I was recruited by Michelle Ng and Without Limits to write about my experiences in my final season of College Ultimate. 2011 has many possibilities...let's see how they pan out. E-mail me (robyn-fennig@uiowa.edu)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Expectations: Setting the Bar High

It is often ironic how other aspects of my life encourage me to reflect on my experiences with ultimate.

I spoke at the Midwest Captaining Clinic in Grinnell, Iowa a few weeks back about the importance of establishing team buy-in for goals your team wants to attain at the team's pre-season meeting. This step is essential in creating support for what expectations and goals are.

Currently, I am part of a wonderful student project in my planning program at Iowa, where we are mapping renewable energy capacity at the urban scale (4x4 meter resolution), calculating return on investment (optimizing across three technologies: solar, wind, and ground source heat pumping) and performing policy analysis for Dubuque, Iowa. There have been many questions as to why our group is so successful in this project throughout the year, thus far, especially since we combine a wide variety of individuals with various skill sets and expertise that don't necessarily directly relate to "renewable energy mapping and policy."

I would credit our success to the ability to clearly define the expectations of our project on DAY 1. When we met in Dubuque in August, we brought the goal of putting forth high quality work, worthy of presenting at the National Planning Conference in Los Angeles this spring (the premier planning conference in the world). We wanted to publish an article in a highly regarded scholarly-reviewed journal. This is the equivalent to making finals at college nationals in the planning realm.

With that goal in mind and having full group buy-in to this particular goal, a lofty one, but attainable, the expectations became high from the beginning. People question as to whether or not our faculty advisor is actually performing our work. Clearly, he doesn't have the time aside from his own teaching and research to do our project too. But he sets us up by helping us find the tools to succeed. Pointing us in the direction of software tools and ideas for data, but not actually attaining any of the data, mapping anything, or performing analysis. Leadership is important, but having everyone buy-in to our expectations, we are able to make the most out of the leadership tools he provides. We by no means have the personnel who are the best at all the aspects of the project, but work together playing to our strengths, with the goal of producing something worthy of our expectations. This propels us to some incredibly impressive results.

I'll illustrate this with a comparison to Flywheel's phenomenal post-season run at the 2011 College Championships.

By no means did Flywheel dominate the competition all year round. They did not have the most talented players in the college game. They had capable players with a lot of talent, but I would say that personnel wise, Oregon should have outmatched them in the semis (having played both teams last season, that is my opinion, anyways). Flywheel had great leadership who gave their players the best opportunities to work towards their goal of winning nationals, but their leadership did not WIN the semi-final game for them alone. One thing that their captains were vocal about, was that the expectations were high from day one, and they had total team buy in to work hard to achieve that goal. Everyone contributed the effort and time to produce the results that they wanted. Yes, they had talented players...but it was their ability to learn their strengths and play to those strengths that they prevailed last season. They had a plan and the committed to it, wholeheartedly, and believed they could achieve it.

We saw it in other teams like Colorado College. I think we'll see it out of teams this season (Sonoma State and Central Florida are two that stick out right now).

It's not to say that every team or group can set these expectations and meet them. But if you have the personnel capabilities and leadership who can establish buy in to high expectations that accompany the skills, a commitment throughout the ENTIRE project/season, and a willingness to see it through, big things can happen.

Expectations and goals have to be REALISTIC. They were realistic for Michigan and Colorado College last season. They committed and achieved goals. Regardless of whether or not YOU THINK they should have been there, they were. It doesn't matter why or how they got there, they did. They were able to put their money where their mouths were, and you weren't. It doesn't matter if you beat them earlier in the season, because they won when it mattered and you didn't. Haters are going to hate, always, in no matter what you do.

You have two options: let it get to you, or keep doing what you're doing. It's hard to completely be ignorant to what they're saying. It's okay to know what they are saying, but it shouldn't get you down. It should motivate you to work hard and achieve your goals and raise your expectations. They're talking because they are jealous of your success. Give them something to keep talking about.

I'm hoping that 2k12 will bring just as much upset and success stories as last season did. Keep giving us something to be excited about, because your successes inspire others to step up their game. It gives them hope that they can set their expectations high (but realistic), and have the opportunity to achieve their goals if they fully commit.

Good luck.

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