Thursday, February 13, 2014

Commonwealth Cup:: Event Cancellation

A few minutes ago, I canceled my first event.  I've been looking over my shoulder, waiting for this moment to come for the past 8.5 years.  I've been on the brink more times than I can count, but until today, I've always found a way.  51 events with no cancellations!

With the grass fields pulled officially yesterday, and the primary turf option in serious danger as of this morning, I still held out hope with two turf options at other locations. UVA (thank you Alika, Theresa, and Kerry) and Liberty (thank you Coach Jason) were wonderful and helped me to secure facilities on their campuses to host the event.  Unfortunately, as you've probably seen on the news, the entire East Coast is getting hammered with bad weather.  Most facilities are not set up to handle this kind of weather, so it wasn't as simple as plowing the fields and we were told that shoveling the snow was not an option.  With icy road conditions, safety also became a major concern.

Commonwealth is an important early-season playing opportunity for teams, and there is no doubt that canceling this event will be an obstacle for these teams as they have now lost a sanctioned playing opportunity.  I've spent a significant amount of time helping some of these teams over the years, so while I know that weather is always an uncontrollable, I still feel a great sense of personal responsibility for the outcome of this week's challenges.

Of secondary concern is the fact that Commonwealth Cup represents Without Limits' single biggest fundraiser for Virginia is for Layouts, a playing and development opportunity for D-III and on-the-cusp teams being hosted next month.  I am bringing in 7 outstanding club players to guest coach and mentor teams, and while worth every penny, it is also an expensive endeavor.  Losing Commonwealth is crippling.

The option to schedule an event for next weekend has been put on the table for teams, though at this point, that option does not seem to be desirable for most.

Thank you to all for being gracious, understanding, and patient as we worked through lots of issues over the past few days.  We hope to host you at Without Limits events in the future, and we hope that the weather gods treat us better in March!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Little Things (Part III): Index Cards

It's the little things.

Part I

Part II

I played the 2011 season with Molly Brown.  I was a rookie on a talented, veteran team and my one responsibility (which I shirked) was to bring the med kit to practices and tournaments.  It was incredibly freeing and refreshing for me to focus solely on playing, and to be welcomed with open arms to a new ultimate community.  This group of people was the best part of my one year in Colorado, and I miss them daily.


One of our team's focuses that season was our mental toughness.  It had been four years since the Colorado women's team had cracked the Quarterfinals at Nationals, and the team was determined to break that trend.  At one training session, we each wrote down three skills / attributes that we value about ourselves as players (or that we aspire to have) on an index card.  We were encouraged to keep that card in our field bag for the rest of the season.

One of our most veteran players and skilled throwers tore her ACL mid-season, which was both a blow to our team both on and off the field.  Toward the end of the season, she wrote her own index card for each of us.  I have no idea whether any of my teammates kept their card, but for me it was empowering to know what this teammate valued about me.  I had struggled to find my role on a new team with an abundance of offensive handlers, and that card gave me great confidence.

That card stays in my field bag to this day and during my own team's struggles this season, I took a page from my teammate's book and wrote a card for every player on my team.  The exercise was about my teammates and wanting to demonstrate my confidence in them, but it was also a valuable reminder for me about why I value each of them.

I brought this exercise to the University of Rochester girls when I paid them a visit last week.  It was the last session of a long weekend, and for a team experiencing the growing pains of developing into a program, I thought it could help give them some perspective heading into the remainder of their season.  I had each player write a card for themselves, and then I had them pass around a card for each of their teammates to write something on.  I also wrote a card for each of the captains, hoping to give them some encouragement as they navigate the challenges ahead.  I was a little unsure of how the players took to the idea, but encouraged them to keep their cards with them this year.

Today I received a collection of index cards from the EZs telling me what they learned from the clinic and what they valued about me.

Included were a sketch of what appears to be a frog catching a disc with its tongue, a player giving me her Twitter handle, a number of smiley faces, and a lot of incredibly encouraging statements.  I don't want to share too much of what's on these, but here is one of the best summary sentences from one of the rookies on the team:

"Thank you for having us do the compliment cards- reading mine was deeply heartwarming and encouraging.  Thanks to you, our team is better in skill & closer in spirit."

