Miranda's Mailbag #1

Welcome to the first edition of Miranda's Mailbag  (#MM1) where Coach Knowles answers questions from around the ultimate community. You can ask a question by posting it on social media with the #MirandasMailbag, tagging @atlantahustle or Coach Knowles. 

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I’m sure you may have heard by now that there’s a community petition being signed to opt out/in to supporting the AUDL 2018 season. I feel very conflicted about signing this petition. I wanted to reach out to you as someone who has been intimately involved with the league as a coach of the Hustle and as a woman who has and continues to promote and grow girls’/women’s ultimate. You have such a well-rounded perspective, so I wanted to ask if you would share your thoughts on this boycott and the role of the audl in the growth of ultimate. - Jin-Mi Matsunaga

Thanks for the excellent question.  I've been thinking and talking a lot about this for the last few weeks, and of course the preceding 20 years I've been involved in ultimate.  I appreciate how you've addressed this issue and how you've reached out to me - very few people have spoken to me about why I've chosen to be part of the AUDL and I think now is a great time for me to share that story.

First of all, let's think about this job for me professionally.  I am a professional ultimate coach and have gotten paid to do this great work for over 10 years.  I am ambitious and want to pursue my profession to its highest point.  I've coached every level there is to coach and, right now, the highest profile coaching position in Atlanta is coaching the Atlanta Hustle.  I was offered this position because I am the best ultimate frisbee coach in the city and I took the position because it is an interesting and rewarding challenge.

Now let's start to think of this from a gender equity point of view.  You know what would be worse than the AUDL as it is today?  The AUDL without me, the other female coaches, owners and players like Jesse Shofner in it. I think the league will survive this boycott and will proceed with fewer allies of gender equity involved, which is scary.  I don't plan to sign the boycott. If I signed the boycott. I would not be able to be a leader in gender equity discussions for the Atlanta Hustle and the AUDL. As it is, I get to speak with Commissioner Steve Gordon about gender equity and he affords me a level of mutual respect that other women might not get because I am the Director of Coaching for one of his league's teams. I get to blaze paths for the Atlanta Hustle and the Atlanta Men's Ultimate community to start recognizing how much power they have from the privilege they were born with and what exactly to do about that.  

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I believe that ultimate needs both sides right now: it needs people to put pressure on the ultimate organizations - their leaders, coaches, players and fans - to be more urgent in addressing issues of gender equity (or even just equality to start with).  But ultimate needs me, too, and other people like me. People who fight from within, wherever they may fall on the gender continuum. The people tasked with figuring out what to do differently, now that the heat has been turned up, need to be people who are well-versed, experienced and prepared to look after the best interests of all people who play ultimate, not just those who currently get to play professional ultimate.  I believe that I am one of those people and I am proud to be part of the solution to this problem by working from within the AUDL. I saw Laurel Oldershaw's recent article stating that the AUDL commissioner's gender equity statement was inadequate and suggested he was not well-trained in equity policy making.  I bet Laurel's right that he does not have experience with this issue...but isn't it cool that he might look to me to help figure it out?


I met with the Hustle player leadership and we had a great discussion about the boycott and reasons the AUDL is a good space for each of us.  I spoke about all that I've been able to do to influence gender equity from within the AUDL that otherwise never would have happened (Hustle Future games, live-streamed showcase of a girls' high school state finals preceding a Hustle game, youth clinics, etc.). 


I encourage all of you to ask members of the AUDL exactly that - why DO you play/coach/own/manage?  It's an important, difficult question given the gender inequality in the league today.  We're all thinking about it and making our decisions consciously and intentionally.  For me, having power over (coaching/leading) the powerful (men) is cool.  Deserving and receiving their respect and deference is awesome.  When the Paideia girls and Outbreak women I coach see me in my role with the Hustle, it gives us all hope that I won't be the only woman on most sidelines in 10, 5 or 2 years.  I certainly hope some of them will be on the field and coaching against/alongside me.
 

Any thought to offering equity workshops/discussions for HS teams? Maybe with @AWUltimate - @Atlasycc

SO much thought!  We are scheduling conversations with local stakeholders in the women's ultimate community to devise a plan that addresses issues of equity.  Honestly, we should be the ones IN the workshops, not leading them, so we're sort of going to start there and do as much as we can.

Can you explain more about your new role and vision for the Hustle team? What are your goals? Do you plan to make any major changes? 

Of course!  My new role is called the Director of Coaching.  We don't have a Head Coach this year because there is no one in Atlanta with the qualifications and time necessary to fill that role properly, myself included (my priority in the spring will always be to the girls I coach at Paideia).  The hope is that over the next few years, I'll be able to train up a cohort of leaders in our community who will eventually be ready to take the reins of the team as a head coach of the Atlanta Hustle.  These leaders will be current players and coaching interns for the time being [interns may apply by emailing a cover letter/resume to jboezi @ atlantahustle.com].  


My vision for the Hustle is to make it a team where athletes can have fun playing great ultimate, improve individually and compete at the highest level.  These are my goals for every team I coach and I believe that professional ultimate is a great place to see them in action.  The major changes will be mostly internal - increased access to practices for players with jobs, families or other responsibilities and players from out of town, emphasis on elite athleticism with professional trainers, and simplification of our system with a focus on fundamentals.  We will be building from the base with a heavy emphasis on standard offense that each player understands deeply, smart defense that plays to our strengths while minimizing our weaknesses and increasing the team's ultimate IQ so that players can make great decisions on their own in real time. 

