Program Spotlight: An Interview with Jessie R

What sports did you play in your past and did you do any coaching?

You name it, I played it. My main sports growing up were basketball, ice hockey, tennis and golf, and as a teenager I coached some basketball in programs and specialty camps. These days I coach ice hockey for competitive girls u11 and house league boys u9; and that is when I’m not coaching u10 Ultimate or rec and comp level Ultimate for women’s leagues.

When did you discover the sport of Ultimate?

I discovered Ultimate after university. In 2005 someone introduced me to the sport of Ultimate and it was love ever since. Once a week turned into two and then three times a week, and that is how I found the original women's league. Additionally, I was able to sub almost every night of the week. I loved it. I met new players, new teams and even landed a great job while networking with teammates. I still play with some of those players today. When I think of how far I have come and how Ultimate has really gotten me out of my shell, I am very thankful to have discovered this awesome sport.

What inspired you to give Women’s League a new life, and have it be the growing success it is today?

Well, as an athlete growing up in the '90s and 2000s, I found I was always competing against boys. In high school most of the competitive sports teams had male coaches, and girls had to work twice as hard to keep up with the boys. So in a coed sport us girls had to stick together.  My goal was and is today, to make a safe space for women to either join a sport or rejoin a sport. 

Too often we see women drop out of sports to start a family, or because of social pressures or injuries. What opened my eyes was seeing other  Ultimate women not only come back from having children, but go on to play at the competitive level! 

Seeing babies on the sidelines with husbands carrying their child, and the women crushing it on the field, made me think, “Yes, I can do this too!”. 

Also, today with two kids playing sports, it is more important than ever for me to change any gender stereotypes and barriers, and to show my kids that Mom is out playing sports, Mom is coaching, and sports give Mom energy to inspire those around her.

If I can help anybody else do it too, I'm all in.


"The Women's league has been an absolute game changer! I have been involved with the program since fall 2020. Since then my skill, understanding, and passion for the sport have dramatically increased. Jessie is a fantastic role model and super inspiring. I love the skill-building exercises, coaching tips, and most importantly, the amount of game play. All women play all positions, all are supportive and encouraging, and all show enthusiasm and growth. I look forward to playing every week.
Thank you, Jessie, for bringing us women together!" ~~ Amy

"I felt less intimated to pick up the disc and handle because of the support and encouragement from other women, as well as the tips and advice. I gained confidence in playing — which is essentially half the game — and that made me try out for the Parity league for the first time. The attitude and spirit of all the ladies always made me want to come back to challenge myself and have some fun! Jessie has done awesome work in leading this league and has brought together great captains and players. I’ve made good friends over the years playing with the women’s league, and it’s a great way to meet others and explore other leagues within OCUA." ~~ Isha

"What I love most about about women’s league is seeing so many new and familiar faces every week. What is unique about this league is that it's been a safe space to grow the sport for women of all ages and skill level. It's been such a joy to see it grow in popularity." ~~ Marie-Ange

"It is so wonderful to be in a dome filled with women players . . . I drive home in such a great mood afterwards. You and Becca are doing a fantastic job of getting women on the field and having fun. I think the women will have newfound confidence when the play in their co-ed leagues, and having more experienced players helps the new women learn so much more. Thank you." ~~ Clare

Tell us about a typical night of exercise and what all the women players do.

Whether it is summer, fall or winter, we start off with everybody arriving, putting on their cleats, chatting on the sidelines, grabbing a disc and tossing it around for five or 10 minutes. Then I would gather everyone around and welcome and thank them for coming. The women who participate in these seasons are what make the program great. I thank them for their positive attitudes and their general support to making this program run. Whether you have played competitive, recreational or are new to the sport, everyone is welcome. 

The general premise of the current women's league is that we do not keep score. We focus on touches and we get to play with all different players and make new connections. It is set up in such a way that we never require any subs since teams are made up on site every week.

Each week means new captains, and anybody who is interested can try being a captain for a week. We are led exclusively by women. Coaching is available if interested as we often have former and current competitive women who participate in each of the seasons and who do on-field coaching and answer any questions. It is really a group effort! 

