club Directors Zahra and Zaags work tirelessly to put the sport on display. Each semester ZZU takes over the PE classes of 50+ schools. For example, in a day we can teach/show the sport over 300 students at Holland Christian High School. If you are trying to do that math - that's nearly school a day for a month for 2 people. It's so worth it.

Ultimate has so many amazing benefits. We believe it’s the perfect alternative to collision sports - and sports in general. The sport promotes integrity as players don’t intentionally foul, safety as players are to avoid contact, equity as the sport is co-ed, and...oh goodness...This sounds like another blog post we wrote.

While most have heard of the sport not everyone knows its potential as a competitive sport. Pro Ultimate in Grand Rapids only helps make the sport more visible. Zig Zag Ultimate boasts 10 middle school teams, 4 high school teams, runs the West Michigan College League, adults leagues, tournaments, and more. The most recent additions are:

AnchorPoint Christian Middle School, coached by Ed Harris

Livining Stones Academy, coached by Dave Wainer

East Grand Rapids High School, coached by Mark Worsfold

Kalamazoo College, an already existing team joining the West Michigan College league

Join the Pro Team or watch them soar.

The Mechanix’s tryouts take place January 10 with the season beginning in April. The 6 home games will be played in a high school football stadium to be determined. Tryouts and Tickets on sale at

Get yourself in the game

Zig Zag Ultimate’s next 4th-8th grade season and high school season begins January 10th with the Spring outdoor season starting after Spring Break. Adult leagues and corporate leagues run nearly year round as well.

No experience required. Get out and play!

Are you the parent of an athlete? If you are like many parents, you work hard to push your child to success. And when children show talent, dedication, and passion for a sport early in their lives, many well-meaning guardians steer their athletes to specialize in a particular sport as early as possible (as an extreme example, look at U-9 academy teams for Europe’s top soccer clubs). But does this lead to adolescent and adult success in this sport? And, more importantly, do kids maintain their passion, and keep having fun? Recent research on the topic may surprise you.

A group of researchers in the United Kingdom reviewed the competitive backgrounds of the top English Olympians and analyzed the data. According to these scientists, the “Super-Elite” athletes (those who had won Olympic gold medals) actually tended to begin specialization in their sport later than elite-level athletes who had not qualified for the Olympics. Obviously, maintain an extremely active lifestyle was crucial, but these super-elite athletes often spent seasons in their youth away from their main sport. According to the British researchers, mixing in cross-sport training advanced their athletic abilities as well as their love for competition.

The Importance of “Play”

In the paper cited above, the authors conclude that “attaining super-elite level may be enhanced by coupling practice in the main sport with practice, competition, and non-organized play in other sports.” Sometimes, the most productive thing a child can do is just go out and play. Without a love for playing, kids won’t hold on to a passion for compeittion as they age. Instead, you may see what is commonly termed “burnout,” wherein young promising athletes lose interest in competing and turn away from athletics completely.

As parents, we should always stay focused on what is really important. Watching our children succeed on the field will always be exciting, but if they are not enjoying it, is it really worth it? If you truly value your child’s development in both sports and in life, then you should find new sports for your child to explore, and always provide ample opportunity to just go play.

What new sports can you try?

When looking at new sports for your children, safety should always be a top concern. Regardless of if you are consciously cross-training or not, healthy kids are happy kids, and much less of a headache to deal with. You should also keep an eye out to make sure the sport provides a fun environment, to nurture your child’s love of play. Finally, if you are looking specifically for a good sport for cross-training, you should keep in mind how the skills may apply to your child’s main sport.

Swimming is a good, general option for cross-training sports. While it may strike your child as “no fun” at first, many teams have a lively culture at meets, and kids end up having a good time without realizing it. The rigorous nature of training will instill values of diligence and consistent hard work in your children. Swimmers tend to have high rates of “burn-out,” so make sure you are on your toes to make sure your child is actually enjoying themselves.

Tennis is a challenging sport that can help expand the mental toughness of young athletes. In addition to developing physical stamina to compete in long matches, players must maintain a constant mental focus on the moment. Although this is an individual sport, this mental discipline translates very well into team sports, helping athletes to stay level-headed in high-pressure situations. One downside to tennis is that there is a relatively high cost to play, often requiring a membership to a country or tennis club to access courts.

Finally, Ultimate Frisbee is a fantastic sport for developing young athletes. This sport combines elements of football, soccer, and freeze tag to produce a highly unique but effective opportunity to learn new skills and compete in a new environment. A non-contact sport, ultimate is quite safe compared to other youth team sports. In ultimate, teams of 7 work together to advance the disc down the field. When a player catches the disc, they must immediately stop moving and throw the disc within 10 seconds. The goal is to catch the disc in the endzone, which scores a point. The fast-paced nature of the game creates a fun, engaging method for training cardio, and the constant changing angles of passes challenges an athletes ability to recognize and attack open spaces, a skill relevant to any team sport.

Ultimate is also unique in that it is entirely self-officiated. A cynical mind may see this as an implicit allowance of cheating, but in practice, ultimate’s reliance on “Spirit of the Game” for resolving disputes among players actually breeds more honest and respectful athletes. You can read more about the conflict resolution skills developed by self-offication in our blog post here, but just remember that these skills apply far beyond the lines of the field. Social skills developed through ultimate help create better functioning adults.

