Cultural Archetypes of Teams
May 15, 2017
Note: Because the divisions of our sport run along a gender binary, including within the Mixed division when fielding a line, I follow the gender binary in my terminology. I want to acknowledge that the experiences of trans* athletes exist in our sport. Those experiences are complex and intersect with the content of this column.
This year, I’ve been a part of multiple teams’ tryout processes, and I’m working collaboratively on gender equity conversations with mixed teams in the area. I’m awestruck by the embarrassment of riches we have in the Seattle area. People are trying out for multiple teams, and have more than just the choice between single gender and mixed ultimate for their season. Players are also getting to choose between different types of teams within each division (and those teams get to choose the players, of course!).
In particular, I noticed that the mixed teams in Seattle each have their own distinct central facets of team culture and identity, so when people try out for each team, they get an opportunity to try on different team cultures. What’s even more amazing is that each established mixed team in Seattle is dedicated, in their own ways, to gender equity.
I want to consider the different cultural archetypes of mixed teams I’ve encountered and how each can express a value for gender equity that fits within their respective team culture. An individual team can and should have pieces of each of these archetypes, but for simplicity’s sake we’ll reduce complex cultures to one-dimensional, two-sentence summaries.
This team is one founded on showing love for each other in every possible moment. They show this love with words and actions, and are willing to get raw and exposed with their feelings.
The way I see these teams value gender equity is through very open, honest conversations on how they feel about the impacts of inequity and movements toward equity. The tricky thing with this kind of team is caring too much about each other’s feelings, meaning they don’t call people out in the moment of an offense or push each other outside their comfort zones.
I’ll say it - this is where my team, Seattle Mixtape, sits most of the time, and I love it. We also live in the “lovers” space, but less loudly and less explicitly proclaimed than the s**t talk. We call each other out on everything. Every humble brag, every turnover, every awkward moment gets called out with love.
The way we’ve made space for gender equity conversations is from this calling out place. We’re okay giving each other firm feedback in the moment - whether a captain uses inappropriately gendered language in a huddle or someone cuts off others on the field - we are willing to let them know. The danger in this cultural archetype is getting to the place where the talk twists into put-downs and blaming language, a place my team has definitely gone before!
The fun-focused team is one that most players have experienced. This can be a team made for the club series, but is often a team put together for one party tournament. One might ask why this team should even *need* to tackle equity, because such serious subjects take away from fun! Birdfruit player and my EMU Campaign compatriot, Natalie Jamerson puts it best - “I can’t have fun until we talk about gender equity.”
Often, these teams will show their values through play and how they talk to each other off the field. These teams can show a value by monitoring their humor and language off the field to make sure it’s inclusive, and make space for women in informal leadership moments, like calling plays on the line and leading cheers. The danger of this team is twisting gender equity into a joke for the team, which is a tenuous balance to walk without really hurting feelings.
This team wants each and every player on the team to get better at ultimate. They’re all about individualized feedback and setting measurable goals.
As I discussed in my last article, gender equitable mixed ultimate is often just good ultimate, so a team that wants to improve can show their value of all players’ improvement, while ensuring they look at player feedback from a gender equity lens. If the team gets too locked into this lens and forgets to look at feedback and development from other angles, feedback might become one-dimensional, leading to one-dimensional players.
Finally, there are those teams that run like a business, thinking clinically and logically about every facet of organization and strategy.
The way this team can look at gender equity is from the angle of “customer satisfaction”. Ultimate is something that we all pay to do (except a handful of people), so in effect, this business team is an “experiential product” that each player is purchasing. The goal of this team should be for all players to have a satisfactory experience, and similar to the fun-based team, they need to address gender equity to enable all the players to have a good time. The potential hazard with this approach is being overly analytical and not valuing players’ feelings fully while addressing these issues.
By no means have I covered all teams with these categories. What I appreciate, however, is that there are so many different ways a team can operate. None of these are inherently a wrong way to run a team and different players will find one of those team models to be their best fit. What’s really beautiful is that every team can find their way to express a value of gender equity that fits into their overall culture. As your season begins, I challenge you to think about what your team’s culture is and how you can thoughtfully and authentically show your value of gender equity within that culture.