Great article! I think your comments and thoughts are applicable to many places in the world where number of women players are still low, not just India, and even some points are applicable even when numbers are high. I agree with Melissa that having women in leadership is hugely important.
Looking to Recruit Women?
Just like in most parts of the world, at any tournament or pickup game, there is always a shortage of women in Indian Ultimate. Even a hugely popular tournament like Chennai Heat seems to often struggle finding enough women for all the teams. This in spite of all the clubs in India focusing on mixed Ultimate only!
Here’s a look at some possible reasons:
Throwing to women
I cannot begin to fully fathom how frustrating it must be to work hard to get open, have a guy look you off, only for him to immediately throw an incredibly difficult I/O break into the grass, intended for a guy.
It must be incredibly hard to have the same 2-3 guys on your team not throw to you. They’ll make a 50/50 throw to some guy who is clearly well guarded. Experiences like that would probably make me not feel valued or a part of the team. Unless I am a determined individual, it is likely that I will find a different team or worse, quit the sport.
If you’re trying to recruit and keep ladies make sure you include them and remind those on your team who don’t. New women who do not get involved in disc play will not come back to the next practice session. Learn and also encourage the other men on your team to recognize and reward a good cut, and respect women for their abilities.
But she wasn’t open..
Usually, new women players tend not to make nearly as many cuts as new men, and so inherently they aren’t open as often.
If you are a male player being guarded by an equally athletic male player you’d often have to be open by more than 4-5 yards to ensure that the defender doesn’t bid and get to the disc before you. But if you are a woman player it is highly likely that your defender wont make a huge bid for the disc and hence a couple of yards is often all it takes to be open. (Women can and do layout but Indian Ultimate isn’t there as yet.) As a handler, don’t look for daylight separation – Its not required for a ‘safe’ throw.
Also, handlers generally are more willing to make risky throws to male receivers because there is a greater ‘throwing window’ AKA margin for error. The big male receivers, with buckets for hands often bring down anything in the vicinity. Women players, especially beginners, need understanding handlers who can understand their strengths and utilise them.
probably somewhat of a handicap trying to demonstrate just how good you are at the sport when you are not involved in the play. The next time she makes a good cut and gets open, throw to her and watch her pouch it safely with a clap catch, textbook style!
One bad apple?
Pickup games in Chennai are attended by a lot of male players who have just graduated from college or are ‘converting’ from football. It is a challenge to explain the “co-ed” aspect of Ultimate to them, let alone the non-contact part. Most of them struggle to embrace the new concepts and have trouble for the first few months. Acknowledge the problem, talk to your team and be supportive, they will come around. Show them what difference a good teammate can make.
Support and encouragement
Many men, who are good players, seem to be unaware of what to do with their new women. They make some attempt to explain rules and strategies, but, often, won’t take the initiative to take it further.
New women players, like all new players, need to have someone they feel comfortable talking to about any questions they have while learning. It is important that they have someone they feel comfortable to go practice throwing with on the weekends, and they have someone to encourage them both on the field and at the party.
This is probably the biggest reason why women who get into ultimate because someone they are close to plays ultimate are far more likely to stick with the sport. Recruiting women is not the issue; retaining them is.
How can you and I change this?
- Involve the women players in each game. Encourage them on the field, and give them helpful feedback on the sideline, even if they aren’t asking for it.
- Foster a team environment that is conversational and be open to ask if players have questions.
- Take time out to practice throwing with them on the off days – Solid throws + confidence only come with repetitive practice.
- Keep Ultimate fun and help them learn the game – Today, they might have fun and enjoy the social aspects this game brings but they probably won’t stick around if they can’t stay involved and be competitive on the field.
- Stop shouting at people on the pitch. The only players who will stick around are the few who thrive in an environment of being shouted at. Is this what you want for your team?
- I find that having women who can handle can change the whole game up. If you are just setting goals for the year – Trying to up the number of women handling could be a useful focus area for your team.
Until we can get this sport to a place where women are valued for their skill rather than their numbers or presence, this problem is likely to continue.
“Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let India Ultimate awaken.”
Note for women players:
I usually find that it takes a long time for new women players to gain the confidence of the men on a team. Sometimes, even going many games without touching the disc. IMHO, the single biggest thing that can help you and the team is good communication. Conversations with the senior players on your team will help you build your confidence and up your level of understanding of the game. This will also make you feel more a part of the team. Try and understand how the team functions and what the handlers expect to see when on the disc. Getting on the same page as them will ensure that your cuts are rewarded sooner than later. If you still have trouble, seek the support of senior players – On the field, ask if you should look to come in closer or move to another position. After the point, follow up with them and get tips on how to better position myself.
Videotaping games is fantastic way to learn. Sit with your handler and make them walk you through each throw they made to you / looked you off. Listen with an open mind and understand how you can increase your chances of receiving the throw. Understand that the throwing decision is up to the guy with the disc and he cannot reward every cut even if you are open by 40 yards.
Information Sources: Read up some forums and blogs to further my understanding but drew from my own experiences as well. I have certainly learnt a ton of this from interacting with the women players on the teams I have played on around the world. I have learnt what works and what doesn’t thanks in no small part to every woman who has ever played alongside me on Chakraa. I have pissed them off more times than even they can remember. Just ask LP! It IS true that the best way to learn is to teach.
Hey great insights! From my experience, having women in positions of leadership is HUGE for retaining women. It may not be even be formal positions of leadership. But women are more likely to notice when other women are being looked off or otherwise disrespected. When the veteran women speak up, it makes a huge difference.
In Lancaster more than a few times we've actually had equal numbers of women and men. One day we had a pickup where we played 5/2 with five women/2 men gender ratio! I can't claim to know exactly how we pulled this off. We have a great community of cool guys here. That helps. At the time I was organizing pickup we also began pickup with 20-30 minutes of skills and drills. Though most people just wanted to play and I got a lot of crap for doing it, I think it had an impact on our retention of women because it gave everyone the opportunity to get a lot of touches on the disc and to improve even when they weren't getting those opportunities in pickup.