Appropriately, Nicky Spiva’s first encounter with ultimate was a full-blown tournament halfway through his junior year of high school. After cajoling from a classmate and without a practice under his belt, Nicky took the field with Brutal Grassburn at the Shawn Adams Memorial tournament in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “I had no idea what was going on, but I scored a couple goals. That first tourney hooked me.” That’s an apt starting point for Nicky’s career and general attitude when it comes to ultimate. He barrels through career highlight anecdotes without taking a breath. He voices his opinions about the pro leagues, gender equity, and the future of ultimate with unblinking intensity. He plays with the same bravado.
After high school, Nicky went on to play at McGill University in Montreal and then transferred to Colorado College where he was the Callahan Award runner up in 2011. The summer after graduating, Nicky played for Chain Lightning and joined the first NextGen tour which he credits with strengthening his mental game. “It was great. It changed my mentality a little bit. I was kinda harsh on myself [before], just for little stuff, mistakes.” The NextGen tour experience made Nicky realize that that attitude was “not beneficial to me or the team.”
Changing his mental framework has made it possible for Nicky to excel both as a player and as a coach, with an impressive multinational CV (“I like coaching. I still like playing more.”) He assistant coached his high school team in 2011 and then Tulane’s open team when he moved to New Orleans in 2012 (while commuting to Chain practice from both Nashville and NOLA throughout the season). His third year with Tulane was a watershed year for Nicky as a coach. “I knew these guys, I’d been with them for two years. The team leadership bought in and believed they could qualify for nationals… their mental and emotional game was rock solid.”
In 2013, Nicky was fortunate enough to travel to Cali, Colombia with the USA World Games team. “It was my first time playing with the cream of the crop,” he says. “I’d never been on a team executing at peak performance for every game.” Even as an alternate, being that close to high level play fanned the ultimate flame. He strengthened his relationships with many of the players, including Mike “Tank” Natenberg of Doublewide, whom Nicky counts as a role model and mentor. Another flashpoint: Tank dropped Nicky’s name to coach and play in Moscow during summer 2014, through a recurring partnership with the Russian Flying Disc Federation.
Over an already illustrious career, Nicky’s mental game has expanded and he has a more holistic framework for ultimate. “The idea of thinking in terms of ‘can’t make a mistake’ is the wrong way to approach [the game.] Focus on winning your match up and not ‘not making a mistake,” he advises. Nicky credits Breeze head coach, Alex “Dutchy” Ghesquiere, with some of this framework shift: Dutchy emphasizes finding the right amount of intensity and confidence to attack a game, a point, or a given moment. Finding the right mental level to take on a challenge is a balancing act, and one that Nicky strives toward. “You want to be challenged. You want things to be hard. You want to fight– that gets you excited for the hard moments.” There promises to be plenty of those this upcoming season, but Nicky will be ready for them.
— Libby Chamberlin, Breeze Staff Writer