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From My Eyes

[caption id=“attachment_47609” align=“aligncenter” width=“800”]

Kyle Weisbrod coaching Washington Element at the 2014 College Championships. Photo: Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos.com[/caption]

I didn’t care about gender equity when I first started playing ultimate – my awareness and investment in that concept grew over several years. Before and during that time of growth, I unwittingly contributed to perpetuating the gender inequities that continue to plague our sport – and all sports.

In my role as Director of Youth Development at the Ultimate Players Association, I made recommendations and decisions on the development of the Youth division that weighted the needs of the more developed boys’ division over the different needs of the girls’ division. Growth of the division was my job, absolute growth was easier than equitable growth, and absolute growth was easier by focusing on the relatively “low-hanging fruit” of boys’ ultimate. I could have recommended rules that required mixed ultimate until a certain quantity of girls teams could be supported before single-gender play was allowed; such a plan would have required boys to invest in the difficult work of creating a culture that welcomes young female athletes. I failed to ensure that the girls’ division received equal coverage in the UPA newsletter as the boys’ division. I allowed an article to be published about girls’ ultimate development that focused on the players not just as athletes but also on their looks.

It wasn’t until I began coaching girls full time that I really began to experience what the lack of equity meant. I’m hoping that by sharing my experience and how I came to understand the issue I can help those who aren’t impacted by it first hand to accelerate their own awareness and growth.

When I moved back to Atlanta in 2007 and began coaching at my alma mater, Paideia, I wanted to coach boys’ ultimate. I’d been playing open ((In high school, we had an “open” team that fielded mostly boys but always had girls on the team.)) and men’s ultimate for over ten years and men’s ultimate is what I knew and valued. The head coach – my former high school coach, Michael Baccarini – was (and still is) one of the best in the game and I wanted to learn from him. That year, the Paideia boys’ varsity team was deep with talent. The roster had many players that would go on to make a name for themselves in college and club ultimate including George Stubbs, Grant Lindsley, Chris Kocher, Ollie Honderd, and several other talented young players. That season, I was fortunate to be able to serve as the Paideia varsity boys’ assistant coach and JV boys’ head coach.

At our first event, a college tournament in Charleston, SC, the girls’ coach was unable to attend; she had spent the first month of the season out-of-town while the team practiced on their own and she had not returned yet. So, Baccarini asked me to help with the girls for the weekend. I did the bare minimum of coaching one game while the boys were on a bye. It was windy that weekend and I felt uninterested in helping the girls play what appeared to me to be sloppy ultimate. My heart was with the boys – I felt invested in what they did and valued my time coaching them.

Two months later, at the Amherst Invite, I helped with the boys in my role as assistant as they completed an undefeated season. And I watched the girls fall short of their own undefeated seasons as they lost to their rivals Amherst HS in the finals, faltering late to let a 13-12 lead end in a 15-13 loss. I felt a certain disappointment born of school pride, but little more.

That summer, I took an Atlanta team to compete in the mixed division of the Youth Club Championships. The team was made up mostly of Paideia players, along with a couple of boys from other area high schools. The girls on the team were all from Paideia – the same players that I had failed to invest in a few months earlier. In those games, in huddles, standing on the line, and in team meetings, I began to recognize that all of those players — boys and girls — had the same drive to compete, to better oneself through the sport, and to bring up those around themselves.

We went on to win the title at the tournament, including coming back in the finals from down 5-9 to win 13-11 over a talented Philadelphia squad who had won in the open division the prior year with many of the same players. While I had expected our boys to be the ones to carry us to a title, it was our girls who stepped up and took over match-ups. Looking back, that shouldn’t have been surprising: the girls on the squad included future Callahan winner Paula Seville, Callahan runner-up Sophie Darch, U23 National Team member Lane Siedor, and Club division national champion Alisha Kramer. But it took the experience of coaching, investing in, and striving toward a shared goal with these talented and hard-working players for me to recognize and value them as athletes.

The Paideia girls’ high school coach departed that fall and, when asked, I enthusiastically stepped in to head coach the team for the spring season of 2008. Everywhere I looked, I began to recognize how my own failure to value the Paideia girls as athletes in the same way I valued the boys was endemic to their experience as athletes. Our tournament schedule was set by which events were best for the boys team, meaning that the Paideia girls were often facing club teams like Ozone or Phoenix or brand new college women’s teams – rarely getting the opportunity to face a closely matched competitor. Parent support was far smaller – when we’d gone to Amherst in 2007, the boys’ team had an army of parents who had rented cars before our flights landed and had food waiting for us in those cars, whereas the girls’ team was fortunate to have any parents at all along for a tournament. Where the boys would almost always play on fields close to tournament headquarters and have well-thought out and fair formats, the girls would often encounter a far different tournament experience that made clear that their division was an afterthought.

