In every sport, you have your big names: Nick Saban, Mike Krzyewski, Pat Summitt, all who embody different styles of coaching and yet have national title banners hanging in their respected arenas. But what makes each of these coaches great? Heart. Sure, a national championship is a great honor to accomplish, but the passion for the sport and the development of the players is what drives these coaches into greatness. Lou Burruss is another one of these coaches.
Ultimate Frisbee, or what some call ‘the greatest sport you’ve never heard of,’ is a worldwide culture and community of athletes who all share a love for the game. Tie in a mixture of soccer, football, and basketball, and you have the sport of Ultimate, a high risk, high reward sport.
For those of you new to the game, Ultimate is set up like a football field, runs like a soccer game, and incorporates several rules from basketball. With seven players on each side, you can pass the disc in any direction on the field, but once caught, the player cannot run with the disc and has to establish a pivot foot. The goal is to throw the disc to one of your teammates in the endzone without dropping the disc or throwing an interception. It is a game of strategy, grit, and will leave you, the spectator, simply astonished.
For 25 years, Lou Burruss has been immersed in the Ultimate community. “I was hooked immediately,” says Burruss remembering his first years playing at Carleton College in Minnesota. He continues to say, “My first stint coaching was with the Carleton women from 1997-2000. I was so clueless I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know.” After playing and coaching at Carleton, Lou made his way out to Oregon where he now coaches the University of Oregon’s Women’s Ultimate team, Fugue.
Mention the name Lou Burruss to anyone in the Ultimate community and you will get a star-struck reaction, most likely due to his strategic analysis of the game or his signature game day attire, usually including a beret or bright green pants. Realizing that coaching was the right fit, Lou explains, “The big breakthrough for me was in 1999, when we (Carleton women) were absolutely destroyed in the finals by Stanford. I was forced to re-evaluate so much of what I/we had done. We were champs the next year with a significantly less-talented roster.”
Along with practice and “winning the fields,” or the last team to leave the tournament fields, one of his favorite parts of Ultimate and coaching is, “when someone who has been struggling as a player finally figures it out or finally gets healthy and becomes the player they could have been all along.”
Now, when I mention the sport of Ultimate Frisbee, how much do you really know about it? Sure it isn’t televised, yet. Or in the Olympics, yet. But how much recognition does Ultimate need? Lou explains, “I believe that sport should be about more than sport. That Ultimate should be a vehicle for something greater: personal growth, working together for a common goal, leadership, individual responsibility — things that matter much more than wins and losses or a coaches ego.”
In the 2012-2013 season, Burruss and Fugue won the college National Championship Memorial Day weekend in Madison, Wisconsin, with a one-loss record. I asked Lou what it would take to win back to back titles and if he felt any pressure to accomplish the repeat season. He responded, “The plan has to change significantly. It is important to keep moving forward to stay vital and alive.” Rising above the pressure of a repeat season while still remaining calm and collected is a part of Burress’ strategy that he thrives upon. He continues, “Sometimes you must climb down the hill to get to the top of the mountain.”
Lou Burruss embodies that of what makes up a great coach: determination, passion and above all else, heart. There is no questioning his passion for the game, and it can be seen through anyone in which he comes in contact – both on and off the field. Burruss has developed his own formula for success: joy + hard work = Ultimate. Finding the joy in working hard is the foundation for success.
Numbers don’t define the coach; a coach is defined by somebody who drives passion and the love of the game onto his or her players that strive for greatness. Lou Burruss exceeds this definition through his love of the game of Ultimate Frisbee.