Sunday, November 13, 2011

Texas Captaining 101 Clinic:: Recap

For some background on how this clinic came about, read this blog post.

After nearly missing my flight thanks to a combination of traffic, the Pike's Peak parking lot being full, and an incredibly slow shuttle bus, I hopped on a plane to DFW for Without Limits' first Captaining 101 Clinic. Upon my arrival, Laura Weinman (clinic organizer and Hot Mess captain) picked me up curbside and helped me load my bags of clinic supplies into her car. It was the first time we had ever met in person, and we both laughed about the fact that we had organized a clinic for 40+ players through email and text messages.

The weekend was an incredible experience, and no recap can do it justice. We had players from over half a dozen different schools, including schools all over Texas, as well as a player from Yale and two players from Loyola. To have players flying in for this was both thrilling and terrifying, as we certainly felt the pressure of trying to create an amazing weekend for them. It turns out that one of the girls from Chicago plays on the club team I started four years ago in the Bay Area, so that was a pretty cool reminder of how small and tight-knit the ultimate community is, no matter where we are. We also had two open players in attendance- both of them are trying to help grow women's ultimate at their respective schools. I was very impressed with both young men, and it was a privilege to have them at our clinic.


Laura was the undoubtedly the driving force behind this clinic, but we were also fortunate to have the help and support of a number of other people. Traci Popejoy (UT-Dallas captain) helped us secure fields and assisted Laura with a number of other behind-the-scenes logistics. Local players helped us house many of the out-of-town players, and three players from Showdown, Holly Greunke, Shelby Kuni, and Rachel Massey, served as coaches for the weekend. Showdown also donated a number of jerseys to the clinic, Flashflight donated some discs, and VC Ultimate donated a hat for each participant. Jimmy John's gave us a discount on lunch for Saturday, and we had plenty of Emergen-C to pass out. Our local organizers, sponsors, and coaches made this clinic possible, and helped to create an awesome weekend for our participants.

Holly and Shelby lead the players through an active warmup

A bullet point summary of our weekend:
- Fundamental Skills Stations (Offense and Defense)
-- Broke down essential ultimate skills into their fundamental components
-- Taught leaders how to teach these skills
-- Equipped leaders with new drills to take back to their teams
- Power Stations
-- Fitness- track, agility, and strength with an emphasis on how to do this with younger / smaller team
-- Throwing and catching- drills to improve these two crucial skills
-- Drills and games to improve players' level of comfort with the disc
-- 3 v. 3- how to get everyone involved on the field
- Focused Scrimmaging- how to play with a purpose
- Team Defense Concepts- how to run a variety of zone Ds for maximum effectiveness
- Building A Program
-- Recruiting and retention
-- How to shape a season
-- Practice planning
-- Going from team to program

Afternoon zone D chalk talk

I was floored by the overall ability and athleticism of the group, as well as how engaged players were over the course of the weekend. We did over 12 hours of teaching, and the focus from the group was outstanding. I was amazed, inspired, and humbled by all of the players and coaches this weekend. The South Region has come a long way over the past five years, and I know that with leaders and players like those who attended our clinic this weekend, the best is yet to come.

A few quotes from the evaluations we did at the end of the clinic:
"Thank you so much! Best weekend of ultimate in a long time. I'm super pumped to take this back to my team and help us grow together."
"Thank you guys so much. I can't tell you how much this helps me as a captain. I needed this."
"Sweet clinic! Love it! Do it again!"
"Great job! Loved y'all and think you are doing a great thing for the ultimate community."
"Thank you! I rarely have the opportunity to learn about ultimate from such experienced players and when you have to teach a lot, you sometimes lose focus on your own improvement. This clinic gave me new ideas about how to improve my game, so it was inspiring!!"

And the icing on the cake? All of the profits from this clinic are being donated to Smith College to help bring in guest coaches for their spring tournament, Virginia is for Layouts. Not only did we have a blast in Dallas this weekend, but we raised money to make another incredible weekend of development happen this spring!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Silver Level Sponsor #1: University of North Carolina-Wilmington Seaweed

Full disclaimer: I worked with University of North Carolina-Wilmington Seaweed this past spring to run Women's College Easterns and am friends with a number of their players.

Seaweed is the first college team to step up and sponsor a coach for Virginia is for Layouts. My relationship with the Wilmington girls started about a year and a half ago during some tenuous spring tournament interactions. When captain Claire Chastain emailed me last fall to ask for some advice about Easterns, their home tournament, I wasn't sure if I should take her seriously. She emailed me a few times and I kind of shrugged things off as my plate was already more than full for the spring. At Club Nationals, 5th year Kelly Tidwell sought me out and introduced herself to me, asking me to at least have a conversation with her team about their tournament. Being a softie, and impressed by their persistence, I agreed. I laid out many of my doubts in a video conference call with some of their team leaders (none of whom I had ever met in person), and found them to be more than receptive to what I had to say.

Claire summarized last year's experience working on Easterns and how that impacted Seaweed's decision to sponsor a coach:
Last year we reached out to zziNG (Editor's note: funny, Claire...) about Women's Easterns, which at the time, was a 10-12 team regional tournament. She knew about our reputation among the women's ultimate community but decided to work with us despite it and together we made Easterns a competitive tournament that drew teams west of the Mississippi for the first time in years. Not only did it provide another competitive tournament for us to play in but it helped raise funds that helped towards Nationals expenses. After Easterns, Michelle talked to us about paying it forward because she wouldn't take money or fortune cookies (Editor's note: Not all Asians like fortune cookies.) as payment and when this opportunity to give back arose, we jumped on board.

The past year has been a year of learning and growing, both for Seaweed and for myself. I've pushed them hard on their relationships with other teams, and despite my initial skepticism, I've found them to be loyal and loving bunch. They're hard on me, but in working on Easterns, I feel like I gained a handful of little sisters who love to give me a headache, but who also make me incredibly proud. Though they've been quiet recently, their Twitter feed is quite entertaining (@SeaweedUltimate) and if you get a chance to catch the Claire, Kelly, Sara Casey trio playing with Phoenix this fall, you should do so. One of the more rewarding moments of last spring was a Melee-Seaweed dinner at Flaming Amy's Burrito Barn at Easterns. Lots of socializing, good food, and plenty of making fun of me from both sides-- not something I ever could have even dreamed would happen.

