Spirit Of The Game in Ultimate Frisbee

So you know a bit about Ultimate Frisbee. It’s a bit wild and looks spectacular. Sort of Avengers Assemble meets American Ninja. Okay, that’s a bit of exaggeration. It’s Captain America playing not-American Football with 13 other Captain America’s minus the American Ninja thing!

      Wait, someone should tell them to throw a pull before running, right? Marvel has still a long way to go with introducing Ultimate Frisbee to the public… 

It’s still spectacular – a fast-paced entertainment. There’s one thing that distinguished Ultimate Frisbee amongst the other sports and that’s not a frisbee. For many newbies, it’s the fair play code that makes it so interesting. Sort of like an Assassin’s Creed’s “Nothing is true, everything’s permitted“? The gentlemen-like, fair play agreement that lives alongside teams being competitive. What’s the whole buzz about, anyway?

As a newbie, you’ve definitely heard some legends about the Spirit Of The Game. Perhaps it’s what drew you in. It’s one of the most important rules of Ultimate and is one of the characteristics that distinguishes it from other sports. It’s similar to the rules of fair play or sportsmanship, but in Ultimate you can see that’s a truly essential part of the game. As the rules say:

“All players are responsible for administering and adhering to the rules. Ultimate relies upon a Spirit of the Game that places the responsibility for fair play on every player. It is trusted that no player will intentionally break the rules; thus there are no harsh penalties for breaches, but rather a method for resuming play in a manner which simulates what would most likely have occurred had there been no breach.

Highly competitive play is encouraged, but should never sacrifice the mutual respect between players, adherence to the agreed-upon rules of the game, or the basic joy of play.”

Actually, if you’ve seen someone on your team play Pokemon Go here’s probably the reason why:

“We want everyone who participates (…) to keep these principles in mind—fun, fairness, honesty, respect, sportsmanship, and learning. Together, these principles make up our Spirit of the Game.”

See? That’s the Spirit!

Why is it so important?

All ultimate players are bound to abide by the rules and are responsible for upholding the Spirit Of The Game to ensure the integrity of the game. It’s based on three main areas: mutual respect, adherence to rules of the game and the joy of playing.

There are behaviours contrary to what SOTG stand for:

  • intentional fouling,
  • cheating,
  • dangerous plays,
  • disrespectful conversations,
  • ‘win at all costs’ behaviours.

As there are no referees, the players need to resolve the disagreements without cheating and with a fair mind. It leaves space for the players to be truthful, explain their viewpoint briefly and with respect.  In many other sports where the referees are an integral part, the players find themselves in a position when they are encouraged to cheat. The competitive part overshadows the fair play and they find a way to get away with breaking the rules. In Ultimate, it’s about balancing the fair play and competitiveness.

It’s not an easy task. In fact, there’re quite a lot of challenges that the teams need to face. First, you need to promote the idea of personal responsibility on the new players. If they’ve played another sport before, they may find it acceptable to “foul” in some cases. In Ultimate, it’s considered as cheating and “bad spirit”.

Another challenge is the rules interpretation – it’s a grey area. When you read the official rules many things can be debated and bent based on the certain individual’s perspective. It’s very frustrating and leads to many disagreements between the opposing teams. While those emotions are heating up, remember that the discussion should be held in with SOTG in mind. It’s such a challenge.

The Spirit Of The Game Scoring System

The Spirit Scoring System was developed to continuously measure the Spirit of The Game. It’s very important because of the self-referring nature of this sport. The scoring system lets the teams rate each other based on 5 fundamentals:

  1. Knowing the rules
  2. Avoiding fouls and body contact
  3. Being fair-minded and respectful
  4. Having a positive attitude and showing self-control
  5. Communication

A score range is 0-20 points per team per game. A team can get 0 – 4 points per category. Each category gets “Excellent”, “Very Good”, “Good”, “Not so Good” and “Poor” scores. A whole team should be involved in rating the other team. Everyone votes for the score they think the other team should get in each category. If there was something wrong then the person who noticed the odd behaviour should explain it to the other team members. Based on that the team adjusts the score. At the end of each tournament, a team with the highest Spirit score gets a prize.

Below you can see how the Spirit Scoring Sheet looks like.

Source: wcbu2015.org

A team should keep in mind that “2” is “Good” score in all categories. Also, the score between 8-13 makes a “Good” total scoring. It’s very important that teams don’t rate the other team based on the behaviour of one team member or as a retaliation and prejudice. Spirit shouldn’t be rated based on the previous encounters. Sadly, in the past 3 years of playing Ultimate, I’ve noticed many teams score others just like that. I’ll have a bit to say about that in another post.

Elements of SOTG

As a finely-tuned machine, there are some elements that make the Spirit work properly.

Spirit Captains

Spirit Captain’s responsibilities are to know the rules, implementing them, making sure that the team knows them as well as a whole set of other things before, during and after the tournament. After the games, they should make sure to collect the Spirit Scores and give them to the person who reviews the scores and determines the winner.

Spirit Circles

It’s a post-game, positive way for the teams to resolve any disagreements that arose during the game. It’s a great way for the teams to communicate with each other. It’s time to highlight or the good and ugly of the game. Actually, be honest while you can! Otherwise, the other team may be confused why you gave them a low score when you said everything was fine.

Source: Ultimatum Gdańsk, photo by Beatrycze Bem

Spirit Timeouts

It happens if one or both Spirit Captains believe that one or both teams don’t follow the rules of Spirit Of The Game. When the game reaches the dangerous level of hostility or it’s no longer fun to play, they may call a Spirit Timeout. In my whole career, there was luckily only one incident like that. It was very…interesting to observe.


Now you know a bit about SOTG. What do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with some of its parts? It’s certainly hard to maintain it. There’s an element of unpredictability – the players. Prejudice while scoring other teams plays a great factor in ruining SOTG in the eyes of the new players. That’s another responsibility for the teams. Resisting the urge of retaliation and scoring based on past behaviours.


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  3. This is a great article! Thanks so much for writing it. I hope lots of players read it and learn more about this unique part of our wonderful sport.

    Best wishes,
    Rich Moore
    Chairperson, WFDF Spirit of the Game subcommittee.

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