“When playing ultimate, you are surrounded by girls who are both your teammates and friends, and competitors who would rather see you succeed than fail.”
It doesn’t take long for people to understand the heart of ultimate, as those sentiments were expressed by first-year ultimate player Bailey, an incoming high school sophomore who just recently finished her first year of ultimate with her school’s newly formed all-girls team.
Bailey knew about ultimate from a camp she participated in when she was younger, but was a bit skeptical about trying out for her high school team because of her previous experiences in sports. She played other sports in middle school but felt they didn’t emphasize mentorship and personal growth enough and that they put too much pressure on competition and winning.
“When I was in middle school, I wasn’t always in the happiest of moods to go out and play,” Bailey explained. “It was definitely a reason why I was hesitant to go out and join the ultimate team.”
With ultimate, however, it was a completely different experience, as the environment and atmosphere of the team made her feel right at home.
“Everyone was super great and encouraged each other,” exclaimed Bailey. “Everyone was amazing, and you wanted to share in on the energy with them!”
Bailey’s Chicago-based high school, Lane Tech, had a co-ed ultimate team in previous years, but there were only three girls on the team. Robert Berg, the school’s new ultimate coach, wanted to change that because he knew how important it was to get girls involved in sports.
“If we don’t focus [specifically] on girls, then they don’t feel comfortable just going out and playing,” explained Robert. Last year, there were three times as many boys’ teams as girls’ teams in high school ultimate throughout the country, a gap that Robert could not ignore. He wanted to create a girls’ team to provide a more welcoming environment.
Bailey admits that the formation of the all-girls team is what pushed her to try out for the team.
“To start a new, all-girls team was really monumental for us!”
An even more monumental moment came during Bailey’s first tournament. Only three practices into their season, Lane Tech got their first competition opportunity at Neuqua Knockout in Aurora.
Robert, however, wasn’t thrilled about the tournament initially. He almost didn’t have his team attend. The girls at Lane Tech were brand new to the sport, and Robert didn’t want the team’s first experience to be a negative one.
Bailey shared that anxiety. “I didn’t want to go out and face other teams for fear that the other girls would be mean.”
But Bailey was blown away after the first pull. When Lane Tech scored their first point and started to celebrate together, they looked over and saw the entire opposing team rush the field to congratulate them and join in on the celebration. Throughout the rest of the game, the opposing team continued to encourage Bailey and her teammates, as well as congratulate them after each point they scored,
“[The opposing team] totally loosened it up for my girls, and they were in love with the game after that,” reflected Robert. “That totally motivated them to continue with the sport and have just an amazing experience.”
Even though her team only won one game at the tournament, Bailey was more excited than she had been with any previous sport.
“It wasn’t like ‘We won one, it’s a shame we lost all of the others,’” she said. “It was more like ‘Yes, we won one, and we tried hard on all the others.’”
Bailey admits she’s not the greatest player on her team, but she still had an amazing time because of the welcoming environment of the sport.
“I think, in other sports, you would’ve been benched for not being as good of a player, but ultimate really encourages everyone to try, no matter the skill. You get to grow because everyone’s trying to help one another.”
That growth Bailey describes comes from the sense of unity she feels when she steps on the field with her teammates. The biggest impact the sport and her team have had on her so far has been the confidence she’s developed to go for her goals and not look back or second guess herself.
“I’m someone who hesitates before going to dive, and I end up missing it,” admits Bailey. “I’ve seen some girls on my team make insane catches. Being part of a team and learning from the other girls taught me to have confidence. In a broader sense, go for it in life. If you want it, don’t hesitate; just go for it.”
Bailey’s growth from her experiences on the team this past year was exactly the type of impact Robert wanted the sport to have on the girls who play.
“These girls have an opportunity to grow as a team, collaborate and build leadership skills as well,” he said.
Going into this year, Bailey has a newfound approach to sports, thanks to her experience with ultimate.
“I am not someone who has ever been amazing at sports or interested in trying to become better,” she explained. “When it comes to ultimate, I feel motivated to improve my skills and don’t feel as if ultimate will be a short-lived passion.”
In 2017, Lane Tech started their new, all-girls team with help from the Girls’ Team Startup Project, an initiative of the Girls’ Ultimate Movement (GUM) that hopes to address the disparity between male and female participation in high school ultimate. The initiative provides new teams with the resources necessary to help with their first three seasons, from financial assistance for memberships and tournament fees to coaching materials and resources through the Coaching Development Program.
“Having a girls’ team to empower them really gives them an opportunity to get the same things that I love about this team sport,” Robert commented.
“I think [ultimate] really gives girls a chance to try something athletic without the pressure of high school sports,” Bailey said. “It helps with getting girls to begin to like sports. This is a sport where, if I was playing when I was younger, I would be much more open to other sports because you get the sense of being on a team, which I think is really special.”
To find more information about how to join the Girls’ Team Startup Project, visit gum.usaultimate.org/girls-team-startup-project/.