Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Little Things (Part II)

People who know me well know that I love to tell stories.  A lot of people have been asking me to post more regularly, and a number of people contacted me about yesterday's post, so I'll share two stories with you about why the little things matter.

Over the years, I've been extremely privileged to have a small window of insight into the lives of a number of college players.  People come to me with problems ranging from personal playing issues to team problems to serious life crises.  I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know these players on a deeper level than just TD-player, but I often feel overwhelmed by my inability to actually do anything to help them.  I was commenting to one of my friends recently that sometimes I feel helpless because I honestly don't know how I can help these people.  My friend responded, "You care.  That's why they come to you, and them knowing that you care is enough."  Huh.

Today I received a really wonderful and thoughtful email from a player whose team has come to something like eight of my tournaments over the course of the past three seasons.  The team was a supporter of some of my early work in the Midwest, and is now one of the best teams in the nation.  Two years ago, I had a conversation with one of their players on the sideline of a tournament and it was clear that she was having a very emotional weekend.  While I consider her to be a friend now, I hardly knew her at the time, but texted her after the tournament to make sure she was ok.

Here is an excerpt from the email she wrote me today:

"I can't really tell you how much that meant to me. It meant a lot that some stranger cared enough to go through the trouble (with a million other things and people on your mind) to send me that text. It reminded me that people are good and caring, even when they don't have any stake in the situation. I was nobody and you still cared enough to check on me. Thank you.

I have changed a lot since then, and so has my team. I have become a better person I hope. I think I have learned to care about people more and take time to invest in friendships more. A huge part of that is because I learned I could be a better friend and person by knowing you... I didn't know if I had ever told you how much I respect you, so I wanted to be sure you knew. I know this tournament season and really just last couple of years have been crazy for you, but the fact that you are able to keep pushing on, caring for people, sticking hard to your beliefs, and taking chances even when it isn't easy means a lot."

It's the little things.

The second story is about something someone did for me eight years ago.

I was a rookie on the Cal B team and we were playing the Pie Queens at Sectionals.  We were getting destroyed and I was guarding (well, attempting to guard) the Queens' Callahan nominee, Andrea "Chowdah" Jung.  About halfway through the game, there was a particularly embarrassing point, during which I chased Chowdah around the field, trailing her by about 10 yards at all times.  She broke me for the score, and I turned to walk to the sidelines, feeling dejected.  The next part I remember vividly.  Chowdah stopped me, shook my hand, and said "Keep playing.  You're going to be really good someday."  It took her about 10 seconds of effort, but that moment has stuck with me over many, many years, and is a huge reason why I keep pushing myself so hard as a player.  I want to improve because I want to make her proud.  As a leader on the A team and as one of the best players in the country, she had little reason to talk to me.  But she made the effort anyway.

A few years ago, we were playing each other at a club tournament, and I got a layout D on her teammate on an O2 cut.  After that point, I walked over to the sidelines and Chowdah just looked at me and said, "See, I told you."

It's the little things.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Little Things

I'm headed into my 7th event of the season, my 5th of five in a row.  I've basically been on the road since Thanksgiving, most of my stuff is in a friend's garage, and the rest of my worldly possessions are in my car. Those who know me on a personal level know that this is not how I roll AT ALL. I have a graduate degree in Planning, and nothing in my life is planned right now. I'm not even sure where I'm sleeping tomorrow night.

But in the midst of a time of insanity and uncertainty, I've tried to remind myself that...

It's the little things.

In previous posts, I've talked about why I (should) care and about community and the power of positivity.  While life has certainly not been what I've expected it to be lately, I also realize that there will never be another time in my life where I have the opportunity to interact with so many different people.  It's a huge opportunity to make a difference, and I'm determined to take advantage of that opportunity.

But how do I even go about making a difference?  I don't have the resources to change the world, or even change our sport.  But... what if I can change one person's ultimate experience or one person's world?  That makes it seem a lot more manageable, though it's still quite vague.  I've been trying to distill that down to my interactions with people.  Can I have a big impact if I just make an effort in my daily interactions with people?  Will all of those little interactions sum into something bigger than I can imagine?  I hope so.

Here are a few interactions I had with people at Women's College Centex this past weekend that impacted ME in a positive way:

-  One of my project teams (See #4 in my previous post) showed up at the fields to hang out Friday afternoon.  They came over to say hi and asked a dangerous question, "Is there anything we can do to help?"  They then faithfully walked out fields and marked cone locations for me for the next hour.  While several teams this season have been more than willing to help me when needed (Michigan, Texas, and Vanderbilt to name a few), I have almost no relationship with this team, so their small act of kindness meant a lot to me.