This week, I put out a call to all of the 2010 Club Nationals teams, 2011 D-I College Nationals teams, and 2011 College Centex teams to step up and sponsor a coach for Layouts. I feel like these are the teams who either 1) have the most to give and/or 2) have benefited the most from Without Limits' work. Playing elite level ultimate is a huge investment of time and money, and I know most teams struggle to get people to practices and pay for their own uniforms and travel. Any investment in Roundup will certainly be above and beyond the call of duty for these teams.

I'll admit to being slightly surprised at Seaweed being the first team to step up. They're not a team rolling around in money and I've known most of them for less than a year. Claire had this to say about working with Without Limits and why Seaweed believes in what we're doing:

Without Limits sponsored our home tournament last year and every other Spring tournament we attended (Centex/Queen City Tune-Up). These were by far the most competitive tournaments of the regular season, every tournament played made us a more nationally competitive team helping us finish the regular season ranked 3rd and reaching Quarters at College Nationals. We believe in Without Limits' mission to advance women's ultimate because we've seen firsthand the impact they've made in women's college programs like our own. The coverage of women's college ultimate in the past has been almost non-existent, but WL has put a spotlight on teams and players outside of the typical powerhouses, up and coming teams/players who would've previously been unheard of and given them the opportunity to play at competitive tournaments or developmental tournaments with skills clinics to give them resources to take back to their teams and build their program.

So, what is Seaweed's vision for the future of women's ultimate?

Women's ultimate is on the rise and the more competition at tournaments as well as overall advances in skill among women playing will close the competitive gap. Right now, there's a more than a handful of teams that can compete on a national level, but by building teams in the developmental division/regionally competitive teams via skills clinics and tournaments focused on building teams/programs. The tournaments that WL sponsors that bring in coaches who play on a national scale who will coach and teach skills clinics will increase the quantity and quality of women playing ultimate and grow the division altogether.

Thank you, Seaweed, for everything you've taught me, and for investing in the future of college women's ultimate. FTB.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Behind the Scenes:: Without Limits Skills Clinics

We've been slacking a bit with posting stories from our partners, but for good reasons. Our last Without Limits tournament of the year, Virginia Fusion, is this weekend, and we just launched registration for our last clinic of the year, the Texas Captaining 101 Clinic. Fusion marks the big 2-5 in tournament running for me, and I'm happy to celebrate this with my teammates and with my friends from around the country. I feel like Beth's story kind of describes what the past six years have been like for me-- a blur of events and a lot of lost sleep, but with some valuable friendships with incredible people I never would have met otherwise.

On Saturday, we will run our largest skills clinic to-date. 50+ coaches are preparing for the afternoon, and several hundred college players are registered. It's going to be fun. And up in New York City, in between trying to open a restaurant, training for her own club season, and food adventuring, Beth is processing registration and making sure we have everything we need going into the weekend. Thanks Beth, for all that you do for Without Limits, and for women's ultimate.

Friends, join us. We promise it's worth it. :)

--

To be honest, I’ve put off this “assignment” because I fear it’s going to end up as this long-winded stream-of-consciousness piece that makes sense to no one except Michelle and me. : ) Unfortunately, the only way to know if I’m right is to actually write, so I welcome you to
Behind the Scenes: Without Limits Skills Clinics.

My friendship with Michelle and relationship with Without Limits began with its first project, Philly Fusion (see WL’s “About Us”). At that time, Brute Squad (my team at the time) and Showdown were in the initial planning stages for the tournament. Of course, with a project this big, Michelle and Sara needed every one to pitch in. Philly Fusion would host a huge skills clinic, and it was imperative to secure a low-cost or free program to manage registration (For those of you who participated in clinics prior to Philly Fusion, you should know that Michelle and Sara sat at their computers for hours manually closing skills clinic registrations. I’m not kidding.). And, because I thrive on streamlining behind-the-scenes processes and making things look good, I volunteered to take on this component of Philly Fusion. Little did I know that this very small task would lead to more than I could have imagined....

Before I go on, you should know the following: a) Michelle and I have never been teammates; b) we have never lived in the same city; c) we played against each other many times when she was on Showdown and I on Brute Squad; BUT d) we did not meet until the 2010 College Championships when we both ended up on the sideline of the Texas/Harvard women’s consolation game -- Michelle was writing for USA Ultimate and cheering on Melee, and I was participating in the College Alumni All-Star game (Team “The World”), and watching my teammates, Blake and Jess, coach Harvard (For the record, Melee won).

And, a shout-out: Eventbrite has made Without Limits Skills Clinic registration a zillion times easier. Yes, a zillion. The important components are automated, and the only thing I have to do is input the date, time, location, and sessions. And, it’s FREE! It also has a report function that allows me to send each coach a list of his/her attendees prior to the clinic! Thank you, Eventbrite!

Now, back to the story: To keep it (relatively) short, the Philly Fusion tournament and skills clinic was a HUGE success, and I became the Eventbrite Master for all things Without Limits. Michelle and I became friends through our appreciation of this wonderful interface (yes, we’re nerds), and I told her that I would be happy to help with future Without Limits projects. Since then, I’ve helped with skills clinic registrations for Showdown, Houston Antifreeze, Midwest Throwdown, Queen City Tune-Up, Keystone Classic and Virginia Fusion.

When Michelle joined USA Ultimate last December to work with the College Division, they were simultaneously expanding its volunteer coordinator core to include a women’s college director. Until that time, the amazing Jeff Kula, served as the ONLY National College Director (I don’t know how he did it - I’m convinced he has superpowers). Anywho, it was, literally, a few days after Michelle started work in Boulder did her gchat status say, “Anyone interested in serving as NWCD?” A completely harmless status message to all of her gchat friends except me....

