Discussion: Mind the Gap

hazard
Welcome to the chat! Today we'll be discussing anything to do with women in university Ultimate. The chat will feature myself (our Editor), ali (our Women's Editor), AnnieB (our Scottish Writer), k-j (our Northern Writer), Becky Greenwood (our Western Writer) and gyanhan (our Eastern Writer).

We'll start with the "Elevator Pitch". What is cool about Ultimate? Why should new female students want to join our sport?

AnnieB
I have so many answers to this question! The first one that comes to mind - and one of the most important ones - is that Ultimate is the most amazing community, and it's one you never have to leave. This sport is of course incredible to play - athletic, competitive - but it also has a great community that has been built over the years. This applies to all Ultimate players of any gender, but for woman in particular I think you can find a team and group of people who will always support you and cheer you on as you accomplish your own goals and those of the team.

gyanhan
I think this is a question that anyone who’s looking to recruit new people to the sport wants a clear answer for, but doesn’t really have. Recruitment is a problem for women’s uni teams everywhere, every year there’s always a uni I see register for Mixed but not send a team for Women’s. While I personally joined Ultimate because 1. No need for prior experience compared to other sports, 2. It’s mixed, that’s something interesting, and 3. Heard a lot about how the frisbee community is really welcoming to beginners, I’m not sure what the best pitches are to get women to join nowadays, considering these elements of community and openness to beginners have existed for a long time.

Becky Greenwood
Last weekend when I excitedly and enthusiastically pitched Ultimate Frisbee to millions of freshers at our Sports Bazzar, exactly one year after I was introduced to this sport myself, the main thing I started with was (considering I’m at Loughborough where it’s tough to get onto any other AU sporting team..) that there were no trials and EVERYONE gets to be on the team. It’s already been said but I loved how all the beginners were so massively welcomed and included, no matter how good they were. All that mattered was an eagerness to get better and most of all, have a load of fun! I pitched how I‘d not really played much of netball or football, for example, so I didn’t already have that ‘pitch awareness’ and also how I wasn’t the most athletic or coordinated person… so I could confidently say how much better they would already be compared to me, if they’d played football or netball for example!

I also explained how massively encouraging and friendly the fellow Frisbee community is. I explained how quick it can be to pick up the basics and given enough determination, how quick it is to improve further. I could literally talk about this for hours but the main thing is looking at how much I’ve changed over the year because of Frisbee, I never cared for the gym, and now I do, the improvement I’ve made is massive, I’m massively keen for it and it’s all because of all these things building up to the fact that (obviously very very biased) it’s the best sport to join when arriving at uni!!!

k-j
When I was on the fresher’s fair and trying to interest people, my reel-in sentence was either “Have you heard of Ultimate Frisbee?” or “Want to try an amazing new sport?”, and the latter was definitely more successful at catching people’s interest! My pitch would always start with saying it is a competitive and athletic sport, and then that most people have never played before so there’s no fear of being ‘left behind’ by more experienced players, and that is a Mixed sport with a super-supportive community and a mad social scene.

ali
All of those things, plus Spirit is one of the most amazing things about frisbee. Some school sports like netball have a bad reputation for pushy/bad tempered players, so coming to such a chill sport is a really nice change.

gyanhan
Another big factor in getting more women in joining the sport would be improving the visibility of the sport, which is a long-term process that may take years to accomplish. Making Ultimate more “mainstream”, and in turn making women in Ultimate more mainstream would ultimately result in more people knowing about it and joining it.

AnnieB
My pitch for women generally involves the fact that most people don't play until they get to university. When you first start Ultimate the learning curve is very steep - you can get improve very quickly. Of course becoming a really good player takes time. But you can aim high in Ultimate, and I've found in many teams that if a player is willing to put the work in, they will never be turned away. This pitch is getting outdated in some ways - people start playing earlier, and have some awareness of what the sport is before they come to uni. But as gyanhan said, increasing visibility is key.

hazard
Don't forget Ultimate looks cool, and that they can look cool playing it.

