Tag Archives: gender ratio

United Ultimate League: professional mixed play could accelerate U.S. youth development & gender equity

In early 2018, a new professional ultimate league was proposed that would advance gender equity in the sport with great symbolism for youth players. If you’re a coach, parent, or player that would like to explore how professional mixed ultimate could inspire and accelerate youth development, then you should back the United Ultimate League (UUL) Kickstarter — a community fundraiser that is now in its final stages (end of February, 2018).

If you can’t contribute financially (and even if the Kickstarter fails) it’s worth understanding the suite of proposed ideas — many of which have implications for the development of youth ultimate in the United States. This blog post is my attempt to pull together salient details about the proposed league. I hope it will promote discussion of gender equity and professional ultimate, particularly in Seattle where the UUL campaign and ideas seem to have received little attention, possibly because the league proposal has been led by Todd Curran, the CEO of the Savage ultimate apparel company which is based on the East coast.

Youth benefits

From my perspective as a youth coach (elementary and middle school) and a father of both a female and male player, the idea of regular, local, high-level mixed ultimate games in major U.S. cities is most attractive for one key reason: the youngest kids learn to play co-ed (in elementary school) and it would be more meaningful if there were both women and men on the field when these youth first watch a professional game. We liked and supported the MLU Rainmakers and we love and support the AUDL Cascades — especially their impressive ramp up of youth-fostering activities over the last couple years. Live-streamed mixed games from USAU club championships are great, too.

But only a mixed professional team could inspire all of our youngest players equally, and rid us of the dissonance we feel when they earnestly ask upon first viewing the professional field “Wait, where are the girls?”

The UUL Kickstarter site makes two good points about additional benefits the new league could offer to youth ultimate:

Why 6v6 and not 8v8?
We chose the 6v6 style and slightly smaller Ultimate field to follow with our core values: gender equity and youth development. Having a smaller field means it’s harder to reach top speed. Also with fewer players on the field, it makes “looking off passes” less advantageous. On the youth side, the smaller field allows for two fields to fit on one soccer field. This increases playing opportunities and keeps costs low.

Equal-gender 6-versus-6 format

The UUL proposes 6-person teams (instead of the adult standard of 7) with equal number of players who identify as men or women. (How genderqueer players would/could play hasn’t been specified, as far as I’ve seen.)  The Kickstarter site points out that if this format became accepted and popular, youth teams could also convert to 6v6.

In Seattle the elementary league has transitioned to 5v5 over the past two springs, in part because the format generally means more touches per player and less complexity on the field (making it easier to learn to create and take space, and safer by decreasing the odds of a collision). Perhaps middle school leagues could start playing coed 6v6 which would not only match the UUL format, but also provide a transition to learning 7v7 in high school.

Or maybe we would optimize development by staying with 5v5 through middle school and transitioning to 6v6 in high school? As males catch up developmentally with girls in middle and high school, youth players might also benefit from the UUL’s concept of promoting gender equity by using the smaller field dimensions to lower the likelihood of players hitting their top speeds (thereby decreasing the risk of more-injurious collisions and de-emphasizing the speed differentials between genders).

Smaller field

In Seattle, where field access is an on-going and increasing problem, it would be strategic to shift the game to a smaller field (with dimensions that fit twice within a soccer or football footprint). This is part of the reason elementary teams shifted to 5v5. If both middle and high school leagues switched to 6v6, we could effectively double their supply of fields instantly.

The field size is 70×40 yards overall with 20 yard endzones, dimensions which have been tested successfully in flatball, another ultimate variant that has been sponsored by Savage Ultimate. Since the standard soccer field width is 70 yards, a soccer or football pitch could accommodate two of these new ultimate fields, with a generous 10-20 yards for a safe sideline between fields.

Other aspects of the UUL: good, bad, and not yet defined…

The positive implications for youth ultimate I’ve outlined above should be enough to inspire most ultimate community members to back the UUL Kickstarter. There are, however, lots of other interesting ideas that the proposed league has offered for our consideration. And there are some areas of ambiguity where the community has asked for and/or could provide innovative solutions.

Since the sources of information and discussion about the league are pretty spread out, below I’ve distilled the ones I found most helpful in answering questions I had after reading through the Kickstarter site.