You see, I’ve been a volunteer with the UPA and USA Ultimate (USAU) since 2004. I served as the Metro-Boston Women’s College SC from 2004-06, and as the UPA/USA Ultimate Northeast Women’s Club RC since 2006. I initially volunteered out of necessity, and I continue to serve because I enjoy it. It’s my small way of giving back to community that took me in when I joined them 10 years ago (wow, I can’t believe it’s been that long!). Despite the other things going on in my life (work, grad school, and an internship), the thought of returning to serve the College Division and working with Michelle felt right. Ultimately, my experience with Without Limits was the tipping point in my decision to return to the USAU College Division as the National Women’s College Director, and I’m really happy that I did.

The growth of women’s ultimate over the last 10 years is impressive. I’m psyched to help Without Limits because its network of players, coaches, and supporters provides opportunities for college teams that weren’t available when I started playing ultimate. It also empowers and supports women to realize and reach their potential not only in ultimate, but also in life. Relationships created through Without Limits are invaluable, and I believe they are the catalysts for the continued growth of women’s ultimate. It’s not easy, but if everyone gives a little, it will go a long way.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Platinum Level Sponsor #2:: Showdown and Hot Mess

Full disclaimer: Showdown, an elite women's team comprised of players from all over Texas, is my former team, and I have known several players from Hot Mess, a new women's team from Dallas, for over five years.

At the end of last spring, Laura Weinman, one of the captains of Hot Mess, contacted me about a clinic she wanted to run in the Dallas area. I was overwhelmed with work and Without Limits projects, and not in a good place to be taking on more, so I sent her a quick email with some ideas and didn't give it a second thought. Laura followed up with me in July, and her email resonated with me in a number of different ways. Her passion for growing women's ultimate in Texas, the challenges she was facing in getting a new team off the ground, and her desire to do something were incredibly inspiring, and it was really exciting for me to see a young player in the Region excited to make a difference. I did a lot of thinking and soul searching when I read Laura's email and after some joint brainstorming, some cool ideas began to develop. The Texas Captaining 101 Clinic was born.

Around the same time, I was trying to figure out how to get Roundup off the ground at Smith College's spring tournament, Virginia is for Layouts. Laura had previously attended the Roundup Division at Midwest Throwdown, so when I asked her to consider donating any profits from the Captaining Clinic to make Roundup v. 2.0 happen, Laura jumped on board. Laura had this to say about her experience at Roundup:

My last year captaining at UNT, I was fortunate enough to take the girls to Midwest Throwdown to compete in the Roundup Division, where we had guest coach Dominique Fontenette teach us how to be badass all weekend... we all came back so much closer and confident as a team. For me, it really made me feel more confident as a captain because up until that weekend, I hadn't. I was still learning how to play ultimate but had to step up to the captain role because all of the older girls had graduated. That is why I think the Texas Captaining 101 Clinic will be such a great opportunity for so many girls who will be stepping up into those leadership roles this upcoming year. To have those kind of resources early on can take off so much stress and really let you focus on yourself and your team without all of the pressure of "Am I doing a good job?" and "What if I'm teaching them something wrong?". And going back to our experience at Midwest Throwdown, knowing that all of the money made from this clinic will go to helping make Virginia is for Layouts happen for other teams to experience is pretty awesome in and of itself.

So who is Hot Mess?

A recent graduate of UNT looking for the opportunity to play women's ultimate competitively, Laura and two other like-minded individuals, Amanda North and Sheena Connell, decided to form Hot Mess, a developmental team geared toward high school and college players who want to develop their skills on the field, as well as learn how to becoming stronger and more confident leaders for their respective school teams. The team is comprised of women from all over the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, UT-Arlington, UNT, UT-Dallas, Texas Women's University, and Marcus High School. They even have a player who will be attending LSU in the fall, and many of their players will be captaining their respective teams this upcoming college season. Laura said:

Looking at the bigger picture, we were hoping that by working with these girls and getting them ready for the upcoming school year, it would help high school and college programs have some foundation to work off instead of having to start from scratch, which in turn would hopefully strengthen North Texas' women's teams and help grow ultimate in Texas / the South Region. Locally, we have a weekly Wednesday practice for Hot Mess, but it is open to any girls who would like to come out and play... Because the Dallas area has had so few resources / outlets for women's ultimate, we have had to rely a lot on each other for ideas for drills, plays, conditioning, recruiting ideas, even transportation just to get girls to practices... It's been awesome because not only are all of the girls learning from each other, those teaching the drills have become more confident speaking up and helping out.

Their vision for the growth of the women's division is directly in line with Without Limits' vision, and we are extremely grateful to have their support for both the Texas Captaining 101 Clinic as well as with joint sponsorship of a coach for Virginia is for Layouts.

Where does Showdown come in?

Two of the most influential people in my ultimate career have been Cara Crouch and Tina Woodings. Their abilities as leaders, their desire to build women's ultimate in Texas, and their love for the sport have been incredibly inspiring, and both Cara and Tina were formative in my development as a player and leader, as well as a huge part of the amazing time I had living in Austin. Those years were defined by hours at the IM Fields with those two, as well as countless meetings at Whole Foods and Austin Java talking strategy and building our team.

As a rookie on Melee in 2007, I was inspired by Cara and Tina to keep building upon the strong foundation they had built for the Texas Ultimate program. I was fortunate to spend my last year on Texas under Cara's tutelage as a coach and then played my rookie year on Showdown under the leadership of both Cara and Tina. Last year, I had the privilege of leading the team with both of them, and can say with certainty that I have never encountered players as passionate and invested as they are.

Cara served as a coach at the Roundup Division in 2010 and is one of the current captains of Showdown. Tina serves as the President of the Ultimate Players League of Austin (UPLA), has been an integral part of Women's College Centex for the past three years, and remains on the core for Showdown. Both of them have been key to the clinics that the team has run over the past few years. Tina had this to say about Showdown's involvement in the community and with Without Limits' projects:

The South Region has always had lower participation relative to other regions in the women's division. Showdown recognizes that many college teams do not necessarily have the luxury of experienced coaches or organizations to lean on for support and training. By participating in Without Limits events, Showdown is able to pass along skills and inspire players to take it to the next level. Showdown has already seen a huge benefit to assisting with Without Limits events; we have had over 25 college women attend tryouts- more than a 50% increase from last year, and this new talent accounts for more than a third of our team.

