An Intro to Consent at Party Tournaments

By Kira Morin, COO & CFO of RenFitness


My wonderful human beings.  There has been a whirlwind of conversation generated by "Me Too" posts, as well as many articles written by ultimate players over the years that highlight a need within our community. I believe that need has to do with consent. In particular, party tournaments are a unique experience that can be very positive, but everyone at some level or degree has had one or more negative experiences.  

I was born & raised in a conservative religion, which for me meant I didn't participate in or talk much about drinking or sexual behavior till my mid 20s. My transition away from conservative religion coincided with my transition into the ultimate community. I trusted my friends & community to provide a safe environment for me to me to rediscover myself, figure out who I am and what I want to be, and challenge myself to try new things. 10 years later, I feel stronger and more aware of who I am and what my boundaries are, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

I have realized over the years that we have something special. Our community strives to be welcoming, loving, trusting, and accepting. Not all communities can feel as safe as ours can, so when there is a breach in that safety it can be catastrophic. We need to do better.

Let’s get to it.

Ultimate is a community that is based on similar values and expectations, and most of us take that for granted.  We often think that just because someone is a part of the community, or a team, they are probably ok with strip calls, make-out heckles, nudity, alcohol, drugs, etc.  We assume that once we have seen them participate in one or more of those activities they will continue to participate in those activities. We assume that if the person has any issues they speak up and say no, and that by not saying no means they are saying yes, and if they don’t say yes right away it’s ok to heckle or tease them to make a decision in the moment that they may not have been ready to make.

Tournaments are saturated examples of these assumptions at play. They involve alcohol, recreational drugs, dancing, touching, makeouts, sex, and more. We place a lot of trust in our community at these tournaments when we choose to open up, let loose, and get a little crazy with all of our ultimate friends. We are all here to have fun, but it is imperative to remember that one person's idea of fun isn't necessarily another's. And that is perfectly okay. What isn't okay is making someone feel as if they are lame or wrong for electing to opt out of some of ultimate's wilder antics. So how do we safely participate in these fun activities in a community that we love and in a way that wants us to continue to participate in the future?

It’s about consent. It’s about starting the conversation now. It’s about building a culture of consent.

Consent covers all forms of interaction, not just sexual or physical interactions. It creates a space where the safety and agency of all parties is honored using healthy communication and negotiation to craft informed boundaries. Consent is an unforced moment-to-moment agreement to participate in a specific activity.

  • Unforced: Any use of force nullifies consent. Force can be overt threats or violence, covert manipulation, trickery, pressure, intimidation, heckling, and teasing.

  • Moment-to-moment: Consent can be withdrawn at any time. Prior consent does not commit a person to continue consenting.

  • Agreement: Consent is an active and clear “yes”, it is enthusiastic and makes everyone responsible for listening, rather than making a reluctant person responsible for expressing a clear “no”.  Drunkenness is not consent.

  • Specific: Consent to one activity does not commit a person to consent to other activities.

It’s about taking consent on as an individual.

Taking consent on as an individual does not mean that you assume responsibility for other people’s behavior.  It is a personal process of introspection that leads to heightened awareness meant to make you feel better prepared.

Think ahead about what you are ok with and not ok with; where is your line? Are you ok bumping and grinding? Making out with friends? Making out with strangers? Sex? How will you make sure you practice safe sex?  Do you carry condoms with you? How much do you want to drink? How will you know when you need to cut yourself off? Pot? MDMA? Do you need to be with specific people in order to experiment with drugs?

  • You can revoke consent at any time if you change your mind.

  • You can say no or draw or redraw boundaries at any time.

It’s about practicing yes & no ahead of time.

Standing up for yourself can be hard. It took me a long time to be able to say what I needed from others. It is always good to practice how you will respond to situations. Again, practicing saying yes & no does not mean you assume responsibility for other people’s behavior.

How will you say no? How will you say yes? When do you say yes or no?  What will help you be prepared? Do you have an exit strategy if you're 'no' isn't being respected? Who do you go to for help?

  • Practice saying “no, thank you.”

  • Have a prepared response that you can go to if caught off guard

  • A thoughtful pause or clarifying questions are also helpful in the moment

  • You shouldn’t have to say “no” more than once, so have a plan for what you will do if your “no” is not being respected.

It’s about taking consent on with interaction with others.

