May 31, 2019
By Grant Lindsley
Herding Katz – An interview with Ultimate’s most crafty player
At first, Ben Katz is easy to miss. His slight frame and affable demeanor lull you into a false sense of confidence. Ask teammates like Harper Garvey, Ben Jagt, and Beau Kittredge to describe Katz, and they use words like “mellow,” “amiable,” and “pleasant.”
But that’s all part of his dastardly plan. By the time you finally understand, it’s too late.
At his core, Katz is a gamer, as he explains in his approach to training in the interview below. Play ping pong with him – or, his teammates say, pool, or shuffleboard, or Connect Four, or any game at all – and after an hour, he’ll be grinning, asking, “Who’s next?”
On the ultimate field, some players have the skill to shine – Katz possesses the rare ability to disappear.
But he’s always watching. When you least expect it, he pops into view, inexplicably open by ten yards in the endzone or poaching a block in a lane that you thought was open. He sees the field in terms of constantly shifting space, angles, and timing.
He hides in advantageous places. He hides so well, in fact, that he’s largely been out of the limelight, despite being one of the most versatile and visionary players in the game. You almost wonder if he wanted it that way…
You were rated the Most Underrated Player in the East last year and, as of yesterday, an All-Star this year. Did that recognition make you feel good, or like someone had spotted your hiding place and outed your position to the world?
For all of college I loved not being a big name. It made my life much easier for the early part of games. After some success, my spot is starting to get blown up. It’s definitely bittersweet, but I do appreciate the recognition.
How long have you been playing ultimate?
I started throwing Frisbees at camp when I was 9 but started playing real ultimate when I helped start my high school team (Somerville High in Massachusetts) in 2008.
Do you lift weights?
I prefer to cross train with other sports rather than in the weight room. I think it’s important to know what works for you as an individual. A lot of people believe they have absolute answers on how to train, how to warm up, how to eat, how to live, but it’s important to realize that everyone is different and to do whatever makes you feel best.
What other sports do you use for cross training?
I’ll play anything I have time for. Soccer, basketball, tennis, flag football. Playing different sports puts you in different spots, both mentally and physically, and you can find ways to apply that experience to ultimate.
What animal do you resemble when you play defense?
For obvious reasons there are often comparisons to cats. But I think that’s actually a decent one: hiding in the brush, waiting for the opportunity to pounce. But you see me more than I see myself, so what animal do you think I resemble?
I was going to say “cat,” too, but I think you’re actually more accurate to say “cats,” plural. You play as if you’re multiple cats that somehow work together in a single human body. You also seem to have two distinctive skillsets: defensive creativity and offensive reliability. What’s your offensive philosophy?
I think that hitting open hands and changing the angle of attack is incredibly hard to defend, and pump fakes open up the entire field.
What’s the single most important skill young players might overlook?
Keeping your head up/field awareness.
I see you turning your head all the time on the field. How do you develop that awareness?
I think it comes from realizing that when you are playing team sports, there are individual battles, but you still have your whole team on your side. And that you have a responsibility to your teammates to help them out when you can. On the field it is really about making split second decisions and then committing 100% to them. If you are fortunate enough to have tape of yourself playing, deliberately watching the film will help tremendously.