Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thankful for... Ultimate Frisbee? (It's about college applications)

Father Goof has been moribund. Sorry fans (or is it fan?)

There's life, a full-time job, and also I'm writing a book on the side. So, not tons of bandwidth. Also, the little Goofs aren't so little and seem to have lives (but that's just an excuse - when I pay attention they furnish tons of material.)

But today, Thanksgiving, seemed like a great day to make a comeback, since I have something I am particularly thankful for.

GoofBoy is applying to college. This is a big decision and a lot for a teenager to process. It is easy to imagine that your choice of college is critical to your ultimate success in life. It will, but not in the way that you think (college is probably where you meet your future spouse.) Otherwise, (and this is another of my hobby-horses) odds are that you are not going to do anything hugely earth-shaking with your life. You want to be reasonably happy and content - what choices set you on that pathway?

Let's put aside the two uber issues of cost and acceptance. We are fortunate, within reason these two issues do not predominate, we have choices. But among friends who are similarly situated, their children are often overwhelmed by the huge number of choices.

Kids often use simple heuristics to winnow things down: a big sports school, somewhere small, a school in New England. As the Nobel Laureates Daniel Kahneman and Amos Twersky explained, our brain makes instant decisions constantly (thinking fast) because we cannot possibly rationally evaluate the mass of information available.

Even still, whatever factors winnow one's college choices, there are too many options, there are simply too many colleges and universities. I would estimate about eight million, all of which have contacted us by email and snail mail.

This is why I'm thankful for Ultimate Frisbee.

Ultimate Obsession
GoofBoy encountered the game at camp, loved it, and began seeking local teams he could join. I rolled my eyes at is interest in this silly, hippy game. He threatened to take up hacky sack, and I chose the lesser of two evils.

For background, Ultimate Frisbee, now just general called Ultimate, was invented in 1968 by a bunch of high school students in Maplewood, New Jersey. It is sort of a mix of football and soccer, but with a frisbee. If you have the frisbee, you cannot run, you have to pass it. The goal is to pass it into the end zone. There are a lot of specific rules, but that's the nub of it.

I'm not really a tyrannical parent, within reason I let my kids do what they want. Of course his school doesn't have an Ultimate team, which meant extra driving around. For some reason, games and tournaments were often in northern Virginia. As a Marylander, I hate northern Virginia and really try to never ever go there. Yet many autumn and spring Sundays were spent going to there. I watched some games, it is a graceful sport.

It is also, on the whole, a very nice sport. The people who play are generally nice. You run, a lot, and injuries usually aren't too severe. GoofBoy reports that getting hit in the head by a thrown frisbee hurts, but it won't lead to a concussion.

GoofBoy's love of the game deepened. His team was state champions, he went out for travel teams, he got all of his friends into it, and he started buying gear. I joked that maybe he could get a big frisbee scholarship and he said he was thinking about going pro. There are literally dollars to be made!

College Ultimate
But GoofBoy was thinking seriously about his Ultimate career. Some colleges and universities have Ulimate teams that travel and compete. GoofBoy's dream is to be on a team that makes nationals while he is there. That's about 15 schools. Suddenly the college hunt was focused. A few of these schools have Ultimate teams so good that GoofBoy probably can't make it. Some of these schools don't have a very strong campus Jewish life. One, GoofBoy said looked like too much of a party school while another was too much of a grind. One was in a place he simply did not want to go. These are fair concerns and the kid knows himself. And of course, academics still matter. It has to be a good school.

This took us down to eight schools: two or three that he is unlikely to get into, but worth a shot; two or three that should not be a problem; and two or three that are realistic but not certain.

Done! (Five of the eight are submitted!)

Back in April I was invited to give a talk at the University of Washington in Seattle. They have a great Ultimate team that GoofBoy has admired from afar. Seattle is a big Ultimate town (it's also where MamaGoof got her PhD.) I took GoofBoy with me. We toured the campus, which is beautiful. He met a biology professor (that's what he's really interested in!) We went on a hike outside of the city, because you absolutely should not go to the Pacific Northwest without seeing the great outdoors. We poked around downtown Seattle (and visited a neat company that makes Ultimate gear!) We visited the campus Hillel, which was welcoming.

GoofBoy, in blue, with the UW SunDodgers, at his happiest!
Most importantly, GoofBoy joined the U.W. team for a practice.

So this Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for Ultimate Frisbee. It makes my son happy. In framing his choices for college, it helped set him on a path to be happy. Also, because he really wants to play Ultimate in college it gave him extra motivation to write the essays and get stuff done. And all of that makes me happy and thankful.