Over the years, Showdown has been involved in running Women's College Centex, mentoring local college players, and leading clinics all around Texas. Last year, they teamed up with Brute Squad to run the inaugural Fusion tournament. So, as I worked to get two new projects, the Captaining Clinic and Layouts, off the ground, it made sense to go to them to ask for help. I asked Showdown to help me run the Texas Captaining 101 Clinic and to use the proceeds to sponsor a coach for Virginia is for Layouts, and I got a resounding YES.

All three Showdown captains (Cara, as well as Holly Greunke and Shelby Kuni) will be instructors at the clinic, and numerous other Showdown players and alumni will teach sessions over the course of the weekend. While I no longer live in Texas, and will be lining up across the field from Showdown in a few short weeks, I am incredibly thankful for all of their support.

Showdown and Hot Mess are raising the bar for women's ultimate in Texas and beyond. Do you want to get involved in what we're doing?

Sponsor a coach. Coach. Be coached.


More information here:

http://virginiaisforlayouts.wordpress.com/roundup

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Platinum Level Sponsor #1:: Molly Brown

Full disclaimer: Molly Brown is my new team. While I spend the majority of my time with them in total silence, shying away from their hugs and judging them for their weirdness, I am learning to love them, and I am incredibly grateful for their support.

Earlier this spring, I began making plans for Fusion v. 2.0 and was looking for a way to bring in the experience of a club team, while also finding a way to raise money for a college team. I had recently moved to Colorado, and the college team I wanted to work with was thousands of miles away. So, I went to my new captains and asked them to get our team involved. Virginia Fusion was born. Not only is Molly Brown partnering with Smith College to run Fusion this fall, but the team has also stepped up as the first club team to sponsor a coach for Roundup at Smith College's spring tournament, Virginia is for Layouts. Asking your friends and teammates for support can be awkward, but two minutes after I asked, I received an email saying "Holla! Do it up." I think that means "We're in!" around these parts.

First, a little bit of background about our team. Captain Anna Schott describes how the team was formed, and some of the team's philosophy:

Molly Brown was formed in 2010 to bring together the most competitive team possible in Colorado. That didn't necessarily mean all the best players- it meant the best players who were willing and able to commit to being a team and putting in the work needed to be able to perform at the highest level. One of our main tenets is that we draw on the skills of all of our teammates and we are constantly pushing each other to grow as players. Molly Brown is an incredible group of female athletes and being a part of this team means that you are continually developing as a player and learning from your teammates at every practice, tournament, throwing session, and workout.

Schott, who also doubles as my tennis hitting partner (we're awful) and coffee break buddy, had this to say about Molly Brown's commitment to the growth of our sport:

There is a lot of positive energy around what our team is about and it has been great to see that energy impact our local community. Several Molly Brown players help coach high school teams and help run youth skills clinics (in conjunction with Johnny Bravo players) which has been an incredibly rewarding experience because you get to see young players fall in love with the game.

Molly Brown players understand the importance of investing in the next generation of ultimate players. Current University of Colorado Kali captain and Molly Brown rookie Whitney Fose, had this to say about Molly Brown's involvement on the local level:

I think the connection between club and college ultimate is so important. College athletes look up to club players. After watching and playing with a higher level of ultimate, I feel inspired to come back to my college team and challenge them in the same way I was challenged. The club-college relationship continually raises the bar for college players and renews their competitive drive. Molly Brown women have come out to Kali's practices and spent one-on-one time with individuals. Kali's leadership has also tried to exemplify aspects of Molly Brown by bringing drills, work ethic, and team attitudes back to practice.

Kath Ratcliff, my former college teammate, and current teammate on Molly Brown, is a prime example of a club player who has invested significant efforts in the development of the next generation of players. As a former coach of the UC Berkeley Pie Queens and one of the current coaches of Kali, she is an accomplished player and experienced role model who has taught many young players the game... including myself. Kath describes the importance of the involvement of club players, and some of what she has gotten out of giving back, saying:

Most women's teams in my college playing days were forced to lead only through captains with a couple years of experience, and those who were fortunate enough to have dedicated coaches were always the better teams in the nation. Aside from the obvious benefits of refined strategic knowledge that a club player can bring to a college team, I think with women specifically it's important to have a strong, confident, positive role model - someone who the younger players can look to as an example of spirit of the game and fair play. My favorite thing about college women's ultimate is how self-officiating forces young women to confidently approach conflict and helps them to learn to stand up for themselves. This is something that an experienced club player can help to build in younger players. Personally, I coach for the moments where you can see someone understand or do something for the very first time. I also really enjoy being able to take a part in younger players realizing their potential as athletes and watching them increase in confidence as they recognize their own abilities.

Molly Brown players are heavily involved in the local ultimate community, serving as coaches, running tournaments, acting as mentors, and even working for USA Ultimate.

So, isn't that enough?

No. As an elite women's club team, we recognize our responsibility to give back to the community as a whole, and we know that there are teams around the country who don't have the opportunities we have. We want to do more.

Anna sums up the reasons Molly Brown has decided to sponsor a coach, saying:

In a sport where community has always been very important to those that play, the positive effect on the women's Ultimate that can be directly attributed to Without Limits is simply unparalleled. Without Limits has helped create positive relationships between college and club teams (as well between club teams and between college teams) that have already had a huge impact they way that women's Ultimate is played. It has helped foster a community where there is not only a high value on competition but also on respect between teams and giving back to the community. The women's game is going to continue to develop at a rapid pace because of these relationships and the support that is available for young players and programs.

Thanks to the generosity of Molly Brown, we have enough money to get Roundup off the ground. In the weeks leading up to Fusion, we'll be sharing some more stories with you, as well as giving you an opportunity to get involved. Want to sponsor a coach? Come coach at the event? Be coached? We're actively looking for sponsors, and we'll be releasing more information about how to apply for and fundraise to either be a coach or be coached at Virginia is for Layouts this spring.

