Women’s Ultimate may have a long way to go, but behind every success story, you can find a certain theme. It’s about determination, motivation, hours of training, and commitment. Each women player, who decided to create a team or get involved in helping it grow, was driven by certain goals and dreams. These elements wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for a supportive environment. The will of improving skills has to be matched with a team trainer. A person like that recognizes an effort and enhances their players with good advice and points them in the right direction. In this interview on Women’s Ultimate Frisbee, I’d like to introduce you to Michał Dul – Poland’s U20 National Team for Joint Junior Ultimate Championships 2022.
Michał Dul has been one of the people, leading the Polish Ultimate Frisbee Association. Currently, he’s behind the Duch Gry Wrocław Association, which leads the growth of Ultimate in that region.
Among his most important achievements are Europe’s Indoor Ultimate Champion in 2020, 12th place at European Club Championships, and 4 times National Champion in the Open category.
Add to that local team leading, tournament directing and current U20 Women’s Ultimate Frisbee Team coaching and you’ll find this list going on for a few more paragraphs.
Without further ado, check out the interview with Michał!
Women’s Ultimate is a young category in Poland if you consider the number of active teams and their growth. How do you perceive the progress of Ultimate? What’s holding the sports back?
We have restricted opportunities, to be honest. Just a tiny fraction of parents are sending their kids to sports classes. They’re not always motivated by their welfare. In the case of the boys – and girls these days – soccer is winning across all competitions and disciplines. That’s relevant even if we consider them as a sports collective. Many young people are already doing something in their lives, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or a girl. Many people already play and train something. We need to focus on those individuals who decide to stay and have the right approach – give them something, so they won’t leave. Gaining new players requires many actions. It’s often a long-term commitment of a few people to run the recruitment and efficiently entwin the players into the team’s life.
So, what do you think should change on the polish scene for Women’s Ultimate to flourish? We often have situations where the teams sign up for tournaments, only to drop out at the last moment. Such was the case with the previous year’s Women’s Nationals. It got divided into several events due to Covid, and half of the teams resigned in the end.
Many Open teams also withdrew, and we had the same situation this year. So, it wasn’t only the state of the Women’s Ultimate scene, but the Polish Ultimate scene in general. It’s very focused on the Mixed category. Sadly, that’s how it is. Besides, the Mixed division has also faced a low sign-up rate for the Championships. The number of Women’s teams has increased in the last few years. We didn’t get close to the situation where only two teams compete for the title for a while now.
As an association, we shared a lot of tips. We answered the question of how to grow as a sport. We’ve stressed that teams should take matters into their own hands and commit their time. They should work on it in their regions instead of waiting for ready solutions. To grow, you should take care of it and do it your way.
There are people in Poland who are willing to share their knowledge. There are even some who are traveling to lead the clinics. You can see such efforts in Szczecin. A Women’s Ultimate team in Wrocław set its priorities many years ago. Warsaw teams keep proving that this category is worthwhile. From what I hear, Sarny Północy work hard and share their efforts on social media. I dare say that currently, there’re more Women’s Ultimate teams promoting themselves on social media than Open teams.
I wish the Women’s category to flourish because I see a clear difference in how the girls play in Mixed and in Women’s Ultimate. When they play on their own, they have more responsibility for the game. They are the ones who have to create the game, make difficult decisions, take the burden of the game and lead the team. In the Mixed category, there are only a few female-led teams. Of course, women are in the team management and take action, but the guys are the ones who lead teams. So, in the women’s category, they have far more space to grow. I wish the teams that made it work would be persistent in their actions. For others, I hope they find fantastic role models and standards to follow.
Following up on what you said about women trainers who want to take over from the male trainers, do you think there could be a program like Train the Trainer? It might help the girls improve their skills or perhaps help them to train teams locally and in the region.
There used to be a Train the Trainer program. The Polish Association of Ultimate Players had the chance to run clinics for people building their teams. There was a bit of theory and a lot of nice practical things. Both players from Poland and abroad were in attendance. There was also integration, and everything worked together well. But should there be a separate program for female players…? I don’t think there can be a program suited to every situation. But the right motivation along with focused self-work, and support from experienced players can be more effective.
