In honor of National Girls and Women in Sports Day on Feb. 5, we sat down with Jen Pashley of Girls Ultimate Revolution Leadership Series, GURLS, to take a look at how this non-profit is empowering future leaders of ultimate through generosity, unity, resilience & leadership.Five: Tell me a bit about Girls Ultimate Revolution Leadership Series and how it came about.
Jen: One of my personal missions as the first female staff member at Bay Area Disc was to increase the number of girlx playing ultimate. A part of my recruitment strategy was to engage the existing (and very talented and passionate) girlx we currently served. I decided to ask some of the older high school players I knew to coach an elementary and middle school girlx' league over the winter, and as a further incentive, I offered to pay them for their time. I reached out, and while the idea was well-received, there was one specific ask - they wanted to learn how to coach before they jumped in.
That simple ask was the catalyst for our initial leadership pilot program. Myself and Sam Salvia (Rhodes Scholar, Fury, Team USA, Positive Coaching Alliance) volunteered to meet up with some high school girlx on a semi-regular basis in 2017: in dreary and cold cafes, tiny cramped library meeting rooms, and muddy small grass fields. We talked about leadership, communication, and coaching tactics to an ever growing number of curious and interested girlx. This volunteer-led initiative became so exciting and popular, we realized that we needed to make it a real program.
Five: What kind of resources does the Girls Ultimate Revolution Leadership Series provide?
Jen: GURLS is a tuition-free leadership program for ultimate athletes in high school. During each year in high school, participants attend classroom sessions to develop their leadership skills and complete service projects, which focus on better serving and supporting the unique needs of girlx who play ultimate.
Our participants take a six-week training course every year in high school (September - October), aimed at increasing their leadership, coaching, and project management skills. Each year in the program builds on skills learned in the previous one(s), giving each participant the tools and resources needed for them to pursue strong leadership roles in their professional and ultimate careers.
In addition to helping grow leadership skills for our participants, they also complete service projects at the end of every year. These projects include workshops, highlight videos, articles and team initiatives that are open source and available to the public, which means that we also provide helpful gender equity tools and resources to the entire ultimate community.
Five: What was the moment in which you knew that this was bigger than just a weekend coaching session?
Jen: I think the moment it hit me was when Sam and I were cramped in a tiny library study room meant for 1-2 people with 10 other girlx. We were all toppling over each other, doing silly activities to understand the idea of a "feedback sandwich" (involving very poorly drawn bunnies), and it really hit me how much this could help our community. Here were ten amazing, creative, talented individuals who were so excited about becoming better leaders and here was this sport dominated by men at every level of leadership. All we had to do was continue to develop more leaders and maybe we could really change what our sport looks like from the top down.
Five: If you could go back to when you first discovered ultimate, what advice would you give your younger self?
Jen: I would tell myself that failure was a positive and necessary piece to growth. Like so many womxn, I thought I wasn't good enough and that in order to truly deserve something, I had to be perfect. I apologized for everything and put way too much pressure on myself. I think this fixed mindset led to a lot of anxiety, frustration, and stress that was not helpful or necessary.
Five: What do you plan to do with the money raised through the GURLS Daywalker Fundraiser?
Jen: All money raised will go directly into our GURLS Program. Since it is a tuition-free leadership program, we rely on the support and generosity of our community to continue this work. Things like staff time, classroom supplies, food, transportation, and curriculum development take resources and we would love to continue to strengthen our program each and every year.
Five: What are your visions for the future of the GURLS program?
Jen: We see what one individual can do to change society for the better and we firmly believe in those who we accept into our program: they are the next generation of CEOs, executive directors, program managers, business owners, tournament directors, collaborators, coaches, mediators, and captains - and we want to provide all of the necessary tools and resources for them to build their network of allies and succeed in their professional, personal and sports careers.
And for our program, there are so many exciting routes GURLS could take! I would love to see us grow in the Bay Area and perhaps even expand into other ultimate communities as well. But no matter where we go or what we do, we will always be grounded in our mission: to address and disrupt a lack of inclusivity and support of girlx athletes by creating the next generation of strong, lifelong leaders who strive to give back to their community, empower other girlx, and fight to create positive change for all.
Five: Anything else you'd like the ultimate world to know about GURLS?
Jen: There are so many awesome things I could share (like: we really, really love Post-Its)! But if anyone has questions or wants to chat about this program, they can always check out our website or reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are thrilled to talk about it.
Proof of the Post-it love!