In many ways, I believe that my experience as a male in the sport made this lack of equity even more obvious since I had direct experience being valued highly as a competitor and now was receiving direct experience being with a team that was far less valued.

In 2012, I moved to Seattle and a year later I began coaching the University of Washington women’s team, Element. In that role, I’ve continued to witness numerous expressions of devaluation of the experience of women’s ultimate players. At the 2013 Stanford Invite, we faced the University of Wisconsin in the semifinals. I had set up a video camera at the back of the endzone to record the game. The camera was near the tournament merchandise tent and some college men’s players who were in the area sat down to watch some of the game. Not realizing that the camera was on, the players talked for 30 minutes, mocking women’s ultimate – including the players on the field – and making misogynistic and homophobic comments. At some point, the players saw that the camera was on and turned it off. As an expression of valuing players’ experience, there’s nothing much more devaluing than actively making efforts to hamper a team from getting better.

While that incident was the most blatant, there have been numerous other times where I’ve experienced how different ultimate is for girls/women than it is than for boys/men. I’ve clicked on articles after tournaments to read about my team and our competition, only to find that the article recapped just the men’s side of the event. We’re more likely than men’s teams to be put on non-regulation sized fields and are less likely to receive observers when they are available. This year at the Stanford Invite, given limited field space, the TDs of the event chose to make the women’s division smaller while keeping the men’s field the same — reducing the number of games against top competition some women’s teams received.

These are all stories and experiences simply about the playing experience of girls and women I’ve been around and what I’ve seen and been aware of as a women’s coach. This doesn’t even address the way we value athletes as “spectatable” and how we choose as a community to promote each gender division’s visibility. Those stories of inequity in visibility – men’s games in the title card slots, more men’s games on ESPN and Ultiworld, male-only pro leagues, and articles that fail to use women as examples of model play – are frequently discussed and are real and important issues as well. But, the underlying issue is that we as individuals, as a community, and as a society fall short in valuing girls and women as athletes.

Until we value the experience of girls and women playing sports at the same level as we value the experience of boys and men, we will continue to have uneven participation numbers, higher dropout rates for women, and the false narrative that women’s sports are not spectatable at the same level as men’s sports.

And this inequity of how we value women in sport matters on a larger level as well. Studies indicate that participation in competitive sports helps women accelerate leadership and career potential. In our small way, by valuing the experience of women in our sport the same way we value the experience of men, we will improve retention and, with it, open the door to greater gender equity in our society at large.

Most of my awareness of this topic is directly attributed to experiencing it first hand by coaching girls’ and women’s teams. But if the only way for men and women both to understand the current discrepancy in how we value each gender’s ultimate and larger sporting experience is to actually live it, we’ll never be able to adequately address the issue.

I hope that sharing my experiences helps others become more aware and empathetic in a way that I wasn’t until I began coaching women.

Originally published at: http://ultiworld.com/2016/09/07/from-my-eyes/

Thanks Kyle for your article.

Berkeley has always had a coed high school team and we were able to witness first hand the emergence of the first high school, all girls team California Roll. Hannah Wells and Chloe Carothers-Liske recruited girls from all over the Bay Area and with the help of parents petitioned their way into participating in the Western States Championships the past two years. With the help and mentoring of players from Fury and Nightlock and the dedicated coaching from Lindi Sabloff the program is expected to expand and grow. With Bay Area Disc Association and support from organizations such as E.R.I.C. we hope to have a pipeline full of eager participants in the years to come.

Good points and a pretty universal experience.

I also began coaching high school girls in the same manner. I went into the school year hoping to coach/asst. coach the regionally dominant boys team. While we were attending a local fall college tournament I was asked to “watch over” the girls team as they were without a coach. Similar situation. Tucked away fields and limited parental presence (in comparison to the boys team). However, I quickly decided that I was going to spend my whole weekend with the girls. This was in part due to the tangible difference I felt I could make with their team. I was the only authoritative voice in comparison to the multitude of coaches for the boys team. Though I too had never thought much about or cared to watch women’s ultimate I was won over by the passion they showed on the field and the joy they got from every success. We didn’t win a single game but got to universe point against 2 college teams. At the end of the weekend, while sitting in a circle stretching, they told me how much they appreciated the fact that they had had a coach (me!) dedicated to just their team (and not as a loan from the boys team). I decided that night to coach them for the rest of the season.