Why have you chosen to coach in the AUDL?

I coach in the AUDL for the Atlanta Hustle because it is the highest profile coaching job in Atlanta and it is an honor to hold that position. I have coached at all levels and around the world, but it is an interesting challenge to coach elite open ultimate and I look forward to my future in this realm with the Hustle and Chain.  

The Hustle is particularly interesting to me because of my background in traditional sports, especially basketball, which is far more similar to AUDL than USAU (interactions with referees, clock management, yardage penalties, etc.).  While I highly value the character development of self-officiation and the spirit of coaching in USAU rules, I also really enjoy the increased impact a coach can have strategically in AUDL games, particularly with respect to calling time outs and end of quarter schemes.

Can you share any experiences you’ve had being a woman coaching an AUDL team, either internally from your players/staff or externally from other teams or fans? 


I am a tough person, but make no mistake, it is difficult to be a woman on an AUDL sideline (I can't even imagine what it's like in the NBA or NFL right now).  It's still an ultimate atmosphere, but it's the most showcased our sport has been - in a stadium with fans removed from the game - so it is difficult to be different and in the spotlight.  

My ultimate playing career garnered me enough respect that Hustle players never question my feedback because of my gender, but it's still quite a different atmosphere traveling to road games with a bunch of dudes than with Riot, Syzygy or Groove.  I played for Paideia's open team in high school (there was no girls team then) and this experience reminds me a bit of that - male-dominated but with space and respect for women who know what they're doing.  

It hasn't always been easy - at our first home game, a fan shouted down to me, "Hey Miranda, does your husband know you coach?" and later, ostensibly because I'd worn my hair tied back "Miranda, nice bun, next time why don't you wear your hair down?"  In that moment, I thought I might sink into the turf and cease to exist.  But, I kept coaching and finished the game and then in our recap conversations, I was able to address this with head coach Greg Swanson and general manager John Boezi.  I will always be grateful to them for the response over the phone - Greg said immediately, "That is completely unacceptable and it can never happen again."  Boezi started thinking of ways we could regulate hate speech (of any kind) from the crowd and how to keep Hustle games a positive, inclusive space.  

I think that I am a trailblazer and have opted into this experience so I'll shoulder the burden of being one of the first women in the AUDL.  I can only do this because we keep moving forward as an organization with fantastic allies in charge.
 

What’s the biggest difference coaching AUDL vs club? - Qxhna titcomb (@qxhnz) 


Strangely, I believe it's off-field logistics.  In club, players and coaches are always in charge of everything - hotel rooms, flights, rental cars, finances, tournament schedules, etc. - and they get bogged down with it.  The AUDL is a great place for players to just get to play.

What are the top three qualities you look for in a playing trying out, athleticism and disc skills aside? - @billbourret


1.  Effort.  I want the players who show up early, are throwing before I ask players to start throwing, try their max in every drill/on every play and are gritting out every cut/coverage until the whistle blows.  Do you jog back to the line after your rep?
2.  Coachability.  I want the players who want to learn from me, those who know they're good but strive to be better.  I can make anyone better who wants to be their best.  In a tryout this is measured by how you respond to feedback from leadership - does the athlete at least try to do what we're asking?
3.  Focus.  To accomplish a lot, I need athletes who are fully engaged and ready to absorb whatever we throw at them.  I want to see silent eye contact and nodding of understanding while I'm explaining drills.  It's ok to relax during a water or lunch break, but to maximize our time together, athletes need to turn their brains on and keep them on.


What is the best advice you can give to new players? What are you and others looking for in tryouts? - Alexandre Tilly‏ (@Frenchlandican)


For new players, and all players trying to stay on top of their game, you should throw as much as possible.  You should be throwing thousands of throws every week outside of practice.  This should be focused throwing - don't just go throw with a pal, go out and try to complete 50 inside-out forehands to the correct space or 50 wide-release backhands around an invisible mark.  

Who scared you as an individual match up when you were in your prime? - Chuck Town (@chucktownnow)


No one.  There were players who were more challenging to get open on (Laura Gold of Ozone was the best at defending me) or to get blocks on (Sarah Wentworth of Team Australia was so powerful and fast), but I never stepped onto a field with an ounce of fear.  The better the match up, the bigger the potential reward. 

What will it take to make the playoffs? Three very good teams in @raleigh_flyers @TampaBaCannons @DRoughnecks will be tough to unseat, surely -  @billbourret


Honestly, it may simply take time.  Atlanta open ultimate has started a shift away from digging the long ball toward digging the high-percentage away pass, but it will take time to cement this as our identity.  We will be setting internal goals unrelated to playoffs or record and will be very excited to accomplish those goals. That may or may not land us in the playoffs, but in the long term, it will give us the best chance to succeed.  


Interested fan here...what kind of new strategies are you looking to develop this year? Any good prospects to keep an eye on? ;) - Mike DeNardis


We're really excited about the prospect of adding Justin Allen and Jonathan Nethercutt to our roster - we think they'll be perfect for the new Snakes in the Grass play (5 players run down on defense while 2 sneak around waiting for the opponent to huck to an "open" person deep).