Spirit of the Game

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?

About Ultimate Rob

Rob McLeod is a disc sports competitor, a 12 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.

19 thoughts on “Spirit of the Game

  1. When I started playing ultimate a couple of years ago, I definitely felt that the spirit of the game was something unique about the sport. It’s very different from sports where people argue with the refs all the time. I’ve been lucky enough to play with people who just want to have fun and know how to accept calls against them, or contest and explain their perspective in good spirit. It makes such a difference!

    1. I play in Montreal. I guess “spirit” is almost required in the main league (AUM), as each team also gives the other a spirit score after a match when reporting the game score. There are penalties if a team gets a low spirit score multiple times. Is it different in Calgary?

    2. @JeremyS
      Totally agreed Jeremy – the discussion part of the calls is what I enjoy most about spirit – that there is no “right” answer; it’s whatever you and your opponent decide.
      Where do you play? I’ve found from playing in many different cities that spirit is a bit different as to how city leagues approach it but the overall goal and theme I think are the same.
      I love that after you play a hard game, you can still shake hands and hang out with the opposing team – the people are what makes ultimate the great sport it is 🙂

    3. @JeremyS Yeah, Calgary has a spirit ranking system as well – 5 simple questions that help determine the score so it seems to work well. However, the issue still remains that not enough players know the rules – especially at the lower levels and so they think ‘poor spirit’ is when a player who knows the rules calls a foul. I’ve seen many players argue to just let it go, that the game is “just for fun”. I think the worst thing you can do is not follow the rules – they are there for a reason and so not playing by the rules (aka cheating) because the game is for fun is the worst spirit you can have.

  2. Totally agreed Jeremy – the discussion part of the calls is what I enjoy most about spirit – that there is no “right” answer; it’s whatever you and your opponent decide.

    Where do you play? I’ve found from playing in many different cities that spirit is a bit different as to how city leagues approach it but the overall goal and theme I think are the same.

    I love that after you play a hard game, you can still shake hands and hang out with the opposing team – the people are what makes ultimate the great sport it is 🙂

  3. This is all nice, but what do you do, if an opponent is playing not by the rules. You have NO chance to play the game if you are not anyway three classes better than the other team. At every big event cases happen more often in important games and high level teams that show “cheating”. Everybody knows – even video is shown – even the player says afterwords he did wrong – BUT – nothing happens – the game results stand. Seen at EUC, EUCF, WCBU, even at Junior Europeans or Worlds where coaches are present. The only chance a team has – fortfeit and save their body from the other team by not playing at all if the opponent is violently fouling the best players of a team to get them out of the game.
    Or to have to get every D twice and score every point twice cause is called back with cheap foul or travel calls. TDs and even EFDF-officials discuss things – and come up with – right – nothing. Teams start to say – against this team – I’m not playing anymore – more than one – but all the WFDF or EFDF does, is watch the video proof and say – bad boy bad boy! Thats it!
     
    The more important this sport gets to people and the more money is involved (sponsorings, media coverage,….) the worse it is going to be! In some countries “spirit” is not THAT important!! And the people hee talking don’t have to go far – they are part of some of the worst….
    If you had seen Canada at Worlds – wow – as a Japan-Open player I would have gone off the field to the WFDF-officials! It was dangerous to be on the field!!!! One of the worst and most dangerous asholes I have ever seen on an Ultimate field! Always wanted to trade a Canada jersey, but for no money in the world I’m gonna wear one after I’ve seen and heard those people talking!
    And Mr. Spirit VanDerValk – Portugal was horrible at WCBU last year! Talked to a few other teams and some of your best players were “cheating” at every chance they had cause they wanted to win so badly! And don’t let me get started about CUSB or Sweden at EDFD sanctionised tournaments in Europe.
     
    If you guys really wanna make SOTG work in the future you have to start to think about a really good way and not a piece of paper every TD throws away after the finals!

    1.  @player1 It is easy to point at a few games out of thousands and say that the system is not working. It is much harder to actually do something and try to make things work better. If you feel so strongly about SOTG I suggest that you uncloak yourself, roll up your sleeves and help getting better SOTG.

      1. I do – every single game – every single point… And its frustrating to see that  almost NO Canadian or US player has ever read the WFDF rules before playing a WFDF tournament, that it is not a single game of CUSB – but lets say – all of them! And that I have to wear ankle-guards against any Russian team, cause they think they are playing Rugby!
         
        And it doesn’t matter how often it works, in the big games at the big tournaments – it doesn’t work anymore and we’re getting more and more problems each tournament and you know that!
         
        All this – PLEASE don’t do it anymore – is not helping our sport!   @pvandervalk

  4. I had to come back and read this post, as I witnessed you play this weekend at CUC’s. There was a game on day 2 where you made a couple of blatantly obvious bogus calls trying to will your team to victory. This is exactly why this sport needs refs at the higher levels of play. At any point in a tight game, emotions run high, and players might try and bend the rules, or convince other players that what they saw was wrong, giving teams second chances that they didn’t deserve.
     
    According to this paragraph, 
    “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.”
     
    you have to admit to yourself that you tried to cheat, in at least one game of ultimate in your life.

        1.  @diddy1 That game was tightly contested and I don’t think I made any bogus calls. There were a few travel calls I made which I think were valid. The very end of the game was an unfortunate situation but I realized that and ended up not making a call. Not sure if you saw the very end of the game.

        2.  @ultimaterob maybe.. one point you turfed it on a dump pass and called a violation on yourself. If you called that foul back or not doesn’t really make a difference, because maybe mud score then immediately and ends the game. By making that call, teams get a breather, can think about the next play,etc. It effectively changes the play.
           
          I’m not trying to do this in an attacking way, but I think it came off as such, I’m just saying that when emotions are high, and games are tight, can we trust players to make the correct calls on themselves? Especially when a proven ultimate community ambassador himself is affected when playing. 

        3.  @diddy1 That was the very last point – we had a discussion and I ended up letting the down call stand. They got the disc, scored and won the game.
           
          For myself, I’m so honest that if I make a bad call, I’ll overturn it. I am a big believer in karma so I can’t actually cheat or make a call that I know isn’t true.
           
          One of the most disturbing things I saw at CUC was that there were SO MANY contests on foul calls that were valid. My issue is that if the call is valid, why are so many players contesting? I think having an observer helps for sure. I grew up playing hockey and soccer with referees. I find that the teams aren’t as friendly towards one another with referees but I do find that the game is played much more fairly.
           
          As an example, in our very last game, we were on universe point playing against the Hippos. One of their ladies made a throw into the endzone which was D’d on a layout by one of our ladies. The thrower called a foul on the throw, although the throw was exactly the one she wanted (she just didn’t see our girl who got the layout D). I didn’t see a foul on the throw at all. They got the disc back and a few throws later scored to win. I find this kind of stuff the most disturbing – many calls aren’t made until the game is tight and all of a sudden players start making calls on everything.

        4.  @diddy1 And on that last play, I heard their guy call travel on our player on the throw that went to me. MuD called a lot of travels in that game so I totally thought I heard a call. I stopped to send the disc back but he said he didn’t call a travel and my marker was still counting. I rushed, threw it away and was discussing what happened since I thought I heard a call. One of our ladies downfield also stopped running because she thought there was a call. Unfortunate but I did what was right.

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