- On Sunday, in response to me doing a small favor for a college captain I barely know, the player texted me, "I'll pay it forward.  :)"  This player has already impressed me with her positivity this season, and it made me smile to know that this player, at least, understands my life philosophy.

- At the end of a long, tiring weekend, I was uploading another batch of scores to Score Reporter.  I looked up from my computer and saw a coach, who had played on a rival college team of mine, approaching me.  After I answered her question about a consolation game, she thanked me for my role in building Women's College Centex over the past five years.  She acknowledged that very few current players have the perspective to know what the event was like before 2009, and we talked for a few minutes about the community we're a part of, and how committed leaders can make a huge difference.  I appreciated her taking a few minutes to let me know the impact I have had on her ultimate experience.  Sometimes (often), I lose perspective on what I'm trying to do.

Five more days until the end of the Without Limits college season.  What kind of difference can I make?  What kind of difference can YOU make?

It's the little things.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Women's College Centex:: Organizer Perspective

Women's College Centex is just a few short days away. Skyd already has a preview up, but I wanted to post a few personal thoughts leading into the weekend.

This tournament is important to me for more reasons than I have the time to write about, but I'll try to summarize briefly here:

1. Competition-- This tournament brings together many of the top teams in North America to compete in the last big pre-Series tournament of the season. It has only developed this way because of the support of many friends, and we are cognizant of the big trip it is for many teams. In 2008, we were very fortunate to get huge buy-in from teams like Wisconsin, Michigan, UBC, Stanford, UCSB, Cal, etc. That parking lot meeting is something that continues to motivate me to this day, even though none of those players are playing in the college division anymore.

2. Community-- While we've striven to build an extremely competitive event, none of the organizers have lost sight of the fact that we want to build community with Centex. The Friday Night Mixer, BBQ, and Dance-Off are all staples of this tournament. We include them because we've seen incredible friendships built out of the interaction that happens at these "extras." It's worth the extra work.

3. Personal History-- I first attended this tournament in 2005 with the Cal women's team. It was a huge catalyst in our season that year, propelling us to a Quarterfinals finish at College Nationals. Melee also choreographed a dance for us that year. I will never forget Cara Crouch pouring Gatorade all over herself (thinking it was water) or the look of shock on the Melee players' parents' faces. Priceless. In 2006, my experience at Centex and the care of a few special Melee alums facilitated my decision to attend Texas for grad school. The snow on the ground when I visited Cornell and Columbia sealed the deal, but Centex has a lot of meaning to me on a personal level.

4. Catalyst-- I see Centex as an opportunity to get a few younger / less developed teams a chance to play with the big dogs. Every year in the fall, I look for a few teams I can help-- teams who are flying under people's radars and who might be struggling financially, but who are on the cusp of greatness. We invite them to Centex, and I make it my undercover mission to help them succeed in whatever way I can. After seeing what a world of difference opportunities have made for Wash U, I've re-committed myself to helping "random" teams. There doesn't have to be a "reason" to help-- if a team is working hard and wants to get to the next level, I want to make a difference for them. Centex is a wonderful catalyst for that.

5. Melee--
This tournament is extra special to me because I work with my old team to run it. This year is perhaps even more special because the lead coordinator was one of my college and club rookies when I captained Melee and Showdown respectively. It makes me proud to see someone I've invested so much into stepping up to take on a huge role that serves a lot of players and teams in the college ultimate community. The Melee girls put an incredible amount of work into this event, and their attention to detail shows. I also appreciate that they're always willing to facilitate my crazy ideas and to try new things. There is a high level of trust in our relationship, something I appreciate immensely.

We have a ton to do on the ground in the next two days, but we're incredibly excited to host so many of you in Austin. Travel safe, and we'll see many of you tomorrow night!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Virginia is for Layouts Recap

From an organizer's perspective, it is a bit overwhelming to try to describe what happened at Virginia is for Layouts last weekend. 28 teams, 28 guest coaches, games, skills clinics, development sessions, classroom sessions, teammates, rivals, old friends, new friends. 6+ months of planning culminating in the pinnacle of the Without Limits season.

