Saturday, April 14, 2012

Pay It Forward

Tomorrow's clinic in Toronto marks the official end of the spring season for me.  On the eve of the end of the season, I thought I'd write about the idea of paying it forward, something which has been a cornerstone of my work for the past half a dozen years.  I mention it in this interview with Ultimate Interviews.

One of my mottos is “Pay it forward.” My hope is to cultivate a group of players and teams who are able to think bigger than themselves. I hope that my investment in them leads them to invest in others, and that the end result is something beyond what we can even imagine.

It's hard to explain exactly what this means to me because it's a bit of a life motto, not just what Without Limits is about.  Paying it forward is about giving to people.  It's about loving the people around you.  It's about being kind to strangers.  It's about using what you've been blessed with to bless others.  Just because you can.  Not because of what you might get in return.

I think that women's ultimate is in an incredible place for development.  We are a tight-knit community, which opens up great possibilities for collaboration and sharing of ideas and knowledge.  I strive to be a connector, and have high hopes for both our division, and our sport.  The idea of paying it forward has played a critical role in many of my past projects- Midwest Throwdown, Keystone Classic, and Virginia is for Layouts are all tournaments that would never have been created were it not for people's and team's abilities to pay it forward and think bigger than themselves.

I previously posted this quote:

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

Paying it forward is important to me because it's about more than just trying to advance our sport and create playing and development opportunities.  It's about more than raising money for college teams or trying to help programs get to the next level.  Those things are very important to me...

But more than that, it's about an attempt to have an impact on the lives of the people around me.  
It's about spreading positivity, confidence, hope, and love, because if we're spreading those things, then the world is just a better place.  And ultimate happens to be a great vehicle for this.

Sound idealistic?  Perhaps.  But here's my end-of-season challenge to you, and more importantly, to myself:

Care enough to make a difference for someone or some group of people.  Then sit back and see what happens.  :)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Be Intentional

A lot of people have contacted me about my posts on "The Little Things" so I thought I'd write a bit more about that.  I think that one of the biggest ways to make the little things count is to be intentional.  By that, I mean act with purpose

Until somewhat recently, I was always someone who was very goal-oriented and focused on "the next step."  I went to one of the best high schools in the country (#28 on this list), graduated from 
Cal (#21 on this list) with a double major and minor in three years, and and got into several Top 10 schools in my field for grad school.  I graduated near the top of my class in grad school, got a good job doing something meaningful (I worked at a non-profit that designs and develops green affordable housing), and managed to play for teams that attended College Nationals (x2), Club Nationals (x3), and Worlds along the way.

Being driven and having life direction were never a problem for me.  And I say that with absolutely zero pride because all of these "accomplishments" mean very little to me, especially given where I am now.  But I give you this bit of life background so that you have some context for what drives me.

Dropping out of college for two years (a story for another day) helped me gain a bit of life perspective, but Club Nationals 2009 was the real wake up call for me.  My mom called me the night before our Quarterfinals game against Brute Squad with some serious health news.  When you get a call like that, suddenly nothing else matters.

A year later, I quit my job in Austin and moved to Boulder.  A few months ago, I packed up all of my belongings, drove across the country to store them in a friend's garage, and then hit the road, unsure of where life would lead me.  Many people have asked me what I'm doing with my life.  And for perhaps the first time ever, I honestly don't know. 

I am far from having a master plan for life, but I know that I want to love people and give freely to them.  And I know myself well enough to know that 
I can't be the teammate, leader, friend, or person I want to be by chance.  Being on the road, away from my family and friends, for the past few months means that taking steps toward becoming the person I want to be requires considerable effort.  I've realized that when I get busy or stressed, I can have the best of intentions, but my focus always shifts to the urgent instead of the important.  This is where being intentional comes in- it's a way of refocusing.   

To be a bit more concrete and tie it back to frisbee, my last season as a college captain, I wanted all of my players to feel loved and supported.  As with most teams, there was a handful of players I was very close to, and then an entire other group with whom I had very little in common.

From my written list of goals for that season:

1. Be a good teammate and captain- know what my teammates need from me and help them grow as players and people both on and off the field.

Over the course of a season, it's so easy to get caught up in the wins and losses, countless workouts, and practice and travel planning.  So in order to accomplish this goal, I knew I had to be intentional with the little things.

