Why I coach

Newsletter #9

This post is dedicated to Sze Shen who asked me this question on the way home from our world’s kickoff meeting. I hope I do your question justice. 

Let me begin with what frisbee has given me

Playing the sport has taught me much, but it’s the people in it that have taught me the most. Specifically, senior team mates, captains and coaches who patiently took my obstinate, prima donna self and moulded me into something still flawed, but so much better. 

These people changed me fundamentally and profoundly as a human being, and I am the better for it.

Here are a few stories of the leaders I look up to and what I’ve learnt from them. 

Dario: Leadership is something you grow into

If you didn’t know Dario 10 years ago, you would’ve thought he’s always been the wise, calm and insightful guy many of you know today. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

In 2009, Dario and Seiji captained Freakshow. That year, we had an all star team consisting of Dario, Seiji, Jlo, Oscar, Camilo, Erick and more. If we played as a ringer team (one that meets for the first time at the tournament), we probably would’ve won Singapore Open. 

Instead, we had Dario. Seiji was often busy, and wanted Dario to lead.

Dario was an awful captain. Imagine a dude speaking in Italian-Australian accented English (his third language, btw) trying to teach a zone only a physicist (Dario’s occupation) could understand. He coach-captained us into losing in the quarters. You cannot imagine how demoralising this felt – an invincible team, defeated.

I don’t bring this up to hate on Dario. It’s actually the opposite. I bring this up because these days, I’m a huge Dario fan. The wisdom, insight and patience he brings to any team is invaluable, and I am proud to call him a friend. He’s one of the first people I turn to when I need a fresh perspective, and someone I constantly learn from when it comes to staying unbiased and keeping a level head.

He wasn’t always this way, and that’s what matters. Aside from the many things he’s explicitly taught me, I’ve also learnt through observing him that leadership is something you grow into. When I became captain/coach of Freakshow for the first time in 2012, I was horrible at it. If I had thought leadership was a binary thing (either you have it or you don’t), I probably would’ve given up. Fortunately, I already knew by then that learning to lead takes time. And these days, while I’m still far from perfect, I like to think I’ve gotten a lot better.  

Zach: Track sessions designed to make me throw up

Zach was my second captain on Freakshow, he was also the person that introduced me to track workouts. He had a running joke that every time he left work on the day of a track session, his boss would ask him how many people threw up at the last session, and how many he intended to make vomit this week.  

I’ve definitely puked at track. But I also learnt that I’m capable of so much more than I realise. At the start of a track session, Zach would tell us the program for the evening, and it would always sound impossible. But by the end of the night, we’d have done it. Every single week, we completed track by pushing ourselves and each other further than we thought possible. 

That year at Singapore Open, we only had about 3 returning players and were not expected to go very far in the tournament. Even we didn’t think much of our chances. 

As it turns out, it didn’t matter that we didn’t believe we’d go far, as we’d already been trained to surpass our own expectations on a weekly basis. We pushed, and gave more than we thought we had, allowing us to win 2nd place that year. An unbelievable result. 

Vijay: How to lead by listening

When captaining with Vijay in 2012-13, there was something I always envied: People go to Vijay for advice all the time. In fact, as I write this, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone is seeking his advice right now. 

The reason? Vijay is a god-level listener. He never forces advice on you, is gentle with any advice he does give, and above all that – he listens. Quietly, and without judgement. 

In contrast, I’m overbearing and quick to share unsolicited advice. On the rare occasion my opinion is solicited, I quickly take over the conversation so completely that the person regrets asking, and definitely doesn’t do so again. 

Over the years, I’ve learnt to tone this down by copying people who are better at this than me. And the person who is best at this, and who I emulate most, is Vijay.  

Why I coach

This is just a tiny sampling of stories of the leaders that have shaped who I am today.

People like Dario, Vijay, Zach, Seiji, John Lin, Yoshio and many others have taught me what it means to be a flawed leader, with a great big heart, deep integrity and a profound love for the sport, its players and everything it represents.

They showed me a style of leadership that’s kind, listening and respectful. You might think this sounds rather “soft”, but the truth couldn’t be further than that! In fact, they embody a leadership style that pushes, is ambitious and embodies a “never enough” attitude. 

Frisbee has given me so much, and I want to ensure that the lessons I’ve learnt are passed on to a new generation of players. 

I hope to impart that frisbee lessons are indeed life ones. That the pride that comes from winning a tournament is fleeting. In contrast, the pride you earn from the journey you took, both personal and with your team, never goes away.

I want to show that there are other ways of being competitive that don’t involve tearing down your team mates or playing without integrity.

I hope to demonstrate that all the leaders you trust and respect are deeply flawed individuals who mess up all the time. And that, actually, that’s okay. Mistakes will happen, miscommunications too. It’s how we choose to deal with and learn from them that matters. 

Finally, I want to push players to show them that they’re capable of so much more than they dared to dream. That they can play beautiful ultimate, that’s both spirited and fiercely competitive. That each player has the makings of a great player within them, and all they need to do to become one is is simply decide to do so.

These were the lessons that were given to me, not because I earned them, but because there were leaders who cared enough to step up and show me anyway.

There isn’t money, fame or glory in any of this. And I don’t, for a second, expect to change the world. But a bunch of flawed people before me knew there was nothing in it for them either, but chose to step up anyway. They changed my life, so the least I can do is pay that forwards. 

By the end of this world’s campaign, if I have helped a single person gain self-belief, realise the power in kindness, and value growth above all else, that would be all I could possibly ask for. 

Oh! Actually, I’d like to ask for one more thing… I hope that they too will pay it forwards. 

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