Where Can I Play Ultimate?

Across the country, local organizations provide playing opportunities for youth in ultimate. In our own Grand Rapids/West Michigan area, Zig Zag Ultimate hosts leagues throughout the year for (nearly) all ages. 4th-8th grade leagues, high school leagues, adult leagues, camps, tournaments and more. And none of them have a single ref.

If you are not from the Grand Rapids area, do not fret. Check here to find the nearest local league to you.

There has to be a better way to do sports. I was sitting on the sideline of a middle school basketball game and I saw parents up in arms screaming at the ref. I mean, I guess I didn’t think it was a foul either.

What was even more strange was that everyone was okay with their screaming. Could it be that the ref really had it out for her son? Are we teaching our 7th graders that it’s ok to scream if we don’t get our way? I bet ref is a totally cool person!

There has to be a better way.

What if I told you that a youth sport could develop social skills, respect for different perspectives, and gender equity? And that your child could play this sport for half the cost of a typical soccer club?

There is one sport that out-does them all in its value towards a child’s development: Ultimate Frisbee.

On an ultimate field, boys and girls compete together.

You may be asking yourself, “Frisbee? That thing with the baskets in the park?” or, “Isn’t that just for college hippies?” If so, you are not alone. Ultimate is a team field sport, with field dimensions similar to a soccer field, and scoring endzones similar to a football field. Players cannot run with the frisbee, and therefore may only advance the disc by completing passes to teammates

While ultimate is one of the fastest growing team sports in America, it is still a relatively uncommon activity for organized competition. However, the reasons for its recent, massive growth in youth participation are crystal clear to anyone who does their research: ultimate is better equipped than any other sport to teach valuable life lessons that apply far beyond the field. There are many ways in which the structure of ultimate promotes critical development for Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) in children. Before we can understand that, though, let’s learn what exactly SEL is.

What is SEL?

Social-Emotional Learning is defined as “the process through which children acquire and apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” When you hear educators, administrators, and policy-makers reference developing soft skills, noncognitive skills, or character building, they are often referring to SEL.

Schools are investing in SEL as well: in 2016, Chicago Public Schools spent $11.2 million on SEL resources. There is well-established research that SEL contributes to positive outcomes in both school and later in life. According to a 2011 study, students in SEL programs saw an 11% improvement in academic achievement compared to students not in SEL programs. After graduation, a 2015 study revealed that SEL decreased the likelihood of students to receive public welfare, live in public housing, or spend any time in a detention facility. Additionally, a survey of corporate executives showed that 92% said problem solving and communication was either more important or equally important as technical skills.

How SEL Relates to Ultimate

Clearly, SEL is a vital tool for any parent that wants the best possible future for their child. But how does ultimate fit into this picture? What makes it different than any other team sport in building these crucial life skills? Simply put, the rules of ultimate are unlike other sports in some major respects: chief among these is the fact that there are no refs. The game is purely self-officiated: from City Middle School to Team USA. On an ultimate pitch, the players themselves are responsible for calling their own fouls. Resolving foul calls calmly and respectfully is the best example of SEL in ultimate.

After a foul is called, play stops, and the players involved must have a discussion and come to a resolution between themselves. If both players agree that a foul occurred, the aggrieved player receives the disc, and play moves on quickly. However, if the players have different opinions, then they must each present their own arguments and consider their opponent’s perspective, all while maintaining a respectful attitude. If no agreement can be reached, the disc is sent back. But often, after each player makes their case, one player will concede to the other, despite the competitive advantage that the ruling may cause for the opposing team.

The 5 Components of SEL

All 5 components of SEL are demonstrated in this foul-resolution scenario. Calling a foul requires self-awareness, and the opponent accepting or contesting demonstrates self-management. The ensuing discussion builds relationship skills. Players show social awareness by coming to quick resolutions to keep the game moving for everyone. And by making fair calls and admitting when one has fouled someone else, players practice responsible decision making.

After games, teams gather together to form a “spirit circle,” a practice that is extremely similar to the classroom-setting SEL exercise of “restorative circles,” where students discuss issues, consider alternative perspectives, and come to peaceful resolutions. In a spirit circle, players stand beside members of the opposing team, discuss the highs and lows of the previous game, and honor one player from each team as “Spirit MVPs.” Players practice self-awareness and self-management by reflecting on the emotions of the game. Having a calm and peaceful discussion about these emotions builds social awareness and relationship skills. The bestowing of Spirit MVP encourages responsible decision making.

This sounds great, but does it actually work?

Come and see a game for yourself. It is amazing to see two 4th grade teams made up of boys and girls be able to self-regulate themselves in a competitive game. And every time, after the game, they get together to congratulate each other, laugh, and have fun with each other.

Where can my child play?

Across the country, local organizations provide playing opportunities for youth in ultimate. In our own Grand Rapids/West Michigan area, Zig Zag Ultimate hosts leagues throughout the year for (nearly) all ages. 4th-8th grade leagues, high school leagues, adult leagues, camps, tournaments and more. And none of them have a single ref.

If you are not from the Grand Rapids area, do not fret. Check here to find the nearest local league to you.

bottom of page