Ben Feng will hang up his cleats for good this winter and retire from the DC Breeze as a player. He announced today that he will use his retirement to focus on youth, women’s and mixed development with an emphasis on gender equity, and has accepted a position with the team as its new Youth and Gender Equity Coordinator.
By any measure, Feng is in his prime. The former Breeze and Truck Stop player and current Ambiguous Grey coach celebrated his 27th birthday in September. He’s well known around the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area as a player as well an active, successful youth and club coach; he coached Boston YCC Mixed Championship team in 2013, and then Swing Vote from 2014 to 2016. (Swing Vote won the YCC Mixed Championship in 2015 and 2016.) So why retire now?
“I’ve reached a point in my Ultimate career where coaching club mixed teams and youth girls teams with a better opportunity to positively impact gender equity in the ultimate community takes priority over playing.”
Simply, it’s time.
His retirement announcement comes on the heels of the most successful DC Breeze season to date, a strong showing at Club Nationals by Feng’s former team, Truck Stop, and his latest coaching venture, Ambiguous Grey. Feng played with Truck Stop during the 2013-2015 seasons, and joined the Breeze in 2014.
Feng has been a cornerstone of the squad on and off the field: he contributed to many of his Truck Stop teammates rostering with the Breeze this year. Now, with the 2016 season in the rear view mirror, Feng has found himself a natural gear in another system, as a coach and a youth development specialist.
Feng believes that strong youth programs are the natural life breath of ultimate. If Feng can put the infrastructure in place, the opportunities for growth beyond himself are limitless — youth and college players can become better recreational players, or club players, or professional players, or coaches themselves. And without them, this sport cannot expand or prosper.
“Let’s say you coach a youth team, and the players have the time of their life. What happens next is that they tell their friends about their experience, and then you have players who try ultimate for the first time. All of a sudden, the number of players and teams increase, and there’s more infrastructure to create youth-only leagues and tournaments.”
“I’ve been blessed to be involved in a DC youth ultimate scene that has grown exponentially over the past few years. Just in the past month, the area has seen a new Middle School Clinic Series coordinated by the DC Breeze and WAFC, as well as the formation of Northwest Corridor, a new girls high school team combining players from DC and Maryland schools. Personally, I couldn’t be any happier with the birth of those two programs.”
While the impetus behind Feng’s youth coaching ventures is to expand playership across the board, he has discovered a particular passion for growing mixed gender programs.
“The biggest challenge on mixed teams is getting all players involved,” he says. Feng wants to build programs that have buy-in from both male and female players, who, together with their coaches, form habits and a team culture that values actively discussing equity. Designing strategy that utilizes players’ best skills is a no-brainer, but Feng pays particular attention to the roles that his female players can best fill. He seeks to unite team philosophy and strategy in a manner that both highlights and normalizes the positive contributions that female players make.
“Philosophically, there should be an overall team culture where you publicly recognize when a female player does something good, even if it’s a small detail. Strategically, the key for female success in high-pressure situations is developing a system that utilizes your girls’ strengths; every mixed team in the world has strength there.”
Of course, Feng will not be a stranger around the Breeze shop in his new operational role…
“Although we will miss him on the field, I fully support Ben’s decision to retire,” announced Breeze Managing Partner Don Grage. “His new focus on youth, women and mixed ultimate is completely in line with our franchise goals to grow the sport in the right way, and I’m honored that Ben has agreed to complete the last two years of his 3 year contract in his new position as our Youth and Gender Equity Coordinator.”
Feng hopes the Breeze support for his new Position sends a strong message to the ultimate community that the pro franchise stands proudly behind youth programming, and encourages other teams to use the bully pulpit of professional ultimate to push for equity and opportunity in youth ultimate programs.