Fresh off a Gold Medal performance with the USA Mixed Team at the Ultimate World Championships in London and now back to the Breeze sidelines in time for playoffs, elite women’s player with DC’s Scandal and Breeze Assistant Coach Sarah Itoh connects with staff writer Libby Chamberlin for this Q&A, the latest entry in our Who Is Series…
Tell us a little bit about your background. When did you start playing? What hooked you on ultimate?
I played soccer growing up, had never heard about ultimate until I got to college. I was a freshman on campus and moved in early, didn’t really have anything to do so I joined a couple people who were throwing outside my building. We kept with it that semester, more people kept coming out, and a few of the guys knew that it was a club sport at other schools so we decided to go for it and start a team.
What really hooked me was the laid back atmosphere of it all, it was just a really good time and the guys were genuine and fun to hang out with. It was probably the most enjoyable sport in my life because we were self regulating everything, there were no refs, or coaches. It was just meeting down in the park to throw, run around and have fun.
I joined the Breeze coaching staff a few months before the 2015 start. Honestly, it wasn’t the smoothest transition from player to coach as I hadn’t even captained a team before. So, with that in mind, I actually turned down the job at first offer.
An email was sent to Scandal, and I remember reading about the position and thinking, “It would be really cool if one of us could coach this team”, so I ‘Replied All’ saying that it needed to be one of us– never actually thinking it should be me. A week or two went by before someone wrote me back saying, “Well, why not you?” I got an offer, turned it down, they assured me that they didn’t think they were making a mistake, so I thought about it for a few days. I thought if they were willing to let me learn along the way, why not? Dutchy’s at the helm anyway.
The reality is that it’s a really cool opportunity, and the transition is still an ongoing process for me. I find that I’m learning a lot from the people around me, probably more than they are learning from me.
Tell me about some of your biggest successes as a coach? What are some of your biggest struggles or challenges with the Breeze?
I mostly struggle with the idea that I’m helping to coach players that know much more about the game than I do, not only with strategies and plays, but I am still learning a lot about the open teams and players. So, my successes are usually small battles in getting over myself, and giving input either way.
Do you talk about goal setting with the players you coach? What are some of your keys for setting attainable goals in ultimate?
I tend to leave all the important decisions to Dutchy, and he’s been very good about asking for input from Mike and myself. I just try to assist in helping our players reach their, and our goals.
Personal goals are great, and I will try to help in any way that I can. Team goals are equally important, and more so when it comes to the success of a team. So, at the beginning of the year we asked the players what they wanted to get out of the season, and though there were a lot of answers, they boiled down to 3 main goals. We try to keep those in mind going into each practice and game.
I think the key to any goal is to have reasonable expectations.
In your opinion/longview, will pro Ultimate ever field women for a full season? Why or why not?
This one is hard to say. There are women whom I would consider to be very capable, but location and strengths & weaknesses on a team would be greatly coming into play. Honestly, I don’t believe it’s going to happen anytime soon.
I definitely think about the game more now. As a player, I’m typically something of a grunt. I’m told what to do, and I try to do that. I don’t like to think too much when I’m out there. I am much more of an instinctive player. However, I’ve found myself examining the whole situation more when I’m on the sidelines. I’ve also watched more footage in the past year than I have in all my time playing.
What’s the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome as a player? As a coach?
Self confidence, for both.
What’s your favorite piece of ultimate advice that translates to life off the field?
Shake it off.
Who has most influenced you in the ultimate community and why? How does their influence impact you now?
This is a tough one, there are many people. I hadn’t had a coach until my 2012 season, with Mike LoPresti. I have a ton of respect for Mike. Dutchy came along the year after, and has been with Scandal since, so I’ve had a few years of guidance from him, which has been tremendous for my game. I really admire both of them, for what they contribute to the Breeze and also what they have done for me as a player. Other influences have been Kirstin Unfried, a past Scandal player who is now up in Boston. She was always one of my favorite players. She’s not known for making big flashy plays, but she is so rock solid and reliable on the field. Kimberly Beach is another, and she’s not only an amazing player, but an amazing person. She’s the embodiment of love and laughter, with a kick-your-ass mentality when it comes game time. She reminds me to keep it light, we’re here to have fun and enjoy what we do.
There are also many players on the Breeze that I love watching and learning from. I’m not sure if I should point them out just yet, or if I should leave it for a post-season discussion, ha.
What is the biggest mental lesson you’ve learned throughout your years?
Shit happens. Get over it.
— Libby Chamberlin, Breeze Staff Writer