The Spirit of the Game

Within his first week of college, three years ago, our oldest decided to join the Ultimate Frisbee team.  Nate played with an intramurals team in high school but quickly learned that what he’d played and what they played at Luther College differed greatly.  He entered college without a basic understanding of “cutter,” “pull,” or “lead handler” but he’s learned fast and has found Ultimate to be a great source of exercise, competition, and friendship.  

This past weekend, my husband, daughter and I watched our first tournament – the North Central D-1 College Open Regionals.  Three teams would advance from this tournament to the National Championships.  Luther advanced to Nationals last year and had an outside chance of earning a repeat trip.

Weather and field conditions were less than optimal–40 degrees, rain, and mud–but the guys didn’t seem to care.
Left:  9  Center: 11a.m. game.  Right: 1 p.m. game.

On our way to the tournament, I read the Official Rules of Ultimate. It’s a pretty interesting game and, to the novice, looks like a combination of:

  • Football  — The pull is similar to a kickoff that begins play or is after a score. A goal is scored when a player catches a legal pass in the end zone.
  • Basketball –The lead handler is like a point guard. The player with the disc establishes a pivot foot and cannot run with the disc. Defensive players guard offensive players man to man.  Fouls are called when contact occurs.
  • Soccer – The cutter is like a forward.  The disc can be passed in any direction and when a pass is incomplete, the other team takes immediate possession.  
  • Tennis — There are no officials or referees. The players assume responsibility of fair play and resolve disagreements themselves. The first team to score 15 points wins, but the team must win by two points.

I’m sure Nate and his teammates would think this description a bit elementary but it’s the only way I could understand what I was watching.  In addition—and this is a bit confusing at first—every time a goal is scored, the teams switch their direction of attack.  

The most interesting aspect of Ultimate, however, is watching this rule in action:

All actions are governed by the “Spirit of the Game.”  

With no officials (although, in high profile games, there are two “Observers”), it’s up to the players to assess fouls and resolve disputes, and, as the rule book explains: Respectfully. Treating the opponent as you’d want to be treated. There is no “eye for an eye” or “give as you got” retaliation.

I truly wondered what SOTG would look like.  In a world where coaches yell at players and spectators boo officials, can sportsmanship and playing for the joy of the game outshine the desire to win at all costs? 

Team huddle after each game.

It can, and it did. 

Play immediately stopped whenever a player called for a foul. Every other player stood still and listened. The player who called the foul stated his case; the opposing player responded. Within seconds, they came to an agreement and play continued. There was no pushing, no in-your-face arguing, no rude comments from the sidelines or spectators, no after-the-game accusations of cheating.

It was pretty impressive.

(… and it’s on to Nationals! They took 3rd place.)

Learn more:  10 Things You Should Know About SOTG

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