Building New Teams

by | October 9, 2013, 6:42am 0

Hi Lou,

I’m the President of the Sydney University Ultimate Frisbee Club (SUUFA) and was wondering what advice you could offer as Australian university ultimate transitions from Mixed to Open’s/Women’s? Currently everything at the uni level is Mixed but from 2015 Australian University Games (AUGs, roughly the equivalent of College Nationals) will be split by gender, although it looks like some regional tournaments will stay Mixed.

For university clubs there is a lot of uncertainty about the future and some anxiety, especially from smaller universities which already struggle to field teams. I’ve spoken to as many Americans as I can to get a feel for how things are run over there but there are still a lot of questions to be answered: should we split into two separate clubs (helps for funding but to the detriment of socials)? how can we recruit and retain enough players to field competitive teams? what do we do about field space and coaching moving forward?

Any comments or advice would be most welcome!


Andy Wood

SUUFA President



The transition you are worried about is happening all the time in the States at the high school (juniors) level.  For the reasons you mention (numbers, socials) most teams start Mixed and as numbers grow transition to single gender.  The history of these transitions here in the States is that the boys teams will be fine, but the girls teams will struggle with numbers and leadership.

I think you will find that you don’t have much choice about splitting organizationally – circumstances will dictate that you move in that direction.  There is so much work involved in running a team (as you know) and everyone is operating under the severe time deficiencies that come with being volunteer organizations.  Once the teams split competitively, the leadership of the teams will be occupied with their internal work and won’t have time for the extra work of making an organization with two heads function smoothly.  I wouldn’t worry too much about the social piece – our experience with college (uni) teams in the States is that the mens and womens teams socialize plenty without being under a single organizational umbrella.

You are wisely thinking out ahead of the transition and that will set you up to ease the difficulties.  I’d strongly encourage you to begin training leaders for the future – that will mean intentionally identifying leaders before they are really ready to lead and putting them in leadership positions.  Because of the gender split, you will want to make sure to elevate men and women – too often women on Mixed teams fall into a supporting-captain role.  The women will be most prepared for the split if they have functioned in alpha roles as well.

The final suggestion I have is to begin organizing for the switch by holding some single-gender tournaments prior to the switch.  Teams may not be ready for a full tourney, but a one-day, small-roster event is just the thing to help these new teams begin to build identity and develop leadership.

Good luck,



Hey Lou,

As a women’s coach, maybe you can help me out. I coach a team that has always played mixed, to include the traditionally small number of committed women. Recently, their numbers have grown and they’ve decided to compete as a women’s team. The issue is that they rarely have enough players at practice to play 7 on 7. Playing with smaller teams is one alternative we’ve tried, and it’s great for getting touches and confortable, but not helpful for preparing big picture things, like zone, poaching or set plays. We’ve tinkered with playing against the guys, but it’s their physical advantage prevents most meaningful offensive practice and it’s equally unsatisfactory to ask them to not try hard. Do you know of any tricks or ideas that would let both squads play and the ladies learn without it being awkward? 

The coach


Congratulations to your girls for taking the leap.  It will be rough in the short term, but over time they will find their experience gets better and better.  The most important thing is for them to understand that it will take a while before they can get to the team experience they are looking for – it may be a season or two before they really have the numbers to practice like they want to.  Once team growth is acknowledged as a team goal and getting there is acknowledged as one of the team struggles, then accepting things as not-perfect becomes a lot more palatable.  Instead of frustration over having only ten at practice, this becomes a phase the team must pass through to get where it wants to be.

There are two things to take care of for the growth of the team: recruiting and leadership.  Now that you are playing just girls, there is a lot more room for more girls to come out and play and the atmosphere will be a lot less intimidating for them.  Create a fun, welcoming and athletic environment for practice – that will keep them coming back.  Developing leadership is essential to the long term growth of the team.  You have some good leaders right now or they wouldn’t have taken the step to go single-gender.  Make sure that you help them teach those skills downward into the next generation.

Now, to managing this year.  I wouldn’t play with the guys at all, with the possible exception of a fun, ‘reunion’ scrimmage once a year.  The hardest part of running a practice with fours or fives is not creating a practice that is physically and athletically productive, but keeping everyone emotionally positive.  With only 8 to 12 players, it is really hard to generate emotional momentum and much easier for one person’s bad day to destroy a practice.  I can’t encourage you enough to create a long-term vision for the team – this will strengthen you incredibly against the mental challenges of playing small.  From a practical standpoint, you will want to shorten practice to ~2 hours:  warm up, drill, play small sided, conditioning drills, prehab, throw, done.  This will help with emotional fatigue and because you have so few people, practice will actually be much more efficient – lots of touches and action for everyone.  For developing 7on7 skills, play lots of tournaments.  Your practices will have become much more about skills and conditioning, tournaments will fill the void in strategic development.  Don’t worry if the competition is too low or two high – just go and play…and play…and play.  Set up scrimmages and one-day round robins whenever possible.



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