Resources, interviews, discussions

Deep Look: United Ultimate League, U24 Worlds


More links to explore:

United Ultimate League Prepares for 2019 Launch | Introducing Ultimate’s First Professional Mixed League
byu/UnitedUltimateLeague inultimate



Tough decisions for beginner coaches

In my 2 years of coaching elementary ultimate, I’ve rarely had to make decisions that affected my team’s success.  For the most part, my players absorb enough of the rules of ultimate during practices and on the sidelines to be able to self-officiate without adult supervision during games (though I wish I could eavesdrop on their foul resolution more often!).

Is this coach a damper on his team?
Is this coach a damper on his team?

Today, though, in the glorious heat of the Disc NW elementary spring league playoffs, I was presented with two decisions (see below) that challenged me, and ultimately affected or could have affected the outcomes of our games.  What would you other beginner (or experienced) coaches have done in each situation?  (Feel free to answer and/or discuss in the comments!)

Situation 1: two girls or too few girls?

At the beginning of your game the opposing coach explains that they only have three girls so wonder if it would be okay to play 5 boys and 2 girls at a time.  That way their girls will have a sub and won’t get too worn out for their subsequent games in the playoffs.  Your roster, though, only has 5 boys and 5 girls, so if you agree then you won’t have any boy substitutes.  Knowing that agreeing would conflict with one of the league rules (about playing at least 3 girls), but also being sympathetic having been in the same situation, what would you do?

Gender Ratio: Teams must field a minimum of 3 girls. In order to promote girls in ultimate, more girls may be fielded if a team wishes. After the first 3 girls, gender ratio matching is not required. Teams must play down if they cannot field 3 girls.

I agreed, but said that I wanted the opportunity to return to the 3 girl:4 boy ratio if we were down at the half.  At the half, we were down 6 to 1.  We switched back to normal rules and it made a difference: we started catching up, but not fast enough.  In the end, we lost 11 to 3.

If asked again, I think I’d still say yes.  But next time, I’ll suggest that we play with the official ratio first, and consider changing to a 2 girl:5 boy ratio only if *their team* is falling too far behind at the half!  Another solution might have been to drop down to teams of 2 girls & 3 boys for that game, as that would have enabled all of our players — our boys and their girls — to get an occasional break.

On the other hand, I think I recall correctly from the 2013 coaches meeting that the main rationale for having 3 girls on the field all the time is to ensure that girls get close to equal playing time in youth ultimate.  So, dropping down to 2 girls in any scenario would mean that my 5 girls — all of whom have practiced hard and showed up on time to play — would get less playing time than they expected and that the rules say they deserve.

So, on second (or third) thought, since I want to be a strong advocate for girls in ultimate, next time I’ll insist on sticking to the rules.  If they want to keep their girls fresh for the later games (and give them less playing time than they expected), let them play down one girl.  My girls would be happy to double team one of their stronger players — boy or girl!

Situation 2: when is enough enough?

Your team has had an awesome, finger-biting game, trading leads multiple times with another team that’s a great match — both in skill and spirit.  The score is tied at 10-10 with 5 minutes to go before the 1-hour hard cap.  Your team pulls, but the opponents manage to score with 3 minutes left.  Thinking the game is over because generally the first to 11 wins in our league, their team cheers and starts flooding onto the field.

But you know all the league rules regarding scoring and caps, right.  They’re not that complicated —

  • Point Total & Game Times:
    • Games are to 11 points.
    • Mirror halftime at 6 points, and take a short timeout (2 minutes or less).
    • The hard cap is applied at 60 minutes (15 minutes before the next round).
      • Teams should finish the current point (if between points, finish the next point).
      • The team that is ahead at the end of that point is the winner.
      • If the game is tied at the end of that point, play one more point (“universe point”).
    • Win by 2, unless a time cap or point cap is in place.
    • Point cap at 13.

You walk over to their coach and venture “You have to win by 2, don’t you?”  They suggest that it depends on whether there’s any time left.  You look at your watch and point out there are a couple minutes left.  But you both agree that there’s only about 15 minutes before you both start your next playoff game.

Do you press to play one more point, knowing that if your team does manage to tie it up, you’ll have/get to play “a universe point” and cut further into your team’s chance to rest?

I decided to ease off, giving the opposing team their win and my players a full 15 minute break, hoping the re-charge would help them take home a victory in their final game.  How sweet it would have been, though, to win that most-memorable-of-the-whole-season-game with a universe point!