AnnieB
That video made me want to play Ultimate and I already do!

hazard
Ok, let's take the next step then. We've got our next big potential Iceni players to come to a taster session. How do we run that first session, and how do we keep them after that?

Elly White and Charlie Blair did a good article on this a while ago, but I'd like to know your thoughts too.

gyanhan
Given that the number of women in uni Ultimate clubs are usually a minority, one of the best ways to keep the women is to create a really close-knit family sort of feeling. One of my favourite things about playing Women’s Ultimate during my undergrad was that I knew all the other women in the club and felt comfortable chatting with them, whereas there were probably plenty of men I might never have had the chance to speak with one-on-one. Of course, if the number of women in your club increases, then the close-knit family feeling is likely harder to achieve. But some might say that’s a happy problem.

ali
It's a difficult balance to strike, because not all the girls who turn up to your taster sessions are necessarily athletes already, many of them are just there to try out a new sport. But if you go too casual, some of the girls who are used to intense hockey/netball/lacrosse whatever may get the impression that frisbee is a bit of a doss.  

AnnieB
I think a lot of it is good teaching and coaching methods. Personally, I'm not shy about correcting people.  But I also remember clearly what it was like to be a beginner and it was overwhelming. Good female players within in the club, playing well and not taking a backseat to the men on the field and when coaching - these things are essential for keeping woman playing.

k-j
No messing about with drills, just straight in with throwing (I’d just teach backhands) and then explain the most basic rules (no running, no contact, catch in the endzone), ignoring stalling/stacking, explain Spirit and then straight into loooooads of game time. If you have enough women to make an all-women’s taster session that’d be amazing, but I wasn’t put off by playing Mixed. I’d recommend taking the experienced players to one side and reminding them to not poach, to throw to everybody, to high-five and congratulate everybody on the team – you’re not there to win or show-off, you’re there to get other people as hooked on the sport as you are.

gyanhan
Oh and skimming through that article - I’m a huge supporter of Mixed Ultimate, but I have to agree slightly with the author’s points that women shouldn’t be introduced to the sport via Mixed. This is unfortunately due to things like women not getting as many touches as the men, or getting  D-ed by a speedy guy, as those things can be pretty discouraging. But Annie raises a really good point about having good female players within the club playing well. If you have enough of them at Mixed tasters, they can be a boost of confidence to the newbies. A good counter to the disadvantages of getting scared off at a Mixed taster is to have a Women’s taster as well, which I think a lot of unis are doing.

I find that women who stay either fall into one or both of the following categories: 1. Improved quickly and can play decently or 2. Made lots of good friends within the club. So addressing both of those points would be a good way to start retaining women.

Happy freshers at an Edinburgh Ultimate taster session -
Ro Sham must be doing something right!
Credit:

Ro Sham Bo - Edinburgh University Ultimate Frisbee Club

hazard
A lot of players’ fondest memory is of their first Ultimate tournament. For a lot of people, it's make or break as to whether they join Frisbee or not. How important do we think the tournaments are to Ultimate, and what's the key to making someone's first tournament a good one?

AnnieB
I love the energy at beginners tournaments! Captains and experienced players can really make or break a tournament for beginners. Encouraging sidelining for other teams, getting people to create personal or team goals, and most importantly not getting frustrated with beginner level playing. Quite frankly not every player is good at captaining/teaching/playing with beginners, so it’s important that this is considered when making teams. My first ever tournament was Glasgow One Day, and I do remember the first ever point I scored. Having the sideline cheering and getting a high five off the captains was great. In Scotland (not sure about rest of UK) Sept/October is filled with beginner tournaments, so they start to get to know one another and the other teams. Showing people it's not just about showing up and playing, but about Spirit and running and supporting each other - for me, that’s what the first few tournament experiences should be.

ali
That's adorable <3

gyanhan
I’ve got no answer to the key to making someone’s first tournament a good one, but I do think tournaments are important to Ultimate as it’s a chance to meet others who also enjoy the sport, not to mention a healthy dose of competitiveness will help in building a sense of belonging to a team.

k-j
Aaaaah, my first tournament, 717 days ago :P Women’s Indoor Regionals, playing for Durham 2nds. Although I agree that winning lots is nice (who doesn’t like winning?) and encouraging to newbies, it isn’t necessary, we only won a single match and I wasn’t put off in the slightest – to the contrary, I think watching higher level women encouraged me to improve! I think at the first tournament you’ve got to show how supportive the community is, and how fun tournaments are – the Durham 1sts and the Women’s Captain came to watch us and I was really flattered and eager to impress them in the future, and we all ate together and had a big girly sleepover – I loved every minute. That’s the impression I want freshers to have leaving that first weekend – “I had fun, I learnt loads, I made friends and I want to improve.”

AnnieB
It may sound idealistic - tournaments are obviously not always that great - but there's nothing wrong with aiming high.  And having the expectation it will be awesome will be passed on to others, so go in optimistic.

Becky Greenwood
Like Annie has already said! The captains and coaches make a huge impact. They were such fun and encouraging people to be around that it just made the whole thing ten times more enjoyable! I very vividly remember playing my second Ultimate tournament - it was Uni Indoor Mixed Regionals and I was on Loughborough 3rds. Given that I’d only been going to the beginners sessions for 2 or 3 weeks I was very much out of my comfort zone!! However I remember how incredibly encouraging and helpful the sideline was. I still remember scoring a point and also assisting another and getting a high five from literally everyone and I don’t think I’d been that happy in ages! The sense of achievement was massive and it’s a feeling I’m now hooked to!

Leeds at Nottingham Beginners 2016
Credit:
University of Nottingham Ultimate - UONU

hazard
Ok. What do we think about the structure of competitive uni Ultimate in general? e.g. Women's Regionals/Nationals for Indoors and Outdoors as tournaments, and the Mixed ones too. Do we like it?  

Also, lesson learned. Everyone should high-five the freshers as they score their first points. They'll remember you doing it!

Becky Greenwood
Honestly I couldn’t stop smiling for a good five minutes!!!

AnnieB
I like the current set up. I think league set up is still quite far away from being totally justifiable for Women’s, but then I do come from a small region.

gyanhan
Not sure if I’ve remembered correctly, but I remember a year when there was no Women’s Outdoor Regionals, just straight Nationals due to the lack of teams. And now with the regionals format, almost every uni makes it through to Nationals due to the presence of Div 1 and Div 2, and there aren’t that many unis around who can send an outdoor women’s team, and there are teams who qualify but Ultimately drop out due issues with numbers or finances. While I love having another tournament to play at, and can understand that regionals would be helpful for seeding and splitting into Div 1 and 2, with the number of teams right now it doesn’t seem like regionals is very useful, and it might be worth changing the weekend to a Women’s outdoor warm up tournament instead. I would love to hear others’ opinions about this. Just something I’ve been wondering for a while.

k-j
Oooh I can’t decide! I personally love tournaments, they give the team a focus at trainings (e.g. we’ve got two weeks until Regionals, let’s all be early to training and make it a good one!) and you come away shattered with this incredible camaraderie with your team. I think I’d go for number 3; so you’d still have Women’s Regionals and Nationals, the Men’s teams would have Regionals, and then weekly Mixed matches, which would increase the visibility of Ultimate to universities. I like it.

Becky Greenwood
I haven’t got a huge opinion on indoors, I really enjoyed my first indoor season!
For outdoors though I personally found it more tough to get the hang of, as the girls couldn’t play BUCS games and also the outdoor training was at the same time as BUCS games so that training was hardly ever on, as either the pitch was being used for BUCS games or all the boys were at BUCS games.. this is changing this year I think though ... I just played as much outdoors as I possibly could to make up for it!!!

gyanhan
Yeah the league set up isn’t really suitable with the number of teams right now, and even so, I’ve heard lots of grumbles about BUCS leagues that makes me prefer the weekend tournament format :P

hazard
Ok. Let's move on to a question we had in the Men's chat too, with a slight change. I want you to imagine the number of teams would not be an issue. Which of the following outcomes would you like best for UKU to pursue, from the perspective of women in Ultimate?

