I'm a cisgender, heterosexual asian man, so I'll try my best to speak on strategies from the perspective of cishet individuals. These strategies can also be extended and adapted to conversations about other areas of inequality/inequity that your peers may be experiencing.
It's Pride Month y'all. As many partake in festivities across the country, let's also remember that Pride was created to commemorate the Stonewall Riots in NY. Additionally, let's remember the reality that our sport operates in many ways on a gender-binary structure, which erases the truth and identities of many athletes that play ultimate. I don't say that to be a downer or to put anyone on blast; it's essential to frame where we are today in the context of the incredible work and sacrifices made to get here, and to continue to do the work every day for a better tomorrow (#neverenough, right?)!
Ultimate is a sport known for it's... pageantry. Vibrant full subs and rainbows run rampant as you traverse the fields of tournaments everywhere! That's certainly enough to let everyone know we're a warm and welcoming community, right? There's always, always, always room to improve. So, how do we go about making an inclusive and welcoming space for all*? By making it a priority and building it into the bones of your team! Here are some of the strategies teams use to do just that.
*Though we're posting this during Pride, these strategies aren't limited to a specific topic- remember that we all carry multiple identities! Be mindful of the intersectionality at play in your community and create plans that support everyone in the specific ways they need support.
Use Inclusive Language
This one's easy. Just be specific and mindful with the words you use. If you're unsure, use more general terms (for example, instead of addressing a group with "ladies and gentlemen" use "everyone" or "y'all". I'm a firm believer in the use of "y'all").
It's a very small change and can mean the world to some people to be addressed and felt like they're seen. It can mean the difference between a new player becoming a dedicated member of the ultimate community and leaving after one game of pickup.
Be Intentional, Start the Conversation
When you're planning a practice, do you just kind of go with the flow? Maybe some of you do, but I truly hope that a lot of you are writing out your practice plans ahead of time. Do the same with your equity and inclusion goals - write them down, and brainstorm with your leadership how to tackle them (remember to set S.M.A.R.T. goals!).
Here are some actionable ways you can facilitate discussions regarding justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion on your team:
- Hold early-season meetings specifically to address these challenges - they will be difficult conversations, but you only grow through being challenged! Break these meetings out into groups centered around the different identities on your team - this might seem like a divisive thing, but creating safe spaces for individuals to voice their thoughts/opinions/concerns with peers that they can identify with is a crucial step to bringing an honest discourse back to the team as a whole.
- Create regular check-ins with your team to evaluate your strategies, and pivot as needed. You're gonna mess up. That's alright, because you're going to do better moving forward. Don't let your fear of doing it wrong hold you back from trying!
Give Space, Hold Space
If you're not the active cutter, you gotta clear out. Simple as that. I know that sometimes it's really easy to forget, and you really want to keep the offense moving so you keep making 2-step moves in the lane to try and get open but it's not working and the stall is at seven and the dump is screaming at you to "GET OUT" and oh yeah now you're clearing and they get the disc on a clean upline. That wasn't so hard, was it?
You have five other players on the field ready to get open - you don't have to do everything (some of the best coaches emphasize making space for other players!).
So what does this look like in your off-field discussions?
- Give Space - Imagine you're in the huddle. Usually it's the same handful of people talking and talking and talking and then halftime is over and shoot you missed your chance to say the one adjustment you think could have really helped in the second half. If you're one of those people that leads discussions on the team, be aware that your teammates also probably have thoughtful, insightful observations that you might never consider, so create opportunities for others to have the platform!
- Hold Space - Speaking up is hard sometimes, especially when we're talking about potentially difficult or uncomfortable topics. How are you supposed to say to your teammate's face that something they did really upset you? Anyone can hold space - it's broadly referred to as "being there" for others. More than that, holding space means being non-judgmental and supportive, and actively listening to your peers.
- Create Opportunities - give your teammates a chance to do the things they excel at, or things that they're excited to try. Let a player lead a drill that they're good at; let someone teach the team how to cook their favorite meal; create a platform for your teammates to speak about topics that are important to them! Note: obviously don't force anyone into a role, and PLEASE do not default to asking marginalized players to speak on their personal experiences or advocate for themselves - that's, like, super stressful.
Work, Work, Work
We play a sport. Sports are full of movement and action, so verbs like "sprint", "throw", "sky", and "bid" are all over the place. There are some other verbs like "love" - yes, "love" - that pop up too. Sure, we all have love for the game, and love for our teams and teammates, but when presented this way - as a noun - it's easy to forget that "love" is an active verb as well. To love requires action and real effort, for it to be seen and felt. "Ally" is another one of those words which often presents as a noun, yet can also be a verb. And just like with love, to show your allyship is to actively do the work every day for those you wish to support and uplift. As mentioned above, you might mess up! In fact, it's very likely you're gonna mess up. Like when you learned how to play short-deep for the first time. Be okay with the reality of failure, and approach it with a growth mindset.
And, by absolutely no means is this an exhaustive list of ways you can be a better teammate and community member. If you have some other helpful advice or if you have feedback for any of the strategies above, go ahead and share it in the comments below. If you're someone who wants to be a better ally - don't just ask for the right answers; do your own homework! There are a handful of useful links above, and the internet is pretty good for this sort of thing too.