Thanks for the incredible gift, EZs.  There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a group of players take a lesson like this to heart.  Throw lots, work hard, and love each other well.  I am your biggest fan.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

University of Rochester Clinic Recap

Signed disc from the EZs

Last Friday, I headed up to New York to do a team clinic with the University of Rochester EZs.  The EZs have been attending my tournaments for the past few seasons, but I have really only gotten a chance to get to know them over the course of the past year.

Last fall, a core of them came to the Northeast Captaining 101 Clinic and at the end of a long weekend, one of them left me a kind note on the windshield of my car.  Two other EZs left another note for me at Commonwealth Cup [this time, I caught them in the act!] and then the first player donated to the "Michelle Fund" when my stuff got stolen in the spring.The captains [Kathy and Michelle] emailed me with some questions in April, and from there, we engaged in extended email dialogue and several Google hangouts over the course of the summer and fall.

Kathy and Michelle's love for their team and for our sport really impressed me, and their commitment to making the EZs better really inspired me during my own challenges as a team leader this season.  One of the things I have really appreciated about my relationship with them is their willingness to be open with me about the challenges they are facing.  We spend time talking about strategy and practice plans, but I think it is the conversations about the "other" challenges that have helped us to develop a deeper relationship.

Last month, Kathy and Michelle asked me if I would consider coming up to Rochester to do a clinic with the team.  
I have a hard time saying "no" to things, but the timing was a challenge, as I already had plans to stay in Texas after Nationals, and knew I would be heading west for most of November and December.  However, I knew I was at a point with the EZs leadership where drawing on a whiteboard via Google Hangout was no longer enough, and ultimately, the decision wasn't that hard when I considered everything I saw Kathy and Michelle pouring into their team.  How could I say no to supporting that?

The sessions were productive and fun, and [I hope] that the players and leadership took away a bunch of things that they can use for the rest of the season.  We did a Handler Practice, Vet Practice, and sessions on Man Defense and Horizontal Stack Offense.  A handful of players attended all four sessions, which was approximately 12 hours of instruction over the course of the weekend.  I also got to spend some extended time with the team leadership, which was very rewarding.  I don't get many opportunities to coach- with most of the clinics I run, my role is primarily to organize logistics and provide background support for the coaches.  That made this opportunity all the more special.

The EZs cap off Session 5 with a team game of Air Cupcake!

The EZs, like many teams, are slowly transforming themselves from a team into a program.  They're learning what it takes to be competitive at the next level, and finding the balance between maintaining a fun and lively team culture, and cultivating a competitive team mentality.  There are many challenges associated with this transformation, but the team is navigating them admirably.  They have a lot to be proud of, and a lot to look forward to.  I also learned that Kathy [and others] really like chicken.  And that Nina is really proud of being from the Bay Area.  [I am, too.]

A cool side-happening occurred on Sunday of the clinic.  The EZs invited some other women in Rochester to attend the session I ran with the vets.  I got to meet a Florida State alum who emailed me 3+ years ago for resources to build their program.  That single email paved the way for a friendship with the Florida State girls who I hosted a Captaining 101 Clinic with last spring.  It was awesome to have things come full circle at the EZs clinic!  I got to spend my birthday with this FSU alum, the [in]famous Amanda Davis, and Kathy.  We [surprise!] talked about ultimate for hours.  I also had a cake pop for the first time [thanks Grace!].

The clinic was a fun way to cap off my 2013 events, and a great reminder of how little things are often the start of something awesome.  I'm headed to Calgary on Friday to speak at the Ultimate Canada Conference, and then I'll be in California for an extended period of time to prepare for the spring season.  

Thanks Kathy and Michelle, and the rest of the EZs for a fun time in Rochester!  I'll be rooting for you guys this year, and I look forward to following your journey.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Without Limits Survey:: USA Ultimate Gender Equity Policy

Meagan again! When I started looking over survey data, the responses to the USAU gender equity policy questions immediately stuck out:

62% of women who took the survey were not aware of the gender equity policy before it was defined in the survey. This is pretty surprising given that 90% of respondents felt the policy either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “the USAU gender equity policy is important”.