By taking consent on yourself and practicing yes & no ahead of time you will gain a better understanding of what consent means and how you can support others. It is our responsibility to ask for and respect the consent of others.

Do you ask before you touch someone?  Do you know your teammates’ boundaries? Do you know if they drink alcohol or not?  Do you know how to approach your teammates if you see them engaging in an activity they previously said they didn’t want to do?

  • Be respectful when hearing “no.” If you hear “no,” don’t ask multiple times, and don’t ask for an explanation.

  • Only act on enthusiastic consent: “Yes!” not “Maybe…”

  • Even if someone said “yes!” last time, you must explicitly ask for their consent again

  • Your desire to touch someone sexually or nonsexually for whatever reason does not outweigh their desire not to be touched.

  • It doesn’t matter why they don’t want to be touched; that’s their business.

  • Sexual orientation is a non-factor, just because you are attracted to one sex does not mean you can touch the other sex without consent.

  • Still ask for consent even if you’re afraid of the answer “no”, “no” is not a reflection of your worth, it is a reflection of their boundaries.

  • Individuals must be in control of, and able to revoke consent at all times for that consent to remain valid.

  • Mistakes happen, stop and apologize as soon as possible, repair, and reflect on how you can do better next time.  

How can you build a culture of consent on your team?

  • Team conversations prior to tournament.  Is everyone ok with your team theme, spirit goals, team goals for the weekend? Describe the tournament culture (is it a party tourney, will there be drinking, dancing, nudity?) and prompt your team to think about the consent topics above.

  • Team Huddles.  Go around the circle and add a question or two that is appropriate for your team culture and/or tournament culture. Make sure all questions feel optional and that it is ok to share only what you are comfortable with. They can be discrete questions that are open to interpretation “What is your drinking preference?”, “What are you looking to get out of this weekend, on and off the field?”, “What is your touch preference, ask before any touch, hugs ok, etc?”. Or they can be concrete and direct questions like “What is your preferred sexual orientation?”, “What are your physical/sexual boundaries?”, “How would you like others to approach you if they are concerned about your participation in an activity you previously indicated that you didn’t want to participate in?” For example, on the Gay Agenda at Potlatch, where our team’s expressed purpose was to celebrate sexual diversity, we asked for name, gender pronouns, who you are into (men, women, both, none, other) and what you're into for the weekend (flirting, dancing and having a good time, open to whatever and will say no as needed, makeouts, etc), and favorite sexual position (just for fun). At Hanford with Homegrown, which is traditionally a team of experienced players who want to win but also like to party and know how to balance those two things, we asked a series of question: name, gender pronouns, and the level of touch you were okay with (all touch welcome, ask first if it’s okay, only hugs) which opened the door for people to share their relationship status and boundaries, and what we wanted to get out of the weekend (win, party, both, etc).

  • Consent Wristbands. Designate a colored wristband that implies that when wearing the wristband others can ask you to join them in an activity. For example a blue wrist band can mean they consent to drinking alcohol, so you can comfortably ask if they would like a drink. Wearing the wristband does not mean you have to consent every time. Not wearing the wristband means you would prefer not to be asked (in any way) to drink, it does not mean you can’t drink. You can remove or put on a wristband at anytime.

  • Debrief after the tournament.  Reflect as individuals and as a team.  Discuss what you learned and continue to make improvements.

  • Be inclusive: Choosing not to partake in drinking, drugs, sexual conduct, or other activities shouldn’t detract from how much fun a teammate is having. Their teammates should respect those choices and trust that they’re making the decisions that are right for them. Make an effort to engage in team activities that everyone can partake in, not just those who are open to everything. Create an environment that is fun and safe for all team members and where everyone feels safe and able to draw their own boundaries around consent in all activities.

Consent is a complex topic that requires many conversations, a lifelong pursuit of practice, and a continued drive to learn & grow. Much of this article is focused on awareness, education and preventative measures.  It does not discuss the role gender plays, sexual violence, or what you should do if there is significant breach of consent.  I would love to continue those conversations with other articles in the future.  

Start the conversation now. Build a culture of consent.

Use this article as a conversation starter and guide for individuals, teams, and tournament goers. Consider sharing this article and discussing how you will create a culture of consent as a team or group of friends, start an email chain, or include it in a tournament packet. This work is hard and we won’t be perfect, but we need to continually try.

References - The Consent Academy has some great resources.  RenFitness is partnering with them to offer a workshop geared to the ultimate community; more information coming soon!