I committed myself to doing the following:

1. Writing each of my teammates a monthly email checking in and telling them at least one thing I valued about them as a teammate.
2. Hanging out with each of them, on their terms, at least once during the season.

I wrote previously about how over-focused I was on the team goal of qualifying for Nationals.  Writing those emails to my teammates and hanging out with them on their terms were a bit of a check for myself, a reminder to me that it's the people, not the goal or the end result, that matter.

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou

If you know what you want to accomplish, then take the first step.  Be intentional with the little things.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Privilege and Responsibility of Being a College Captain

This season, I've had the privilege of serving as a sounding board for a number of college captains.  (I say privilege because I don't take their trust lightly, and listening to their struggles also means that I get to see their victories.)  I definitely don't have magical solutions for them, but I'm always happy to give them an outside perspective, help them frame their situations positively, as well as just listen, because often, all they need is someone to talk to.

All of these conversations have caused me to reflect quite a bit on my own captaining experiences.  I've captained two college teams (Cal and Texas) and two club teams (Slackjaw and Showdown), for a total of five seasons.  In high school, I captained the boys' varsity baseball team, so the transition to captaining a team of women was quite a challenge.  Who knew that so many feelings could be involved?

I have learned a lot captaining over the years.  I have had the privilege of captaining a team at Worlds, have led teams to both College and Club Nationals, and have lost heartbreaking games to go.  I will be the first to admit that I've learned so much because I have made many, many mistakes.  One of my deepest regrets in this sport was being an absolute taskmaster when I captained Texas.  I was so focused on our team goal of qualifying for Nationals that I lost sight of a lot of important things along the way.  While ultimately we achieved our goal of qualifying for Nationals that year, if I could go back in time, there are a lot of things I would change about the way I led that team.

When I talk to struggling college captains, I try to broaden their perspective a bit.  One of the things I've learned over the years is that you can spend an infinite amount of time trying to address your team's problems.  No amount of stressing about people's behavior, setting team expectations for attendance and attitude, or engaging in one-one-on meetings with difficult players will be enough.  While it's important to spend time addressing your team's problems, I believe strongly that you must also invest time and energy into cultivating positivity.  Spend time on the teammates who are focused and engaged.  Grow their love for the team and the sport, and don't lose sight of these people by overfocusing on the negatives.

I believe that the role of a college captain is so much bigger than about just teaching a bunch of people how to play ultimate.  A college team is a family away from home during some of the most formative years in a person's life, and a captain shapes this entire experience.  A huge part of being a good college captain is investing time, energy, and love into your teammates.  If your teammates know that you'll do anything for them, that will go a long way.  Be the first one to practice, the last one to leave, and the person who will always make time for them.

I have two college rookies still playing college ultimate.  I ran Women's College Centex with one of them, a second-year Texas captain and Showdown player, two weeks ago.  I saw the other one at Keystone Classic last week-- she is playing her fifth year as a grad student at Cornell.  A third former rookie is on the Showdown core this year and works a FT job in Austin.  Another one of my rookies just graduated from Air Force Basic Training last month.  And my last rookie graduates from National Guard Basic Training tomorrow.  I am extremely proud of their accomplishments on the field, which includes trips to both College and Club Nationals and All-Region accolades.  But more than that, I am proud of what they have accomplished off the field-- that is my legacy.

This group of rookies had spunk to say the least.  When I asked them to pick up cones after practice, they'd refuse until I invented cone races and made it into a game for them.  They'd show up on my doorstep unexpectedly, friended my little brothers on Facebook, and would do things to aggravate me like wearing a glove while playing.  Despite the many mistakes I made that year as a captain, the one thing I am proud of is the amount of love I poured into that group of rookies.  I cooked them dinner, let them 
study on the floor of my room, wrote them encouraging emails on a regular basis, and even after I graduated, we'd meet for a weekly Bible study.  I even went so far as to accompany one of them to an appointment with an academic counselor to ensure that she could stay enrolled in school.

Captaining is a huge privilege, as well as a huge responsibility.  With the season winding down, what can you do to make a difference in the lives of your teammates?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

College Season Highlights and Lowlights

I have been on the road since Thanksgiving and am coming off a stretch of running 5 tournaments in 5 weeks and 7 tournaments and 8 clinics in the past 11 weeks.  It's been a pretty ridiculous few months.  

