Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Little Things (Part III): Index Cards

It's the little things.

Part I

Part II

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 9, 2013

University of Rochester Clinic Recap

Signed disc from the EZs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 9, 2013

Without Limits Survey:: USA Ultimate Gender Equity Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Without Limits Survey:: Quick Facts

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

Friday, May 10, 2013

Callahan Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 22, 2013

Season Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thank You

"Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle." - T.H. Thompson and John Watson

I apologize for the delay in posting this.  I've been struggling with how to express my gratitude to all of you.  "Thank you" hardly seems to be enough...

Shortly after my stuff got stolen at Layouts, a few of my friends enlisted the help of the ultimate community in raising money to replace my stolen belongings and to buy me a bed.  (Yes, it is true that I have not owned a bed in over a year.)  Their goal was to raise $3,000 for me and I was told that they met that goal in < 24 hours.  Wow.  Knowing that I could afford to replace my stolen items made a very stressful situation much more manageable.

I cannot even begin to thank you for the kindness and generosity you all have shown me.  Thank you for alleviating the financial stress of a terrible situation, for reminding me that there are amazing people in the world, and for all of your kind comments and encouraging words.  I don't yet have a full list of everyone who contributed to the fund, but I have been overwhelmed by the list of names I do have.  The list includes current and former teammates, collaborators, friends, opponents, college players I've invested a lot in, newer players on teams I've been on, co-workers, people in my home ultimate community, alums of teams who have attended my tournaments for years, college players' parents, customers I've worked with through VC, college players I've never spoken to... the list goes on and on.  I have cried multiple times reading people's comments (and laughed reading the funny ones, and shuddered in fear reading the ones about birds).  It means the world to me to hear from so many of you the impact I have had on your ultimate experiences and on your lives outside of this sport.

A few days after my stuff was stolen, Adriana gave me a pair of headphones (the free kind) and a phone charger.  I was teary eyed because I could listen to music and charge my phone again.  Needless to say, I cannot describe how I felt when Adriana presented me with a BIG (both in size and amount) check and an iPad just a couple of days later.  When you can fit everything you own in your car and you are as nerdy as I am, getting your iPad stolen is crushing.  Having a new iPad handed to me was a tangible reminder that there are good people in the world and that kindness goes a long way.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for rallying around me and helping me so tangibly during this rough patch.  I am grateful to know such amazing people, and I hope that we all continue to pay it forward and take good care of each other.  The world will be a better place because of it.

Monday, April 1, 2013

By The Numbers

Number of...
Solo miles driven: 9,908
Events run: 9 (+ coaching Swarthmore on their spring break trip)
Events impacted by weather: 7
Oil changes: 3
Total teams at spring events (not unique): 245
Clinics organized: 8
Nights sleeping in my car: 2
Nights at home since January: ~5
Other places (hotels or friends' houses) crashed at: 14
Teams that dropped out mid-event: 1
Dead birds received: 0
Pieces of identification stolen (from me): 4
Credit cards stolen (from me): 5
Autographs requested by college players: 1
Trips to Costco: 9
Times my car broke down: 1
Breakfast tacos eaten: 2
Text messages from college players asking about the weather forecast: 1
Trips to the Genius Bar to swap out my iPhone: 2
Portapotties ordered: 18
Mix CDs received: 3
Former co-captains a meal has been shared with: 2
Jars of Nutella purchased: 64
States visited: 14
BIG checks received: 1 (still owe you all a post on this!)
Times I begged my way into buying spray paint without identification: 2
Emails received about future projects in the past 24 hours: 4

Too many to count:
Bags of garbage picked up
Emails received
Emails sent
Hours spent on Score Reporter
People who have told me I'm the unluckiest person they know
Comments received about how crucial brownie bites are to Without Limits events
College players who now know that I don't own a bed
Servings of Diet Coke consumed
Items printed at Kinko's
Tanks of gas filled
Meaningful conversations with college ultimate players
Tears cried (happy and sad)
College players asking me to get Snapchat
Emails from my mom asking if I am alive
People who have pulled me through the past two months

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Surround Yourself With Good People

To give some background for this post, my stuff was stolen from a meeting room at the Layouts fields on Saturday.  I've been compiling a list of what was stolen for the police, so I thought it necessary to balance that by compiling a more positive list to share with you all.