Sometimes all you need to do is take your phone and write to girls with a question of support. You all know each other. Sharing knowledge is necessary for the sports scene to improve. There’s seriously a lot going on on social media, but the level of sport needs more attention to progress. It’s a lot of one’s contribution, and I believe that it’s the only way that you can progress as an individual and a team.
Moving on to the Women’s Ultimate U20, it seems like, at EYUC2019, there was a team in place. Is there a continuation of that project? Is the current one a new initiative?
No, it absolutely isn’t connected because of the pandemic. The events got canceled, and playing in the U20 category is possible for only 3 years. There’s a considerable changeability of the players in the available rooster. The current team is built from the beginning. Working alongside U17, it’s hard to have reserves of younger players. However, those who are currently on U20 can be the basis of creating the national team for the next big event.
What are the biggest challenges in building a national team?
You have to connect it all and make it an entirety. It’s difficult as you have 22 girls of different ages and from different teams. They have to spend the time together for over a week and play, run, and be there through thick and thin. They have to be together in varied situations. You have to connect it with a good team atmosphere so that element doesn’t get in the way of planning, game conception, and setting up individual roles.
I think it’s a bit tough. It can be a challenge, so we can completely focus on playing, and that’s why there’s a lot of effort for the girls to get to know and understand each other. They must know the meaning and significance of the tournament because there won’t be much space for randomness as they’re playing on a Polish National team. Here they’ll represent something huge. It’s a challenge to build an agile team with a high sports level, which can hold up a high level of mental toughness for a long time.
The project is a short one with a significant rotation of the players. While building a Women’s team, what do you pay most attention to?
In some way, I’ll try to tap into the ability of the players who play on the same home teams. It’s often visible on the field that they understand each other better. I definitely won’t try to separate them. However, I aim at the game roles. I’ll try to make them aware of what they have to do during the game, so they can focus on it and give back to the team based on it.
Are there any values you’d like to pass on to the players which will pay off in their sports life?
There’s not just one thing or three things. You can say there are two words mentioned in previous questions – self-work and communication. If you want to take action, find out what to do. You have to learn what to do. Derive from all the people, who give you good advice, do your research, but most importantly, train regularly, take care of yourself and know what to do.
So, there’s no one technical advice. For various people, different things work out. Each of us is an individuality, so it seems that individual sports are much easier. Here these individualities have to be gathered in one place and led with one training system. Then you can look at their skills separately. But generally, there’s no golden rule. You have to inquire, ask, try, and add your self-work.
At first, what do you pay attention to while building the national team? What’re the players’ experiences with the sport? Are there any skills that need improving or re-learning? Some teams don’t pay attention to teaching certain skills, so the only task you ever get is to make out-cuts.
I can’t imagine a situation where someone is forbidden to do something. I hope we won’t have a situation like that on our team. The girls have to give it 100%, and I aim to enhance each player with advice and build on what they bring to the team. The goal is to carve the most possibilities out of all the available elements to create the best gameplay. That’s how I always try to set up the game. Whenever I led the teams, there always had to be a basis from which we started.
Here we had the easiest part – to find out what the girls play on their Ultimate teams and what not. We’ve severely trimmed the basis so everyone can give it their 100%. We are not doing 3-4 different things or 7-8 set plays with a 70% understanding. That’s what confuses the players in team sports. We’ll use the basis alongside something that may surprise our opponents. I know I’m working with young players who draw the knowledge and want to use it and focus on a given task. I’m trying to convey to the girls they have to reset their minds because it’ll be new for everyone. For all our players, it’ll be something new they’ll learn and put into practice. They’ll have to hone these skills later.
While preparing a program for a national team, do you put emphasis on athletic preparation? There are still teams not paying attention to the physical preparation for the sports.
We’re past deciding on the team roster. When we started, there wasn’t much time before the World Championship. There’s not much we can do right now. I wouldn’t like anyone to overtrain themselves as it could have unpleasant consequences. We’re trying to build awareness of how important it is at the moment. Girls with more sports experience, work on their motor skills for more than one season, because they have great coaches who made them aware of it at the beginning of the road and how important it is. These girls motivate others, set an example, and offer help.