I thought I'd recap some of the highlights and lowlights of the season before I head to Canada for the next month or so...

I've omitted names so as to not embarrass people / teams.  Some of these lowlights are funny, and hopefully the rest will be funny in a few years.  :)

- Walking out fields at Midwest Throwdown.  Wind had blown all of the Portapotties over and I was wildly underdressed (as usual) and was freezing.  After walking out the fields, the other organizers and I gathered in the heated bathroom and vowed to never run the tournament again.

- A college player I had never met telling me that I was responsible for the worst birthday of her adult life at Midwest Throwdown.  The weather was pretty miserable and I hope I have redeemed myself since then, but yikes!  :(
- A college player putting a dead bird in my messenger bag at Midwest Throwdown.
- Nashville field crisis.  3 weeks before the event, when I was re-confirming the total price to send a check, the Field Manager said that the price was not just the price per hour as stated in the signed contract, but the price per hour per field.  This caused the field price to skyrocket.  A migraine ensued.
- A team and guest coach dropping out the week of Virginia is for Layouts.  The result was chaos and a very tired planning team.
- A team not showing up for their first game at Virginia is for Layouts because they thought the tournament was in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
- Having to get a credit card sent to my parents' address and having my mother mail the credit card to a college player to bring to me at a tournament.  Pretty embarrassing.

- Sleeping in a van at the fields at Keystone Classic to prevent our gallons of water from getting stolen.
- Losing the Keystone Classic fields 12 hours before Sunday play without inclement weather or any advance warning... and then the next 24 hours that ensued.
- Seeing personal criticisms of me posted in public places.  I'm all about taking people's feedback to heart and constantly trying to improve, but at the end of the day, I'm just a normal person with feelings... and a pretty sensitive person at that.
- Seeing my "roommates" more at tournaments than at their house.  And by roommates, I mean the people who own the house and garage where my stuff is stored.
- My family and closest friends having close to zero idea where I am 95% of the time.  Being homeless is a pretty taxing experience.
- The way my brain feels right now: dead.

HIGHLIGHTS- The stuff that makes it all worth it!

- Getting to know Danielle Schrimmer, Kayla Emrick, and Margaret Rosano (Oberlin).  My friendship with these girls started in a small coffee shop in Grinnell, IA in January-- had Danielle not emailed me to set up that meeting, I never would have gotten to know them.  It's the little things.
- Breanna Stein (Vanderbilt) saving the day by securing fields for Music City Mash-Up.  It turns out that Bre is the little sister of one of my former club teammates, a connection we didn't make until the crisis arose.
- Getting to run a tournament with the last of my college rookies.

The players who trust me and give me a window into their lives.  These relationships impact me in a huge way and have reminded me that the most important part about my work is not the events.  It's about the relationships and the opportunity to make a difference for people.  
- Working with people like Adriana Withers and Steve Meyer who are among the biggest supporters of my work.  
- Friends across the country cooking me homemade meals and letting me do laundry.
- The incredible emails and conversations that have come out of Virginia is for Layouts.  Realizing there is so much more work to be done.
- Carly Maconagy, Nichole Smith, Jana Barmasse, and Tracy Custis having a "whatever it takes" attitude when it came to Keystone Classic.  I feel like our paths mostly cross in disastrous situations, but I am incredibly thankful to know people who are willing to go to such great lengths to help me.
- Anna Levine (Swarthmore) offering up two fields at Swarthmore for Sunday of Keystone, refusing to let me pay her team for them, and telling me "I read your blog.  I know what you're about- pay it forward."  First tears of the college season.

- Young alums from my partner teams (specifically from Texas and Wash U) who have done a ton of behind-the-scenes work for Without Limits this year.  These players are the small bit of hope I have that my work might have a lasting impact.
- Players from various teams (Michigan, Texas, Georgia, and Central Florida to name a few) being more than willing to help me with random tasks at tournaments- filling water, walking out fields, picking up cones and trash, carrying tents, etc.
- The positive interactions I had with the high school teams who attended my tournaments this year.  The future is bright.
- The few friends I have who are fiercely loyal to me and who love me even when I am hard to love.
- My family for being so supportive of this ridiculous journey.
- The few college players who keep me on my toes, keep better tabs on me than many of my friends do, and who make me laugh with their ridiculous behavior.
- The copious amounts of Diet Coke that teams brought me to tournaments.

