January the 5th marks the day when I went to my first Ultimate Frisbee training. I can safely say that it’s a New Years Resolution, which I’ve managed to fulfill! It’s my 3rd year with Ultimate and I’ve decided to reflect on a few things. One of them is the Spirit Of the Game. It’s such an essential part of this sport and yet there are some unmistakable issues.
In the eyes of a new player, it’s what enhances the sport amongst the other disciplines. It’s what makes it unique. You’ve certainly watched many superhero movies where things seem black and white. It’s almost too perfect. Then you see the cracks in the system. You start to doubt and question everything. The little things thrive in the gray area just fine.
When I first learned about the Spirit Of The Game I was so excited. It seemed like a perfect place. Non-judgemental, open, respectful, tolerant and accepting. It was this beacon of positivity in the world of despair, prejudice, and resentment. It felt like home. The concept of the Spirit Circles and the whole SOTG system to fix everything seemed great. I was so enthusiastic about it!
With the time passing by and each new tournament, I’ve started to notice stuff. Some were understandable – there were things to work over to improve the Spirit. On the other hand, what can you do if there are things you can’t control or answer to? At some point it was so bad, we’ve even considered going to a tournament with a disguise. A real, world-class gentleman-like team. It’s all about manners and a good cosplay.
I’m not sure people would appreciate the joke or humor behind that. Back then we knew one thing – it was our team spirit that was important and we could work together to be better.
7 Issues With The Spirit Of The Game
1. Call everything
Ultimate is a sport where the players need to know and understand the rules as there’re no referees. At times it can be a real disadvantage. The key unpredictable source of the issues are the players.
With great power comes great responsibility.
Some think that you have to call everything. In such a dynamic sport certain situations are bound to happen. Nothing kills the flow and good atmosphere as calls every 30 seconds. I’m not saying that you’re better off not making them. Do it responsibly and when it’s necessary. There are people, who think that making a call in every situation reflects the good Spirit. It’s a double-edged sword.
Don’t you get annoyed when the game is constantly stopped over minor issues? I’m usually fed up with it. There’s hardly a foul and a player makes a call. The discussion begins and… the flow of the game is gone. They’re going at it for another 5 minutes. You even manage to forget what it was about.
In any case, the game stops. If the player backs out from the call – not much changes. The one who’s made the foul either says “contest” or not. The disc goes back or it doesn’t according to the decision and the play is back on. Do we need a political debate on the rightfulness of the call? How about making it short if there’s absolutely the need for it? One sentence on what happened. One from the other perspective. Contest or play on.
2. Heat of the moment
Is there anyone who can say they haven’t done a bad call decision? The first instinct when something happens is to make a call. It’s the heat of the moment. A bit of shock. Calling and contesting should happen only when you’re 100% sure. Otherwise, it’s better to refrain from doing so. It leads to pointless discussions that delay the play.
Backing away from a bad call doesn’t make you look bad in the eyes of others. It’s quite the opposite! Everyone can improve their call decision making. A match looks so much better and you don’t have to deal with your teammates telling you that you could have let it go.
3. You know nothing
I’ve noticed that certain people like to point out that you know nothing. After all, they are experts and you’re a mere amateur. Oh, well.
It can get quite annoying when during a game:
- someone keeps chattering about your obliviousness,
- forces you to make a call that you consider insignificant to stop the game,
- makes preemptive calls (calling travel when you haven’t established a pivot foot), etc.
If you’re looking for a way to practice your self-control, then a match like that is the ideal place to do it. Good luck.
4. Rules interpretation
When it comes to applying the rules to the situations during the game it’s troublesome. Quite often there are differences in how the players interpret them. They may know only the old version or they mix it up with the current one. That’s when the real magic happens and we get the new rules! It leads to some on-field drama and confusion, but the popcorn never arrives on time… Perhaps the most confusing part is figuring out if the call happened before or after the throw during all the commotion.
5. Spirit Circles
It’s a good way to highlight the positive and negative things that happened during the game.
Spirit Circles help:
- connect the players in non-competitive situations,
- address the issues,
- fix the problems,
- clear up the misunderstandings.
All too often there are the post-game circles where the teams sum up the game without further feedback. The worst is when the discussion is positive, but the actual problems are never brought up. Later you find out that your team ended up with a negative spirit and you don’t know why. After all, everything was fine.
So, why do we do that? Why don’t we address the problems clearly and honestly? Why don’t we actually use the Spirit Circle to fix the problems? Why don’t we give each other feedback on how to improve? Some teams actually make that effort, but there’s still a long way to go. We may compete on the field, but once the game ends we’re in the same boat. It’s up to us to encourage, support and gain new players to grow this still niche sport.
6. Pride and Prejudice
Why is the whole team judged based on the behavior of one player?
Is the Spirit score based on today’s game or something that happened a million years ago?
Why people not involved in the game get to influence the Spirit rating?
Questions like that keep bothering me ever since I’ve started playing Ultimate. It was not supposed to be so judgemental. I thought that in a team sport we rate the team, not the individuals. I don’t understand how a coach has anything to say in the Spirit Circle or while rating the other team. He doesn’t play the match, does he? Can’t the players make up their own minds?
There’s so many personal stuff brought into the game. How about leaving that off-field and enjoy the game? Personal drama belongs in an episode of Gossip Girl. New players don’t need to know the ancient history of Ultimate in your country. That part with all the drama, obviously.
Some tend to find it offending when you cheer for your own team. How is that a sign of bad spirit? Whenever something great happens on the field the natural reaction is to respond. It actually doesn’t matter if it’s your team or the opposing. Cheering for your team means there is a good team spirit and support. That’s what great teams do – support each other. They can lose or win, but they go on.
It’s the same when you get to cheer for others.There’s nothing better than letting go of your emotions and cheering like crazy when something cool happens. It’s what sport is about! I’m not really sure what to say to someone who claims that cheering is a sign of a bad spirit. I’m sorry that they scored?
The Spirit Of The Game system isn’t free from occasional problems. It’s up to the players to prove that it works and fix their problems. All we need is good communication and prejudice-free environment. Have you noticed some problems with SOTG? Feel free to share and discuss.