Girls with jubilant smiles run across the field as their parents cheer them on. Discs of all different sizes and colors fill the afternoon sky. Skills are developed, barriers are broken and friendships are forged. This is the atmosphere and environment Girls’ National Outreach Director Gail Reich strives to create for the girls who attend USA Ultimate’s Girls’ Ultimate Movement (GUM) clinics.
“It is an overall rewarding experience,” commented Reich. “It is awesome to watch kids grow and develop more ultimate skills.”
GUM clinics, as you may already be aware, are youth clinics designed to empower and inspire girls to become leaders through the sport of ultimate and by embracing the principles of Spirit of the Game. Currently, the majority of ultimate players are introduced to the sport during college, where many girls are either already on a varsity team or have dropped sports altogether. This might explain why, last year, only 30 percent of ultimate players were women. GUM works to bridge the gap between male and female players by providing more playing opportunities for girls and introducing them to the sport at an earlier age.
Before she became an outreach director for USA Ultimate, Reich was involved in numerous initiatives and programs focused on youth ultimate. She has run Ultimate Chicago’s youth league, Chicago Ultimate Juniors Organization (CUJO), for the last five years, growing the league from six teams to more than 15. She also taught ultimate at an all-girls sports summer camp the last three years and was the counselor for middle school girls at Ultimate Peace in the summer of 2015.
Reich’s involvement with GUM and inspiration to run GUM clinics originate from her being on the initial task force in charge of launching the Girls’ Ultimate Movement initiative in 2014.
“During my time on the task force, I realized how difficult it was for girls to play mixed and that they really needed to have a resource just for girls,” explained Reich. “GUM was the way to make that happen.”
Reich has organized and run numerous GUM clinics over the years, both local clinics in the Chicago area and clinics at USA Ultimate’s championship events. In 2018, with the Masters Championships in nearby Aurora, Ill., Reich was there to lead the GUM charge.
Even though she has years of experience organizing and running youth clinics and leagues, Reich believes that any local organizer is capable of hosting their own GUM clinic.
“GUM has a great outline already to use for clinics. [Those] resources make it pretty easy,” noted Reich.
Additionally, it’s been so easy for Reich to find adult volunteers, that she often has as many coaches at her clinics as she does girls.
“So many women want to empower girls in ultimate.”
Reich’s experiences, however, are not without their share of difficulties.
“I think the most challenging part is getting the girls to sign up…having the ability to reach out to the right people to get a good attendance. Marketing is the most work. Kids only like doing things their friends do, so you just need a few girls to buy in or adults to drag them there.”
Once Reich is able to get girls to the clinics, keeping them engaged is the least of her problems. Rain or shine, the girls are full of energy and do not want to leave. In fact, many of Reich’s most memorable moments at her GUM clinics involve having to improvise the drills due to bad weather.
“One of my favorite impromptu moments was doing layout drills in the mud,” recalled Reich. “After 45 minutes or so I asked if the girls wanted to keep going or call their parents and leave. To my surprise, they all enthusiastically demanded that we go a long time, and even struggled to leave when their parents came to pick them up.”
Between the breadth of knowledge and skills developed and the excitement and fun the girls have, Reich has no doubt GUM clinics are fulfilling their purpose: helping increase girls’ participation in ultimate in their respective communities. Many of the girls who play in CUJO previously attended one of Gail’s clinics and were made aware of how great playing women’s ultimate is. They couldn’t wait to tell their friends and teammates about their experiences.
Reich has also seen girls become inspired to get more involved in ultimate after attending her clinics.
“One of the high school girls in the suburbs that plays club was directed to me to get help because she wanted to run her own GUM clinic,” reflected Reich. “[Another] one of the girls signed up for my middle school league because she found out about it through the clinic.”
So, what would Gail Reich say to someone who would like to run a GUM clinic, but is uncertain?
“I would say try it! You have nothing to lose. Having fun is key, and I am certain kids will pick up something no matter how skilled you are at teaching ultimate,” said Reich. “It is always the more the merrier when running one, so it is something you can easily rope your friends into doing, and it can be a shared, rewarding experience.”