Stay tuned to the blog and to the Roundup info page:
http://virginiaisforlayouts.wordpress.com/roundup

Monday, August 1, 2011

Revisiting Roundup

I have been friends with Anna "Maddog" Nazarov for half a dozen years now. I was terrified of her for a good year after we met, and it wasn't until the end of our college playing days that I really had the chance to get to know her. While I am still unsure as to whether she has ties to the Russian mafia, I am positive that she is one of the kindest and most genuine people I know. In 2010, I had the privilege of working with her to organize the Roundup Division at Midwest Throwdown. The Roundup Division was our attempt to bring some resources to developing teams in the South and Midwest. We flew coaches from around North America to St. Louis to guest coach and mentor teams for the weekend, and to lead skills clinics for a few hundred players. All of this was done in conjunction with a regular college tournament. In this post, Maddy recaps her experience running the Roundup Division. We'll be looking to replicate the Roundup opportunity at Virginia is for Layouts in the spring. So if you are a club player interested in coaching, or a college team interested in submitting a bid, check out all of the information on our website at http://virginiaisforlayouts.wordpress.com.

--


The idea for the Roundup Division sprang up from a seemingly mindless gchat conversation where Michelle and I were lamenting our inability to fit coaching into our work schedules. Because Michelle has the uncanny ability to take on more than any reasonable human being can handle, I took charge of organizing the Roundup part of Midwest Throwdown that year. First step: recruit coaches. My feeler email to the potential coaches took the form of a long-winded ramble about the idea and the vision. I made it clear that since it was only July (the tournament was in March the following spring) we weren’t sure what sort of funding mechanism we’d have in place (if any) so it would probably be a volunteer endeavor and that I wasn’t looking for a commitment just yet. I don’t think either Michelle or I were expecting the positive response we received right away. We completely underestimated how much people care!


Within 24 hours we got two commitments. Within 48 hours we had another one. Over the next few weeks we finalized the six remaining, absolutely incredible club players who rounded out our coaching corps and made the weekend such a huge success. Here are some excerpts from the enthusiastic responses we got way back in July:


“Heya Anna. So is it going to be warm and sunny there :) ? Sign me up.”


“I’m in. Absolutely!”


“What an amazing opportunity. I would love to! … That sounds incredible – what an honor that you would think of me. … Thanks for making my day.”


“Holy cow, I am totally honored to be included among such a group of studs. This is an incredible idea and I think it would be really fun.”


“Thanks for the invite. This sounds like a really interesting and exciting development for women’s ultimate.”


“Checked it out, dates look clear, I’m stoked to be involved!”


“By March my schedule will be back to normal so count me in!!!!”


“I think this is an amazing idea. I'm all about empowering players and teams. If you need help, let me know. I think this could be a model to use consistently to promote women's teams, even club teams. Teams/players need to be taught good leaderships skills as well as skills, drills and strategy. I'm all about it.”


The lesson learned there was that all across the country (and Canada! Hi, Canada.) there are women at the highest level of club ultimate who care about developing teams having opportunities to play and learn. A little bit of caring goes a long a way. Each email response we got had an average of five exclamation points. Cara was so into it she emailed us from wherever in the world she was traveling after winning her gold with Team USA to tell us she was in. Those few we asked who had scheduling conflicts were clearly bummed they couldn’t participate. Every single person expressed some sort of gratitude that we had thought of them. And that was just the first iteration of Roundup. With this much enthusiasm, the possibilities and ideas are truly endless.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Virginia is for Layouts:: Birds, Vests, and Museum Exhibits

How many of your friendships start with a dead bird's head being handed to you in a napkin?


...


Yes, you read that correctly. At Midwest Throwdown a few years ago, two Wisconsin players (who will remain unnamed) walked up to me and handed me a dead bird's head in a napkin. I screamed, threw the napkin aside, and proceeded to freak out, much to the delight of the crowd of Wisconsin players nearby. My relationship with Bella Donna hasn't been the same since. In the years following that incident, they've been my teammates and housemates, and a few of them even attended my best friend's wedding in May. I've also been gifted two more dead birds by other players (one of whom is now my club teammate), and I live my life in perpetual fear of winged creatures. But that's another story.


One of the best things to come out of that bird incident was a friendship with then-Wisconsin star, and current Brute Squad and Smith College player, Amber Sinicrope. Our friendship mostly involved random Gchat conversations, bonding over our shared jersey number, and me making fun of Amber's love for vests. Over the years, Amber has become one of my dearest friends. She has been a big supporter of my work, and is probably one of the few people who has any insight into non-frisbee Michelle.


Last year, Amber transferred to Smith and helped lead the team to a Quarterfinals finish at the USA Ultimate D-III College Championships. I was fortunate enough to watch the team's breakthrough win against Middlebury at Keystone Classic, and then see their impressive run at the D-III Championships. While the season ended on a high note for them, I also saw some of their struggles. Rag-tag uniforms, rejection from nearby middle-tier tournaments, the growing pains of getting the buy-in it takes to compete at the next level. Those things were all very real challenges (and opportunities) for Smith this past season, so when given the chance, I jumped at the opportunity to do more for them.


This fall, LunaDisc is partnering with my club team, Molly Brown, to run Virginia Fusion. The goal was to help Smith make some money to create more opportunities for next season, but things quickly snowballed into something bigger. The Smith girls, who are a truly fantastic bunch, have decided to run a tournament focused on D-III and on-the-cusp teams next spring. The tournament, Virginia is for Layouts, has been specifically planned to reach that "next" tier of teams, the ones looking for opportunities to improve, and who often get overlooked by the big name, "elite" tournaments.


But that's not enough. We will also be offering the next iteration of the Roundup Division at this tournament. We want to bring in club players to mentor and guest coach young teams, and to help take them to the next level. We're in preliminary talks with a nearby women's club team, as well as some other players from around the country, and we're hopeful that we can raise the money and support that it will take to make this happen. It's a daunting task to get a new tournament off the ground, not to mention creating a development opportunity like the Roundup Division.


If you want to help, there's more information here:
http://virginiaisforlayouts.wordpress.com/roundup


So, why today for this post? Well, not only is Amber an accomplished frisbee player, she's also quite talented in her life off the field. Her exhibit, Surface Tension: Reconsidering Water as Subject, opens today. Check it out if you're in the Northampton area, or click here to read more. Kudos, Amber! :)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Texas Captaining Clinic 101

We're still waiting on a few more posts from friends, but we've also been hard at work making some new projects happen.