And for the following question, “I know of a specific example when the USA Ultimate gender equity policy was used”:

I know of a specific example when the USA Ultimate gender equity policy was used

As a result, we thought we’d make this post a little more educational -

The USA Ultimate gender equity policy states:  
“In an attempt to strengthen the Ultimate community and ensure that the sport of Ultimate remains an inclusive and welcoming sport for female athletes, USA Ultimate endorses a policy of gender equity. USA Ultimate will ensure that USA Ultimate coverage and promotion of women's divisions is equal to that of the corresponding men’s division, and encourage outside partners and vendors to achieve gender equity in their coverage of and marketing to Ultimate. As long as the number of female players lags behind the number of male players, USA Ultimate will implement targeted outreach programs that strive to increase the number of female players.

USA Ultimate, in order to promote and encourage the growth of female play in USA Ultimate competition, recommends the creation of comparable teams of each gender. In situations of unequal opportunity, reasonable accommodations should be made to include female participants.” 

tl;dr: Both genders will receive equal USAU coverage, and USAU will encourage vendors and partners to do that same. This also provides language allowing for targeted female outreach programs, and allows USAU to make special accommodations to increase the number of female players if needed.

This has been in place since 2008, and on a policy level is considered fairly progressive. A few ways this has affected USAU activities:

  • Rebate for female coaches and any gender coaches of female teams for Level 1 certification
  • Conscious rotation of finals times at championship events to showcase different divisions
  • Conscious rotation of the cover photo of the magazine
  • Free kits/disc/manuals for running women's skills clinics

It is important to point out that the policy only ensures equal coverage for USAU activities, but can only encourage outside vendors to do the same. For instance, ESPN’s coverage of the US Open earlier this summer broadcasted both of the open semis, but only one each of the women’s and mixed divisions. On the other hand, the College Nationals had equal ESPN coverage for both the women’s and men’s divisions. Regardless of time on TV, these kind of decisions can also affect game scheduling, time on showcase fields, and on a larger scale, exposure to young players.

What this means is that although the policy exists and equity has historically been important to ultimate, gender equity is not necessarily a given. We will have a lot more to say on this based on your survey responses in the final report, but gender equity must be advocated for, by both women and those who support equity for women.

Any questions or comments? Feel free to leave them below. I can’t claim to be a gender equity policy expert, but I’ll do my best to answer them!

For more information regarding the policy and how it came about, I would encourage you to read through the 2008 board minutes and the 2013 board minutes when the policy was added/updated:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Without Limits Survey:: Quick Facts

Hi everyone, Meagan here! For those of you that don’t know, I’m the Without Limits intern this summer/fall and have been overseeing the female player survey. Over the next few weeks I will be analyzing the survey data and creating the report we’ll share with everyone later this summer. While you wait for the final results, I’ll be highlighting some of the more interesting data I find on the Without Limits blog.
When Michelle and I met up to discuss the final details of the survey in June, we talked about the number of responses we needed for the survey to be viable. I think during that conversation we decided at minimum 20 people had to respond, but that it would be great to get 100 responses. Imagine our surprise when on the first day alone 438 people took the survey!
As the responses kept rolling in, we realized this was important to many more people than we had initially anticipated. 15x the responses we were planning for certainly creates a lot more work on our end, but at the end of the day we are excited for the opportunity to share the collective perspective of so many players.
To get you started, here are a few facts and figures about everyone who took the survey!
- Number of survey responses: 1581
- Number of countries: 4 - U.S., Canada, China, and Germany
- Number of states: 46 and D.C.
- Over half (54%) were between the ages of 18-24
- Recreational League was the most common level played (66% of participants played), followed  by club (54% of participants played). People could check more than one level, so there’s likely a lot of overlap there.
- Nearly two-thirds have played on a team with a coach at some point in their Ultimate careers.
Let us know if there’s anything specific from the survey you are interested in hearing more about by leaving a note in the comments below!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Callahan Thoughts

There are a number of outstanding candidates for the Callahan Award this year, and I have many, many positive things to say about Lien, Reebs, Diddy, Claudia, Annie, Thud, Michela, Bailey, and others.  They are all great players deserving of their nominations and the many votes they are certain to get.  I could write pages and pages about these ladies and all of the amazing things I have seen them do on and off the field-- I am so grateful for the opportunity to have gotten to know each of them over the past few seasons.