I'm sure there's a lot more I'm missing, but off to Canada I go...

Thank you for being part of the Without Limits spring season.  Your support means the world to me.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Keystone Classic De-Brief

Thank you to everyone who followed our event from home this weekend.  We had quite an epic day and we wanted to give our fans and followers a quick rundown of some of the events of the weekend.

- Last weekend, another ultimate event was hosted at Classics Soccer Park.  The Field Owner and Manager were out of town and did not keep an eye on the damage being done to the fields at the event.  I knew that an event was being hosted at the park, but was hosting Women's College Centex in Austin and was not paying close attention to the conditions in Manheim.  I accept full responsibility for that-- had I paid more attention to the weather, I would certainly have asked the Field Manager about possible damage.

- In my pre-event conversations with the Field Manager last week, I was given ZERO notice about any damage or about the "fragile" condition of the fields.  No mention was made about the possibility of us being kicked off the fields or any concerns about wear and tear.  Having hosted multiple events at these fields before, looking at the forecast, I did not feel that we had any reason to worry.

- On Saturday morning, the Field Manager asked me to keep players on the perimeter of the soccer fields as much as possible (referring specifically to sideline traffic).  I announced this at the captains' meeting.

- On Saturday afternoon, the Field Manager texted me to check in on the condition of the fields and I reported that they were in very good condition and that there were 1-2 "problem areas"-- areas that were clearly worn, but that would not have posed a problem at any other field site.

- On Saturday evening, the Field Manager informed me that we could not use the fields on Sunday due to the damage from last weekend's event.  I was completely blindsided by this as the fields were in very good condition.  The Manager agreed that weather was a non-issue (the weather had not been bad and the forecast looked clear for the remainder of the weekend).  I spent over an hour talking with the Field Manager and Field Owner and made a number of offers to attempt to secure the fields for Sunday, including offering to pay an extra $5000 in seed money to go toward re-seeding the fields-- my primary goal was to secure fields for teams to play on, no matter the cost.

- When it became apparent that no offer would be accepted, my team of organizers and I called as many local contacts as we could come up with including the Penn State Club Sports Director, PADA board members, and a number of local organizers.

Never in my dozens of events of organizing have I ever canceled a day of play.  And that streak lives to see another day.  I know that cancelation due to weather is inevitable in this line of work.  However, I also believe in doing things the right way and in never resting until all leads have been run down and until all possible solutions have been explored.  I want to be able to look my friends in the eye and tell them that I have done everything within my power to help them.

When I emailed and called teams last night to let them know that our fields had been pulled, I felt 99% sure that games would not be played today because all of our leads were falling through.  After I wrote that email, I continued to run down other leads with the help of Carly Maconaghy.  Several players came though in big ways- Kelly McGeehan (Franklin & Marshall), Anna Levine (Swarthmore), and Julie Singer (Haverford).  Games today would not have happened without them.

The wee hours of the morning involved creating a new game schedule for today and walking out fields to ensure that we could guarantee every team a minimum of two games.  Carly, Nichole Smith, Tracy Custis, Jana Barmasse, and Beth Holzhauer faithfully assisted with the entire process.  A huge thanks goes out to them.

The sense of community and the amount of trust and respect in our meeting with teams this morning floored me.   It was important to me to handle this situation the right way, and in addition to de-briefing teams on the situation, we also offered them a partial refund.  The fact that we were able to play games with our fields getting pulled 12 hours before game time on Sunday with zero advance notice is easily one of the bigger miracles we've managed to pull off over the course of the past six years.

This tournament continues to present extreme challenges year after year, and some self-evaluation is certainly in order.  We'll leave you with this humorous bit in the midst of our crisis solving last night:

Michelle: Am I doing something wrong to make these things happen?  Or I am just the unluckiest person in the world?
Carly: You're just the unluckiest person in the world.

What a friend.  :)  We'll post some thoughts on the Without Limits spring season soon.  First, time to recover a bit from the weekend.  Thanks for your interest in our work-- we are deeply appreciative of your support!