Last week, I wrote a post that has a lot of relevance to life outside of ultimate.  It's been an especially challenging week to be my best self, made easier only by this point in my last post.

Surround yourself with good people.

"I am who I am and I strive to be better because of these people."

- Naomi Trang (Texas) for shouldering a large share of the burden for making Centex happen these past few days.  Please find her and thank her this weekend.

- My teammates, co-workers, and friends for keeping the show going at Layouts while I frantically tried to cancel credit cards and file a police report.  I am not sure I would have made it through the weekend without them.

- My co-workers at VC Ultimate, especially my boss Adriana, for taking on most of my workload this week so that I can focus on everything else.  I am blessed to work for a company who believes in what I am doing.

- My teammates and family for supporting me even when my work takes me away from them for weeks and months on end.  You all deserve more of my time and attention, and that is on my immediate list of priorities.

- Emily McAfee (Swarthmore) for spending hours with me Saturday night trying to help me figure out how to begin recovering my identification documents.

Lien Hoffman (Northwestern) and Rebecca Enders (Wisconsin) for their messages which reduced me to tears.  I am so grateful to have known both of these outstanding players and people since they were freshmen.  Players like the two of you, and teams like yours, make what I do worthwhile.

- Kate Wilson, Angela Lin, and Katherine Wooten (Ozone) for housing me and helping me try to get a same-day passport in Atlanta.  It is humbling to have your regional rivals respond so resoundingly to an email of desperation.  I am grateful for my friendship with the three of you, and with Ozone.

- Rachel Johnson (Phoenix) for finding me a place to stay in Jackson, MS.  Thanks for being relentlessly positive.

- A group of Pleiades players (and Shellie's mom) for taking shifts at my apartment yesterday to make sure someone was there when my replacement credit cards were delivered.  It is embarrassing to have to ask for this kind of help, but I am so grateful for you.

- Ohio State Fever for all of their help in trying to make next week easier for me.  It has been such a privilege to see y'alls path to the elite level.  Thank you for being a team who does things the right way, on and off the field.

- The many other people who have texted, emailed, and called to check in.  Thank you.

I will be driving the last 10 hours to Austin today.  I am feeling challenged to be better because of all of you.  I can be more kind and more generous because at the end of the day, nothing that was stolen matters more than the good people I have around me.

See you in Texas.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Be Your Best Self

Despite my best intentions, blogging has taken a back seat to the craziness of the spring season and some unfortunate weather.  It seems that 5:30 AM is the only time I can find to write...

A few weeks ago at the Captaining Clinic, we talked a bit about how important it is to be your best self.  This is something that I have struggled with a lot as a leader, and I think it is incredibly important because of its relevance to life outside of ultimate.

A few thoughts:

Know your strengths and weaknesses.

I mentioned this briefly in my last post, and I think it is worth bringing up again.  I can be a better leader if I am honest with myself about what my strengths and weaknesses are.  This allows me to maximize my contributions to the team by ensuring that I am utilizing my strengths.  It also gives me areas to focus on as I train my weaknesses and strive to be a better leader.

Emulate, but don't compare.

Instead of comparing myself to other leaders, I should strive to pick out their best qualities and emulate them.  Be your best YOU.  Great leaders are not clones of each other.  I need to love myself for the things I bring to my team, and appreciate others for the fact that they bring different things to the table.

Surround yourself with good people.
As a leader, I need to have a circle of people I can trust.  I have been fortunate to not only have had amazing co-captains and coaches, but also talented and gracious rivals and friends.  I am who I am and I strive to be better because of these people.

Value yourself.

This might be the hardest part of being your best self.  As a leader, it is natural to take the blame for everything that goes wrong with a team.  We want to be everything for our teams-- solve all of the problems, make everyone happy, win every game, create a successful program.  We can do more of these things when we take time for ourselves and value our own mental, physical, and emotional health at least a tiny bit.