In case you missed the announcement, we'll be running a clinic in Dallas in November:
http://withoutlimitsultimate.com/projects/texas-captaining-101-clinic

Laura Weinman, former UNT captain and current Hot Mess captain, approached us a couple of months ago about helping with some kind of clinic in the Dallas area, and after reconnecting last week, we decided to move forward with this project. The past few days have been a flurry of looking for fields and getting the word out. If you know a player or team that might be interested in this opportunity, please point them to us! By my count, there are over a dozen schools within reasonable driving distance who could benefit from this, and we've already heard from quite a few of them. This location allows us to reach women in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Louisiana, and we've also reached out to our friends from further away.

I'm very excited about this project for a number of reasons:
1. I believe this type of leadership development opportunity is much-needed in the South.
2. The camaraderie among college women's ultimate players in Texas has increased a ton over the past few years, and I hope that we can continue to encourage the growth of that community.
3. It's an excellent opportunity for club players to give back and invest in the next generation of ballers.
4. It's exciting to see some of the younger teams in the state taking a leadership role in the growth of women's ultimate.
5. Being a new college captain is daunting, and we can reach a ton of teams with this clinic.
6. Profits from this event will benefit other clinics and guest coaching programs.

Laura has been awesome about figuring out logistics and getting the word out to the Dallas community, and her enthusiasm for women's ultimate and for the growth of our sport is inspiring. Laura was an attendee at the Roundup Division at Midwest Throwdown in 2010 and she didn't even hesitate when I asked her to pay that opportunity forward by helping to make something similar happen at Virginia is for Layouts.

In case you can't tell, we're PUMPED about this clinic. if you're a player looking for more information about attending, or someone from afar looking for a way to support our work, please check out the clinic page and get in touch!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Women's College Centex:: A Melee Perespective

Rachel "Creepy" Hokanson is the kind of teammate and player every captain dreams about. She is smart, works hard, is selfless, and is a workhorse on both sides of the disc. I first met Creepy when we were both rookies on Texas. I nicknamed her one day at practice, and for better or for worse, the name stuck. The next year, I captained Creepy, and her work ethic and consistency on the field were a driving force in our return to Nationals. She took over as President of the Texas Women's Ultimate program two years later, and we had the privilege of working on Centex together. It has been such a privilege to watch her grow as a player and person over the past five years, and I feel fortunate to have gotten to spend Thanksgiving with her family, to have taught her how to throw (only to watch her surpass me as a handler), and to watch her develop from being a quiet freshman to running the biggest college women's tournament in the country. In this feature, Creepy shares her perspective on Women's College Centex, and it's importance both to her and to the Texas program.

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The first thing
I learned about Centex was the dance-off. Not even kidding. I was a clueless freshman who was still getting to know the whole frisbee thing. If someone had told me that three years later, I would be hosting the tournament under the direction of Michelle, I would have called them crazy. But more on that later.

So there I was, a na├»ve little first year player, and I was told I have to learn a crazy dance that included taking off my shirt in front of a hundred people I didn’t know. At this point I could still hardly even talk in front of some of my teammates because I was so shy (this is part of the reason I earned my nickname; ask Michelle Ng for full details). Well, I did it, and I was one step closer to understanding the frisbee community and one step closer to being addicted to the game.

My first season with the University of Texas Melee was 2006-2007. At that time, Centex was still run by Cultimate. It had a strong reputation as one of the best tournaments in the nation, and it was great having teams come to Texas so we could play with some of the big dogs on our own turf. However, one cannot deny that Centex at that point was a tournament for dudes, by dudes. Whatever personal opinion you have of Cultimate aside, this was something that was not going overlooked by women’s teams. In a post-Title IX era, this was unacceptable. We can vote! We can go to college! We can be CEOs! We can… run our own tournaments?!

In some ways, the split of the open and women’s divisions of Centex signifies the natural progression of the sport. For the same reason we now have observers at our games, we also have separate open and women’s tournaments: the sport is growing, and it is becoming more competitive. There are more female players and more women’s teams, and we need places to play!

Taking the initiative to break away from Cultimate in favor of a women’s only Centex tournament was one of the first steps in what has grown into a nation-wide women’s ultimate movement. I don’t think any of us thought our single tournament would lead to the inception of Without Limits and a year-round series of exemplary women’s tournaments (except maybe Michelle, whose meticulous planning and endless efforts pretty much allow her success in whatever area she chooses to pursue).

Melee first acted as the sole host of Centex in March 2009. It wasn’t an easy transition, but months of planning, the dedication of club officers and Michelle, and community support from groups like UPLA (Ultimate Player’s League of Austin) and Showdown (Texas’ elite women’s club team) made it possible for the tournament to maintain its competitive status. The following year, a second division was added to the tournament and social events were added to the agenda. I had the opportunity to contribute to the planning of the tournament in 2010, and it was an amazing learning experience to see the work that goes into every minute detail of a tournament. A foundation celebrating the values of community, spirit, and female solidarity was slowly shaping; these values went on to form the mission of Without Limits.

I have great memories from my four years playing Centex. It was so exciting to have teams from around the nation come to our fields to play; I always felt this hum of energy, even at 7am when first arriving at the fields! I love the simultaneous feelings of competition and spirit; being able to joke with your opponents while also trying your hardest not to let them touch the disc. I truly appreciated the chance to extend the tournament to more teams, giving new or up-and-coming teams the opportunity to play in a well-organized, established tournament. I was blessed this past year to coach the Texas-B team, Mayhem, and participate in another year of Centex with yet another, different role.

Women’s Centex 2011 featured the best set-up yet: four divisions of competitive women’s ultimate, an astounding 52 teams, a coach’s clinic, and social events both Friday and Saturday nights. The past three years of hard work have paid off; Centex has retained its reputation and its growth has exceeded everyone’s expectations. Community involvement continues, and college teams consider the tournament a staple to their spring schedule. Centex is a testimonial to the rewards of hard work and dedication and an invaluable resource to women’s ultimate in the future.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Women's College Centex:: Ultimate Mecca

I have organized a couple dozen tournaments over the years, and people frequently ask me which one is my favorite. Each tournament has been memorable in some way (for better or for worse), and nearly every tournament has resulted in the opportunity to form new friendships with amazing people. For me, the relationship-building is the most rewarding part about running tournaments. Some of my dearest friends are people I have run tournaments with or met at the tournaments I've run.

