Charlie Blair and University Women’s Coordinator Elly White discuss the recruiting and retaining of Women at University level, and how it can improve GB ultimate.
Recruiting women to Ultimate: UNIVERSITY
The recent poor showing at Nationals has been a wake up call to the UK about the problems women’s ultimate is currently facing. A recent debate on The State of Women’s Ultimate in the US (highly recommended viewing) has sought to address the problems that they are facing regarding growth and development. This has inspired the tSG to devote some much needed attention to the situation at home, taking insight from the discussions of our US counterparts to think about what we should be doing to better women’s Ultimate here in the UK.
Much progress has been made since the establishment of Women’s Tour, but the fear remains that the gap between men’s and women’s is growing ever wider as the infrastructure and resources for Open continue to increase at a pace unparalleled in the women’s division. University plays a vital role in ameliorating that margin. This piece serves to make you and your committee both recognise the importance of recruiting and retaining women as well as suggesting the most effective means to do so.
The single biggest factor holding back the development of women’s ultimate is a problem shared by those in the States: numbers. In the USA, women make up only 30% of USA Ultimate’s membership. According to approximate figures provided by UK Ultimate, here too, women represent just under a third of total membership (27%). Amongst student membership however, there is a slightly higher representation, at around 39%.
To address the issue of numbers, we need to consider the points of entry that the majority of women have to Ultimate. Despite great progress in junior programmes and a huge expansion in the number of schools now teaching ultimate in the UK, for the majority of women it currently remains at university.
The fact that this trend applies to both sexes in general is evidenced by the creation of the u23 division. This was born out of a need to facilitate international opportunities and the benefits of its incentives for those who missed out on the junior programme. It recognised that the next generation of senior squad players would predominantly come from this age group since so many talented players were still being introduced to Ultimate at the late stage of college/university.
Now, to think about why women join Ultimate. Here is where one must pay the necessary and often overlooked attention to the different ‘pulls’ for men and women. There are greater barriers to overcome when recruiting women specifically, especially because there are is a mixture of reasons why they join. Some girls are converts from other sports, particularly those rejected from sports they have normally played at school. Others simply aren’t sold on the vibe of those clubs. It is however, easier to make men’s Ultimate teams out of this same group of ‘floating athletes’ because there tends to be much more of them. Resources, facilities and peer pressure means girls are dropping out of sport at school at a rate far higher than boys.
Conversely sports participation tends to increase for boys during the same period.
One of Ultimate’s most valuable traits is that it often attracts women who don’t normally gravitate towards sports. As ambassadors for this sport, the sport that we love, we therefore have a responsibility to them; a responsibility to create an environment where women can become excited about being athletic and competitive, maybe for the first time.
Growth is the number one priority for the women’s game. Thus, more attention should be given to how we train at university. How we train is arguably the single biggest influence on retention. This notion will divide some, and it has always been a point of controversy, but the authors of this article support the notion that mixed is NOT the way women should be introduced to the game. In fact, the US discussion highlighted how mixed can more often than not be a huge hindrance to female retention at university/college level.
The reasons are twofold: you need to get women’s fundamentals down at university because it is often the first exposure to the sport; the quicker they get these fundamentals, a good throwing technique and a basic knowledge of the game, the more likely they are to stay.
Giving new women responsibility, and giving it to them often, will help them improve. This trust and investment will be appreciated and reciprocated with commitment and improvement. They need to be made to feel like part of the club both off the pitch at socials, and on the pitch during trainings.
No one wants to stay if they don’t feel like they contribute to the team. Some will stay mainly for the people, and of course, that’s important. But if they get given the opportunity to be bigger and better players, more will stay. This is not something that happens for new female players in mixed in the majority of cases. Some of course do thrive in that environment, but it is the minority.
Training should be time dedicated to making your women better. So it’s a waste of everyone’s time, energy and enjoyment if done inefficiently and ineffectively. Training ‘mixed’ holds back the improvement of women’s basic fundamentals. They get less disc time to throw and less opportunity to make plays off the disc. Essentially, less valuable game experience. Often new women don’t even recognise that they are playing well or doing things right because they are so rarely rewarded with the opportunity to make a play on the disc when playing mixed. Would you be likely come back if you touched the disc once a game at training? The disparity between the student membership and full membership indicates that universities are actually doing a fairly decent job at the recruitment stage but failing badly at retention.
