Women Team as multiplier

Challenges 

  • How to recruited new players (in student age) of student age)

  • Why men have a direct interest to invest into women’s ultimate

  • How we recruited players for a new women team

  • Retaining: what worked well, what did not

  • My point of view as a men training a women team

  • Gender Equity as Win-Win situation for men and women

Background

The story I will tell you is based in the early 2000 - yes, you probably weren’t born yet.

To understand the situation better I need to look a bit further back, in the middle of the glorious 90ies.

As I moved to Vienna, I joined a club with a long tradition (founded in 1979 - yes, you definitely weren’t born at that time!) that had a very strong open and women’s team: the Groove Connection and Yahoo. Both teams were in the descending phase of their existence, after having enjoyed a long successful period, when most players started having family and stopped playing one by one without having built a new generation of players.

Does this sound familiar? You focus on the here-and-now and you eventually get good results, but then after a few years, when some key players quit, you have to start from zero and you are so frustrated, because as a senior player it can be challenging at times to play with beginners.

I found it challenging too, but at least it was possible to play, because with only four to five players left from the old generation it wasn’t possible to have any training at all.

I was (and I’m still :D) so in love with ultimate that I was obsessed by the question of how to recruit and retain more players.

Case Study

Set the precondition for recruiting

I started defining a strategy for what we could do.

→ As we all know now with the coronavirus in order to grow you need multiplicators that “infect others with the ultimate virus”, these then infect others and so on. 

→ So if you have found multiplicators that bring in new players, but they need to travel one hour to play in a park in the outer suburbs of the city, they will just come once or twice and then they are gone. So, we needed a training place that is quite easily reachable

Luckily we had good connections with the owner of a football field close to the university. 

Great location, but unfortunately quite expensive.

→ So, we needed to get money.

The easiest way in ultimate to earn some money is to organise a tournament with a good party

This had various positive effects:

  1. You earn some money which you can use to play for the training venue

  2. You give a goal and motivate players to show up at training

  3. Friends and friends of friends come to the party and get to know the magic atmosphere of an ultimate tournament and maybe some of them will come again

  4. You have a lot of fun playing the best sport in the world and partying :)

Progress stops

I thought I had found the magic formula to make the team grow!

There was a phase where I was running up to five tournaments per year (and even more parties!) and the numbers started growing from five up to 20. Nineteen boys and one girl - the girlfriend of one of my teammates.

Then we got stuck!

We had money for the fields, we had a lot of good and fun tournaments, but all multiplicators have got to the limits of their networks.

The team was getting better and better and was closing in on itself. 

We were starting to make the same mistakes as the old team: work only on the quality of the team without having reached the critical mass that allows it to continue growing.

Network Diversity 

So I had to come up with a new idea. 

There was a young team from Bratislava that was coming regularly to our tournament, that also had a women's team. In order to support the women division, we weren’t charging anything from the women’s teams. This helped make it easier for female players to attend, who may have been struggling financially.
At every tournament they were bringing new male players and I couldn’t get how they did it. Finally their captain revealed to me their secret: “Network diversity”. What should that mean?!? “As you do, we also use our networks to recruit friends. The problem is that your friends are also my friends and his friends as well, so this is a closed network. If you want to grow with the bring-a-friend method, you need a broad network diversity. Do you know networks that work more differently than the ones of men and women? They bring in new male and female players!”.

If you want to have a good men's team with a large player base you have to recruit women?!? Is it this simple? I could not believe it but I had to try.

The new Strategy - start a women’s team

So I needed a new plan

  1. I need multiplicators, but not the ones I had focussed on so far. I needed female ones, better if female leaders.

  2. I needed a new bigger place to train that has changing rooms, toilets, easily accessible and at a time when you still want to go out for a drink

  3. In order to make it financially affordable and to increase the social connections between the men and women, we need to run the women trainings on the same field. This could bring some problems with the men, because they are many more and “expected” to get more space. So, let’s use the less visited training day of the open team for the women trainings  

  4. I need somebody that trains the women. This is going to be an issue because everyone is busy with the men training running in parallel.
    I have no idea if I’m able to train women but this was my idea so I will have to do it…

Be passionate and be there

And so started my adventure as trainer of the “Frisky Beez”.

The female leaders brought in various friends of different genders. These people brought in other friends, sometimes single persons dropping out from other sports, sometimes even whole mixed groups, that then built the core of the mixed team in our club. 

In a couple of months we had the core of the new women’s team.

There are a couple of differences I noticed how we approached recruiting in the different evolution stages of the club. 

This new recruiting strategy brought in different types of persons with different strengths. Some of them learned the game very quickly, for others it took a long time. 

As coach of a beginners women’s team it was important for me to put the team building in front of the sport results and give space for everyone to develop and find her role in the team. In doing this the most important person in the team was actually a girl, who struggled in learning how to throw, but had great soft skills.

So we worked together for one year, mainly doing basic stuff, but thanks to the tournaments I was organizing we quickly had the chance to match up with other women’s teams and so we improved quite quickly.

I don’t know if I was a good trainer. I definitely had no real methodology and actually no real plan what to do. Probably the key to the success was that I was there, every single training, and I was passionate in what I was doing. And this worked and the women got on fire as well.

In the second year one of the most experienced women, who was also the captain, started running the training with me.

During the second year I fell more and more in the background just mentoring the captains and offering an open ear for those who needed to talk.

The beginning a win-win story for men and women

At the end of 2004 we had more than 20 women.

And what about the men? 80!!?! Thanks to the diversity of networks and probably the better recruiting skills of some female leaders, that brought in whole groups of friends. We did reach the critical mass!

In 2005 the women’s team attended the European Club Championship finishing in the bottom half. The year after they qualified in the first EUCF in Florence and won the bronze medal, while thebigEZ, my Open team, lost the semis against Clapham and finished fourth. This stays so far the best result of our history. 

Years later a generation of new female players took the lead and changed the team name of the women’s team into “box”. The ratio of male and female players in the club is about 60-40. On the board it’s even more equitable.

The female leaders are also the driving power behind the organisation of the Vienna Spring Break Ultimate Tournament, which has become one of the largest and most important women tournaments in Europe. 

Thanks to the visibility generated by the tournament and the successes of the women’s team, more and more strong open teams come to the Vienna Spring Break as well, which is probably the best thing that could have even happened for the men’s team!

In these 20 year Gender Equity has become part of the DNA of our club and in my opinion is the reason why we are the largest club in Austria.  

Releted Best Practices

About the Autor

Andrea Furlan is Italian and lives in Vienna.

He has been involved in the development of Ultimate in Europe since the early '90ies, as a Board member of the European Ultimate Federation and of the Austrian Flying Disc Federation, as an event organizer, and as a youth and adult trainer.

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