Girls' Ultimate Movement (GUM): Sticks to You! Sticks to Everyone!

Posted: March 21, 2014 03:14 PM


I’ve collaborated with Mike Lovinguth, the Youth & Education Programs Manager at USA Ultimate, on various projects over the last few years. One such project was building a pilot ultimate training program for Playworks, a national non-profit I worked for in Baltimore. I met Heather Ann Brauer while collaborating on bringing the Playworks ultimate pilot program to North Carolina in partnership with the Triangle Youth Ultimate League.  Last fall, Mike approached Heather Ann and me about starting a Girls Ultimate Task Force to build on the many discussions the three of us have had about how to grow girls ultimate. We spoke frequently about the incredible explosion of numbers in the youth division and brainstormed how we could raise awareness of the gender disparity in growth between the girls’ and boys’ divisions. Unfortunately, when we talk about youth ultimate, we are frequently talking primarily about boys ultimate. 

We’ve built the Girls Ultimate Task Force to change the gender paradigm by taking a proactive approach to creating policies and programs that will inspire young female athletes to choose ultimate.

Ultimate faces the same barriers to recruitment of female athletes as other sports. Issues of body image, self-consciousness and restrictive notions of femininity may hold girls back from engaging in competitive play. Combine those social factors with the multitude of other sports options for girls that begin in elementary school, and we have substantially fewer female ultimate athletes in each competitive division.  Elementary school is a crucial time of development when young girls often choose (or are chosen) to either get involved in sports or stay on the sidelines through adulthood.

Currently, the percentage of females participating in the youth division is lower than the percentage of women playing on either the college or club level. While the college and club levels are comprised of approximately 30 percent women, at the youth level, female players make up less than 20 percent of the total youth playing ultimate. It is critical that we act now to shift this trend by creating strategies that focus specifically on growing girls’ ultimate. 

As a community, we are well poised to begin an initiative that focuses exclusively on girls. We are armed with a gender equity policy and a community that supports the growth of female players. We have wonderful leaders like Emily Baecher who are speaking out to challenge dominant ideology and push us to think beyond false, but popular, dichotomies. As a growing sport, we have the opportunity to shape the narrative of ultimate in our delivery to youth. 

USA Ultimate is collaborating with female and male leaders around the country to identify avenues and programs that will successfully encourage girls to play ultimate and encourage organizers to offer opportunities that focus on female athletes. We are working to generate new and innovative ideas for programming, infrastructure and policy that will facilitate development of the girls’ division. Heather Ann playfully coined this group the "Girls Ultimate Movement: GUM. Sticks to you! Sticks to everyone!" As a task force, we are collectively trying to figure out how to make it stick to our entire community. Fueling growth at the youth level will lead to more women playing in the college and club divisions, and that is something in which the whole community can and should invest.

Communities across the country face different challenges and have different opportunities when developing these programs. That’s why we’ve built a task force - to gather input from some of the most influential women and men in the ultimate community. GUM is a team of leaders who are geographically diverse, passionate and dedicated to growth. Their experiences range from growing programs in areas with no youth ultimate to areas with robust programming for all genders. Together, we hope to dramatically improve girls’ ultimate involvement and the athlete experience in the youth division over the next five to 10 years.

More than 30 leaders met over the past several weeks in the form of five working groups to stimulate brainstorming ideas and eventually develop action items. These five groups are each focused on a specific area of development:

  • Coaching

  • Systems Building

  • Best Practices to Build On

  • Consciousness Raising

  • Growth vs. Development 

Claire Chastain, Leila Tunnell, Alyssa Weatherford, Shannon O’Malley and Betsy Calkins volunteered to facilitate discussion and brainstorming for each working group. They are joined by the likes of Tiina Booth, Michelle Ng, Wynne Scherf, Michelle Walters and a host of other respected leaders, coaches and athletes.

These five groups will meet a total of three times, mostly via Google hangout, and are each charged with developing five concrete action items. These action items may be short-term projects, long-term projects or additional topics to explore. Once we have our complete task force list of 25 action items, we will prioritize and implement five of the most immediately effective ideas in late 2014 and 2015. The list of action items will be used in its entirety to create new policy and programs. As these groups meet, we will also be facilitating conversations with girls around the country to include their voices in the process. We aim to have youth representatives directly involved in the creation and refinement of new policy and programming.

This process will continue to grow and shift, and we will be updating the wider community as we progress. We'll be sharing the results of our efforts at the U.S. Open this summer, so come learn all about this exciting project!

We hope that you, the ultimate community, will join us and make these programs and initiatives successful beyond even what we currently dare to dream. I can’t wait to share what we come up with, so stay tuned!

Zara Cadoux
Co-Chair, Girls Ultimate Movement Task Force
Atlantic Coast College Women’s Regional Director

A huge thanks to the members of the GUM task force for participating in this important discussion:

*Alyssa Weatherford – Seattle, Wash.
Miranda Knowles – Atlanta, Ga.
Brenna Hokanson – Denver, Colo.
Jacob Nuxoll – Washington, D.C.
Louie Cohn – Sturbridge, Mass.
Tiina Booth – Amherst, Mass.
Sam Terry – Seattle, Wash.
Jimmy Robin – Chicago, Ill.
Colleen Conrad – Austin, Texas
Patrice Kurnath – Salt Lake City, Utah

Building Systems
*Claire Chastain – Boulder, Colo.
Amy Donahue – Milwaukee, Wis.
Jeff Jordan – Dallas, Texas
Sara Summers – Chapel Hill, N.C.
Joshua Nugent – Amherst, Mass.
Alika Johnston – Charlottesville, Va. & Washington, D.C.
Rusty Brown – Seattle, Wash.
Jinny Eun – Chapel Hill, N.C.

Best Practices
*Shannon O’Malley – Seattle, Wash.
Janna Coulter – Fort Collins, Colo.
Wynne Scherf – Seattle, Wash.
Caitlin Cordell – Seattle, Wash.
Libby Cravens – Austin, Texas
Katy Harris – Durham, N.C.
Brenna Hokanson – Denver, Colo.
Rachel Johnson – Durham, N.C.

Think Tank
*Betsy Caulkins – Boston, Mass.
Michelle Walters – Dallas, Texas
Josh Hartzog – Chapel Hill, N.C.
Kyle Weisbrod – Seattle, Wash.
Emma Sheehy – Exeter, N.H.
Catherine Nelson – Philadelphia, Penn.
Gwen Ambler – Seattle, Wash.
Meagan Brown – Seattle, Wash.
Sam Terry – Seattle, Wash.

Growth vs. Development

*Leila Tunnell – New York, N.Y.
Gail Reich – Chicago, Ill.
Valerio Iani – Berkeley, Calif.
Katie Metzler – Little Elm, Texas
Lauren Boyle – Boulder, Colo.
John Sandahl – Minneapolis, Minn.
Matt Tsang – Oakland, Calif.
Michelle Ng – Carrboro, N.C.
Shellie Cohen – Chapel Hill, N.C.
*group facilitator

Have any questions or comments? We welcome community feedback and discussion made in a respectful manner. Please refrain from profanity or personal attacks, as such public comments negatively reflect on our sport and community.