Captaining 101: Without Limits Invests in Midwest Ultimate Leaders
By Robyn Fennig
Without Limits brought its mission of outreach in the Ultimate community to Grinnell, Iowa to host its first Midwest Captaining 101 Clinic. Partnering with the Grinnell College Sticky Tongue Frogs, Without Limits hosted 65 participants wanting to learn more about developing a team, a program, and knowledge of how to teach the game of Ultimate.
I began writing this article trying to be objective and not convey bias in the way I re-capped this event; however, I found little point in doing so. I did not attend the event as an un-biased observer. As a coach, I had a great deal of interest in the event’s success. I have shared the struggles of many of the teams there and understand that getting a new team off the ground in the Midwest is a challenge.
We had the fantastic opportunity to work with successful coaches like Mike Lun (Iowa Saucy Nancy coach), Ryan Nation (Iowa IHUC coach), Naomi Warren (Michigan Flywheel coach 2011, current Washington University coach), Meagan Brown (Loyola University Coach), and Michelle Ng (Without Limits). “I am so grateful for the five coaches who came to the clinic this weekend,” says Michelle Ng. “It is awesome to see people who are driven to give back to the Ultimate community and to invest time and energy into the next generation of players. They have made such a big difference for everyone attending the clinic.”
The coaches are quick to pass the success off on the participants. “As a coach, I appreciated the attentiveness and eagerness of all of the players. They pushed me to think more deeply with their critical questions,” describes Coach Naomi Warren. “It was an experience that reminded me we all have an obligation, as players who were developed by others, to continue our efforts to develop younger players and, in turn, the sport of Ultimate.”
The goal of the weekend was simple: help train leaders of developing college and club teams in the Midwest and build relationships in the Ultimate community. Honestly, there are fewer better ways to accomplish this.
The energy of this unique weekend was infectious. Players of varying degrees of experience in both the Open and Women’s divisions gathered to learn more about Ultimate skills and strategy, as well as how to teach and implement some of the skills and drills on their own teams. Coaches were given session titles, provided by Without Limits Organizer Michelle Ng. Though fundamental skills were covered in “Defense 101” and “Offense 101” sessions, the clinic also focused on disseminating some best practices in developing a team in small spaces, creating a team identity and structure, practice planning, strategy, and in-game adjustments. The event also bridged concepts like what it is like to try out for an elite club team.
“The most rewarding part about these clinics is getting to interact with players who love their teams and love our sport, and who truly want to help their team get to the next level,” adds Ng. “Three players flew from California for this clinic, and we had another player fly in from Calgary, in addition to having 60 players drive in for the clinic. To see such a desire to learn is truly humbling.”
Co-organizer Paige Hill, from the Grinnell Sticky Tongue Frogs, agrees, “For me, the best part about the clinic was being around so many other players and captains. I think especially in the Midwest where winter lasts forever and all of us are playing indoors at terrible times and haven’t cut on grass in months, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture. The sessions themselves reminded me of all the awesome things we can do during the off season, but more importantly, the energy made me so much more excited to go into this semester with enthusiasm and purpose and not just drag myself and my teammates along until our first outdoor tournament.”
Teams like Nebraska’s women’s team, the Cuddle Raptors, see the direct translation into their future as a team. “The experience of getting a variety of mentalities of the sport was beneficial. I will continue to use it for my Ultimate career,” says Taylor Mason.
Nebraska Rookie Emily Lander adds, “I’m really thankful for the opportunity to learn from these coaches. As a rookie I look forward to utilizing these techniques as I continue to grow as a player.
Experienced players benefited from the experience as well. “The entire weekend was inspiring. I can’t say how motivating it was to meet other people who were there purely for the love of the game,” says Christy Cheung, co-captain of the Kansas Bettys.
Hill agrees, “The most important thing I learned at the clinic was to never assume something isn’t possible for yourself or your team. Hearing the stories of the coaches at the clinic as well as other participants made me realize that there are a lot of different ways to create a strong program where people have fun and develop their skills. The variety of experiences and ways people dealt with the challenges that are part of being an Ultimate player inspired me a lot, and I think seeing people who have created so much success out of so little is a really powerful message.”
Much has gone into the planning of clinics, such as this one, by Without Limits founder Michelle Ng. “Michelle deserves a TON of credit for all of the work she has done—not just for this weekend, but in all of her efforts,” says Naomi Warren, who coached at the event. “Michelle’s commitment to the development of ultimate is inspiring. Her generosity, flexibility, and willingness to meet the players’ needs contributed to the success of the clinic.”
Over the years I have had some successes, some failures, and everything in between. Reflection is an important part of personal growth in all that we do. I will never say that I know the answers or even THE best way to lead. I do know that communicating personal experiences with new players is one of the most rewarding things possible. If I can help to make it easier for someone else, they can avoid some of the growing pains that I had—or at least better prepare them for the ones that are inevitable. It also happens to be the most direct way to continue to promote development in the game we care so much about.
As I walked a group of 29 leaders through an exercise to create a team identity and structure, I found myself smiling. I found myself excited to be part of this. 29 of my peers were writing down and discussing individual goal setting, and learning new ways to hold themselves and their teammates accountable. At 3:45 pm on Sunday afternoon that I was reminded why I do this. This sport has given me so much—a real community of people to relate to, struggle with, and learn beside.
I challenge you, Skyd Magazine reader, to continue to help our sport grow. Outreach is important. Exchanging ideas and creating long-lasting and meaningful relationships is important. It is not just important to me, but it is important to a huge part of the Ultimate community (like the nearly 70 people who came together at Grinnell College last weekend). In order to give our peers the opportunity to develop and play high-level Ultimate, it starts with us. If we want our sport to be big, we have to be willing to put in big efforts—because big efforts reap the biggest rewards.