Anyone who plays ultimate will say they love the “Ultimate Community”. We talk passionately about the community of people with whom we play. That’s why we love the sport. But, why don’t we represent the community in which we play? If we did, we might make greater strides to grow the sport.
No one would argue the homogeneity of our sport. And, we aren’t making significant strides in increasing the number of women or racial minorities in ultimate. So, what if we did? What if ultimate was more diverse, equitable and inclusive?
We need to be intentional about engaging from within and outside the ultimate community. To gain the popularity needed to reach the mainstream, we need to do a better job of representing those who already play the sport and put greater effort into reaching those in the greater community in which we play.
The actress Natalie Portman, who has been outspoken about the lack of diversity in Hollywood, said “If you look around a room and everyone looks like you, get out of that room. Or change that room.”
The larger debate raging currently is that of gender equity in ultimate. This is significant and way overdue not only in sports, but in many aspects of our lives from business to politics to media & entertainment.
While the AUDL boycott has spurred some action with some franchises adding mixed or women’s rosters, in my opinion, it is still a long way off from providing equity at the elite level. Both sides need to come to the table with a shared goal of increasing the visibility of the sport and delivering a sport that represents the community.
Women make up half the population and are needed in the growth of ultimate, so I believe they need a seat at the pro league table with an equal share of the decision making. Minorities, as well, for that matter. It doesn’t just benefit the growth of the sport. It makes good business sense, too.
If there are any doubts about how diversity increases effectiveness and performance in teams and organizations, let’s turn to the research. According to a report released by Credit Suisse Research Institute, “greater diversity in boards and management are empirically associated with higher returns on equity, higher price/book valuations and superior stock price performance…It is not a case of a greater ability of one gender versus the other but that a more diverse group makes for better decision making and corporate performance.”1The CS Gender 3000: Women in Senior Management, Credit Suisse, September 2014.
In a 2016 article in the Harvard Business Review, the author cites that the body of research in recent years has revealed benefits of diversity noting that “nonhomogenous teams are simply smarter. Working with people who are different from you may challenge your brain to overcome its stale ways of thinking and sharpen its performance.” The article goes on to say that “people from diverse backgrounds might actually alter the behavior of a group’s social majority in ways that lead to improved and more accurate group thinking.”2Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter, Harvard Business Review, Nov. 4, 2016.
Without greater diversity on the field and in our organizations, the game of ultimate suffers. Teams suffer. Performance suffers. I don’t think our sport can reach its potential until that happens. Therefore, ultimate must “change the room”.
So, how do we do that?
To increase diversity, more could be done in local communities to grow the base of fans and players from the ground up. The not-for-profit local disc organizations as well as non-profits like E.R.I.C. (Early Recognition Is Critical) that are organizing clinics in schools or community recreation centers are getting the game in front of more kids and families from diverse backgrounds who then become future players and fans. The result is growth in the sport and increased diversity which elevates the status of the game for all. Ultimate players at all levels are needed to support this effort.
Additionally, to increase gender equity and inclusiveness, all players need to provide equal opportunities on the field. All too often a few players dominate, get too competitive and take the fun out of the game. Sometimes it is hard for players (and I mean, men, mostly, but sometimes women) to understand that to learn the game you have to be in the game. Female players at all levels, from novice to elite, have felt excluded on the field when playing with male players and, in some cases, female players. Being inclusive brings more players to the game and helps to keep them interested in coming back.
At the pro level, my belief is a diverse representation of the community is needed at the table with an equal voice in the decision making. If the sport expects to gain in popularity and attract fans, the diverse nature of the community must be represented. We can’t expect to appeal to a broad audience if you don’t represent the audience. To that end, those who play in the professional leagues should be diverse in their makeup. Not only does this open up a broader group of fans it helps to build a larger, more diverse group of future players.
As an advocate for equity and inclusiveness, I have often been frustrated with the lack of progress in my local ultimate community. However, in San Diego, I believe we are making strides. It hasn’t been without effort and sacrifice. It takes work to speak up when things are not equitable. No one wants to be the female who speaks up on behalf of equity on the field. But, taking the easy road doesn’t advance the cause.
Here in San Diego, DUDE (Diego Ultimate Disc Experience), our local disc organization, is leading the way in its representation of women in leadership. Our first and current board president have been female. Our Youth Committee has also been chaired by women.
Over the last few years, the DUDE Youth Committee has grown in volunteers that dedicate themselves to coordinating, coaching and providing opportunities for kids to learn the game of ultimate. Recently, we began working to improve our coaching techniques to include gender-neutral language and increase our efforts to be more inclusive.
While we have made strides in gender equity, DUDE could use more diversity in both its leadership and league participation. But, we are making progress. This is encouraging.
We also have a diverse group of women who formed the group San Diego Womxn Ultimate Players who desire a more cohesive Ultimate Community and encourage more participation from women and non-binary individuals. This group also hopes to bring more equity conversations to the community. Since inception, almost a year ago, this group has organized hat tournaments and coaching clinics for experienced and new female and non-binary players. Recently, we hosted a community forum in conjunction with the Crosswind Tour that brought many players from the ultimate community together to discuss how we can become more equitable in San Diego.
At E.R.I.C., where I help to coordinate middle school clinics, we recognize that half our audience is girls. So, it is even more important to be intentionally inclusive in our coaching. As a result, we created gender equity guidelines where the goals are: valuing all participants equally, providing positive female role models to all participants and providing examples of what gender equity should look like.
These efforts at DUDE, the San Diego Womxn in Ultimate and E.R.I.C. demonstrate the awareness that is building in our sport to create more inclusive and equitable environments in which ultimate will grow. Adding greater diversity should be our next challenge.
Working towards equity and diversity in ultimate is not at all different from that in all facets of life. The world is better off when all people are represented equally with the same opportunities for leadership, position and compensation. It enables better synergy, fosters greater creativity and the outcomes, more often than not, are more successful.
Let’s bring more community to the Ultimate Community, from the elite and pro levels to the pickup level, to work on the shared goal of bringing more inclusiveness, diversity and equity to our sport. We can all take part in this effort and take action by:
- Encouraging and welcoming new players to the game.
- Coaching at school clinics and teaching the game to young kids.
- Promoting and supporting more leadership by women on and off the field.
- Advocating on the field to encourage the new players.
- Giving everyone opportunities to touch the disc.
- Bringing more women into the game and help to keep them there.
- Bringing women and minorities to the table to help shape the future of ultimate.
In taking these steps, the Ultimate Community benefits and we help to grow the sport together.