What you could learn from players going to nationals this weekend

author - melissa witmer coaching skills

Photos courtesy of Alex Davis, Sandy Canetti for UltiPhotos, and Ken Forman for UltiPhotos

Getting ready to watch the USA Ultimate Championships this weekend? Maybe you secretly, or not so secretly, want to be playing there yourself some weekend. What do those athletes know that you don’t?

In this post we’re going to share a few common themes that have some up as we’ve paired athletes with elite mentors and coaches in our UAP Premium program.

Heads up, this program will be open again soon to new members. You can find out more and be notified when it’s open by signing up here!

Our UAP Premium program started with last year with 8 players. We paired them up with elite players and coaches every month for one-on-one coaching calls. Here are a few things they learned!

Mental Toughness Training

When athletes begin our UAP Premium program, the first thing we do is create an individualized action plan based on each players goals, strengths, and weaknesses.

What we found is that every single player could benefit from some mental toughness training. Investment in mental toughness work at the beginning of the athlete pays off in the long run and helps athletes stick to their plans and achieve their goals even when life gets busy.

In the UAP Premium program, athletes spent their first few weeks defining their goals and their vision. Then we start putting mental strength training habits into their daily routines.

Here’s what this process looks like and the impact it’s had for one of our athletes.

"I have implemented:

  • the mental warm up before the physical warm up
  • the learning routine to keep improving from mistakes and successes
  • defined more precisely the image I want to send when on the field
    I try to implement:
  • A routine to get back inside “the bubble”

I am almost consistently able to be the impact player the coach wanted me to be . The first 3 points above are always useful to me on the field.”

And with practice…

"Mental toughness is becoming easier to achieve and if the situation gets tense, the learning and back to the bubble routine works well."

Many years ago when I started The Ultimate Athlete Project, players were still debating the merits of strength training. Now thankfully everyone at least knows they should be doing strength training. Several years ago so few players were doing strength training that those who committed to it had a tangible edge.  I believe the next frontier for ultimate players who want an “unfair” advantage is mental strength training. And it is an area you can get consistent help with in our UAP Premium community.

Game IQ

Most of us have probably wondered, “Do they know something I don’t?” And the answer is “Yes, they do.” Elite players usually have had elite coaching. They talk about ultimate all the time, with other players at the same level. And therefore, many elite players think about the game in a different way, at a much greater level of detail, than most of us do.

This is really why we started the UAP Premium program. To give access to these game IQ discussions to YOU regardless of where your living or what coaching you have access to.

The most frequent game IQ discussions were about defensive positioning and handler assertiveness.


"I implemented two things: the lateral positioning we talked about and getting rid of the constant fear of getting beaten deep. I found myself much stronger as a defensive player. I was able to shutdown a lot more of the undercuts while getting beaten deep only once in two events."


"I went from struggling to defend one girl to being able to quickly read the field and position myself in the throwing lane, all the while still facing my girl and staying close to her. This was especially important when we got to the tiny 4v4 red zone."

Throwing and Handling

“Changing how I hold the disc at different levels and in general. Throwing so the disc reaches the point of where it's intended to be caught with lowest the momentum. Start setting up for throws from the neutral position”


“We talked about being an aggressive handler and what I think limits me from doing that. Took a look at my throwing form, and what is the root cause of most of my turnovers (body position on throws losing form when trying to go fast/aggressive)”


A small win: I re-watched a couple of games that I first saw a few months ago. I picked up a lot of nuance after re-watching them now. I'm seeing more of the game and I'm learning to focus on specific things, like how someone cuts really well even if they don't get the disc. I've been watching what separates the best cutters from folks who are just OK, like how they take smaller steps and have efficient movement.”

Confidence and Camaraderie

A third thing our athletes got from our pairings was greater confidence in themselves. It is easy to look at players at the elite level and put them on a pedestal. Maybe they know things you don’t. Maybe they can do athletic feats that you can’t.

By being able to talk directly to players like these, we close the gap a bit. Our athletes learned that elite players are normal humans too. Game IQ can be explained. It can be improved rapidly with focused effort.

It was cool talking to someone who is a very similar player to me both in terms of body, play style, and I'd even say personality. We are alike in a lot of ways, so it was nice to hear about what has helped him be successful.”


“Zumbrum and I have a very similar play style and mindset. Talking to someone who has "been there, done that" is helpful to confirm some things and talk about others.”


I was able to come to the realization that these high level players weren’t always perfect and that becoming just as good as them was an attainable goal.”


I went from being unsure of my abilities to knowing that I am a great player that can play for high level teams. I can carry myself confidently on the field even when I make mistakes.”

Sometimes it’s just nice to have someone to talk to on your journey to ultimate frisbee greatness. If you’d like to be paired up with Alex Davis, Jenny Fey, Nick Spiva, and other players going to US Nationals this weekend, sign up here to learn more about our UAP Premium program. We’re accepting new players in just a few weeks. We'd love to find out what YOU can learn this year!