I wanted to write some thoughts about three players on this year's list of Callahan nominees whom I have gotten to know in a special capacity-- one as a collaborator and two as teammates.  My intention is not to endorse players because I think there many outstanding candidates, many of whom I simply don't know as well.  Instead, I want to express my gratitude to these three players for the positive impact they have had on my ultimate experience.

Kayla Ramirez (Texas)
I still remember the first time I saw Kayla play in Fall 2010.  I was helping at Texas tryouts and my job was to throw floaty hucks to rookies in a drill.  Kayla had absolutely no idea how to read the disc, but she was so fast and athletic that she could run in circles around the disc (and other players) and somehow still come down with the frisbee.  It was a no brainer to put her on the team and it was pretty evident to all of us that she was going to be a special player.  It has been a privilege to watch Kayla develop as a player and leader over the past three seasons.  One of her Showdown teammates called her the best short deep she has ever played with.  Not many players can be a contributing player on a semifinals level club team after only 2 seasons of college experience.  

Off the field, Kayla's contributions to Centex have encouraged me greatly-- she has a "whatever needs to be done" attitude and leads the team by example with her commitment to running a quality event for the entire college women's ultimate community.  I am sad that I have never had the opportunity to play with Kayla, but grateful for the fact that it feels like we've been teammates.  She has been an outstanding collaborator, and I am thrilled to see her as Melee's Callahan nominee this year.

Amanda Good (Colorado)
Amanda is one of two current college players with whom I have been teammates, and I am thankful for the year I spent playing with Amanda.  Our friendship began when Amanda gifted me a dead bird (she's done so twice), and there is no other college player who keeps me on my toes as much as Amanda does.  When she's not making me freak out about dead animals, Amanda is a great friend.  She took me under her wing in Colorado and went out of her way to make me feel at home with the team.  

Amanda's highlight reel playmaking ability makes her a fun person to play with, but one of the things I appreciate most about Amanda is her enthusiasm for life.  "What a dream!" is Amanda's standard reaction to most things that happen, and that is because of the way she approaches life-- she makes her dreams a reality.  I've spent hours watching ultimate footage with Amanda and discussing strategy with her, and her love for the game far exceeds obsession.  That's what makes her a great player and person.  Her whole heart is in it.

Claire Chastain (UNCW)
Claire is the other current college player with whom I have been teammates, and our trajectory to friendship has been unlikely.  In Fall 2010, Claire reached out to ask me to help with Easterns.  I politely declined, but got talked into Skyping with Claire to hear her out.  The conversation was brutally honest and I told Claire my reservations about working with Wilmington, a team who was not known as a spirited team at the time.  Claire respectfully listened to what I had to say and asked me to give them a chance.

At first, I was discouraged by my relationship with Wilmington-- Claire would "joke" about unspirited behavior and I feared that I was wasting my time with them.  At QCTU that spring, Claire got a layout D on someone and the player called a foul.  (In my opinion, it could have gone either way.)  Claire's first reaction was a look that said "no way."  Then she picked herself up off the ground slowly, looked over to the sideline and looked me in the eye, turned back, and said, "no contest."  My respect for Claire has only increased since that moment.  I persuaded Wilmington to get a team Twitter, implored them to build relationships with other teams, and pushed the team to pay their debts and take care of administrative tasks.  I asked a lot of Claire, and she far exceeded my expectations at every turn.

During the 2011 club season, my team was playing Phoenix at Labor Day and I had the unfortunate task of trying to guard Claire.  That was one of my favorite games that season because as an opponent, Claire is one of those players who makes you play your best game-- there isn't a moment to relax or focus on anything else but the battle at hand.  Six months later, when I was deciding where to move, I chose North Carolina.  Claire was one of several people I knew I wanted to be teammates with.  As a teammate, Claire is beyond impressive.  She was a rock on our O line and her vision of the field and knowledge of the game are far beyond what I have seen from even the best college players.  Getting to play with her last season allowed me to fully appreciate how much she has matured.  I saw top level club players playing physical defense on her and trying to push her buttons.  Not once did I see Claire so much as react to these players.  Claire played fairly and with great spirit, and dominated nearly every single one of her matchups.

