Former Seattle Rainmaker Matt Zemel has been named coach of Team India Men for WUGC 2016.
This coming June, teams representing 42 nations will meet in London for the 2016 World Ultimate & Guts Championships (WUGC), the premier event hosted by the World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF). Held every four years since 1983, WUGC brings together ultimate teams from across the globe to compete in a celebration of international cooperation and “spirit of the game”.
In years past, teams from the U.S., Canada, Sweden and Japan have won the titles across the tournaments Men’s, Women’s and Mixed divisions. While USAU recently released their star studded teams, a less heralded team is gearing up from their most ambitious offering ever at the 2016 event.
For the first time in their nation’s history, India will be sending a Men’s, Women’s and Mixed team to WUGC, and leading their men’s team will be a familiar face – Matt Zemel. Zemel played two seasons for the Seattle Rainmakers, having played previously in college at University of Colorado, and with club teams Sack Lunch and Johnny Bravo (both Denver based), and Seattle’s Sockeye.
Zemel, who has experience in international ultimate outreach and the uniting power of the sport through Ultimate Peace sees mixed as an important step for Indian ultimate. Seen as a young and progressive sport in India, ultimate provides an opportunity for people from areas all over the country to interact across socioeconomic and gender lines.
“This type of mixing is unheard of in the rest of India.” said Zemel, “Men and women play together. In fact, different socioeconomic classes play together as well, maybe because frisbee is a young/progressive sport there (about 8 years old). This type of mixing is unheard of in the rest of India. This team is made up of players from around India including Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, and Delhi.”
The 2016 WUGC is the first time that India will field separate men’s and women’s teams, as well as Mixed. While interest has been growing, numbers had not been been large enough for separate teams in years past. Indian Ultimate is only about 8 years old, yet Zemel sees promise for the young program’s development. It just needs to shake off some growing pains.
“One of the major barriers to the growth of ultimate in India right now is access to fields. There are only so many fields in India, it’s a very populated place, and so getting fields turns out to be a big issue. In Chennai, they play almost exclusively on the beach because it’s gigantic. They play almost daily, usually in the early morning or in the evening (to get around the heat during the day).”
While coaching the men’s national team will be the main reason Zemel will travel to India, he will also use the time to spread his experience throughout the country.
“I’ll have two main roles during my time in India.” said Zemel, “I’ll be the coach of the men’s national team that will go to London for WUGC 2016. Besides that, I’ll be traveling around the country – hopefully spending at least some time with every team in India – doing my best to distribute my knowledge of frisbee, highlight leaders that already exist in the various communities, encourage India to give it’s own unique spin to all of my ideas about frisbee, and involving as many people as I can in this process. This is the community development side of my trip.”
An ambitious trip for the 26 year old handler-turned-coach, who will return to his native Colorado after the summer to begin medical school. Zemel admits the the trip will require him to leave his comfort zone and travel through a foreign land, he will not be alone.
“I’ll be with the Indian ultimate community. I’ve been told to expect to be very welcomed and to become very endeared to Indian ultimate. I am lucky to have traveled internationally before in the name of frisbee. The most powerful experiences of my life have come through this travel. Frisbee is a special sport in that it can bring together people from around the world with similar passions to play a great sport and to learn from one another.”
Zemel says the impact of the relatively young ultimate culture on the larger Indian community is of special interest to him.
“Different castes, different sexes, they all play ultimate together. This is unheard of in any other sport or activity. Less than ten years old, ultimate is a tool for social change in India, and we are seeing just the beginnings. I’ve worked with one other organization, Ultimate Peace, that builds relationships, using frisbee, among people that otherwise would never even meet. I hope to keep this momentum going by helping create leaders within the Indian communities.”
Major League Ultimate was formed “out of a long held belief in the bright future of ultimate frisbee”, and Coach Zemel’s work this summer in Indian is a prime example of what our founders had in mind.
“I’ve never played against an Indian team, but have friends and past teammates who have.” said Zemel, “They tell me that the Indians are one of the most competitive and still the most spirited groups to play against. By my count, India has won every single spirit award since beginning to play internationally. Indian ultimate is on the rise, and I want to see it for myself.”
To help Matt in his work with Indian Ultimate, please consider donating to his efforts here.
Read more about Indian Ultimate here.