How To Boost Girls’ Confidence In Youth Ultimate

A high school freshman reflects on how to build confidence in young women in ultimate.

Photo: Alex Fraser --
Photo: Alex Fraser —

In girls ultimate, “I’m sorry” is one of the most, if not THE most, commonly used phrase on the field. Eliminating the “S” word from our vocabulary was one of the first rules that Heather Ann Brauer, the coach of my DiscNW U16 girls team, made.

Coming into this season as a returner on the team, I had already heard HA’s explanation on the dangers of the “S” word: how it ruins confidence and discourages making mistakes. It only took a couple practices for me to see a huge contrast in girls confidence between other returners like myself who rarely apologized for our mistakes and newcomers who were dropping “S” bombs left and right for the smallest things, like not knowing how a certain drill worked. It took two months of “I’m a Star jumps” (the punishment for apologizing), but by the time of the Youth Club Championship tournament in August, my Seattle Echo team was proudly (mostly) “S” word free.

This year, the U16 girls tournament in Minnesota started out with a day chock-full of clinics. The first clinic’s focus was on integrating the girls from all the eight teams and having us run through drills set up by the different U16 girls coaches at the tournament. The first station that my group was sent to was a goaltimate station. We started out by learning how to throw hammers, scoobers, and blades. I partnered up with two other girls, one from Maine and one from the free-agent team and recognized immediately that these girls had not learned about why apologizing was so dangerous. As I was tossing with them, I came up with the idea to write this article and quickly started counting how many “I’m sorry’s” I heard. Five minutes later, the two girls hammers were already looking better—but I had counted 22 “S” words.

I was hoping that the second half of the day, a GUM (Girls Ultimate Movement) clinic, would bring up why “I’m sorry” is a phrase that shouldn’t be heard on the ultimate field, especially from players that lack confidence (the majority tend to be girls). This clinic was similar to the first one in that you were encouraged to meet new people and create more of a community across all of the teams that would be competing against each other the next day. We were given the option of five different activities, migrated to the activities’ designated locations, and then had about 45 minutes before we would move to another station. My group finished our first activity really quickly—coming up with ideas that GUM could put into action on their new blog—and I quickly pounced on this opportunity of awkward silence to start asking girls some questions about GUM.

A couple players shared that they liked how GUM was connecting girls that played ultimate from across the country, but I wasn’t really hearing anything that I thought might help bring this article to life. I finally struck gold with Janey Vandergrift from Cincinnati Belle, who shared that bringing girls together with ultimate as the focus will help to boost her confidence and help her “feel like [ultimate] is an actual sport and not just hearing my friends relate to [me] by saying ‘oh yeah, I play that in the backyard.’”

Other girls fed off of this sentiment and started to comment on how GUM is going to help boost their confidence—each in a different way. Some mentioned being able to see high-level women’s ultimate; others talked about hearing from club players about their experiences and how they have gotten to where they are now.

The overall feedback that I got from these girls was that they wanted GUM to somehow magically boost their confidence on and off the ultimate field. It suddenly all started to come together in my head. I looked back on the start of the day and how many “I’m sorry’s” I had heard, and quickly realized just how important it is to address confidence—and the lack of it—in girls’ youth ultimate.

Later that night at the hotel, I asked the girls in my room (all on Seattle Echo with me) about the lack of confidence amongst girls in youth ultimate, if they thought GUM would somehow address this, and if USA Ultimate (via the YCC tournament itself) would help improve their confidence on and off the ultimate field. My teammates openly shared that while they did see the upsides to having a day of clinics focused on building girls ultimate and creating a community within the teams at the tournament, that it could also be a bit of a confidence crusher. The U16 girls team was treated differently than the rest of the teams at the tournament, they explained to me. Other teams weren’t as strongly pushed towards creating a community with the other teams in their division. By creating this friendly community, the competitive aspect of the tournament was downplayed a little bit and that lack of competitiveness separated us from the rest of the tournament.

While I recognize that having the U16 girls division compete in a 5v5 (instead of 7v7) tournament made it harder for USA Ultimate to integrate us into the rest of the tournament, I also couldn’t help but agree with my teammates that we were being treated differently from a competitive standpoint. I personally went to Minnesota to play ultimate—and play competitive ultimate at that (it is a national tournament, after all)—first and make friends second; when those two priorities were swapped, it felt a little discouraging.

After this eye-opening discussion with my teammates, I realized that what we really needed was to offer a solution to this issue that addressed our concerns. While the first step is easy—recognizing the problem of a lack of confidence in girls youth ultimate—the second and more difficult step is coming up with a way to solve it.

Just from being coached by Heather Ann, I already had one thing to put on my list of solutions: No “I’m sorry’s.”

By talking with my teammates about the tournament, we had also come up with number two on the list: welcome competitiveness.

Number three came easily to my team of eleven girls on the second day of the tournament. My fellow captain and I met before our last game and agreed that the energy was far from where we wanted it to be. Soumya Keefe, my friend and co-captain, suggested that we imitate what the Seattle boys U16 team does to keep their energy up and to keep the competitive aspect of the game intact even when the score may have dictated otherwise. We started rushing the field after our teammates scored, being really loud from the sideline, and starting each game off with an intense pump-up cheer. At first it seemed a little forced, but as the play progressed, the score seemed less and less important and getting excited and making big plays was what the game was all about. We played the best we had played all weekend during that game; our crazy idea had actually worked. Which brings us to the third idea to go on the list: get crazy, get LOUD.

The fourth idea is something that I have found that I personally avoid as much as possible: being proud of myself. In the past I have struggled with deciphering the difference between being proud and being cocky. Before asking my teammates about it, I always thought that being mad or frustrated with myself would make me play better (isn’t that what’s supposed to happen?). I have learned that getting mad at myself after I make a mistake is a high-risk, low-reward mentality. Many times I have become frustrated after something didn’t go my way on the field and then I don’t play better; by thinking with this negative mentality, I’m just digging myself a very deep hole to get out of. Staying proud of myself even when I feel like I’m not playing my best is something that I haven’t learned how to do yet and I applaud you to the utmost if you have.

That’s what I’ve come up with so far: a very small list of ideas on how to be more confident on the ultimate field to hold you over, and I now gladly pass the baton to GUM to finish this off.

  1. No “S” words
  2. Welcome Competition
  3. Get Crazy, Get LOUD
  4. Be proud of yourself

I am eager to use what I have learned about confidence from my teammates and from writing this article on the ultimate field. I hope this article on how to be confident on the ultimate field, written by a high school girl who is still learning how to be more confident herself, inspires you to come up with lists of your own.

  1. Kaia Roast

    Kaia is a student at Ingraham HS in Seattle where she plays on the mixed and girls' teams. She has also played with Fryz and on Seattle's U-16 YCC team.

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