Once teams are set up on site, we do a round of names in a huddle, talk basic strategy like force and type of offense and away we go. Music starts flowing and we have lots of fun tunes playing for the whole evening. We have been known to throw in some dance moves during group time-outs.

If we are lucky, we have our favorite photographer on site to take some pictures. Otherwise, I do my best to take some pictures from my cell phone to share all those smiling faces with anyone who wants to see them.

At the end of the night we have all had a good run and had lots of fun. I can't tell you how much it warms my heart every time someone leaves the field with a giant smile on their face and tells me how much they are looking forward to next week.

The league seems to be expanding and growing. Why do you think that is?

It's all about the experience. Over the last two seasons I have really gotten to know some really great women and found out what they are looking for when it comes to Ultimate. Back in 2019, the Masters women's competitive group decided to do a domes and drinks fundraiser for women's Ultimate. It was a night out for women age 30 and above and we would go to the pub afterwards and socialize.

We got to run around, work hard, play some music, play with our friends and then go out and chat and have a drink and have some food. The experience was fun and flexible.  If we couldn't make it one night, it didn't affect the team structure. We could easily just shuffle players around and still have a great game. I took that structure and brought it to women's league.

We were able to increase the flexibility of games. If weather was bad and you couldn't make it out, no problem. There were still others attending and thus still enough to make a game. Your captain never had to find a spare because teams were created at the field. You never had to submit a full team of women so recruiting was also not stressful.

Along with sending out a lot of emails, Facebook posts, Facebook group posts, Instagram posts, and support from OCUA newsletters, word of mouth on this type of experience was attracting not only a new generation of players but also an existing generation of players.

Before, some women were frustrated with playing co-ed and not getting thrown to. Some felt like they were just filling a spot as opposed to really being part of something. Now they are part of something!

What we really encourage with the women's league is for having everyone try something new, picking up the disc, learning and growing. Everybody handles, everybody cuts. Countless times on the field, I will say to someone after a turnover, "Okay, now you pick it up." They look at me and say "who me?" And I say, "yes you!". We are building confidence and having fun. It is a safe space.

What are the demographics of the league?

Over the last two years we have seen incredible growth and interest in the women's league. We are seeing adult women of all ages... between the ages of 25 all the way to almost 60! There is also a range of skill levels, from never-have-playedbefore to being national champions at the Canadian Ultimate Championships.

I would say that most players have played in a coed environment at some point since a women's league was not available for a number of years unless it was in the competitive realm. Some players have gone from women's to coed and back to women's only play because they find that it is a better space for them in terms of touches of the disc, inclusion, and feeling like part of the team as a whole.

Some interesting statistics from our most recent registration of winter League include: the league was sold out at 48 players within a week, with a waiting list of over 15 women. We have found that half of the players are Grand Masters age which means 37 or older. Most players are over 30. Most players say no to captaining. Half of the players requested a friend upon registration. Most players skill levels are between 3 and 5 on the OCUA scale of 1-10.

What do you foresee or hope for the future women in Ultimate?

I hope the amount of women interested in Ultimate continues to grow. I hope the sense of camaraderie and being part of this great experience keeps going on an upward trend. I hope to inspire others to get involved and they tell their friends, neighbours, sisters, and daughters that there is space for us to play, and that we are achieving something great here. 

I feel grateful for those who have helped me on this journey of expanding the women's league. Whether it's helping me set up the fields; bouncing ideas off of each other; strategizing on how we are going to include more women; or just fun ideas for game days.

We are supporting something we all believe in, so it is so important to keep going. I hope to see my daughter involved in programs like this. I hope my daughter will love leading and coaching as much as I do. I want her and girls just like her to build the confidence in herself/themselves and lead by example.

I feel that it took me a long time to find that confidence before being able to show others how this sport has changed my life as an athlete as well as a person. If I can give a space for women to feel important, accomplished and strong, you can count me in 100%. 

Anything else to share?

Thank you to anyone and everyone who shows up. Being present and taking action is how we succeed. I look forward to growing with all of you. Together we are strong, so please go out and tell all your friends about women's league!