Girls’ Ultimate Movement Looking to Start a Trend With Innovative Seattle Clinic

Using a unique organizational structure and extremely passionate volunteers, a recent GUM clinic was very successful. What does it take to have effective programs nationwide?

GUM Clinic in Seattle
Photo: Gallagher Images.

If the recent weekend at Franklin High School in eastern Seattle is any indication, GUM is continuing to grow both the scale and ambition of their clinic program.

With 95 girls in attendance — almost half of whom had never played before — it was by far the largest GUM clinic so far. But equally notable is that the clinic was hosted and run by Uprising, Seattle’s U16 YCC team, with support from the nationally-ranked club team Underground.

The program structure of established youth building up new youth is innovative for GUM, and no other programs with this same structure exist currently. By having youth players run a clinic for young girls (with support by established adult club players), GUM is hoping to introduce the idea of loving Ultimate at an early age, as well as focus on building role models who can help connect different age groups and levels of players within the community. The cohosting model also helps bring in the maximum numbers of participants for each clinic.

The Seattle clinic is just one implementation of the GUM Clinic Challenge, which has been a focus ever since GUM organizers ranked and voted on top action items during GUM’s formation a year and a half ago. Now GUM is actively challenging teams across the country to run clinics for girls in the area to learn how to play Ultimate; Washington, DC’s Scandal and Backhanded ran such in a clinic in DC in the fall, with another happening in early April.

Backhanded will also continue their involvement with GUM by running a 6 week clinic series in Baltimore this spring. Conversations about additional GUM clinics for the summer months have begun, and, given the positive experience by all at the Seattle clinic, GUM is hoping to strengthen the partnership between Uprising and Underground. Looking even further into the future, there will be a GUM clinic in Wisconsin in September.

GUM organizers are hoping this program structure, with youth players running a clinic for other youth players, will take off in the rest of the country. Underlying the clinic movement is a belief that introducing young girls to the inclusive community of Ultimate, while also giving them older role models to support them, is essential to their continued interest in the sport. The Uprising girls spoke about idolizing Riot players like Sarah Griffith and Alyssa Weatherford when they were learning to play, and it was (and is) encouraging to see top-tier players who are passionate about giving back to the community. This connection helps lessen the gap between top-tier players and young players that is evident in other sports, and gives young girls a support system to encourage them to keep playing.

Jazmine Canez, the USAU Washington Girls’ State Youth Coordinator, and Alyssa Kelly, the USAU Regional Youth Director for the West, both agreed on the importance of building role models for young girls, and that club players have a significant responsibility to act as role models for young women. As current Underground players, both women provided support to the clinic and were excited to step into the position of role model. Canez noted that youth Ultimate options were unavailable when she was growing up in Arizona, and thinks a mentor could have impacted her as a younger player.

She also said that girls especially have to deal with a lack of self-esteem and confidence in sports, and having an older, more experienced player to look up to is essential. Kelly had two female coaches in college and described how big of an impact they had on her and how they have kept her playing after school. As players in a high-level club position now, both feel a large responsibility in investing in youth and building the next generation of Ultimate players and in spreading the ideas of mentorship throughout the national community. Canez also discussed how, coming from a place where youth Ultimate is not available, she feels that this need creates a push for people from areas lacking in youth opportunities to give back and get involved in their communities, which can also help spread GUM’s mentorship programs.

It comes as no surprise that the Seattle GUM clinic was by far the most successful one; the city is a hotbed for Ultimate with a very dedicated and talented pool of club players to select from. USAU State Youth Coordinators focused on outreach are already thinking ahead to reach other towns in Washington: Tacoma, Bellingham, and Walla Walla all have active college scenes and would be natural choices for introducing the sport to youth players.

Other parts of the country that do not have this preexisting Ultimate infrastructure are certainly harder to reach, though. In a city like Seattle, where Ultimate is so present, it’s much easier to reach youth players and build mentor relationships, but there are many other places that are in need of this kind of program-building. Various conditions need to exist in other cities and communities for a program like this to be nationally successful.

First and foremost, a community needs an active and passionate club scene. The Seattle clinic is the only one that has been run by two different divisions, adult club and youth club, which is a powerful structure for building role models throughout the divisions. Not every city with club teams has YCC teams, however, which puts a lot of responsibility in the hands of club players to promote Ultimate for high schoolers and below.

The Uprising girls were very excited and proud about the clinic, and it introduced them to unique leadership opportunities; there is interest at the high school level in giving back, even for non-YCC teams. Getting younger players involved and invested is key in building this multi-division structure. Areas like the Triangle in North Carolina and the Bay Area in California are growing in youth Ultimate and working on this same role model structure, in which club players work directly with youth players. As leaders in the community, they can encourage younger players to give back and emphasize the community, which in turn encourages younger players, building this self-perpetuating system.

Having an active governing body is also very important. DiscNW has a huge presence in Seattle, and getting players linked into that programming and presenting them with playing opportunities is critical. A relationship with the governing body of the area makes it easier to organize and spread learn to play clinics in places where Ultimate is not as prolific as in Seattle.

Another key condition is active advertising. In the Seattle examples, older players spread the word through their various communities, from kids they coach to friends’ children. Vigorous campaigning for an event spread the word as much as possible and gets young players excited. Making the information about the clinic easily accessible is also important; Heather Ann Brauer, the organizer of the Seattle clinic, made pull tab posters with all the registration information on them and hung them throughout the city, which proved very effective. Proper organization and attention to detail can go a long way.

Finally, GUM leaders are quick to emphasize that perseverance in the community is key. USAU Youth Outreach and State Coordinators need to identity areas of interest and support teams looking to run clinics in their community. In turn, the interested teams need to use these people as resources. Experience is necessary, and it can be difficult and frustrating for a team to run a clinic for the first time if it doesn’t go smoothly. But, as Brauer said, “Anything sustainable must be consistent.” Multiple clinics and increased playing opportunities for players run by players will build interest and community.

At the end of the Seattle clinic, young players had the opportunities to get Underground players’ autographs on team pictures they were given. Seeing the girls run around and talking to players they clearly admire and want to emulate was an encouraging experience, and could be the start of a trend at this time. This program works in Seattle for many reasons, but it may also work in other cities with the proper conditions, passion, and community-building.

  1. Emily Bowden

    Emily Bowden is an Ultiworld reporter living in Seattle, WA.

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