Stressing mutual respect for the other team is at the heart of Spirit of the Game. Coaches should encourage players to respect the opposing team and encourage a respectful approach to conflict resolution. Showing respect to other players is often accomplished through small actions. Some examples include speaking about disagreements in a respectful manner, complimenting an opponent on a great play, and shaking hands after a game.

With Ultimate being a self-officiated sport it is imperative that players are taught the rules, apply the rules and know what to do if they do not know the rules. Additionally, coaches should encourage players to practice the management of disagreements in practices. When a disagreement occurs between players this is a good opportunity for a coach to discuss the situation and possible outcomes/ways to approach the disagreement.

Most spirit of the game infractions occur between players who either don’t know the rules or have interpreted them (either accidentally or otherwise!) incorrectly. The coach must know the rules and make sure their players know them also; players making calls based upon a misinterpretation of the rules should be gently (but immediately) corrected.

The SOTG is at the heart of our sport. Apart from the fact that it is played with a disc, the SOTG is the single most defining aspect of our game. It is fundamental and distinguishes ultimate from all of those ‘con-the’ref sportts’ that fill our TV screens and have ten-year-old kids ‘diving’ during a soccer game in the park. If the moral imperative for ‘fair play’ is removed, the sport becomes unplayable, unenjoyable and unwatchable. At least in ‘referreed’ sports, cheating requires some sort of skill to fool the referee; at the very least, luck! In Ultimate none of these are required, there is no one to fool and all that is required is a certain moral laxity and a willingness to cheat.

The importance of the SOTG must be impressed on all players on a regular basis. The coach should make it clear that not abiding by the SOTG is tantamount to cheating; not only the opposition but also the individuals themselves. Whilst there will always be players who put wining above all else, the coach must not yield to these ‘win-at-all-cost’ urges; peer pressure can be an excellent tool in this battle.

However, the SOTG does not mean acquiescing to every call the opposition makes. If a player disagrees with a call, they should listen openly to the case of the opposing player and if they remain unconvinced they should dispute the call. This is not an infraction; the rules have contingencies for all situations.

It IS possible to play at the highest level, in extremely competitive matches and yet remain faithful to the SOTG. It does not involve trying less hard or avoiding physical contact or concurring with every call made by the opposition. What it does require is honesty, integrity and the ability to ‘step back’ from the heat of competition and consider situations objectively.

This is taken from the officials rules of ultimate:

“Ultimate has traditionally relied upon a spirit of sportsmanship, which places the responsibility for fair play on the individual player him/herself. Highly competitive play is encouraged but never at the expense of:

  • Mutual respect between players
  • Adherence to the agreed upon rules of the game
  • The basic joy of play

The purpose of the rules of ultimate is to provide a guideline, which describes the way the game is played. It is assumed that no ultimate player will intentionally violate the rules; there are no harsh penalties for inadvertent infractions but rather, a method for resuming play in a manner, which simulates what would most likely have occurred had there been no infraction.”

Coaching the SOTG really just involves ensuring that every player understands what is expected of them and that they are prepared to adhere to those principles. This must be done, simply, by talking to the players but also by stopping practice games to clarify any situation that warrants it. The SOTG is a precious commodity but it is also fragile and open to abuse, so it needs to be cherished and guarded.

What do you think Spirit of the Game is? Do you agree with it? How do we preserve Spirit in our games moving forward?

Written by Ultimate Rob

Rob McLeod is a disc sports competitor, a 13 time World Record holder (including 6 Guinness World Records), 10-time World Champion, 2 time Quadruped title holder and currently holds the Canadian Distance Record. He created ultimaterob.com in 2009.