Regular Q&A with Atlanta Hustle coach Miranda Roth-Knowles @mirdiggity
The Hustle played in their much hyped exhibition during the Atlanta Legends halftime this weekend - Why was this event so important for the Hustle, our sport, and the Atlanta community?
This was important for ultimate because we are still a sport on the fringe that could benefit from more visibility. This was particularly important in Atlanta because, in our experience, people who know about professional ultimate really like it and support it, but there still aren’t that many access points for people in our city outside of that sphere. Ultimate frisbee and football share a lot of strategies, techniques and skills and it was easy for Legends fans to understand and appreciate our game. We are proud to have made a great first impression to the thousands of people in the stands at George State Stadium. Perhaps this new positive association with ultimate will lead them to come to one of our games. Or, maybe one of the kids in the stands will seek out a youth team or league to join.
How would you respond to someone who questions whether this event is good for ultimate if it doesn’t include women?
Yes, it is good for ultimate. As ultimate is promoted overall, all genders will have more high level opportunities to play, including women. The Eurostars tour in conjunction with the AUDL is one example of this. If we wait for every opportunity to be equal for all groups (consider gender, race, and class), nothing may ever happen. We should be mindful though, as the group who is benefitting from this particular promotion, of how we use our now elevated platform.
In a fictional situation where our sport was told by the IOC that they could be included in the olympics but only if it was a men’s game, how should they respond?
I think WFDF would have to weigh the needs and desires of their constituents as well as their values with this potential opportunity. I would hope they would attempt to negotiate with the IOC on behalf of equity. Maybe they would accept this unique opportunity, but add the condition that it could only be single-gender open for a certain number of years. Or, even better, they could suggest doing single gender women’s the first year and consider adding open later! It is important for the sport to break in, but should not/cannot remain inequitable for long. If WFDF did accept an inequitable arrangement, I think USAU and other country’s disc organizations could decide to band together to demand better. If there was only space for one division I think USAU could say that they would only be sending a women’s team and other countries (Colombia, GB, Germany, Australia, Japan, etc.) could follow suit. In hindsight I think USAU should have tried these tactics at the inception of the pro leagues. By offering to partner with them under equitable conditions or with a plan towards equity they could have influenced a different course for the sport.
We hear people talk about allies. What does it mean to be an ally?
An ally is someone who may personally be on the privileged side of a power imbalance, but who is aware of this and takes a stand to draw attention or resources to the situation to promote a more equal future. For example, all of the athletes on the Hustle this year identify as male, but we hope that they can become more aware of the power they were born with in that gender and make decisions to help empower women. On the Hustle, we hope to create an experience that fosters the development of male allies for other genders in ultimate.
Can you describe what the relationship is like between the Hustle and Soul?
The Hustle and Soul having been talking for a few months about how they could partner. There has always been crossover between coaches, players and organizers, but we are trying to bring the athletes together more meaningfully this season with joint team meetings about gender issues in sport as well as sharing some practice fields and having doubleheaders. The Hustle has experience in professional ultimate that could benefit the Soul, and the Soul is doing equity work that should inform the Hustle as it moves forward. As this relationship progresses we hope you can expect to see more shared opportunities like halftime showcases, doubleheaders and joint outreach.
Tell us a little bit about what you see on this year’s Hustle roster
We are super excited to welcome so many ex-Nightwatch players to our roster. I love how they play with a chip on their shoulder but with excellent fundamentals and teammateship. Get ready to see Mac McClellan, Javi Ortiz, and Eli Jaime especially break into the national ultimate frisbee consciousness - these are players that should have been talked about for years but will be given a bigger stage to compete on this year.
We’re still super pumped about many of our college crossover stars - Anders Olsen, Daniel Sperling and Will Lindquist returning and Jeffrey Minowa, Brett Hullsmeyer, William Johnson and Victor Pria as additions to the roster not to mention our UGA contingent David Petmecky, Coleman Tappero, and Hayden Austin-Knab. We think this injection of youth will lead us in a fantastically athletic and energetic direction that should be very fun to watch.
We are also extremely pumped to welcome Joel Wooten and George Hughes-Strange. These are multi-decade veterans of the sport who bring accountability, wisdom and skill to every field they step on. We love how they help younger players understand the sport and their duty to their teammates with every practice rep. It’s cool that the AUDL format allows for players like them to get back into competition.
We have so many great players it’s impossible to give them all the credit they deserve here. As always expect that there will be some local talent making the step up to wear a Hustle uniform this year.
All of these additions combined with our returning core should make us a deep and dangerous team in the south. We’ve lost some good players to injury but also have others returning who missed last season and stand to contribute in big ways. Every year players step up in larger roles, and that is going to be exciting to watch.