If someone doesn’t know, here we always emphasize how important is the aspect of communication. Ask, talk. Not sure what to do? Ask. You’re not sure what to do? Ask, and if you don’t, then I want to be sure and I ask “What are you doing?”. We also encourage girls to try, if they haven’t done it from scratch – to take care of themselves from the simplest things to finding the motivation to continue. It’s not easy, but we pay a lot of attention to consistency in training up until the Championships. Overall, our U20 Women’s team takes the central spot – the aspect of motor skills is only one of many elements at the moment. Later, we will be able to continue working with young people and continue helping the girls and motivating them further.
Considering that we used to have such a traditional model, for example, girls avoided PE, do you see a change in that attitude? Do girls have more willingness to do sports now and do they have more self-confidence?
There’s an open road in all sports at the moment. Football is developing very fast. When it comes to the women’s section, there is a demand and you can see it. Is it such a sphere of our life that attracts people regardless of gender? This rivalry, the urge to move. In the case of team games, there is a need for a community and a sense of belonging. It can be seen in the young players. Overall, the condition of the sport isn’t good at the moment. Maybe the proportions changed a little in favor of girls. On the other hand, overall physical fitness and interest in sport, health, and mobility, and all these elements are gradually slipping.
I hope that at some point the people, who know how important this is, will encourage others to change this trend and make them want to do sports. Then we can also count on more people in Ultimate. Moving with the times, I also think that it happens automatically. More and more girls are entering spheres that were once considered only for one gender. It’s changing, it’s progressing, which is very good, because it’s great to watch how during the competition girls give their best.
Do you plan to work with U20 Women’s team on mental toughness in sports for the Ultimate Championships? I remember that the Open team at EYUC2019 had it done.
It’s an important aspect, and we’ll see how much we need it. A long time ago, when our Women’s Ultimate U20 went to the Championships for the first time, nothing bad happened. It’s possible that we’ll try some exercises to support ourselves. Perhaps I’ll need to get someone to support me in this. However, we’ll see how the girls work together and how they manage. For now, they mostly need an indication of where we’re heading. What is the goal? What is good and what is not? They need constant motivation and time to level up their sports skills and mental toughness. After our training and online meetings, I feel optimistic.
So besides the training camps, you meet from time to time online, and discuss the gameplay?
Yes, this is one of the pros of the last years – online communication has advanced a lot, and it’s a norm now. Online communication has become an automatic tool for working with girls. We have a specified time on the pitch. We see each other rarely because the range of locations from which the girls come is significant. So this allows us to talk about the team in every aspect.
We discuss tactics, motivate ourselves to train, give ourselves tips and build this vision of the game. We also emphasize how cool it will be when we all meet and how cool the training camps look. Additionally, we encourage the girls to visit each other. People who have been playing Ultimate for several years know that our community benefits from the courtesy of players from other cities. They often visit each other because we are all a group of friends. The version of visiting each other more often, and spending less money – the “I will have a nap on the floor at your place” – it can improve relations in the team. I hope we can work on it.
What does the share of individual cities in building the U20 team look like?
These are the main Ultimate districts in Poland from locations where teams are most active, develop, have open training, and work with juniors. From there, almost always someone comes to one of the national team tryouts. There are smaller locations where you work almost exclusively with younger or older youth. There were a few such places. It’s hard to say. The players from almost every Polish region supply all three teams.
Is there a city or a region that surprised you by this year’s turnout?
Yes, there’s a pleasant surprise from Czarnków and I think that Arthur’s actions must be strongly emphasized here. Listen, Arthur is doing a great job! I know that for some it is a passion or a job. I know everyone has their stuff. But Artur learned this discipline not as a player, but as an activist in the youth environment of a small town. This is how this discipline develops. This is how it works. I would like everyone to be aware that it’s always worth going to Czarnków, it’s always worth chatting with them and it’s worth inviting them to tournaments. Give Artur a chance for the development of Czarnków Ultimate and the entire team from Czarnków.
In fact, this is a phenomenon on the Polish scene, right?
I wish it for them for as long as possible and keep it up. Experience also shows that there are small towns that operate, even though the players leave them. They function and there are player returns. I wish Czarnków to stay on the map of Polish Ultimate for a long, long time!