I've organized dozens of tournaments over the years, and I can't shake the feeling that what we accomplished this past weekend is truly something special. There are many tournaments that serve the top of the women's division extremely well, and as they have expanded to include more divisions and qualifiers, they are doing an increasingly good job of serving the middle of the women's division as well. But what about the B teams? The new women's teams who can barely field 7 people at practice? The D-III teams who are faced with a new competition structure and few resources? Who serves them?

Enter the idea for Layouts.

The tournament and its multitude of challenges have weighed heavily on me for the past 6 months. To be honest, a few months ago, I was fairly certain the tournament would be a huge disappointment, but after a meeting with the other organizers and a conversation with one of the Grinnell captains, I fell back on one of my major life mottos, "Refuse to fail." T
errified of letting these people down, I poured my heart and soul into the event. I ran clinics to help fundraise money, I begged my teammates and friends for their support, I emailed teams repeatedly until I got a response. The number of teams committed to the event grew from 5 to 28 in less than 2 months' time. And when the time came to find guest coaches for all of these teams, Lindsey Hack wrangled a dozen of her teammates from Phoenix and Ember to come coach, and players from Showdown, Molly Brown, Brute Squad, Ozone, RevoLOUtion, Ring, Cash Crop, Ironside, Haymaker, and The Ghosts joined them. The level of coordination required to pull off an event like this is something I cannot even begin to describe-- there are so many moving pieces, and as the event took shape, I began to realize the utter insanity that was sandwiching this event between tournaments sized at 52 teams, 42 teams, 40 teams, and another brand new tournament.

The weekend did not go perfectly. We survived a guest coast dropping the week before the event, a team dropping the day before the event, and a mix-up in the tournament location causing a team to miss their first round on Saturday. Some of the classroom sessions were smaller than I had hoped. The usual craziness of hosting an event for hundreds of people took over at times. Organization behind the scenes did not always go smoothly, and we talked through difficult issues. But in the end, I think we accomplished what we set out to accomplish. We created an amazing playing and development opportunity for D-III, B-teams, and on-the-cusp teams. And that is something we can be proud of.

Over the course of the weekend, I saw clear admiration in the eyes of many college players as they hung on to their guest coaches' every word. Some of them had spirit circles at the end of the weekend to thank their coaches, and at one point, I saw Tufts B marching two-by-two as their guest coach, Frances Deschenes, led them to their next development session. I saw some of the best players in the club division break down basic skills for young college players, I saw strategy being explained to teams, and I witnessed one-on-one instruction happening on the sidelines. I saw coaches rushing the field out of excitement when their teams scored, I saw a brand new women's team win 3 games on the weekend, and I got to witness what happens when you put players from 10 different club teams together at a dinner table. I had amazing conversations with captains, players, coaches, and even parents. I left the weekend feeling incredibly challenged.
I had the privilege of (unexpectedly) teaching a development session on "Building A College Program," and the focus and engagement from the players in attendance floored me. It reminded me that these players love their teams and our sport as much as my teammates at the elite club level. I believe that the development of the women's division involves raising both the ceiling and the floor. It is not enough to just serve the top of the women's division, and the opportunities for the middle and lower tier teams may have to look radically different than it does for the teams at the top.

The feedback surveys are showing overwhelming positive feedback about the coaches. "I learned so much" and "(Insert Coach Name) was AMAZING!" are recurring themes in the feedback.
My inbox has also been filled with emails from college players over the past few days, more than a few which have brought me to tears. One of my guest coaches, a young club player, whom I have invested a ton into over the past year, wrote me an email yesterday saying, "I can't stop thinking about how awesome this tournament was, it was one of the most rewarding things I've ever experienced. Thanks for letting me be a part of it, I hope to do it again next year." That was enough to make me realize that maybe, just maybe, we have done something worthwhile.

While I am still exhausted from the weekend (with two of my biggest events on the horizon), my brain won't let me stop thinking about where I go from here. Looking back on a very uncertain few months, and looking forward to two more months on the road, I've spent a lot of time thinking about how Layouts fits into the bigger picture, and the kind of difference I want to make in the ultimate community. To organize a good event or to raise money for a college team are both great things, but I want to do more than that.
It's 5:00 AM and I still need to put the finishing touches on the Women's College Centex captains' packet, so I'll close with two quotes that have me thinking.
Sport and physical education play an important role at the individual, community, national, and global levels. For the individual, sport enhances one's personal abilities, general health, and self-knowledge. On the national level, sport and physical education contribute to economic and social growth, improve public health, and bring different communities together. On the global level, if used consistently, sport and physical education can have a long-lasting impact on development, public health, peace, and the environment. - United Nations International Year of Sport and Physical Education

Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair. Sport speaks to people in a language they can understand. - Nelson Mandela
Layouts would not have been possible without the help of many, many people. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this event-- your love and support have meant the world to me, and I hope to pay your investment forward many times over as I seek to make a difference not only in our sport, but in the lives of the people who make up this community.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Community and the Power of Positivity

My friends have been encouraging me to blog more, as the past couple of months have been filled with some interesting experiences. Hilarious / ridiculous things happen to me on a somewhat regular basis (more than I care for), and I've also been learning A LOT about myself, my work, and what Without Limits is and can be. I've also met a lot of great people along this journey, and for that I am exceedingly grateful.

I've had a couple of conversations with college players recently about energy, mostly as it pertains to team. I'm a firm believer that there is no such thing as being neutral in a relationship. You're either pouring positive energy into the people around you... or you're sucking energy away from them (which can also be looked upon as injecting negative energy). I know that for me at least, the energy I put into / take from the people around me is highly correlated with external factors (whether my team is winning or losing, how people treat me, how many hours I've driven that day, etc.) I've been pushing these college leaders to turn on the positive, no matter what the circumstances are. We all have the ability to be positive, and I believe that it's a choice we make. Sometimes that choice is harder than other times for sure, but I think we always have the ability to choose.

I've been striving to apply this concept to life and my circle of friends and acquaintances, or my community, if you will. Being on the road for 6 months leaves a lot of time for thinking (and hopefully challenging myself and growing), and this week, I've been thinking a lot about what community is exactly. I have a M.S. in Community and Regional Planning, so I have a fair amount of experience and training in building community. Over the past few years, I've been focused intently on the women's ultimate community. But lately, I've been thinking that there is more.

Yesterday, I did an interview with BTW21, a local television station who will be covering Virginia is for Layouts this weekend. I had a long talk with the News Director before the interview and it made me think more about the impact that this event is having on the local community. The sport we play is great, but not just because it's fun to chase around a flying piece of plastic. It's about the power of sport-- to create relationships, to test your personal limits, to learn life lessons, and to impact the people around you. And that community, our sphere of influence, is greater than just our team, or even the small group of teams we play against over the course of a season. Our ability to pour positivity into our community extends to the front desk clerk who checks us in at the tournament hotel, the checker at the grocery store when we buy field food Friday night, the local who stops by to catch a few points of one of our games, the attendant at the gas station... the list could go on and on.

Maybe this is just another one of my crazy ideas... but what effect could the power of positivity have if we broadened our definition of community and poured positivity into all of our relationships? What if we took the extra effort to invest fully into our teammates, acquaintances... and into all of the people around us?

The world might be a better place. :)

Layouts is this weekend. We just announced Heavyweights. We'll be hosting our first international clinic next month to help our friends raise money for Worlds. And planning for Virginia Fusion has also begun. It's a busy stretch ahead, and I'll be striving hard to keep the focus on investing positively in the people around me. Hold me accountable!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Midwest Throwdown:: Year 5

It's hard to believe that this is the 5th year of what started out as a small event to build the South Region. Over the years, the tournament has grown tremendously. This year, we'll host 52 teams, a 400% increase in tournament size.

The planning team is one of the best I work with-- the organizers have a huge vision for their sport, understand the privilege (and responsibility) of being an elite college team, and pay attention to the small things (a detailed timeline of Thurs / Fri / Sat / Sun responsibilities is always included in our tournament planning).

I just finished "The Tipping Point" yesterday, a book whose subtitle is "How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference." While I definitely don't think we've started an epidemic, it is interesting how I can point back to one weekend that has been the lynchpin for this event.

South Regionals 2007

Two very important things happened that weekend.

1. Texas didn't qualify for Nationals for the first time in half a dozen years.
2. After we knocked Wash U out in Semis, I saw one of their captains sitting on the sideline of the Finals taking notes on the game and planning how to take it back to her team for the following year.

So how did those two things lead to the development of one of the biggest tournaments in college ultimate?

1. Not qualifying for Nationals was a humbling experience for Texas. The team recognized that in order to be relevant on the national scene, we needed to build the teams around us. We went to the other top teams in the region and established a collaborative relationship with them.
2. Abby's
display of crazy commitment and desire to improve stayed burned in my mind until I had the opportunity to meet her 6 months later at Harvest Moon. And so began a 4-year partnership with Wash U.

How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference.