As Women’s Indoor Regionals approach, Lauren Bryant summarises the goals and aims discussed at the recent London Women’s University Ultimate meeting.
Recruitment, Retention and Club Representation
Supporting growth in Women’s University Ultimate
Every autumn, university clubs face the same challenges: recruiting new players, keeping them, and – most crucially – developing them. The difficulties faced can be magnified for female players who often receive less funding, shorter practice times, smaller numbers and fewer experienced players to lean on. So how can we make the most of the resources available, and make the women’s game sustainable?
In September, representatives from London university teams and women’s clubs met to discuss these challenges, and this article is a quick summary of the points and ideas raised. The meeting was a follow on from the women’s ultimate forum hosted in London in February. We’re very grateful to Alia Ayub of the London Ultimate Committee for bringing us all together and hosting these meetings.
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University team representatives: Kings College London, University College London, Imperial College London, University of the Arts.
Apologies from: London School of Economics, Royal Holloway.
Club team representatives: Iceni, Crown Jewels, SYC.
Apologies from: Vurve.
The organisers tried to find, but couldn’t get representatives from: City University, Royal Veterinary College, Roehampton, Brunel, Greenwich, Queen Mary, Goldsmith. Please get in touch if you are an ultimate player from one of these universities, or if you play at another institution and are trying to get a team set up.
First, university teams representatives shared their experiences of recruiting new members and encouraging them to stay. Different clubs had different tricks to make their teams attractive to new players, from buddy systems between new and returning players to borderline-aggressive amounts of socialising.
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Even for some of the more established or older university teams, goals for the year typically included attendance at women’s tournaments and being able to field full women’s teams, rather than “mixer” teams made up of available players from two or more universities. While mixer teams have been an excellent vehicle for growth in previous years, the aim is still to compete as a single university team. Increasingly strict BUCS regulation will also mean mixer teams will no longer be permitted to compete within the next few years. This is a positive step forward for ultimate within the UK student sport community as it helps ultimate achieve further recognition and validation, but means work needs to be invested now so that smaller teams are ready for the change.
Strategies indentified that all the student teams can use included:
- Women-only indoor to help build chemistry within the team, giving the women more pitch time and time to focus on skills. New players who don’t receive quality coaching can become frustrated at their lack of progress – helping them to improve is a significant way to prevent numbers dwindling.
- Scrimmages with other London teams will give more competitive opportunities, and grow the student ultimate community. The lack of competitive opportunities was identified by student captains as a further source of frustration for female players. Students giving up their time to train in a team sport will generally be competitive people, and need chances to prove what they have learned.
- Running more skills clinics in collaboration with London clubs. Exploit the knowledge base around you! London’s women’s clubs have large factions keen to get involved in student development, and showing student players the wider ultimate scene will pique their interest.
- Socials! Because you’re only a teenager once, and you need to complete a three-pint challenge before you start getting hangovers.
One of the clearest ways to help develop and grow university teams is by establishing strong links with local clubs. In London this is complicated because of the sheer number of teams and clubs vying for space in London’s parks and open spaces, rather than a university team simply acting as a feeder for a single local club, as demonstrated successfully in Brighton. The meeting in February concluded that uni teams and clubs would benefit from collaborating under a single London ultimate umbrella. The student team leaderships and representatives from several of the London women’s clubs have been in conversation since to bring in more people to help, and make sure that all clubs that want to be involved will be included.
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In September, we discussed how the club teams can help student players grow through regular skills training sessions, and this remains a major focus for supporting the development of the university teams. As well as teaching skills, women from club teams can help by passing on leadership and coaching skills to student players. Being able to run a good training session, with clear aims and means of quantifying progress are essential – but hugely overlooked due to the grassroots nature of practices and the high levels of received wisdom in ultimate, which in terms of training and teaching skills means that senior players will often simply repeat the lessons they were taught regardless of whether or not this is best practise.
Building on the momentum of these meetings, we’ve already started running skills sessions led by club women’s players that are open-invite to all student women players.
In early October, Kaleigh Maietta from Iceni – who has also volunteered to act as development officer, to help spearhead the club’s development efforts – ran a training session for student women. The first session held on 12th October was run with the help of Mara Alperin who covered the basics of throwing. The session also focussed on forcing, throwing to moving players and reading the disc. This was followed up later in the month with another session on 26th October which covered, almost exclusively, getting the disc off the line/dump-and-swing. Further training sessions are planned for late November and mid-December. These will aim to focus on cutting shapes and angles.
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All of the sessions are short – usually no more than two hours – and bring in a handful of experienced club players from competitive women’s team such as Iceni and SYC. This means that groups can be broken up into smaller pods led by an experienced player, giving more time for one-to-one coaching and identifying areas of weakness.
This kind of attention to detail is often not possible within university training schedules, where the busy student ultimate calendar means club captains are typically preparing for regional qualifiers from the first week of term and simply do not have enough time to dedicate to hand-rearing their freshers and well as getting the best performances from experienced players who are juggling deadlines (and it’s not just a 40pc pass mark anymore..!).
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It is very much in the interest of club teams to invest in their local student community. Not only do student teams supply players to clubs, but on a bigger scale growth at student level is likely to be one of the major drivers for receiving wider recognition for the sport.
Key goals for club and student team collaboration:
- Run regular sessions for development of skills and teaching ability.
- Run a regular hat tournament to give student women more competitive opportunities, and grow the student community.
- Keep up contact between the university team and club team leadership to support one another, share knowledge and ideas, and organise joint training sessions.
Development for student teams will always need more willing volunteers, not just to help run coaching session but to help with logistics and communication between clubs and individuals. If you have ideas or if you would like to get involved in the London ultimate student coaching initiative, please get in touch:
London Women’s University Ultimate https://www.facebook.com/groups/519114581541878/?fref=ts
London Women’s Ultimate Frisbee https://www.facebook.com/groups/1453875911496652/