Back to your U20 Women’s Ultimate team. Attending such a big event often results in new skills and experiences. What do you think will be the result of this event?
The biggest thing that awaits them is the format of the event itself. I don’t think any of them had the chance to participate in a weekly event, like the World Championships… 7 days with full-scale matches, and the Women’s team of 18 girls playing against the best in the world. The event itself is magnetic, it is worth training for, trying to be at the top. The game itself is beautiful. It’s fantastic how people enjoy playing at various levels, from fun tournaments to the Polish Championship or even the European Club Championship. But to play at such an event? This is something!
I wish it for everyone. Everyone can get to such a level. I wish so much for girls and boys. I wish they wouldn’t stop at the fact that they are good enough and on a National team at the moment. Because it may be a bit too little to play in the senior team if Poland has strong squads. I strongly believe in it, because we have stronger players and more and more coaches who want to get involved in leading national teams. I hope that there will be more and more of us because it’s worth developing the Polish scene in this way. Such an event brings good vibes and awesome experiences.
What can the girls learn from this?
When it comes to the sport itself, the most important thing for them will be their attitude towards the competition of this rank. If every girl has the right approach to the competition, the result is a positive one. It’s already been mentioned – give as much as possible for the national team, and extract every second spent on training, every drop of sweat. I know the girls will come mentally prepared for this. When girls spend a lot of time now training and working on their own physical and mental strength, then it’ll stay with them forever. Now’s a great time to give them a chance to level up in sports. This is a great moment for them to make a huge step toward this summit because later it’ll be harder to gain experience.
There are a lot of players who, after previous events, after Lecco, or after the previous youth championships in Wrocław, are still top players. Many girls make up the strength of their teams. For many of these players, it was just a kick for further development. So that they continue to train, that they are on this wave that they still have time, and energy, and want to devote themselves to Ultimate. It’s fun and they see a lot of untapped potential right now. This is what I encourage young players to do, to realize that you’re only at the beginning of the road. This path shows that these players are taking advantage of these tips. Those that are in the national team develop so quickly that it’s pleasant to watch them later do wonders on the pitch.
Do you have a certain goal in mind with your team for this upcoming Championship?
There are supporters of setting a specific, measurable goal. As for the final classification, we want to win the Championships. That’s what the best teams can say. So, 1/3 of the teams’ can be optimistic – they’re fighting for the World Championship. It’s hard to set measurable goals, and it’s hard to set them too low. So, we don’t want to do that. We cannot set the bar too high for ourselves because we might get in over our heads and fail. We are only human, and we don’t always manage to achieve our goals.
I’m against setting goals, especially for young players. You have to show that it’s not the most important thing for these girls at the moment. We are not a country that’s been training at a sports level since kindergarten, having experience, funds, and treating victory as a priority because it’s associated with prestige and development in a given country at a different level.
We’re a country that continues to develop. I think we’re going in the right direction, and these little things enrich us. So, our goal is every single action that shows us that we can play great. For beginner players, every single pass counts. Let them be joyful in a match against a defender who tries as much as them. Make one good pass, and then make another one. Add another element each time. I’d want the girls to come off the pitch proudly after every single point. I’d like them to remember it, so it becomes their driving force. I’ll be proud of them only on one condition – if I see commitment on the pitch and during training camps and development during this time together. That’s enough for me because I believe they’ll keep up the momentum and implement these results in the senior national team.
Looking at the future of the U20 Women’s Ultimate team, do you think the project has a chance to be continued? Are there any long-term goals or plans for the future?
Currently, we have the unfortunate situation that 3 youth teams are playing at the same event, and the youngest team took players who could potentially join the women’s team. However, if the next event is confirmed, then the youngest team, the youngest age group at the moment, will be the core players for the upcoming year. We will close one project, and it’s worth starting to work on the next one. We’ll already have leaders for the next Championship.
Hopefully, you’re ready to follow Poland’s U20 Women’s team at the Joint Junior Ultimate Championships. I’m really curious how it’ll turn out for them. I hope that you feel inspired by this interview. For more content like this check out the interview with Alex and Agata.