What is the focus or goals of the team this year? Adding any new elements to the Hustle playbook this season?
We hope to open up the deep space more this season. We have strong throwers who can put the disc in the away space and we are working with cutters to be selfless to open that space for each other. Look for us making big under cuts while handlers sneak away for big yardage gains. On defense, you’ll see more of the same, but with better execution and intensity, particularly being able to catch up to more plays in the air in our force middle defense and forcing more stalls in all person-to-person sets.
We’ve been working during the preseason with coach Josh Bricker of SPARC Athens to get stronger and faster for the season. SPARC is creating a plan for our whole year that will pay dividends for us long term.
How does the schedule look?
With the teams in our division, there are no easy stretches this year. The opening game in Tampa will be big again this season as. I hope we can hit the ground running on the road at a tough place to win. We get a 2nd swing at them 2 weeks later. The two early home games against Raleigh will be a challenge, too. With how hard it is to win on the road we need to protect our home turf and play well in front of our fans. On May 4th we are planning an awesome all-day community event that we are calling the Atlanta Block Party. It will include the girls’ high school state finals (3rd year in a row hosting!), Hustle vs. Austin and Soul vs. Revolution. We follow that up with our first out-of-division game ever up in Indianapolis. We should have some extra juice to play against a new opponent - something we haven’t done since the Texas teams were added. I’ve heard their stadium is indoors, too, which adds an extra element of strategic preparation. I am also really excited to see our first AUDL all-star game happen. It’s cool that the league is creating this opportunity for players to be showcased. We have a long stretch in June where there aren’t any games. Our players will get a chance to recharge, heal, and reflect before revving back up for the final stretch which includes our road trip to Texas.
Tell us about Pi Cup XIV, the big invite high school tournament Paideia ultimate teams host each year.
The Paideia Cup is taking place down the road from our home stadium enabling the Hustle to partner with them in a new way. We’ll be welcoming girls’ and boys’ teams from around the country to attend the game for a tournament meal, participate in some fun competitions, and be recognized at halftime by the Atlanta crowd. This will be a great place for high school players to hang out, relax and make friends from around the country while cheering on many of their coaches who will be coaching and playing in the Hustle vs. Flyers game that night! It can be so influential to a youth player to get to see top level competition in person - an experience like that can motivate them for years…and maybe we’ll see some of these players on our roster one day!
Adam Burgess - “We love to brag about the ultimate community on how great it is, but there may be flaws/missing pieces. In your opinion, what is a flaw or missing piece (if any) that our community has, and what could be done to address it? What is something you wish to see?”
Great question, and there are many answers. You should ask this again for every Mailbag! Right now, what I’m feeling is a general lack of quality and quantity of leadership (trained coaches and captains) in the college division, especially for women’s college teams. This is particularly noticeable for me as a well-paid, extremely well-supported high school girls coach. For almost every Paideia Groove athlete, they will be shocked and even deterred in their college ultimate experience. College teams, especially those for women, are underfunded, undercoached and underled. Their college team might even have very few players or they might have to play on the open team. Those who are working in this division are doing their best but are rarely compensated or even reimbursed for their work. In what other sport would high school coaches be better paid and more valued than college coaches? If we want to retain the best athletes in our sport, we need to find a better way to support leadership and excellence at the college level, across genders, from D1 to D3, in public and private schools and all over the country.
Looking into the future, if coaching ultimate was your full time job what would your week look like? What type of things would you do with 40+ more hours to focus on coaching?
Ahhhh, so much. I would want to meet with each of my athletes individually every week (at least once) to work on their individual skills. It is difficult for players to improve their throws, cuts or defensive positioning without highly guided reps and there is not much time to do that in team practices. I would also be able to do more mental coaching, helping athletes prepare for matchups by watching film with them, reduce bad stress by guiding them through meditations, and improve their fitness by designing and conducting individualized workouts. I would also watch a ton more film. Film is more available now than ever and will only get more accessible with more filmed events in our sport. I would want to immerse myself in the divisions I coach (divisions I never played in, for the record, since I played women’s club and open high school!) to observe other teams’ strategies as well as scout future opponents. I would be able to get to know individual players on opposing teams much better rather than relying on the views of captains and team leaders who have matched up against them personally. I would also do a lot more recruiting and outreach. I would want to be coaching clinics and visiting PE classes around Atlanta at least 5 hours per week, ideally bringing high school and adult players with me to help bring them into the coaching fold. Coaching accelerates player development rapidly so I would love to have my athletes out there coaching with me as much as possible. I’m sure there are other things I’d love to do, but this is already getting past the 40 hour workweek!