How to Recruit & Retain Women for Your Team

Tips to help teams live long and prosper!

* Note: in this article when we refer to women or men, we include self-identifying, non-binary and trans folks.

One of the many unique aspects of ultimate is that it’s a popular co-ed sport. In the VUL, more than 4500 people play ultimate in the summer, of which about 58% are men* and 42% are women*.

We know both anecdotally and through survey data that one of the main challenges for many teams to form and stay together year-over-year is their ability to recruit and retain enough women-matching players. 

In order to understand how successful teams do this we asked 100 experienced captains what they do so we could share their wisdom with you! Our hope is that this collective knowledge sparks new ideas for your team to keep on having fun together! 

You’ll notice most of these strategies aren’t just related to recruiting and retaining women. In fact, many captains told us that they don’t do anything special for women, they just do the same types of things for all new players.

Without further adieu, here’s what we heard:

Recruiting Women-matching Players 

Who Teams Target for Recruitment

  • Friends of current players
  • Friends of friends (especially through women already on the team)
  • Co-workers
  • Teammates from past leagues (or other sports)
  • People already looking for a team

Strategies Used for Recruitment

  • Try it out - have a team practice before the season starts
  • Encourage new women to join, even if they can only play part-time
  • Have face to face conversations. Be prepared to answer all questions
  • Look at personality types on your team and recruit new players that gel into the culture of the team
  • Recruit year round
  • Host pre-season events for teammates and friends outside of just playing ultimate
  • Balance your recruitment so you don’t have a team of experienced men and new women
  • VUL Matchmaker
  • Post on the VUL personals forum
  • Vancouver Women’s Ultimate Facebook Group

Messages Used to Recruit

  • No experience needed
  • We support the development of new players
  • We publicly save 50% of spots for women
  • You don’t need to play every single week
  • Parents are more than welcome to bring their kids
  • Attend VUL clinics - there are several for beginners!

Retaining Women-matching Players 

How is it that some teams don’t struggle with losing players from their teams? Here’s what we heard:

Make it Fun and Enjoyable

  • Play to win, but keep it light
  • Snacks and bevies at the field
  • Stick around to socialize after the game together or go to a VUL Clubhouse
  • Hand out fun weekly awards. One team, Illegal Smile, presents the “Hammer of Awesome” for the player that throws the best hammer or most hammers in a game (it’s literally a hammer)
  • Hand out team awards at the end of season for a variety of fun categories like Speed Demon, Sticky Hands, Best Dressed, Huck Champion, etc

Be Mindful of Others’ Experience on the Field

  • Ensure women are part of the play
  • Play 4 women often
  • Encourage women to take roles that are often played by men - handling, being the first cut on a set play, cutting deep, picking up the disc, etc
  • Give space for women captains and players to speak up in team huddles
  • Encourage experienced women to take a mentor or coaching role to newer women
  • Hold practices to help new players on your team improve
  • #throwtowomen, or as women are often thinking: #throwtome
  • Strike for women who have the disc (even if you think they are unlikely to throw it)
  • Play to people’s skills but also allow them to learn and develop new skills by trying new roles
  • Allow for flexible schedules and have extra women available as subs

Team Identity 

  • Make the goal about building disc confidence and experience
  • Think of the team you want 2 years from now… beginner players will not improve if they are not included in the play
  • Ask women on your team for feedback. Have mid-season questions with newer players to see how their experience is going and if they feel involved in the play
  • Remind players about the implicit bias that causes women to often get less play time and get thrown the disc less

Further Reflection

Are you still unsure why your team is struggling retaining women? Encourage a conversation with yourself and your team! Here are some questions that might help get at the root of your team's needs. 

Questions for men to ask themselves:

  1. Do you strike deep equally for women and men on your team?
  2. Will you throw to newer players on your team, especially women, if you think they are likely to drop the disc?
  3. Are you committed to the culture of this team, or to helping shape the culture? What do you want the team to look like two years from now?
  4. Does your team leave space for women to speak as much as men?
  5. Are there women on your team who are in active leadership roles? If not, how can you encourage that?
  6. If you are a stronger player, who can you mentor this season?
  7. If you are a newer player, who can you ask to be a mentor this season?

Questions for women to ask themselves?

  1. Do men on your team strike deep when you have the disc?
  2. Do you receive the disc often enough for the game to feel fun? Are there players on your team you can talk to in order to help you improve?
  3. Are you committed to the culture of this team, or to helping shape the culture? What do you want the team to look like two years from now?
  4. Is there an opportunity for you to take a leadership role on your team if you were interested?
  5. Do you feel comfortable speaking up on your team if you don’t feel as included in play?
  6. If you are a stronger player, who can you mentor this season?
  7. If you are a newer player, who can you ask to be a mentor this season?