1. Keep the current structure (lots of tournaments)
2. Move on to separate Men's/Women's BUCS leagues
3. Move on to one big Mixed BUCS league.

ali
3. I mean if we had enough women for a league it would be amazing. But still 3.

gyanhan
Oooo 3.

Becky Greenwood
More outdoor Mixed frisbee would be awesome so I’ll go for 3.

gyanhan
I actually quite like the idea of BUCS, if there weren’t other problems like having trouble cobbling together a team, or having different teams of different standards at different games due to availability etc etc. Having a BUCS league gives a sort of legitimacy to the sport too in the eyes of unis I think. But it definitely should be well-run and suited for the current UK Ultimate climate, rather than something just for the sake of it. Ideally if BUCS leagues were run to the consistency and standard of the Premier League that would be cool, but that’s just a pipe dream for now!
Just to be clear, I’d like a Mixed BUCS league and Men’s and Women’s in tournament format :)

AnnieB
2.

ali
Oooh, Annie, why?

AnnieB
I really like Women’s, and I think it should be given a chance to develop in BUCS at this point, until the future of the sport becomes clearer? I feel like we are currently at a transition point in terms of the bigger picture of the sport.

ali
So Annie do you think that Women's Ultimate would improve more if we had a Women's BUCS League? (and enough women to make it worthwhile)
Because personally I feel like if both the men and women are committed to improving the women in their club, for the sake of the Mixed team, the women will have more opportunities to improve.


AnnieB
I'd like to see Women’s in BUCs league format, hypothetically.  Also agree with Ali, excellent point. Basically I'm torn.

hazard
Last thing, and it actually comes straight of AnnieB's last point. What do we think about Women's vs Mixed at uni level? Which do we prefer? Are there any issues with either?

gyanhan
I love both, but I find that Mixed Outdoor Nats is always at a really inconvenient time… And judging by the number of teams it seems to be a problem too (not to mention funding, teams’ priorities etc). And Women’s Outdoor Nats seem to be a game of who wins the toss or who gets a sudden lull amidst the gusty winds.

ali
Womens: just general lack of players and often a lack of commitment from those players. Women's Nationals last year was a clear example of this, SO many teams dropped out of both divisions.

Mixed: Mixed has issues at every level, but at uni where the throwing and cutting skills are lower by comparison, Mixed can be a really rough deal for women, and that was BEFORE the BUCS changes. This means that clubs put much less emphasis on Mixed trainings, and thus have even less chemistry when it comes to Mixed Regionals. And there's ALWAYS that one guy who never throws to girls. In every club. I'm beginning to think it's kind of like a law of thermodynamics.

Kenjiro Kawase (Japan) makes a questionable bid that injured his own teammate,
Saori Inoue, at the 2017 World Games in Wroclaw, Poland.
Credit: Matthias Hengst/Getty Images

gyanhan
Yeah seconding Ali’s point about a lack of players in Women’s, and I’d like to link back to my earlier point about the rather redundant Regionals if everyone can get to Nationals anyway.

AnnieB
I honestly feel that Ali has summarised the points about Mixed at uni level very well.  Priorities of each team differ, and getting everyone on the same level is very difficult.

k-j
I’m gonna be super indecisive and say that I like both equally! They’re surprisingly different and the role of specific women have to change to adapt to the team (e.g. female handlers in Women’s cut in Mixed). A lot of women I play with at uni find it difficult to play Mixed because they are less confident, they feel the guys are judging them, they don’t want to get in the way, they feel they’re being looked off etc., which are problems that are solved by playing more and gaining confidence, but also massively depends on the attitude of guys in the club. I started only playing Women’s and then joined Mixed when I was confident, which worked for me – so much depends on the priority of your club, whether you have Mixed or split trainings, and what the dynamics of the club are.

