President’s Blog – Retaining female players

There’s no doubt that our Tasmanian community has difficulty retaining women from year to year. We usually start our October Beginner league with lots, and many stay for Summer league, but not too many return after the winter break. Our Intermediate division and Advanced league teams are constantly struggling to find enough female players to aim for the elusive 3-4 balance, and it’s a catch-22. In this President’s Blog I’ll discuss this issue, looking at some of the causes and effects of this situation, hoping to prompt a discussion on how we, as a community, can improve.

I need to state from the outset that this is all my opinion. Since I’m a male, I’ve probably got a few things wrong, no matter how much I try to see the situation from an unbiased perspective. The main reason I’m writing this article is to start the discussion happening about the issue. And, ideally, this discussion will happen online, at the fields, in the pub afterwards, and wherever Ultimate is talked about.

It’s a catch-22 situation because female players enjoy the game more if there are more female players in the game. It means they cannot get looked off by the dominant males as easily, they can get more involved in the strategy and development of the team, they can get more substitutions when needed and are less likely to be forced into unpleasant situations of playing every point due to gender rules. I know a lot of women who don’t want to play the Two-hat, because they know that there’s usually only enough women for two-per-team and they don’t like playing in that situation. If there were more women playing, there’d be more women who would want to play. However, we can’t expect this situation to just fix itself, and we can’t expect the women to ‘fix it’ by recruiting more of their friends. As I stated at the beginning, I don’t think it’s a recruitment issue because we GET the women, we just don’t get them progressing past (or coming back to) Beginner league very often. So I see Beginner league (and to some extents, Intermediate) as a big stumbling block.

I’ve been intending to write this article for quite a while, but the final impetus was reading Looking to Recruit Women, an excellent article at UltimateRob by Abhinav Vinayakh Shankar on the exact same situation in Chennai. Seriously, go read that article, because the situation is so similar to what we in Tasmania find ourselves in it’s uncanny. I consider myself lucky to be playing on a Beginner league team where the females outnumber the males (though it doesn’t mean the females don’t get looked off). And it’s frustrating to see our opponents under-utilise their women quite regularly, even in beginner league where inclusion is the objective of the entire operation.

Shankar made many excellent points and there are two in particular I’d like to reiterate here.

“But she wasn’t open!”

Beginning females tend to be less confident with their cuts and more reluctant to cut hard than beginning males. They won’t sprint flat out to get free, because they’re not always confident that it’s the right cut. Contrast this with arrogant males who will just cut flat out whether it’s the “right” cut or not, and don’t care if they get in anyone’s way. If you’re a handler trying to involve the less experienced women on your team, it’s easy to think “She’s not free” but this is a big mistake. In beginner league, we’re not going to get ladies (or men) laying out to get a D, and if one of your females has a female defending her then often a 1-metre gap will be enough. Players at full sprint usually need 2-3 metres to be considered “open” for a throw, but don’t think this always needs to be the case. Take the throw, and see how easily it comes off. And if it doesn’t? Who cares, it’s beginner league. Throwing to a player who previously has not been involved much will have many more long-term benefits than the short-term result of a turn-over.

The second bit of Shankar’s article that I’d like to mention specifically is so good that I’m just going to quote it verbatim.

How can you and I change this?

  • Involve the women players in each game. Encourage them on the field, and give them helpful feedback on the sideline, even if they aren’t asking for it.
  • Foster a team environment that is conversational and be open to ask if players have questions.
  • Take time out to practice throwing with them on the off days – Solid throws + confidence only come with repetitive practice.
  • Keep Ultimate fun and help them learn the game – Today, they might have fun and enjoy the social aspects this game brings but they probably won’t stick around if they can’t stay involved and be competitive on the field.
  • Stop shouting at people on the pitch. The only players who will stick around are the few who thrive in an environment of being shouted at. Is this what you want for your team?
  • I find that having women who can handle can change the whole game up. If you are just setting goals for the year – Trying to up the number of women handling could be a useful focus area for your team.

Until we can get this sport to a place where women are valued for their skill rather than their numbers or presence, this problem is likely to continue.

I’d like to think that the Tasmanian ultimate community is pretty good at most of those things already, but if we’re not retaining our women then it means we can do better. We need to make sure that everyone is working together to achieve these goals, not just a couple of handlers on a couple of teams. It must become ubiquitous. If you have suggestions on how we can do this, or experiences to share then please speak up. You can comment here, or on the Facebook page, or just email me if you’d like to make a suggestion privately.

About Joe Boyer

Father, Husband, Teacher, Nerd, TUA President.

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