We did it. The Irish Mixed Beach team had an amazing season last year, reaching multiple club finals and then winning a major medal at a major international tournament last year for the first time. As a country we are now an international success!
How did we do it?
Here are some key takeaways, please share and help other national startups to blossom and develop.
First of all there was an awful lot of ‘we’ required to achieve this.
It always helps to have a random American in the beginning.
Thank you for sending us ours (lots of them, and Canadians, Ozzies, Kiwis, Brits, Slovenians, Italians, Swedes, Spanish, Germans and all the rest).
Make it fun (for everyone).
Have a founder myth, but don’t sweat it too much.
Get into the colleges, universities, technical institutes.
Aim for all the big ones first. Initial turnover / attrition rate is high, so you need to keep getting the numbers in to balance for this.
Don’t be disheartened if a team dies off. It’s actually really common, and the great thing is that you can always start afresh every autumn at freshers fair.
Get your students to become teachers.
Get into the schools.
Import some cheap discs. Discs are expensive in Irish sports shops. Get as many into the country as possible, the more discs in hands, the more kids brothers and sisters will also play too, and may well go on to surpass the older sibling (seen it time and time again). We imported from the US. The UK ultimate scene also sold us cheap discs for schools too, thanks !
Play lots of overseas tournaments.
For Ireland, Edinburgh beginners, was a massive growth pill for Irish ultimate (we’ve won it at least once a decade), it catalyzes growth. People come back, 1 month into college excited, entertained, and exposed to how the sport can be played.
Get women playing, keep them playing. Make sure your male players pass to them, you’re killing the golden goose otherwise.
Let new teams start up. Breakaway teams, groups of friends, it’s all good.
Friends based teams drive the creation of many new teams. This then attracts a wider pool of players, and often go on to win nationals (happened in the UK and Ireland, multiple times).
Have annual awards, monthly even. Celebrate achievements, celebrate your players.
Be creative about promotion, but remember that national media will cover it on their own terms, in their own ways, and it often doesn’t bring in many new players. Better to focus on organic growth through friends and family. Start there, it’s a longer lasting group that will stay with you.
Get the locals playing, asap, don’t rely on the expats for too long, they will up sticks and move on anyway, so you need local players to make it sustainable.
Don’t let individuals hold onto the same positions of responsibility for too long. Once we created a national governing body, we tried to hand it over as soon as possible. Let your baby walk on it’s own two feet. Those that follow you will make mistakes. It will be annoying when they make avoidable ones. Try and advise, but at the same time let them learn and fail too. It’s a slow process, but a more sustainable one.
Keep setting goals. Make audacious challenges, the next steps. You’ve made it into in all the colleges, great, so have separate women’s and men’s team. Have a development team (1st & 2nd years) and a varsity team, and an alumni team to play friendlies against, etc etc.
All of these are ways to increase the playing time for as many of the squad as possible. The more playing time, the longer players will stick around, and they will get better too!
Keep the focus on it being fun.
Take photos, the funny moments pass. The more you can show other people what you did, the more of a selling point you have.
Remember why you are doing it. To have fun, to play, to enjoy. Irish ultimate has had a good sense of fun and humour.
Spirit is key. Multiple spirit winners at Worlds and Europeans. This has motivated Irish players and inspired other teams and nationalities to be associated with Irish ultimate. They have wanted to come and play at Irish tournaments, to buy into the experience that is Irish Ultimate. This in turn has opened doors for Irish Ultimate, whose teams have been welcomed all over the world. It’s a virtuous circle.
There you go. Simple, Twenty years, over night success!