hazard
Ali's law of That One Guy™ brings me onto a good final point. Is there anything we think needs to change about men's attitudes towards women in Ultimate? Feel free to be as open as you like.

gyanhan
1. Throw to women
2. Don’t cut off women’s cuts
3. Don’t always think that a male handler > female handler
4. Women can also cut deep and be thrown to in the deep space

To be fair I’ve also met lots of very nice men (hahaha I don’t know how else to change this to sound less promiscuous) who throw to women, and are keen to help women improve their game, and understand some of the differences in the cutting styles of women. But one or two or sometimes even three rotten eggs can really dampen the mood/kill the vibe/rain on the parade/insert dramatic phrase for emphasis.  

AnnieB
What female player doesn't know the feeling of being looked off in favor of a pitch length hammer into the wind? When you run and run on the field, get the disc once, and if you drop it, never getting it again? When having four girls on a field is "playing to our weaknesses"? I have many many things to say about this, and basically it boils down to: a whole lot needs to change. Men need to respect female players both on and off the field, and respect the fact that the Women’s game is not the same as the Men’s, and that Mixed is not just "Men's with some females added in".

ali
A big part of men not throwing to women is them being worried that they’ll drop it/turf it immediately. The attitude should not therefore not be ‘ugh she’s dropped it again’ but ‘how can I help to improve my teammate?’ Sometimes women aren’t comfortable with asking for advice and men don’t think to give it. So from an equity standpoint, I would say men should give more help to the women in their club, both in giving advice and being willing to give advice if asked. But women should perhaps be more vocal in asking for help as well!

AnnieB
Oh yeah, it goes both ways. But it shouldn't be "women should be like the male players"  to have their playing respected, which is what some players seem to think is the case. A woman playing like a guy is not a bad thing, but neither is a woman playing like a woman!

gyanhan
I really dislike it when guys who drop the disc are brushed off, but girls who drop the disc are considered just awful, why can’t they catch a simple disc, I’m never throwing to them again even if they are miles open.

ali
There's even a tactic we used at Mixed Nats last year - the guys played person defence and the women essentially played zone, leaving the other team's women wide open while we clogged the lanes. The amount of teams who didn't throw to their completely open women was breathtaking. 

hazard
I would like to add one specific point for guys to look out for. It's known as "crowding the disc", and it refers to when guys, being very well meaning, all gather round a player on the disc, making the throw very hard. When you realise it's a thing, you spot it more and more. It's a good situation guys can learn to avoid.

Becky Greenwood
Although I’ve never come across that many guys who are like that against/mean about female players. In pretty much all the tournaments I’ve played there have been loads of guys who are massively encourage to use girls as their big advantage in Mixed!

k-j
There are two aspects to this question – there’s the “how guys play” and there’s the “how guys think”. I’ve never had the “one guy who doesn’t throw to girls” (maybe I’m lucky, maybe Durham is just a beacon of gender equality, who knows?!) but I’ve been looked off as a viable option for a sketchy alternative, and it is deeply frustrating and really undercuts your self-confidence. This might get shouted down, but I’ve always found that fresher guys pick up throwing a lot faster, and therefore fresher girls feel like they’re not learning and unable to contribute, so don’t make the cuts, and therefore get into a vicous cycle of not playing and not improving! So in playing, every player has got to take the viable option – no matter what gender, simple as anything. Almost more importantly is the attitude of guys, rather than how they play – the little comments about how “you only got in cos you’re a girl” or “he would have got that” or “ouch dude, you just got beaten by a girl, how does that feel?” – they really hurt, and they’re what I’ve remembered.

hazard
Alright, time to close. I would like you all to finish by naming one person who has been inspirational to you, and/or helped encourage you in your Ultimate lives.

