Tuesday Tips: Asserting Yourself On and Off the Field

You have to find your opportunities to speak up.

UCLA BLU's captain Erin Doyle at Stanford Invite 2019.
UCLA BLU’s captain Erin Doyle at Stanford Invite 2019. Photo by Natalie Bigman-Pimentel — UltiPhotos.com

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Every ultimate player has experienced it at one point or another: the desire to do more.

This can come in all shapes and sizes, from wanting to be more involved in team leadership, to wanting more playing time, to wanting more opportunities to shine when the big moments or matchups in the critical games. It can be difficult for many players to find ways to assert themselves on and off the field in these situations.

Undoubtedly, it is always a balance. Every player wants the chance to reach their full potential and contribute as much as they possibly can, but no player wants to be considered impertinent or damage future team relationships.

There is a right way to make sure you can be the best you can be, and it involves putting yourself forward and asserting your goals. Those that do, especially in the proper manner, have a lot of success at getting the opportunities that they want. Those that remain quiet often never get a chance at all.

Here is the best way to assert yourself both on and off the field.

Off the Field

Off the field assertiveness can come in the form of work outside of ultimate entirely, in practices, or even on the sidelines of games. There are several key ways to assert yourself, but they all involve communication in one form or another, whether through written words, verbal interaction, or your own actions.

Lay Out Your Case

One of the best ways to make sure you assert yourself the right way is to take your time to put together a really compelling case.

This is great for long-standing problems, issues that need to be addressed in the off-season, or really anything that can wait to be sent in text-based form to an individual or leadership team. 

This is the time to think back to your school days and really have a concrete plan (remember your English teachers and written composition here, folks). Take the time to think and reflect over the topic, do your best to collect evidence (even if it is anecdotal), and clearly put it out there step-by-step. 

This naturally then lends itself to an email, as it gives you the chance for the slightly longer argument, without interruption. Still, you want to keep it relatively simple so you don’t lose the attention of your audience.

Your basic plan should be as follows:

  • Simple statement of a goal
  • Evidence and reasoning
  • Counter claim
  • Conclusion on good terms

Basically, you want a very clear objective laid out up front (example: I want to change positions next year to be a cutter). You give your evidence and short rationale, and then you give a counterclaim, which is the counter argument (why someone would think you shouldn’t do what you want), and then disprove it. Then, finally, you make sure you end on a high note.

See an example email below.

Dear Christy Captain,

I’m writing because I would like to work with you on transitioning from being a defensive handler to a handler on the offense next season.

As you can see from the attached stats from our games at our Regionals tournament, I have some of the lower turnover rates on the team, especially from the handler corps. I believe I have played very well the last two seasons, and I think I can make an even stronger impact if I move to the offensive line. The last few practices several teammates have told me that I do a good job taking care of the disc and keeping the offense smooth. I really think my strength could be the off-handler on O.

While it may be argued I don’t have extremely strong hucks, I actually have been improving on this part of my game for a while. My throws may not be the best on the team, but I will be a reliable swing handler and mover of the disc. I can rise to the occasion!

I love this team and want to invest even more into building it into the future. Can we talk on the phone or at next POD about this?


Hope Handler

Succinct, clear, and well laid out.

Engage Positively (and Start Small)

When it comes to communication, sometimes emails aren’t the best route. Sometimes, you need to speak up in the moment, whether on the sidelines at a practice, in the huddle, or one-on-one with someone else.

This is especially important when you see a situation arise and feel a strong need to say something to correct it. However, it can be intimidating to speak up, especially if you aren’t in leadership. Here’s what to do: Start small and positive.

It can be very easy to chime in with one sentence, no matter the situation. Make a routine of doing this, and it will make it easier to then assert yourself in other ways.

Examples whether from the sideline or in the huddle:

  • “Our defense is fire, let’s keep pushing them to force tough throws!”
  • “Handlers look great, let’s take the easy unders.”
  • Keep our heads up, we can make this comeback!”

Make it a goal to make one contribution like this every time you are with the team. Then, you can transition more easily to more forceful assertion, simply by building on the same concept.

Example: One-on-one with a teammate

“Hey Jessica! Great huck on that last point… you had great shape on the throw!… One thing I have been thinking about though: let’s try to look for the handler reset a little earlier, especially on the sideline. It will help keep us out of tough spots.”

Example with a captain on the sideline.

“Team is really looking smooth on offense, but we are struggling a bit on defense. Can I match up against Robin on the next couple of points? I think I’ve got a good feel for their move.

A positive sandwich (compliment, assertion, compliment) is always a good way to go.

Bring the Energy and Effort

Actions can indeed sometimes speak louder than words. Even off the field, what you do with your energy and time really matters. People will notice when you put in the extra bit of time to help someone out, rush the field after the score, run to bring water to the huddle, or be there to stay late after the workout and throw.