Training ‘mixed’ should ideally be reserved for those who at least have these fundamentals and/or for those who seek additional game time on top of women’s. Moreover, the quality of mixed training will be greatly improved at a greater pace, if the women’s skill set improves at a greater pace. Once they have these fundamentals, they will enjoy mulling in with the guys, rather than feel intimidated or god forbid, inadequate to them.
Thus, in the interest of ensuring the most effective way to better your women, playing mixed should be optional for women, not the default.
Now making this happen is not always entirely practical in the UK of course, particularly due to the dearth of experienced female players at university clubs. Let us be clear: we are not saying mixed should not be played! It is still a very important part of university Ultimate. Practicality wise, it’s probably easier for most to have first sessions as a whole club. But maybe have a mixed warm up and drills and then have separate women’s games. Even if 7v7 is not feasible, playing 6v6 or 5v5 (or even smaller teams if necessary) will still be more beneficial to development than giving up on the idea altogether and settling for mixed trainings alone. Mixed should NOT be the only or ‘standard’ ultimate on offer to women; in the same way that it never is for men.
|Leeds Uni Women’s team at Nationals 2013. Photo courtesy of Andrew Moss.
All women in the UK at university need access to REGULAR WOMEN ONLY TRAININGS. In fact, creating a separate identity and in the extremes, even a separate club to the men’s team, has often proved to be successful in the US setting. Women’s university Ultimate in the UK is definitely not strong enough to sustain the latter. Nevertheless, getting the game time/throwing time your girls require needn’t break the bank or eat up your weekends. But it will take some proactive action from women’s captains and committees to change this. Elly White is extremely keen and willing to help facilitate many more local meet ups and small friendlies. She will happily put you in touch with other captains to help you coordinate this.
These can be small round robin style events or even just inviting another local team to come and train with you to bulk up numbers. If you are in London for example, there is no reason why all female university players shouldn’t have outdoor trainings together. They can learn the fundamentals together and then play practise games against each other in their respective university teams. At the very least you want your girls out throwing with EACH OTHER once a week. Ideally, as much as possible! Throwing skill is often lacking in the women’s game and it can be a contributing factor to what makes women’s practices frustrating. Make sure your experienced players actively encourage your beginners to throw at every opportunity.
Off pitch, aim to socialise early and often and to make sure the freshers feel like part of the social group. A women’s social early on is a great idea, even if it starts as a women’s social that meets up with the rest of the club later. Make sure everyone is introduced as soon as possible. Furthermore, try to make sure experienced players takes several ‘daughters’ under their wing as part of a ‘frisbee family’ system: one that is both popular and successful in the States. The extra attention a beginner gets from an experience player really helps to make them feel welcome and encourages them to improve.
So, to sum up: women will be much more likely to stay if they feel involved and welcomed. This can be done straight away, both on the pitch by having separate women’s games and off the pitch by being friendly and encouraging.
Finally, we leave you with our tips to help you in the first week of term:
The first training session
- Throwing. Backhands with good technique: wrist flick and step across not forwards. Introduce them to a forehand, some will like a challenge.
- Let them run. No stack and no forcing. Just the very rudimentary rules: this is how you score, no running with the disc, this is a non contact sport.
- Small drills and small games so everyone is involved. Keep friendship groups/those in the same accommodation together: it will hopefully encourage them to be throwing buddies outside of training.
- Experience players praise everything; make them feel like they have something to contribute.
- Experienced players throw to freshers. Either they catch it under pressure or someone else gets a D, both of which are great for confidence boosting.
- Experience players play relaxed D, the game needs to have good flow for the beginners to get involved.
- Experience players set an example. Demonstrate good technique, high effort, being on time and listening when drills are explained.
For any more information, questions, queries or discussion about this topic, please feel free to get in touch with the authors via tSG.
Additional contributions from Megan Hurst.
All thoughts and opinions are of the authors and are designed to stir up debate! Agree or disagree, contribute your voice to the discussion – comment, share, or respond. JCK @ tSG.