Death and the dilettante or ‘Why I Hate Ultimate Frisbee, Which I Love’


I think I may have wasted my life.

Let me put that another way. I have realised that I will only ever be good at one thing, and now that one thing is pretty much over.

When I was a teenager, I did what many teenagers do. I moped about feeling sorry for myself, wondering why the world had it in for me, and when things were going to start happening. Of course, whilst I sulked about nothing ever coming my way, things started to come my way. I discovered the transformative power of wonderful music. I read hundreds of books. I found myself in relationships. I began to write.

Each of these things could have taken my life off in any number of directions. I could have been a novelist, a musician or a Casanova. [Just a note here to prevent those who know me from spraying coffee all over their laptops: I realise that I never could have been any of these things. I claim little or no natural aptitude for them. And yes, i’m really talking specifically about the Casanova one here].

I tried to combine writing and music when I was a teenager, scurrying home from gigs to spend the early hours sweating over a typewriter before posting off my reviews into the void – or the Live Editor’s desk at the NME as I knew it. When I got to University I wrote music reviews for the Leeds Student newspaper, and loved it. When I left I took a binder of those reviews around to the fledgling Big Issue In The North and spent the next 10 or more years writing music, film and TV pieces for them, which again, I loved. And then, in 2005, that stopped.

Rewind to 1993 and Ultimate Frisbee saved my life. Enthused, almost randomly, my best friend and I started Manchester’s first team and, taking ourselves by surprise, started learning how to be good at it. The sport brought me almost all of the dearest friends I have today, it forced upon me a physical fitness which I would almost certainly have avoided otherwise, it took me to places I never would have visited both at home (Leicester!) and overseas. It brought me success within the sphere. I played for Great Britain for the first time in 1997 and for the last in 2008. And finally, in 2009, the team that my friend and I started back in Manchester, became European champions.

You may be familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘10,000 hour rule’ which contends that the key to success in any given field is, to a great extent, a matter of practising a specific task for 10,000 hours. I think I may just about have reached my 10,000 hours when it comes to Ultimate and, within the confines of an obscure sport played by only a few thousand people in the UK, i’ve been successful. In fact I was pretty good at it. Now, as I approach my 40th birthday, what use is that? I gave my years of focus and concentration to a sport which I became an expert in, and which I cannot play for much longer at all.

Recently, reading fascinating books by or about Stewart Lee and Chris Morris, I recognised the sheer devotion they have given to their crafts, Lee on stage learning to read the swells and riptides of a live audience, Morris in the editing room, taking the scalpel to anything he could get his hands, ears or eyes on. Both are deeply talented and rather frighteningly intelligent, but still in their stories you’ll feel the rough grain of the 10,000 hours of practice.

I realise that I will never again practice anything for 10,000 hours. Of all the things that I could have worked at, I chose one which could not sustain me forever. Now, as its tide begins to ebb, I’m left high and dry.