In my first days of university I discovered that I loved to play ultimate frisbee. In undergrad, I would join pick-up games outside my residence or play on my class intramural team. By the time I finished undergrad, I was showing up to intramural games in the hope that one of the teams would need a substitute (very rarely was I disappointed). I got married shortly after graduation and my wife and I would go to a park near our house and throw a disc for about an hour a day. I started to play competitive ultimate and I worked my way up in the sport until I was finally a member of a team that won the Canadian national championships.
My parents and in-laws did not entirely approve at first. I think they felt like I needed to be doing past times that related more closely to my career (software development /engineering). It isn’t obvious how chasing a piece of plastic around a grass field could relate to building a better life, but I’ve come to believe that it was the most useful thing I’ve done for my work career.
Ultimate frisbee is a really common sport among engineers and computer scientists. It is also very common for players to hold postgraduate degrees and it seems to especially attract people who work in startups or technology companies. There are many reasons for this which I’ll write about in the future, but the reason that I first ended up in ultimate frisbee was that those around me were already playing. It was a good social activity with my peers.
How Ultimate Frisbee can be superior to a job interview
Finding people you want to work with and/or hire is really hard and the interview process is not super effective in determining a good fit. In an interview, both the interviewer and interviewee are on their best behavior and a lot is at stake. In a few minutes, both parties have to decide if they are interested in working together and they will both be on their best behavior. A team sport is almost the polar opposite of a formal interview. In a team sport, the outcome doesn’t really matter and the stakes are low. If you lose a game, no one dies or loses a large amount of money. It also goes on for a much longer time than an interview which allows everyone to let their guards down and make some actual connections. I’m more interested in someone that is good to get along with on a day to day basis; not just when they are on their best behavior.
Team sports help you learn to work with others and they provide opportunities to see how people work with a team. Are you someone that wants a lot of glory or will you sacrifice your personal interests for the success of your team? Will you quit when something is difficult to learn or will you work hard to overcome your obstacles? Can you learn new skills and apply them in the heat of the moment? Can you handle disagreements and find a solution that is acceptable to everyone? These are all things that I’d look for in a new employee, they are very difficult to determine in an interview but they become pretty apparent on an ultimate field. I’ve had to develop some of these skills for ultimate and they’ve helped me in my career and my personal life.
It has worked out pretty well for me. All of the jobs I’ve enjoyed after graduation were found through networking in ultimate frisbee and I’ve been able to work with some amazing people along the way.
It doesn’t have to be Ultimate Frisbee
Ultimate frisbee isn’t for everyone. It has a steep learning curve and a pretty odd culture that not everyone wants to get behind. I do believe that there are other activities out there that can provide similar benefits. Softball, for example, seems to be popular among technology companies. Some video games are very collaborative and require teamwork.
If you are looking for a hobby, look for activities that allow you to hone a skill and interact with other people in the field of work you are interested in. Some hobbies are special because they are rewarding in and of themselves while also being good for a career and if you can find a way to advance your career doing something you love, that’s a pretty good place to be.