Who should develop women's ultimate?

It turns out some great conversations happen when you get Michelle Phillips, Hui Fang, Kaede Yoshida and Michaela Dunmall around a campfire (actually it was a head torch hooked up to a water bottle because of a very firm fire ban). We talked about the best translation for the word “depth” in Japanese, and why on earth we hadn’t decided to put marshmallows in chocolate hot cross buns before.

We eventually got onto the topic of women’s development in ultimate. I was feeling conflicted about prioritising my own development above the women’s ultimate community at various points in the last year, and happened to be in the company of some of the widest experience and knowledge in the area of women’s development around the globe. Naturally, I dropped the question: “Do you think women have a responsibility to develop other women in ultimate?”

For a bit of context, here are some things I have done in the last year to prioritise my own development:

  • Not playing a local women’s league because I wanted an off season

  • Aligning my training track to WUCC rather than my local women’s club

  • Avoiding administrative roles to focus my energy on training

  • Training with a local men’s club instead of the women’s club

Things that I have thought on the topic, or that other people have thought that I reckon are sensible:

  • I should invest in women’s ultimate if I want a higher standard of playing/training environment

  • I owe it to all the women who have given me development opportunities to give back to the community

  • Becoming a highly skilled player is quite a nice way of thanking those good women for their efforts too

  • Would it kill you (insert elite female player name here) to please just turn up to women’s league?

  • I can give back more to women if I invest in my own development first

  • We don’t expect men to sacrifice their own development for the community in the way we expect female players to

Of course, everyone had some well-reasoned contributions from their own experiences. Fang shared about managing a men’s team in Singapore. While it superficially appeared that she was supporting men’s ultimate rather than women’s, her end goal was always to learn as much as she could and bring it back to women’s.

Kaede spoke about club structures in Japan, and how the huge amount of administrative work was divided amongst players to ensure that the clubs kept running. Often this kind of work can be very costly to an individual’s time, energy and playing opportunities, so it makes sense to share the load among many people.

Mish spoke about leaving Australia and playing internationally, which on one hand was self-driven (because it’s an awesome thing to be able to do), but was done with a mindset of bringing home new perspectives and knowledge to share.

We all agreed that women’s development is important, but that it’s not mutually exclusive with individual players developing themselves. Sometimes, development involves playing the long game and spending time gathering skills before helping the community.

This was a great resolution and eased my guilt considerably. However, we hadn’t tackled the gender specific part of the question “Do women have a responsibility to develop other women in ultimate?” After some time spent deep in thought whilst picking flying ants out of the salsa, I decided to rephrase the question. “Do women have a greater responsibility than men to develop ultimate?”

Fang and Mish drove the final conclusion of our conversation. They pointed out that there was clearly a greater need for development in women’s ultimate than men’s. But putting an obligation on women based just on gender seemed unfair and not particularly feminist. The main agreement we came to was that, if we want to benefit from women’s development opportunities then we should contribute to them. Which, the rest of us thought, sounded fair enough really.

So I’m going to keep pushing my own development, with the view that it’ll help me contribute more at a later time. I love women’s ultimate, I want it to grow and become more competitive and that will be my driver. But it won’t be an obligation. And I promise to stop getting mad at people for not turning up to women’s league.