CANADIAN UNIVERSITY RINGETTE

    

So, you're thinking of starting up a University Ringette Team and wondering how to go about that. Well, based on our ten years of efforts building the University of Alberta Ringette Team from the ground up here are my thoughts and suggestions for you, in no particular order. 

First and foremost, you need to initiate contact with the university where you hope to start ringette. Based on the experience of many other university ringette teams in Canada, don't approach the Athletics people at your university, but rather the Campus Recreation people. In case the terminology in your part of Canada is somewhat different, the Athletics people look after the varsity sports such as hockey, basketball and volleyball (i.e. U of O Gee-gees, U of A Golden Bears, etc.). The Campus Recreation people look after the non-varsity teams.

You need to approach the Campus Recreation people with a comprehensive plan how you expect to make university ringette work. If you walk into their office expecting free uniforms, free ice, free equipment, prime time ice, etc. you will likely be in for a disappointment. You need to walk in with a plan to be largely self-sufficient and if they throw a freebie at you, then bonus, but don't expect it. The experience across Canada with university teams is quite variable in this regard, for example, some teams do get some free or low cost ice from their universities (generally at less than optimal hours) while other teams, like ours, get nothing from their university.

You need good coaches! By far, the most successful university teams in Canada have non student coaches at the helm. Having student athletes or recent graduates coach generally does not work well as it is very difficult for peers to coach peers. I'm not suggesting that student athletes shouldn't be involved with the management of their team, quite the opposite actually, but older, more experienced coaches at the helm will greatly improve a university ringette team's odds of success! You'll note that I said "coachES". I would strongly recommend you have 2 - 3 highly committed individuals lined up to coach the team. The work load is heavy when you start a university ringette team!!

You need money. Starting a university team is generally expensive! You need everything and anything, there is nothing to start with. The experience of almost every university team in Canada has been that there is very little, if any, monetary support from either the university or the provincial ringette body. No matter who is paying the bills, you need to be brutally honest with your budget. Remember that you are dealing with "poor starving" university students who do not have the ability to kick in large amounts of cash. Players should likely expect to kick in several hundred dollars, plus do a few team fundraising projects to cover the rest of the budget. Remember, your budget needs to cover many things including ice, refs, travel, tourney fees, etc.

You want to be careful in terms of how much you bite off in the beginning. As I said before, getting a university team up and running is very hard work! So be realistic with your expectations. Based on my ten years of experience at the U of A, as well as many other university teams in Canada, I suggest you focus on establishing a single competitive team at the university and get that firmly established. Once you've done that, then you can look at starting a second team or intramurals, etc. You may receive advice from other sources that suggests you look at establishing broad based, mass participation ringette at the university........in my opinion, that is exactly what you do NOT want to be spending your resources and time on in the early going. Start small, with a single well run, well coached/managed team and then grow from there in the future.

Expect players to be hesitant/sceptical about signing up for a brand new university team the first year. There is no track record, no promises, no past glories that you can offer them. You're expecting them to take a leap of faith and perhaps leave an existing Open "A" team they've played with for years and join a new university team. At the U of A, in our first year, we had 19 girls show up at tryouts in September, so we took them all onto the team. We were not a great team on the ice, but we stuck to it and made sure they had a ton of fun and played lots of ringette. Now, ten years later, we have 30+ girls show up at tryouts (many AA players) because word is getting around the ringette community that the U of A team is a great place to play (won 2012 & 2013 UCC's) with tons of opportunity, including scholarships ($42,500 in 2013). We are now at a point where we have firmly established the main U of A "A" team, an Alumni "A" team and we can start to work on a new U of A "B" team.

Establish a university ringette website! Our U of A Ringette website www.UniversityRingette.ca experiences an astonishing number of hits per month (well into the thousands)!! This has been one of the most significant tools at our disposal to spread the word about U of A ringette. We also send out a number of university ringette emails each year to everyone who is listed as a contact person on a ringette association website, just letting them know about U of A Ringette and what we're up to. 

Exploit the university name/brand! I have been involved with ringette for almost twenty years, the last ten of which have been at the U of A. The single biggest surprise for me has been how much credibility is attributed to our team/program simply because we are a university ringette team rather than a community ringette team. This credibility extends to the general public, the media, sponsors, etc. Sponsors love to be seen supporting female university ringette......it's great PR! Take a look at our website and you'll notice that we have over $50,000 donated to our team by sponsors for ringette scholarships. I can assure you that if we were a community team that would not be happening. The media do fairly regular pieces on us, be it in print, on TV or on the air. Again, why do they do that? because they want to cover university sports. 

If possible, think about sending a team to the University Challenge Cup in the first week of January each year. Here university teams from all across Canada come together to play for the National university ringette championship. It is a great event, very well run and organized, with lots of ringette to play during the 4 days of the event. If you want more details about the UCC, take a look on our website at the UCC link.

Good luck in your endeavours!

If you need more info, please don't hesitate to get back to me by email at UniversityRingette@gmail.com

Paul Hotke
Coach
U of A Ringette