If you missed the last post on recruiting rookies to practice, you might want to read that first. If you've already gotten a bunch of rookies to come out to a practice or two, great work! Don't let that hard work go to waste.
Each of the four years I spent playing college ultimate for the Claremont Greenshirts we would lose a chunk of new players for a variety or reasons. Some joined another sports team, a few didn't feel their ultimate skills were strong enough, while others worried the time commitment wasn't worth it.
So, how do you keep the rookies you've recruited coming back until they're so hooked they can't talk about college without saying your team's name?
Here are some simple strategies to make sure that ultimate becomes their top priority!
1. rookies are important - make sure they feel valued!
Get excited about the rookies! They’re certainly excited about you (whether or not they show it). Their coming out to practice was a brave act -- reward it by reaching out to them.
- Make sure that the upperclassmen learn the new players’ names.
- Start a mentor system between a returner and a group of new players to make the connection with ultimate more personal. This can also create some great opportunities for the pods to practice throwing or improve some part of their game as a smaller unit, where new players could use some closer attention.
- Take it upon yourself to be open and sociable at practice and team dinners. Ask the new players how classes are going, and be a resource if they have questions about anything in their lives outside of ultimate.
- Help them to get to know one another, and introduce them to members of the other open/women’s team as that can often be intimidating. To do this, my team hosted a “Speed Friend Dating” event that also helped returners between the two teams get to know each other better.
- Genuinely encourage their progress. As a rookie, it’s easy to get discouraged.
It shouldn’t take a lot of effort to reach out and make the rookies feel included. At the end of the season, one of our rookies told me that I was the reason she had joined the Greenshirts when, after her first practice, I put my hand on her shoulder and simply asked, “How are you doing?”
Finally, while nicknames are not a part of every team’s culture, if they are, it’s almost never too soon to start crowning your rookies with them. It’s a great way to make newbs feel wanted and part of the family. You have a small window to make them stick so get on it and keep them well-meaning!
2. plan social activities outside of ultimate
Team culture is hands down the biggest selling point (or deterrence) for rookies deciding whether or not to join the ultimate team. New players are often reeled in by the unique spirit of a team when it continues even after the cleats are removed. By making time for rookies outside of practice you get to add to your family while also giving these rooks a family that extends well beyond ultimate.
Schedule some non-ultimate activities so your rookies can get to know the amazing people they could call teammates and friends.
Additionally, consider assigning your eager sophomores the task of throwing or getting a meal with your rookies. Freshmen will appreciate the instant camaraderie that comes with joining the ultimate team, and sophomores will appreciate the responsibility.
Betty Gone Wild playing Cards Against Humanity
3. Get them rookies to a nearby tournament!
Even if you throw everything I’ve said out of a four-story window, the best thing you can do to retain rookies is to take them to a tournament. They're important for getting to know the team and getting addicted to the game!
I remember the Monday after my first tournament when my Noffles (non-frisbee friends) told me about the events they had attended that weekend. I had to smile because I felt as though I hadn't missed out on much.
Instead, I had gotten to develop a connection with other freshmen (and some cool upperclassmen), stop for ice-cream sandwiches on the way back to campus, help find the car keys when our captain dropped them on the streets of LA, and tryout the skills I had been working on in multiple game situations.
Needless to say, it was a unique weekend that stood out as only the beginning of my college ultimate career.
Get your first tournament on the books SOON and make it ACCESSIBLE (both in terms of cost and distance). Emphasize that this tournament is specifically for them and they should bail on other lamer social plans to go to this! Once there, make sure to split playing time among newbies and returners so that they get their shot on the field.
You don’t need to worry about creating specific experiences because these will come naturally. All it really takes from you is openness, a little planning ahead, and a lot of trust in your team’s culture and you’ll have the best rookie class to ever step cleat on your campus in no time!
What's next? Once you've got your rookies hooked, check out these posts on how to make sure they have everything they need to have a stellar season:
- Ultimate Gear Every Rookie Needs
- What to Expect at your First Ultimate Tournament
- What to Bring to your First Ultimate Tournament: a Beginner's Guide
- Coach Rio on How to Grow Rookies and Returners at the Same Time
OVER TO YOU
What drew you to your college's ultimate team? Do you remember your first tournament? We'd love to hear your stories and recruitment strategies!