Next in the series: Part 3 – Character Culture.
Last week we reviewed a few unique thoughts on the experience and challenges a founding captain may face when starting a new team. Educating the architect is the first key, but when it comes to building a house you still need to consider the planning and work necessary to create the best result. A well-reviewed blueprint can build a house that needs minimal maintenance or provides an opportunity for expansion. When in a rush, if you grab sticks and straw to build your structure, it won’t be long until things collapse. Whether you are starting, growing, or leading a team, what type of home have you provided for your players? What materials are you building with? Even if your team is established and enjoyable, what areas could still use improvement? As Ultimate continues to grow, so must our standards for the way a team is developed and organized.
1. Start building with stone. (EARTH)
The third little piggy had the right idea when preparing for the big bad wolf. Building with the best materials is the first step when building a program that can withstand unfortunate circumstances. Thankfully, in today’s world we have more effective tools and resources than ever before, allowing us to build an even better house. Technology and the internet provide an advantage for teams when they use it to organize and tap into the deep understanding of the sport.
In team communication, gone are the days of calling home phones or sneaking into the dorms to see if Mikey or Johnny can come to practice. Social media, email, cell phones, and special apps can give you a rock-solid approach for connecting with your potential and passionate players. In balance, it is important not to isolate interactions to digital alone, but to make them the kickstarter for a team hangout or throwing session. Google Apps and GroupMe are two favorites that provide simplicity with documents, emails and phone numbers.
With practice curriculum, many individuals and Ultimate organizations are developing information to help teams around the globe get straight to the best results. USA Ultimate’s The Huddle and many departments of Aero Ultimate provide expansive and complete solutions for a variety of team needs. When selecting the best materials, you should also be inspired to create some of your own. Only you know your team best in regards to the types of content they respond to, simple, complex, fun, or serious.
Last comes one of the building blocks that is hard to dig up: Team funding. If you’re still paying out of pocket for tournament fees, hotels, or even gas, you still have progress to make. Schools provide a variety of funding and logistics support for varsity and club sports. Every Ultimate team should receive those benefits as well, but you won’t receive them if you don’t ask politely. And continuously. When you’re up against a wall, no matter how long it seems to stretch, if you walk far enough along it you will eventually find the door. USA Ultimate offers a College Team Development Kit and Team Tree provides a mentoring service for new and growing teams to find that door to the next level. The better materials and plans you build with, the stronger your team’s home can become.
2. Keep the FIRE alive.
Homes need continuous warmth when the environment gets cold. If you forget to collect wood before winter hits, you’re in for a rough season. Your team’s fire is the passion and vision that comes from every student leader. While staying focused on the tasks at hand is important, you must also think about what you will leave behind upon graduation. Don’t think new leadership will fall into place by chance or be successful from a simple post-season vote. To keep your team on the high road toward greater achievement, the transition must be as seamless as possible in all areas. This can only be done when the legacy captain has enough exposure to leadership and management responsibilities before taking the reins themselves.
Two-year training is a smart and safe strategy when preparing your next generation of captains and organizers. In every season, it is important to identify your ringleaders of the freshman class. They are the ones that can connect with all teammates, dedicate themselves to rapid improvement, and are supportive of the team’s higher calling. At least two years before your graduation, you want to identify young potential that can carry the team forward immediately after your last season. While you will be working as hard as you can to pursue team goals, it may take that 5th year to make it to regionals consistently or the 6th to finally influence policy change in your athletics department.
Your young leaders must be taught through experience and exposure more than lectures or homework. They are figuring out college and the team simultaneously, so you need to give advice and build their skills through the things you do for them. Being their friend and mentor in the first year can show them who they might want to be like and will be more open to lifestyle change after that. If you want them to help you in the long run, you must help them much more in their beginning.
3. Create a WIND of change.
As your wood burns up and escapes the chimney, it travels the world with new purpose. The air can bring it to a new resting place, where it will begin to provide nourishment for new trees, new leaders. As you finish classes, search for that real-world job, and hand off the team torch; remember your Ultimate journey doesn’t need to end here. Playing club, coaching, writing, donating, and many other advanced opportunities come naturally to an individual who has four years of hard work and stress management under their belt. Before you peace-out from your college team completely, there are some valuable ideas and structures you may leave behind as your first alumni enters the real world.
Tryouts, homecoming weekend and post-season retreats can be some of the best opportunities to invite alumni back. Have them meet new players, talk about their experiences, and provide the depth of legacy any team member can appreciate. An alumni board can fund player scholarships or team purchases and make a difference in the perception of the program both internally and externally. A connected alumni presence provides an example of what new players have to look forward to as they progress in their skills and character.
Beyond involvement with the team itself, alumni have the skills and resources to reach out into their local communities and enliven youth ultimate in a variety of ways. While leadership initiative requires experience, the multi-tasking work to host tournaments, clinics, or charity events can be outsourced to your college program players. The community outreach and service may even be the last signal your school needs before understanding the benefits an Ultimate team provides to campus and admissions. This could result in gaining that last budget boost up to full funding! When creating a legacy, true success is measured in the ideas and experience living on in new people when not a single member may know the original source.
Overall, the growing years of a new team should still yield changes and surprises as processes and structures are improved. Building from the best materials takes a caring leader to pick them by hand and sometimes sculpt something new. Handing off plans or keeping the team atmosphere progressing needs an apprentice and early preparation in order to see the best long term results. Beyond your college career and graduation, always think about how to dedicate your newly developed character and skills towards building others. In reflection you will remember the laughs, singing, and sideline dancing every recruitment September. With EARTH, WIND and FIRE, there never was a cloudy day!
Next week will start to explore the details of team culture, athletics, and management. Stay tuned for Team Organics: Part 3 – Character Culture.