Be your best self... as a player, leader, and person.  :)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Leadership Identity

Preparing for the Southeast Captaining 101 Clinic and meeting individually with a number of college leaders (and spending a lot of time driving by myself) have led to a considerable amount of thinking about leadership.  I am learning a lot from these college players, and I always leave those conversations feeling challenged and inspired to be a better leader myself.

I have a few posts worth of content about some of what I've been learning and reflecting upon, and I'll try to get some thoughts up on the blog over the course of the next week.

At the Captaining Clinics and in these individual meetings, we talk a lot about the need for team identity and the importance of cultivating a unique team culture, setting goals, and developing a plan.  Success doesn't happen by chance.  It requires a plan and intentional movement in a singular direction over the course of many months, or even years.

As team leaders, we need to develop our personal leadership identity alongside cultivating team identity.  Every team is a reflection of its leadership, and strong leadership has goals and a plan the same way a team does.  Similar to how team identity evolves over time, our leadership identity evolves too.  As we face new challenges, and as we grow as players, leaders, and people, our identities evolve (hopefully in a positive direction!).

All of this is a bit nebulous, especially for young leaders, but I think we can ask some key questions to begin defining our personal leadership identity.

First, why do I play this sport?
Our reasons for playing ultimate ground us.  When things get rough, remembering why I play reminds me that all of the struggle is worth it.  When I get discouraged, I go back and read the list I've made.  It usually works wonders.  This list has also helped me to recognize that not everyone plays for the same reasons I do.  That recognition is key to helping me understand what makes my teammates tick, and shaping my approach to putting them in a position to succeed.

Secondly, why do I lead?
For me, articulating why I lead serves as a heart check.  When difficult situations arise and practice planning, emails, and one-on-ones start piling up next to life stuff, reminding myself of why I lead brings joy to the "work."  It also means that I can bring more positive energy to my interactions with my teammates, because ultimately, my reasons for leading are tied to them.

Next, what are my strengths and weaknesses?
Know thyself.  As leaders, we assess our roster for strengths and weaknesses, and develop a strategy based upon our assessment.  Similarly, when we know our own personal strengths and weaknesses, we can put ourselves in a position to be better leaders.  Good players train their weaknesses and maximize their strengths.  Good leaders do the same.

Lastly, what are my goals as a leader?

This John Wooden quote summarizes many of personal goals as a leader:

"Others may have far more ability than you have. They may be larger, faster, quicker, able to jump better, etc. but no one should be your superior in team spirit, loyalty, enthusiasm, cooperation, determination, industriousness, fight, and character. Acquire and keep these traits and success will follow. Define success for those under your leadership as total commitment and effort to the team's welfare."

Outcome goals (e.g. "cultivate a happy team") and process goals (e.g. "be kind in every interaction I have with my teammates") give me direction.  They dictate where I put my time, energy, and effort.  They also give me something to work toward.  Goals allow me to push my boundaries and strive to be my best self.

If you haven't done so already, go out and buy a notebook and answer some of these questions.  Document your journey.  Having it all written down will help guide you along the way, and is an awesome thing to look back on after the season.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Midwest Throwdown:: Year 6

I have been slacking big time on the blogging game, and people have been bugging me to post more, so I will try to share some content in the coming weeks.  I'll start with a pretty light post about this weekend's event.

Midwest Throwdown is incredibly special to me because of the team I partner with, as well as because it's a tournament I've had a hand in building from the ground up.  I started this tournament in 2008, and this tournament and Centex are probably two of the best metrics I have for how far college women's ultimate has come since then.  This year marks five years of partnership with both Wash U (my college regional rival) and Texas (my team in grad school).  Building a tournament is a huge undertaking, and almost nothing about building Throwdown has been easy, which makes me appreciate the event even more.