Though I am years older than Claire, she is someone I have consulted for ultimate and life advice on numerous occasions.  In many ways, she's the reckless little sister I never had, but when it counts, she's a loyal, smart, and thoughtful teammate, friend, and person.

Best of luck to all of the candidates, and congratulations on being nominated by your teammates for an award that recognizes players "who combine superior athleticism with outstanding sportsmanship, leadership and dedication to the sport of ultimate."  The nomination itself is a huge honor.  Thank you for representing our sport so well.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Season Recap

It feels nearly impossible to recap the whirlwind that has been the past few months, but I think reflection is a huge part of learning and growing, and I want to try to capture some of what I have been reflecting on with all of you.

On many levels, this was a great season.  My partner teams were excellent, the teams attending my events were overall very well behaved and respectful, and the relationships (both old and new) that I built with players this season were extremely rewarding.

This was my 5th (official) year of partnership with Texas (only counting the years after I graduated), my 5th year of partnership with Wash U, and my 3rd year of partnership with UNC.  These teams are all incredibly special to me, and I am grateful for their loyalty, their leadership's vision for their events, and the way that they embrace their responsibility as leaders in the college women's division.  Plain and simple, I love these kids and would do anything for them.  Thank you.

This season was the first where I did not overlap with any current players in college ultimate, and I thought that I would feel very out of touch with teams.  While an age gap is clearly beginning to emerge (What is Snapchat?  What does "ratchet" mean?), I am deeply appreciative of all of the teams who allowed me to be part of their journey this year.  Thank you to all of the players who shared their struggles, worries, dreams, and victories with me.  The hours spent talking strategy, building season plans, working out team issues, and discussing challenging life situations reminded me that organizing events is only a tiny part of what I do, and that the most important and meaningful work is what happens long after games are over for the day.

Real Talk
For the past few weeks, I have been feeling like I am suffering from a stress induced concussion.  It's the result of an entire season of bad weather and bad luck, an introvert being stretched thin for 2.5 months, and perhaps a few too many challenging situations being thrown my way.  The past few seasons have been challenging, but this one in particular took quite a  toll and will necessitate a bit of self-reflection.

And perhaps most importantly, the time spent on the road 
away from family, friends, and teammates who I love, and who deserve my time and energy, is very difficult.  I want to be my best self-- and that self includes being a daughter, sister, teammate, captain, and friend, not just an organizer.

Season Take-Aways
A few life reminders that I'll be taking away from the season.

Be available.
There is always time to listen, talk, or lend a helping hand.  The times when I (think I) made the biggest difference were during the busiest, most stressful stretches.  Those situations, while not the most convenient, were huge opportunities.

Be kind.
On Saturday of Centex, a tough situation arose after a week of challenges and Brittany, a RecSports Supervisor (who happens to be teammates with one of the Melee girls on the UT Club Soccer team), was a huge blessing to me.  Filling water with her that afternoon and having the opportunity to talk with her reminded me that a little kindness when we are "just doing our job" can make a big difference, even to a stranger.

Be excellent(...)
I can be be amazing at putting out cones and providing ample water, but at the end of the day, being excellent at what I do only matters because it is a means to an end.  I don't want to be excellent just for the sake of being excellent.  Being excellent is my way of showing players and teams my investment in them, and that opens the door for building community, cultivating meaningful relationships, and making a difference in people's lives.  And because of that, I will gladly give my all toward being excellent at putting out cones and providing ample water.

As the season winds down, I have been receiving some amazing emails from college players.  I am so appreciative of these emails as they have come from some of the players I respect most in the division.

This short email encapsulates what I hope every player takes away from my work. (It is being shared with permission):

"I appreciate what you have done for women's ultimate and most importantly the mindset you have modeled and encouraged in leaders and players--that we are here to love and serve our teammates and our community and that our teammates are far more important than any competition goals."

Best of luck to those of you who have advanced to the next stage in the Series.  Work hard, love well, and I hope to see many of you soon.