My favorite tournament as an organizer is undoubtedly Women’s College Centex. I first attended the tournament in 2005 as a player, and have attended each year since. In 2008, my last year playing college, I took on a small organizing role as one of the captains of Texas. In late 2008, Melee decided to begin running the tournament without the help of an outside organization. The foundation for the success of a Melee-run Women’s College Centex was formed at this meeting the year before.

We expanded the tournament from 20 teams to 32 teams in 2009, striking a careful balance between choosing the top teams from the year before, up-and-coming teams, and teams from our Region. Everyone realized that all three components were vital to the success of the tournament, as well as integral to our commitment to building ultimate in the South. The tournament grew to 52 teams split into four divisions this past year.

I believe the following things have contributed to the success of Centex:
1. Commitment | The Texas women are committed to building this tournament. It is more than a fundraising opportunity to them; it is their chance to build something incredible and to give back to the college women’s ultimate community. Rachel "Creepy" Hokanson and Suede Kam are the two Texas players who have made Centex into what it is today.
2. Local ultimate community | Each year, there are a core of Austinites who do tons of behind-the-scenes work to make the tournament a success. Tina has been the single most important person in ensuring the success of Centex, J helps us get travel deals, Punk organizes an observer crew, TUFF helps with weekend-of labor. The list could go on and on.
3. Friends | Every year, interest in the tournament exceeds capacity. This is only possible because our friends bring their teams to our tournament. We are also fortunate to have friends serve as “scouts” for us; we are able to get the best up-and-coming teams to come based on the leads we get from these people.

What sets Centex apart?
1. Competition | At Centex this year, we had 19/20 teams from 2010 Nationals and 18/20 teams from 2011 Nationals. This level of competition is umatched by any other tournament.
2. Community | You simply cannot rival or replicate the Centex Dance-off. It is both ridiculous and amazing, and teams love it. Pair that with some good Texas BBQ and you have teams staying at the fields Saturday night until the lights get turned off on us. Check out this footage from 2010, courtesy of Penn State Isis.
3. Big picture thinking | Every year, the organizers look for ways to improve the tournament and make it even better. In 2010, it was the addition of a Division III and a Women’s Leadership Forum. In 2011, it was the addition of B-Team Division and a Guest Coaching Program. The Texas girls set the bar high with their vision for the future of our sport.

If you haven’t been to Centex, I highly recommend putting it on your team’s radar. Many people have told me that Centex changed their team’s perspective on ultimate, and every year, new friendships are formed both on and off the field. Without Limits' role for 2012 is yet-to-be-determined, but if you are interested in attending, email us at contactus (at) withoutlimitsultimate dot com and we’ll pass your email along to the Texas leadership.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Iowa State University:: More from the Midwest

This afternoon, we bring another Midwest success story to you. In this post, Lindsey Gapstur of Iowa State Woman Scorned shares about her team's development and the role that Without Limits has played in providing her team with more opportunities. Woman Scorned has gone from a middle-of-the-pack team at Regionals just a few short years ago to finishing 10th at the College Championships this year. Read Gapstur's take on how this happend.

Want to share your story? We'd love to hear it. Reach out to us at contactus (at) withoutlimitsultimate dot com.

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My sophomore year of college I joined the ultimate frisbee team. The women’s team at Iowa State was far from new, and their intense workouts and dedication to having a good time were more than enough to get me hooked. I definitely didn’t take the entire thing very seriously at first, and I can actually remember thinking “this is a great workout to get me in shape, but there is no way I will stick with this for very long.” Needless to say, I was very wrong.

My story with Woman Scorned started in 2008, but it was by no means the beginning. The team was founded in 2002 and had 6 years of insanely talented ladies who pooled resources together and built a program that I was lucky enough to walk on to and reap the benefits of their hard work and dedication. In 2009, Woman Scorned installed our first 100% attendance policy and our season resulted with our first showing at the College National tournament. Woman Scorned placed 15th with only one win in the tournament, but we were given the opportunity to play teams from all over the nation (and Canada) who we had never before had the chance to compete against.

The following season was definitely eye opening for the team. After becoming a “nationals team” all sorts of doors started to open. Invitations to tournaments we had not previously attended like Centex and Philly Invite were extended to us, allowing us the option to play elite college teams like we had only seen at Nationals. Knowing our biggest hurdle the previous season was our lack of exposure to these teams, we took advantage and attended five non-series tournaments in the spring (three of which were run by Without Limits). Iowa State also hosted a winter scrimmage to gain more exposure to our regional competition and build relationships between teams. Unfortunately we were unable to pull together to perform to potential in this season. At Regionals, injuries and underperformance resulted in a 5th place finish for Woman Scorned, and powerhouse programs Wisconsin and Carleton again took the two Nationals bids for the North Central Region.

Although our 2010 season’s ending was far from ideal, we used it to fuel our 2011 season. One of our biggest focuses for the new season was team cohesiveness. It was important to us that everyone from our rookies all the way to our veterans we were working toward the same goals and accomplishing them together. We built depth by playing fall tournaments with open lines, and we continued attending highly competitive Without Limits tournaments in the spring. Through strong leadership, intense dedication, and hard work from everyone on our team, Woman Scorned peaked at a prime time this past season, winning sectionals, placing 3rd at regionals, and taking 10th place at Nationals.

Although Woman Scorned has grown to become a more competitive program, we still maintain the same personality as a team. We have set our goals higher with each season but our core team values have not changed since we began:

1: Having fun is the most important thing. Winning does not dictate fun. If you play the game right and give all you have, ultimate is fun whether you win or lose.
2: We want to be the team that every team wants to play. Compete your hardest against every opponent but never at the sacrifice of spirit.

