I’ve been reminded in recent weeks about the importance of treating people with kindness, and I’d like to start a dialogue around how we can do this better in the Australian ultimate community.
Volunteers are the heart and soul of the Ultimate community. All around us there are people working passionately and tirelessly to create the tournaments, events, clubs and teams that we all benefit from.
From your local league all the way up to Australian representative teams, none of us would have the amazing experiences we do without the efforts of volunteers.
Since I started playing Ultimate, the level of administrative organisation, professionalism and achievement has gone through the roof. Tournaments are run better, leagues are bigger, clubs attend more tournaments and do more community outreach, state and national governing bodies apply for grants and run development initiatives, the list goes on. It is amazing to be part of a community that is built on the back of this kind of volunteer effort.
Ultimate is all about Spirit. We trust people on field, we give them the benefit of the doubt, we assume that they have good intentions, we communicate respectfully, and we listen to different opinions with an open mind. Off the field, I think we sometimes forget to do this. A common example is when a TD makes a decision we don’t agree with – an inconvenient tournament location, a food package we don’t like, a ruling about game time or gender rules or timeouts or uniform policy or draws…
Rather than apply the values above, we assume that we know better and we jump on a facebook post to tell them they’ve made the wrong decision.
I’m not advocating for us to blindly accept every decision that coaches, leaders, and administrators make. There will always be things we don’t agree with, and I think the community benefits greatly from a diverse range of inputs.
I do, however, think that we can reassess the way we approach interactions with volunteers, be it online or in person. Here are some principles I think we should all be applying when we engage with volunteers.
Treat people with kindnessMental health awareness is an area of continual growth and learning for our community. We have progressed in leaps and bounds in recent years, and are continuing to learn about how we can best support our friends and teammates. When we engage with people online, it is particularly difficult to gauge their mental wellbeing. A good starting point is to treat people with kindness. Disagree with them, but do it in a way that is kind, constructive, and respectful.
Maintain a mindset of gratitudeIt is all too easy to fall into the trap of feeling entitled, of having an expectation that things will continue to run smoothly and will continue to improve. Having a gratitude mindset will remind us all that we have been gifted an amazing opportunity to be part of the Ultimate community. It is something very special that we can only experience thanks to the efforts of volunteers.
Listen and seek understandingActively seek to understand the reasoning that led to decisions you disagree with. Start by giving the decision maker the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they have sound reasons for what they’ve decided. When you ask for clarification, do this with a genuinely open mind. If you still don’t agree with them, that’s OK. Publicly call them out if you think you need to, but at least you’ll now be well informed and have an understanding of their perspective.
Remember that everything takes work
Everything takes a lot of work. Running leagues, teams, clubs, boards, events. Volunteers spend countless hours at lunch time, after work, and on the weekend doing all the things that make Ultimate run smoothly. If you don’t like the way something is being done, think about all the work that others are putting in behind the scenes and keep this in mind when you’re giving feedback. This is not to say that we shouldn’t disagree with decisions - it might just encourage a more forgiving and kind approach to this.
Constructive feedback is a fantastic mechanism for growth and development. Our community is filled with engaged, intelligent, creative people who add enormous value through their insights and suggestions. Throughout the community, people refer to Ultimate as their safe space, their family, their best friends – let’s make sure that we continue to nurture this environment and support and cherish our volunteers’ love of what they do.