You can assert yourself by using your actions as an example of what you want to accomplish, as well as proving to your teammates your commitment in all ways.

Don’t be afraid to encourage by your presence. Organize workouts, PODs, skill sessions, and film watching. Lead by example in doing all the little things. Most of all bring extra energy and enthusiasm with your daily interactions. If you want to then translate that into assertion, be sure to lean on the energy.


“Hey GroupMe… I want our team to work on transition defense a bit! Who wants to do a Zoom call to watch our recent game film and break it down?”

“Captain, I’d love to take more of a leadership role at the next practice. I’ve been doing a lot of throwing with people lately, can I lead a drill that will help our breakmark on the sideline?”

Being willing to engage with time and effort, especially when so many ultimate players are already so busy, will be noticed and will often open doors to new opportunities.

On the Field

On the field assertion is a tricky balance in itself, as these in-the-moment decisions can have an impact that is felt beyond the brief seconds it takes to stake a claim.  It’s really important to be aware and thoughtful and to remember that communication is key, even through your actions. Also be aware that tone can sometimes be misconstrued, so it’s extra important to be empathetic and clear.

Here’s what to do.

Call for the Ball (and Jump into the Spotlight)

Just because you’re on the field doesn’t mean your communication should stop. In fact, while it may shorten in length, in many ways your communication needs to increase if you want to assert yourself.

Start with being as verbal as you can during playing, but don’t hesitate to chime in during timeouts, on the line, and when away from the disc.

You have to start by asking for opportunities to be in the spotlight. This might mean asking for the tough defensive spot in the zone, calling yourself as the center of the next offensive play, or asking to be the isolation key in the timeout. It may take conquering a fear, but you have to at least be willing to ask.

Example: “If we run the side stack isolation play, have Jorey catch the pull and center it to me.”

A simple request without arrogance is powerful. In fact, often the confidence will lead people who are excited to follow. That’s not to say you want to overstep your place or be the only voice barking orders every time. You have to be smart with your opportunities and, as always, start small.

This will stem through communication in game flow as well. Communicate on defense as much as you possibly can while still attending to your own role (and remember information is more valuable often than advice). On offense, direct traffic or indicate when you think you are open or have a matchup that you can take advantage of.

Small steps will eventually lead to bigger opportunities. 

Be Aggressive and Take Risks

Aggression has a negative connotation as a word, but if you want to do more on the field, often you have to step forward. Passivity is not going to make a change, while taking a bold risk just might. Be willing to make the aggressive throw, go for the big block on the opposing player, or take the first cut in the offense.

Nothing wagered is nothing gained, and if you want to see a role increase, this is your chance to roll the dice. It’s important to remember there is balance here as well. Overly aggressive or reckless players are often the least favorite of captains and teammates alike.

However, if you have a goal, taking even a small step towards it needs to happen. But, to be safe, the best opportunity to strike is when the stakes are low. 

Example: Your team is winning a pool play game by three points. If you want your team to be more assertive defensively, or you want to prove you can handle the deep shots in the zone, bait a block by slipping underneath your cutter and getting ready for the big huck

There is, of course, the chance your risk won’t pay off, or it will even backfire on you. Sometimes bad things happen. The negative failures will be remembered far less often than the successes. This is especially true if it’s in the course of a normal, or even low-stakes, game. 

Universe point of the championship is not the time to try to risk your hammer. Be smart, but be aggressive in asserting yourself when the time is right.

Make Plays

Cue the eyerolls… I know, I know. But it’s true. You can’t just call for the ball and take the risk: you eventually have to pull it off.

Putting yourself into the right situation is half the battle. Communicating and asserting are extremely important. But, when push comes to shove, you have to put up or shut up. Reinforce calling for the ball by demonstrating success.

You wanted to be a captain? Prove you can have good leadership by helping steer the squad through a rocky game with confident words and a good in-game strategy.

Interested in trying a new junk defense? Teach it to your team, and then work really hard to direct your peers to make sure it works.

Desire to be the first cutter in the stack? Run hard, be aggressive in taking your routes, and go get the disc.

The more you can point to positive outcomes, the more likely you are to establish and keep your role and accomplish your goal. 

In fact, if you prove to be a trusted individual, with lots of success, the next time you assert yourself, you’ll be even more likely to have everyone paying attention.

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  1. Alex Rummelhart

    Alex "UBER" Rummelhart is an Ultiworld reporter. He majored in English at the University of Iowa, where he played and captained IHUC. He lives and teaches in Chicago, Illinois, where he has played for several ultimate teams, including the Chicago Wildfire and Chicago Machine. Alex loves writing of all types, especially telling interesting and engaging stories. He is the author of the novel The Ultimate Outsider, one of the first fictional works ever written about ultimate.

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