Spirit of the Game

For those new to the game of Ultimate Frisbee, the sport is built upon a key principle known as Spirit of the Game (SOTG). The official line on this ideal is that is: a spirit of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, adherence to the agreed upon rules, or the basic joy of play. SOTG resides at the heart of every game and truly distinguishes this sport from all others. Naturally, it is a challenge to embrace at times but when all players on the field exhibit the principles that define Spirit of the Game there is a mutual respect and shared sense of pleasure for playing this game that few other competitive team sports can claim.

The following is an inspired and insightful approach to Spirit of the Game by long time Toronto Ultimate Club player John Harris.  John is a legendary presence on the Toronto scene and as he spells out in this condensed version of the document, playing with spirit means actively exercising it all the time.

SOTG – A How-To Guide, by John Harris, TUC

Some players say that it is easy to play with Spirit – all you have to do is follow the rules. But SOTG (Spirit Of The Game) is way more than this, and is quite difficult to do all the time. Here is a list of 5 steps needed to fully play with Spirit. Each step is challenging, but Step 4 is by far the hardest.

Step 1. I will try not to break the rules

  • I will try not to drag my pivot foot when I pivot (travel)
  • I will try not to cross the goal line before the pull (offside)
  • I will try not to cause significant impact when going for the disc (foul)
  • I will try not to count faster than 1 second intervals (fast count)

Step 1 is absolutely necessary before you can go to Step 2.

Step 2. I will not allow myself to get away with breaking the rules

  • If I realize that I’ve dragged my foot to pivot around a marker, I will not throw since I would have gained an advantage. Instead I will pivot back to my original position and ensure that both the marker and myself are in legal positions before continuing the play
  • If I cross the goal line before the pull, I will take a few slow steps before going into a sprint to nullify the advantage I might have gotten
  • If I foul someone, I will call the foul on myself
  • If I start the count too fast, I will stop counting for a few seconds to nullify the advantage

Step 3. I will encourage my teammates to follow steps 1 & 2. I will tell them when I think they are not.

  •  A teammate always travels when they throw a hammer. Tell them, and follow through by helping them practice throwing legally
  • My teammates often cross the line before the pull is released. Ask them to “hold the line” when your team is pulling
  • Your teammate fouls an opponent hard and decides to contest. Talk to this teammate; say something like: “Wow, that was a hard hit, maybe you shouldn’t contest”
  • Call fast count if your teammate is counting to quickly. It might surprise your opponents, but they will probably appreciate it

Step 4. I will believe that ALL players (myself, my teammates, and my opponents) are doing their best to follow steps 1, 2, and 3

  • I never travel, but the person marking me indicates that I traveled on my pivot. I get the disc back and make smaller pivots to avoid whatever it was that my opponent saw. After the game, I ask him or her to show me what it was that I was doing that they believe constitutes a travel.
  • My opponents occasionally get 10 or 15 yards across the line before they pull. I kindly ask their captain to check this and to mention it to his/her teammates. He/she does and their team is much better about offsides for the rest of the game.
  • The person marking me slaps my arm every time I pivot. I ask him to be more careful and/or I call a foul. We both try to be more careful – he doesn’t mark so close, and I don’t reach out so far on my throws

Step 5. I will accept that different perspectives will see different outcomes

  • Step 5 doesn’t work unless you believe Step 4. Even when you believe step 4 there will still be disagreements. Line calls are a perfect example of differing opinions on the field. A player catches a disc close the side line – in or out? Sometimes these calls can be very close. Even with linesmen and professional referees (e.g. pro football), line calls are sometimes unclear.
  • I catch a disc on the sideline and I’m 100% sure I was in, my opponent with equal perspective is 100% sure I was out. Since I accept Step 4, I have to believe that the opponent really saw that I was out – he saw something different than I did. Since I know I was in and he knows I was out (and neither of us is breaking the rules) it must be too close to call. The Rules of Ultimate include a solution for this situation: disc back to the thrower – Play On!!!