Becky Greenwood
Rupal Ghelani!!!! What an absolute legend she is!!! I want to be her!! She’s Loughborough Women’s Captain this year and again she’s hugely wonderful both to be around and massively helpful and encouraging on the pitch and can always pick people back up after a bad game!! Also despite being smaller than me she is also awesomely incredz on pitch.
Also shoutout to Ruth Nicholson, who is incredibly encouraging, welcoming and friendly, not to mention how absolutely SICK ASS she is at playing! Such a shame about her leg though :(

AnnieB
Simone Noriko Whale.  She really showed me/ continues to show me how badass a female player can and should be. Actually, I've been very lucky to have a great line of captains whilst playing at uni - all of them great players who taught me different things.

ali
Probably Rachel Turton – her athleticism and pitch awareness made her far and away the best player at my first Mixed Regionals, so amazing to watch. All the guys on my team were saying how they wouldn’t be confident marking her. Such an inspiration, and such a lovely person too!

gyanhan
I’m going to go with Katariina Rantanen. We weren’t particularly close, she was the Women’s Captain when I first joined, and someone whom a young starry eyed fresher was really impressed by. She’s gone on to great things, GB U23 last cycle, and most recently she played with tournament winners Atletico at EUCF (and she was even highlighted on Ultiworld as an unstoppable deep threat against Iceni - that is The Dream). I never actually got to play with her at uni, but played with her at Burla (an Italian beach tournament) and Tour last season and she is such a great person to have on your team both as an athlete and as a teammate. She’s probably the first player I looked up to and said ‘Whoa, I wanna be as good as she is.’

hazard
I'm going to add my own here actually. I'd like to shout out Chrissy Hunter. She was the first woman to ever just completely boss me at a training session. It sucks I needed it - I like to always think I was fairly good about this sort of thing. But having someone that awesome just destroy me and make me realise how good female athletes could be was a better insight than anything else I can think of. Also, shoutout to Leila Denniston for refusing to stop improving at a quite frankly ridiculous rate.

gyanhan

Oooo Chrissy, played against her at women’s tour (Hydra VS Reading) and she and this other Reading girl (Bex Palmer? I think) just whizzed through our zone, it was so cooooool.  

k-j
There are so many! To starry-eyed fresher Kat, my first captain, Hannah Rogers, seemed to be the model of what an epic frisbee girl should be, with a pitch-length flick huck. Tessa Hunt (SMOG) is definitely on the list, she’s speedy and confident and pretty inspiring. Jenna Thompson (the Iceni Women’s Captain and GB Women’s coach) is probably my top role model; she always knows exactly what to do, she gives great advice, she’s fantastically spirited, she’s unafraid to lay-out, and she’s also number 11, which is my number!

3 comments:

  1. Interesting discussion! One thing that I've experienced regarding men's attitudes is 'mansplaining' frisbee concepts, sometimes coming from male players who are of equal experience to me! I know it comes with good intentions, but it is annoying. I've also found that (in sports in general ,as well as ultimate) women are assumed to be bad players unless they prove otherwise, and men are assumed to be good unless they prove otherwise. Confidence is so key to playing well, and is difficult to foster in such an environment, particularly for beginner women who are lacking in confidence anyway as inexperienced players.
    Also, minor point, but I sometimes hear 'girls' rather than 'women' and would really like this to change! The men's team isn't called the 'boys team'...
    Really like the idea of mixed BUCS!! (Although we have found that BUCS games on Wednesdays pose a problem for ultimate in general- the best players at uni level tend to be those who have been playing for the longest (e.g. PhDs) and these are the players who don't get Wednesday afternoons off (but could make a weekend tournament). This means that less experienced players struggle to obtain the spot at Nationals in the division that perhaps the full team would have done.)

    Thanks for the mention in the Nottingham photo btw, but I'm not actually there, it makes me sound like I improved super quickly! I was a fresher in 14/15 and became captain in 16/17 ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for your comment Alice, and sorry for mislabeling you in the photo! You are absolutely right to call us out on this girls/women issue and it's something we've been trying to work on, but on this occasion we did unfortunately forget to remind everybody before the discussion. The number of times 'women' is said instead of 'girls' is significant though! Roughly a 4:1 ratio...we're getting there!

      Delete
    2. To be fair to you guys I didn't actually notice the girl/women issue in this article!! Just something that I've seen in general :)

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