A few personal snapshots of Throwdown:

1. Weather
One cannot talk about Throwdown without talking about the weather.  This weekend looks dicey and we've had challenging weather four out of the past five years.  The first year, we lost our primary fields and backup fields, and our backup backup fields got double booked.  I should have given up then.  ;)  The next year, someone was in a Portapottie that got blown over.  Maybe next year, things will turn around...

2. Birds
I have a crippling fear of birds.  In 2009, Wisconsin found a bird head at the fields and decided it would be an awesome idea to give me this "gift" in a napkin.  I freaked out and every year since, a team has given me a dead bird. The team and methodology change from year to year, but I am now at the point where I will not accept any presents at Throwdown.  And after last year, it appears that I can't leave my personal belongings unattended either.

3. Friends

This weekend, I am staying with Abby Stephens, a Wash U alum, former Throwdown TD, and good friend of mine.  I posted a bit about how we met here.  How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference.  I am thankful for my friendship with Abby, which stemmed from that small interaction at Regionals.

Abby always asks me the tough questions, checks in on me even when I am invisible on Gchat for months, and for several seasons, has helped behind-the-scenes by proofreading all of the tournament formats and captains' packets.

I can point to many friendships that have stemmed from organizing Throwdown, and I am incredibly thankful for these people.

4. Pay It Forward
I re-posted this on Facebook and Twitter on Tuesday.  One of the reasons I work on Throwdown year after year is because Wash U is a team that understands this concept.  This year, we have half a dozen alums helping with the tournament.  In past years, the team has donated large amounts of money to projects that do not directly benefit their team.  When I began working on QCTU several years ago, they were one of the first, and only, out-of-region teams to get on board.  Their loyalty, and their commitment to growing college women's ultimate, mean the world to me.

Here's to less bad weather, no birds, and lots of friends and paying it forward.  Looking forward to seeing many of you in St. Louis this weekend.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Southeast Captaining 101 Clinic Recap

This past weekend was the Southeast Captaining 101 Clinic in Tallahassee, FL.  Since I played this past season in the Southeast (Club) Region, I had been hoping to bring one of these clinics to our region.  When I started trying to plan something last summer / fall, I got some initial interest but couldn't nail anything down.  Fast forward a few months to CCC and a chance meeting with Sarah Clark, the president and one of the captains of the Seminole Ladies. Sarah graciously agreed to look into hosting the clinic and within a month, we had a date and location set.  A huge thank you to Sarah and her team, as the clinic would not have happened without them.

Jenna (Florida) and Mariel (Central Florida) face off in one-on-one defense drill
Some of the best players in the state representing Florida State, Central Florida, Florida, and Tabby Rosa attended the clinic.  Chelsea Murphy of Ozone came down to coach at the clinic, and did a fantastic job leading a myriad of sessions including an awesome session on Mental Toughness.  Chelsea's wide range of experiences as a player and leader made her an invaluable resource to all of us.

Mental Toughness session
Florida features three college programs that could all break into the Top 20 this season.  While qualifying for Nationals is a goal for each of these teams, cultivating successful programs that are increasingly competitive is a long-term goal that each is striving to accomplish.  Training younger leaders, distributing playing time, getting team buy-in, and planning effective practices that fit into a season-long plan are all challenges facing these leaders.  We had an awesome time discussing all of these things, as well as honestly tackling the topic of SOTG and the difficulties in building an elite Florida women's club team.  I was really impressed by the honest and productive dialogue in all of the sessions.

Having some fun with the agility ladder outside
One of the most rewarding parts of the weekend was seeing the friendships being developed between teams.  Florida State, Central Florida, and Florida have had an extremely competitive relationship, and we all got to do some bonding over a pasta dinner, our shared struggles with the agility ladder, and the realization that all of our teams struggle with some of the same issues.  I am hopeful that the friendships formed and solidified this past weekend contribute to spirited play in the Southeast and help to form the basis for a unified and successful Florida women's club team.

Happy clinic participants outside in the sun after a rainy weekend
Thank you to everyone who came to the clinic this past weekend!  We look forward to cheering for you this season, and competing against you all this summer / fall.