Seriously. Another out-of-character snowstorm (for the time of year) canceled our first two practices, leaving us only our turf practice, again. I’m beginning to accept the fact that I may have tried to start practice too early this season, but in the meantime I’m considering taking a hairdryer to our field.
Anyway, we handled this singular practice differently this week. My team was hosting captains and coaches from many of the other schools in the area for an annual meeting. While something like 15 new faces is exciting in and of itself, we were also fortunate to have one of the top club and professional players in the area leading this practice.
There were roughly a dozen teams at this meeting, and each went around talking about their current situation. Most were on shaky ground, although one school signed a deal with the devil and now has more than 60 players coming out. Between this meeting and a comment on my first column, I thought it would be an opportune time to discuss player recruitment and retainment.
Since I don’t work at the school, I can’t claim much responsibility for who shows up. Part of the reason our initial numbers were good is that I was fortunate enough last spring and fall to have a couple of teachers as assistant coaches. They have since relinquished their roles because of the time commitment (I felt like I was on the receiving end of an ‘It’s not you, it’s me’), but when involved they were instrumental to bringing in players. Plus, there was the added bonus of being able to threaten to fail players for dropping discs.
The timing was also spot on. A few students attempted to start a team the previous year that didn’t really get off the ground (a common occurrence when there is a lack of adult involvement). While this could have had the effect of leaving a bad first impression, it actually helped because those kids were already looking to join a team.
Last, and possibly the most important part, is that we have a middle school feeder program. A group of teachers at the nearby middle school started a team (or club or whatever it is middle school kids do), and the end result is an army of 12 year olds with forehands. All four of my current freshmen at least dabbled on the middle school team, as did many of my sophomores and juniors. Yes, I completely lucked into this. But now I know: if you’re building a high school program, you should explore starting something at the middle school level – if not start there entirely (that way you get kids before they get sucked into other, less awesome sports).
While recruitment isn’t much in my power, I do have more control over retaining players. Ultimate is not a sport most kids play growing up, and the learning curve can drive new players away if they’re not having fun. Of course, winning is (almost) always fun. DJ Khaled looks like he’s consistently having a good time. But you don’t want to winning to be the only fun – bad games happen, losing happens, and the enjoyment can’t go out the window when that happens (I mean, maybe a little. I hate losing. But it happens, and you need to deal with it). Pro tip – you can sell this as a life lesson. It goes over well with administrators and parents just like the oft-heard,‘Ultimate is great because kids have to self referee and work out disagreements on their own.’.
One major aspect holding teams together is culture. Everyone talks about how the team culture is the most important part of not just successful teams, and it probably is. And I don’t just mean successful in the wins column, but teams that are around for years and that everyone wants to be a part of.
I’m obviously new to this, therefore I just try to lead by example. Part of this is being positive and active on the sideline, but I also keep myself very open and accessible to my players and parents. Everyone has my cell and email, and there’s a team group text that I am also a part of. The latter got a little out of hand at first, and I had to threaten laps to people using it for non-ultimate related conversations (Realizing I could do that was a huge power trip).
Overall though, it’s been great. I get texts asking about pick up games in the area, and even got a call once asking for advice on buying cleats. Many kids are very communicative, and let me know when they can’t make practice or games, and in turn, I’m not hesitant to send an inquiring text if someone has missed a few practices. It’s an open door policy that most kids don’t see until college
I also try to continually give responsibility to the players. Players are free to submit designs for discs and jerseys, and the team votes on their preference. I openly talk about strategy and plans for the season and solicit opinions from those who have them. Things like that impress the idea that this is a team, and the players are not my own personal chess pieces.
The end result has been that I didn’t lose a single player between last spring and fall. I have lost a few students this season to baseball or for academic reasons, but Master Chief also opted to play ultimate instead of varsity lacrosse – a huge win for the team. The point is, the kids are enjoying themselves.
Like usual, I’m not going to say this is the best way to do things, nor will I even go so far to recommend it. It’s simply what we’re doing. I welcome a discussion in the comments.
Notable Players – Perseverance Edition
The Cog and The Wrecking Ball – Both of these guys have been dealing with injuries. Despite not being able to play, they’ve had better attendance than some healthy players, staying and helping at practices as best they can.
These are really the first notable injuries my team has had to deal with so far, and I’m glad to see the example being set so high. The Wrecking Ball in particular has had to deal with some really… um… unusua… maladies. His current injury (minor, he says) was the result of crashing into a snow making machine, and before that he had– and I kid you not– dysentery. We are no where near Oregon or any part of the Trail, so I cannot tell you how he got it. What I can tell you is that The Wrecking Ball is a badass.
Tabula Rasa, The Spanish Inquisition, and The Thinker – These three players have some of the steepest learning curves of anyone on the team. Tabula Rasa may be the strangest case, because he’s stupidly quick and yet doesn’t look like he’s ever played an organized sport. I don’t think he knows what to do with his speed.
All three have great attitudes, are eager to play, and are just putting in a great effort despite obvious difficulties. They’re all a pleasure to have on the team, and I hope they stick to it because I legitimately think they can all be good players.
Quotes of the Week
“How was your night?” – Me
“Okay, I guess. I had two layouts though, so that was good.” – The Ninja. The Ninja has awesome priorities.
Play of the Week
Four simultaneous games of 3 v 3 took up the second half of practice, and walking between all four meant I wasn’t able to watch any specific game for too long. I ended up missing most of the highlights, but Take Two had expert drag-the-feet sideline catch that I had great seats for.
It should also be acknowledged that Mia Hamm was matched up against boys all night, and I kept hearing reports that her and The Tornado on the same team was noticeably unfair.