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.