Women at Virginia Highlands Ultimate

The Virginia Highlands (VHP) Ultimate pick-up group is a loosely organized collection of ultimate players, mostly based in Arlington, VA and the area.

This is what we do, seven days a week, in all sorts of weather.

Photo credit: Marcus Zachary

You’ll notice a key feature of those pictures (other than the awesome ultimate) — there are no women. This is all too typical of our games; a few women come out, but seldom more.

As some of the women who do come to pick-up regularly, we wanted to figure out why there are so few of us and how we can change that. To get to the bottom of this, we created a survey, posted it to the VHP Facebook group, and got responses from 26 women.

On the plus side, we learned that there was a lot to like about VHP!

The group was described as ‘welcoming’ and ‘friendly’ and ‘fun.’

We play at decent locations, women liked the level of competition, and there’s a game all of the time. Great! But, of course, we were much more interested in how we can do better. We learned that we’ve still got room for improvement, on and off the field. We analyzed the responses to find key themes.

On the field

Women told us loud and clear that they didn’t feel like men threw to them in an equitable way. Some men, they said, “have issues throwing to women” or frequently “look women off.”

Women felt like they had to prove themselves in a way that their male teammates did not in order to be included in the play.

They also suggested that we look at the ‘last back’ system we use, where the first people to get on the line get to play. Especially on crowded days, this can really make it hard for women to get on the field. It also means that the teams are constantly changing, which can mean that it takes longer for women to be integrated into the group.

Near the field

Women felt encouraged and welcomed and that the environment was generally positive.

This was an area of strength for our group. Additionally, some women asked for more chances to be coached in a positive way, especially by more experienced women, either through informal advice or structured skills sessions.

Off the field

Women said that they would be more likely to come out if their friends were out or if they knew that there was a social event going on after the game.

So what now?

We’ve already started making changes, starting with the easy wins. We have:

  • Appointed a social chair to plan more off the field activities so that people can get to know each other.
  • Changed the way that game times are published on the Facebook group to make it clearer for new people.
  • Added a later game once a week while we have the field space, for people who work later.

We have more planned. When the weather gets warmer, we’re going to organize a skills and drills session, with a focus on encouraging women to come out and bring their friends.

We’re also starting some of the harder conversations. Addressing women’s concerns requires both building awareness and support within the community and exploring practical fixes, such as changing the way we make teams. To kick off this discussion, we’re hosting an event as part of 28 Days of Food, Frisbee and Feminism on February 23, 2017.

A more detailed analysis of the anonymized survey results can be found here.