I think that my point is though I never planned on coaching girls and felt woefully inexperienced as a coach, I was able to make an immediate impact in their development as players. And it wasn’t difficult.

So if you have ever thought about coaching, open up to the possibility of coaching a girls team. It can be incredibly rewarding.

A bit late to the party, but I wanted to comment on this: [quote=“kweisbrod, post:1, topic:1872”]
This year at the Stanford Invite, given limited field space, the TDs of the event chose to make the women’s division smaller while keeping the men’s field the same — reducing the number of games against top competition some women’s teams received.

This is provided as an example of ‘non-equity’ between Men’s and Women’s, when the actual reasoning is much less nefarious. Stanford Invite has had restrictions before, and the Men’s and Women’s teams work together to decide who takes the brunt of the limitations. This year, it was Women’s. Last time in 2014, it was the Men. When the weather didn’t allow for all teams to play at Stanford, the Men had to move to an extremely windy field site 2 two hours away in Stevinson. There were no gender equity complaints at the time. So I don’t think it’s fair to use the 2016 Stanford Invite as an example of inequity when it clearly was not.

The author even interacted with the Stanford Women’s Team (Superfly) about this topic, where Superfly provided the same background details.

Do links work for me now?!

I posted this of Facebook and one of my teammates asked me to share it here. I want to emphasize that this is no way meant to be an attack on you, Kyle. I having nothing but respect for anyone who gives their time to supporting girl’s ultimate- this is just my opinion as a woman:

I think this article came from a great place, but I also found it frustrating. I love that the author now understands and respects women’s ultimate, and I love that he has given back to the women’s ultimate community through coaching and a genuine care for what we do. I also love that he wants to share his experience with the ultimate community and is being proactive about correcting the gap between Men’s and Women’s Ultimate. What I don’t like is that members of the Women’s Ultimate community have been saying this same thing for years. As a female player and a coach of female players, I have had many, many conversations with male ultimate players about the inequity between our two subsets of the sport. I was met with scoffs, arguments, eye rolls. I was straight up told that my opinion about my own experiences was wrong. I watched the amazing female athletes that I coach be treated with blatant sexism. I watched them win the Southern Regional Championships and get no media attention for it at all. I even wrote a letter to a tournament director explaining how extremely disrespectful some pro-male ultimate players (who were there to “support women’s ultimate”) were to my girls, and never got a response. I’ve been taunted by guys from the sideline, I’ve had my playing meticulously and needlessly picked apart by less experienced guys on WAFC who think it’s their job to teach girls how to play but who don’t bother giving male players that are making the same mistakes any advice, and I’ve been super vocal about how unfair I find all of this. Many women have. This is not a new issue. Women’s Ultimate players have been talking about this and attempting to promote ourselves for a long time. The issue is becoming more prominent now, but it feels like it’s mostly because now men are starting to talk about it. Now men are coming out and saying, “Wait a minute, this isn’t right!”. Well, I appreciate that, but that’s not how this should work, because that is actually still gender inequity. That’s actually still just perpetuating that we aren’t equal. If you’re a man that wants to support Women’s Ultimate, give a platform to Women’s Ultimate players. Let us speak. Hear us. AND actually LISTEN to us. Respect our experience, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable or targeted. Watch Women’s Ultimate and respect it for what it is (which is not Men’s Ultimate) (and we’re not trying to be Men’s Ultimate, either- we’re our own version of the sport and we love it). Try being helpful and supportive on the sideline instead of acting like a butthead. Become a true fan of what we do. It won’t be hard- I’ve met and seen so many incredible female athletes from just one season of club and in just one region. Be supportive, but don’t drown us out with your own opinion and voice on the matter. Show the players of Women’s Ultimate that you’ve got our backs, that you believe in our sport, but let us do the talking. That’s empowerment. We shouldn’t need to have men speak for us in order for us to be heard.

Addition: I’d love to see Ultiworld feature more articles about equality for Women’s ultimate written by Women!

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