Woman Scorned does not make cuts and we are only just reaching the point where we can attempt to field a B team. We focus on developing every player to be well rounded, and we value dedication and spirit above playing ability. Most importantly, we hold each other accountable to ensure that every player is dedicated to the team and working towards the same goals. Beyond the game, we are all friends and that is truly what brings us together as a successful team. The sacrifices we make are not just for ourselves, but each of our teammates. This team mentality has truly accelerated our success as an ultimate program.

Success did not come to us over night or even in one season. It takes time and dedication, and often the ones who give the most don’t even get to experience it. In my opinion, however, the best way to become a better team and create a program is to give all of yourself and not hold back. Make the commitment and challenge your teammates to do the same. One person can’t make a team successful alone, but you can be the first one to step up and bring your teammates up with you. Every single person on a team has the potential to make an impact on that program; big or small, good or bad. It is when you truly make this commitment that you will realize how many resources are actually available to you.

For Woman Scorned, Michelle Ng and Without Limits have been one big resource in our success. One great benefit that WL provides is the guarantee of a quality run tournament. Don’t get me wrong, we are good at setting up our own fields, remembering to bring water because it may not be provided, and figuring out our own brackets because the tournament director is worried about the men’s division and tournament central is a couple miles away on the main fields. However, it is really nice to just have someone do all of this for you so the team’s focus can remain on playing the games. When Michelle is running a tournament, every detail is thought about and no issue is left unresolved.

Additionally, the opportunities WL provides reach far beyond playing competitive tournaments. Without Limits supports our core team values in many ways. Midwest Throwdown is a competitive tournament that works to spread the love of ultimate in the Central regions. This tournament has also offered skills clinics to share knowledge of the game from elite club players to college teams of every shape and size. The Centex dance-off and pool play spirit discs at Midwest Throwdown are just two examples of fun ways spirit of the game and networking between teams are incorporated into these tournaments. Woman Scorned is just one of the numerous teams who continue to benefit from the generosity and devotion of everyone involved in Without Limits.

The story of Woman Scorned isn’t extra glamorous, and it doesn’t include any national or even regional titles. However, I am very proud to say I am a part of it. It is the story of a small team who, through hard work and dedication, has built our program up to reach the goals we have set. By pushing ourselves as well as each other and reaching out to utilize the resources we can access, Woman Scorned has become one of the top college teams in the nation. Thankfully, our story is far from over. Who knows where our future will take us, but my hope is that with the expansion of resources like Without Limits, Woman Scorned and other dedicated teams will also continue to prosper.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

University of Kansas:: A Midwest Perspective

I still remember the first time I met Tasha. It was February 2008. Tasha was captaining Kansas and I was captaining Texas and TDing the tournament we were playing at in Missouri. Snow resulted in us losing both our primary field site and backup field site during the day on Saturday, and after spending all of Saturday night trying to find a way to pull Sunday's games off, I walked out of a coffee shop with a revised schedule, only for it to start snowing again. The next morning, my team capped off a rough weekend by losing to an in-region team we had never lost to before, and a coach, upset with his team's schedule ripped into me, reducing me to tears. A few minutes later, I walked over to Kansas and tearfully told Tasha that her team would have to have a double bye because the coach was taking his girls home. Tasha smiled, told me it wasn't a problem, and offered me a hug. We've been friends and collaborators since.

There is a small, but growing, circle of women's ultimate leaders in the South Central Regionwho have worked hard over the past few seasons to build both their respective teams as well as the overall state of women's ultimate in this part of the country. We have a listserve, we've held meetings at tournaments, and these leaders and teams form the backbone of every new tournament and endeavor Without Limits has undertaken in the South and Midwest over the past few years. Tasha is an integral part of this network and group of friends. She was one of the best players in the South Central before coaching Betty last year, and she is a co-captain and co-founder of St. Louis RevoLOUtion, a second year women's club team. In this post, Tasha shares her perspective on the state of women's ultimate in the Midwest, as well as how she feels Without Limits has contributed to her team's development.

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You’re probably heard it before—the interior of the U.S. is often behind the coasts. I’ve heard it with a number of things, including ultimate. We started playing later, we don’t have as many players, we adapt to new styles of playing later, etc. I’ve also heard many players say the talent in the middle of the country isn’t that of the coasts. In my short ultimate career, I’d have to say—I think those comments are fairly accurate. I’ve been playing since 2005 and the teams from the coasts are so impressive to me. I wondered all too often, “How do they do it? How do we get the opportunities that they have?” I’m slowly learning that it takes dedication, creativity, organization, and collaboration. I think Without Limits is all of those things, and more.

In the last few years, I’ve observed a number of teams the Ozark Conference and the South Region grow tremendously. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this growth occurred at the same time as competitive playing opportunities like D-II and D-III Centex and Midwest Throwdown started catering to the lesser known teams. The reason our game is improving is because of these opportunities! In my opinion though, it’s so much more than just the games at each tournament. Yes… those are awesome because our teams get to see what high-level Women’s Ultimate looks like. But it’s the socials, the skills clinic, the guest coaches, and all of the incredible tournament amenities that put WL tourneys on the map. It’s the empowerment of other teams to start running their own successful tournaments. It’s paying it forward, and it’s inspirational. These are the things that are connecting female ultimate players on a deeper level.

I’ve been involved with ultimate at the University of Kansas for almost 6 years now (whoa!). We’ve been so fortunate to get the chance to compete at a number of Without Limits tournaments. After each tournament, I could sense the excitement in my team. It was bittersweet, but I had to miss Centex this year because I was on a rotation in Montana. When I talked to our players and captains after Centex, I heard so much about what they learned from their guest coach, Cara Crouch. The girls couldn’t stop talking about her! Throughout the reason of the season, the lessons (both on and off of the field) she taught my team persisted in our huddles. Same with Midwest Throwdown in previous years—my teammates were really excited to share what they learned at their own skills clinics. I believe the Bettys are still trying to find their identity—there has been a lot of transformation since my first season, and they are still trying to figure out how to achieve the goals they set for themselves. I think the exposure to ultimate via projects like WL has very much benefited us on our journey. Us aside though, WL has clearly made a huge impact in our Conference and Region. Each year, teams are becoming better. Each game is harder, and at the same time, each game is more fun. It’s been incredible to watch, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.