WiMU Pt.7: Improving The Way We Experience Mixed Ultimate
By Laura Manescu
In part 7 of her 'Women In Mixed Ultimate' series, Laura provides some direction on ways we can improve players' experience of the mixed division
Click here for Part 6- Principles Of Effective Mixed Ultimate
Having explored what both good and bad mixed ultimate look like, I want to take some time now to share a few practical things we can do to improve the quality of mixed ultimate and the way our players experience the division. While I'm hoping that this is just the start of the conversation, it gives us some initial tangible things we can all do to make a positive difference.
More mixed specific coaching, earlier!
This is the single most important thing we can do to improve the overall quality of our mixed division and how our players experience it. We have an opportunity to build the knowledge and skills for effective mixed early in our players’ careers, instead of waiting for a Mundis or a Crocs campaign before we provide quality mixed-specific coaching.
Fill gender balanced team roles
This means more than just co-captains of each gender. Let’s actively encourage female players to lead other important team roles: coaching, warm ups, cool downs, intention setting, drills, spirit. Above all, gender balanced strategic input and line calling is the most important. It allows us to combat knowledge gaps about our players and our opposition, and it allows us to use our players’ diverse skill sets more effectively as part of our team strategy.
One very simple way to train mixed gender connections is to introduce gender based rules within contained drills and scrimmages at training (i.e. gender rules should be clearly defined at the start of that drill or game).
Start with the basic rule that every pass must be thrown to the opposite gender. This is actually not so much about encouraging gender equal touches, as it is about building connections and teaching adjustments for cutting flow, pace and setting up continuation cuts across mixed genders. This is something that is crucial early in season as we transition between our single gender and mixed seasons.
Making adjustments to gender rules and drill format allow us to tailor this exercise based on what we're trying to achieve. For example, if our goal is to help build the confidence of less assertive female players, we can run this as a small format drill with just 2 men and 2 women per team. This will encourage those girls to take a more dominant role knowing that there are only two options every second pass and one of those is them. Other adjustments designed to drive specific goals include gender rules like: a female player must throw or catch the goal, our team can’t score until every player has touched the disc, we can only throw deep shots to women, women can only throw upfield (to combat the easy reset mentality).
Rely on our women when it counts
There are two practical things we can do to make sure our teams play through our women consistently and not just up until the finals series.
First, we can design specific strategies that use the strength of our female players and communicate these consistently to our team (the key here is repetition). This empowers us to have less emotional and more factual team discussions as we reflect on how well we are playing to those team strategies over the season.
Second, at training we can simulate high pressure situations and actively practice sticking to our team strategies, playing through our women consistently and not just when the pressure’s off. To simulate that pressure we can do things like use a heated sideline, increase defensive pressure or introduce team punishments and rewards to increase the stakes of the game.
Test and learn
At training and during warm up tournaments let's get creative, test new strategies and stretch our women to step up into new roles. We have so many opportunities to experiment within the division: test our boys up front in a zone, allow gender mismatches on defensive transitions, try a female handling set, trial new zones and experiment with transitions. The more we look to shake up traditional gender roles, the more we build the depth of our division.
Train with boys
Pushing our athletic ability and competitiveness at training is one of the greatest benefits of mixed – let’s make the most of it! In particular, we have an opportunity to encourage ‘green’ female talent who may not have built those networks, to join our mixed gender sprint sets, gym sessions or skills based pods.
Use gender neutral cues and language
This means more to some women than others, but regardless it is just good practice. On the Australian Mud Crabs this year, Jodie asked for a commitment from our team early in season to scrap gender-specific vocabulary. We were a team that exclusively talked about ‘match’ defence not ‘man’ defence and finding ‘the open player’ not finding ‘your man’.
Be a spectator
During our single gender seasons we have a lot of room to improve in taking an active interest in the seasons of our mixed club teammates. Watching our teammates through their single gender season increases our understanding of their skill sets and roles more holistically. Most tournaments afford us at least a few byes, so let's use those to get around each other a bit more.
Open the lines of communication
No matter what team, at what level, we can all do this more effectively. We need to be more open in talking as leaders and as teams about how we can make the most of the diverse skillsets our teams have. As captains, let's make an effort to check in directly with our players and how they're feeling about their role on the team and how we can support them better.
Even though instances of blatant gender bias, harassment and sexism aren't common in our sport, they do exist. The most important thing we can do to work towards entirely eliminating these behaviours is to speak up when something isn't right.
We've seen some great examples of this from both men and women in the division. This year at Halibut, one male player blatantly looked off a wide open less experienced female player three times in one point. The response he received from a female player and male player on his opposition made it very clear that his behaviour was not good for the sport and was damaging to the development and confidence of the women on his team. In an example from EUGs last year, a male captain got angry that he hadn’t been consulted up front that his opposition would be calling 4 girls most of the match to showcase their dominant female talent. He was called out on this by a female leader from the opposition during the spirit circle. She raised important points about rosters and gender equality, concluding with a particularly good mic drop at the end: “This is 2016.”
Our sport is built on spirit, respect, trust and communication. If our team or our opposition isn't doing right by its players, especially where gender is concerned, we have the opportunity to make a difference by speaking up.
It takes change to make change
Without taking active steps towards making change we leave the conversation in theoretical realms and will never see real change. Taking responsibility for making changes to our own game and within our clubs is where we can make a real difference. The ideas above are a starting point that will help us take practical steps towards improving access to quality mixed ultimate. And if we learn from what other nations, states and teams are doing, we’ll continue to find creative ways to drive better experiences within the division.