After years of playing Ultimate at almost every level it still surprises me how seriously people at one particular level take Ultimate; those people are league players. To be more specific it’s league players that play Ultimate several nights a week but only in league or local tournaments. These are people that are athletic, friendly, and generally cool folks off the field but on the field (or at the edge of it) they become amongst the most idiotic bunch of folks I’ve ever seen.
There are several types of players you’ll run into but they all tend to have the same blend of characteristics and calls that they’ll make. I’ve listed a few calls/situations below that I’ve run into over the years:
- If you show up late you’re not allowed to play – This refers not to a condition that your own team captain places on your team but that the opposing teams captain places on all games of Ultimate. Punctuality is an asset in business, education, weddings, court cases, appointments, well in live in general but not in Ultimate. Rare is an Ultimate game that starts exactly on time; especially at higher levels.
Usually discussion with other captain resolves the issue and your late arriving drunken friends are allowed to play but sometimes you will need to get the rule book out. Always carry a copy of the rules.
- I’m the team captain, therefor I know all the rules; and, I’m always right – This is a particularly contentious issue. It follows from the last one but there seem to be quite a few rules that have been made up or carried over from grade school play. In general the captain doesn’t know the rules; has a vague understanding of the rules; is on a power trip. The potent combination of the three can result in quite a bit of anger and lot of shouting matches (I’ve engaged in many of these). Here are a few examples of what I’ve run into that stands out the most:
- You can’t catch a disc while jumping in the air (from in bounds) and then land in the end-zone to score a point.
- The receiver always has best perspective.
- You can take three steps at any time during the 10 stall counts.
- There’s no such thing as a Callahan.
- Any contact is always the defenders fault.
- The line is in.
- Grabbing the disc above somebody’s head is a foul (without any contact).
- You must say stalling between each number.
- I can say the stall count numbers out of order.
Each of the above issues (a small sample) are a result of players playing by old rules, having been told by their mentor about a rule that they now consider canon, or simple a player coming from another sport. Once again a copy of the rules is helpful but not all of the issues really matter (as I’ve come to realize). If you take the time to patiently explain the rule and why it makes sense off the field the player will usually come around. If they don’t, cry and whine to your captain.
- No subs/pickups allowed – This is actually why I wrote this whole post and this is an issue that applies to almost all league players (even the non-idiotic ones). This is an issue that has made its way into some league handbooks and it disturbs me. A few nights ago I had a conversation with JD Hamel (a masters player out of Toronto) about this very issue. I’d subbed for a team that played against his and we absolutely creamed them; speed ultimate, 50 minutes, mixed, and I believe we tripled their score. Afterward JD stated that even though it was a stacked team he enjoyed the game; it made him play harder. This is exactly my perspective on the game and what I look forward to in each and every game of Ultimate: tough games.
League players are unnecessarily competitive and to that end they would rather handicap a team rather than give themselves a challenge. Leagues have responded by setting a maximum number of subs and/or defining a skill range that a player must be within before they are allowed to sub. Setting limits is a step backwards away from the nature of Ultimate that relies upon SOTG, which in my mind, means that everybody gets to play.
The closed minded mentality somehow is almost strictly confined to leagues. I’ve run into plenty of situations at much higher levels (including CUC) where players may have missed a registration deadline but opposing team captains allow those players to be picked up and in many cases those players are game changers.
Why does league play have so many issues and seem so mean-spirited? Competition is part of human nature to the point that score is tracked even at pickup games. The problem isn’t in competition but in SOTG. In a past conversation that I had with Patrick Van Der Valk he mentioned that:
The moment you get into more publicity and the sport grows and the team only starts because somebody read about it and start to play and they are not introduced to spirit and the only thing they have to go on is the rules and the rules talk about spirit but it’s so vague that they just learn how to play differently. Or they play differently because they don’t exactly know what spirit is.
We’ve hit a growth spurt around the world where we have players that have started playing without any guidance and leagues have left the situation alone for far too long. WODS (my home league) recognized that we had an issue a few years ago and that it was particularly with new teams that were coming into our system from the city run leagues. WODS had larger fields, longer games, and a much higher level of competition and the teams loved it. There was a cost though; many of the teams were composed of athletic players without any real knowledge of the rules and tended to play a huck and catch game. Overall spirit in our league dropped and the new teams were hated by many of the older teams. Recognizing the issue WODS kicked into action and put a plan into place:
- WODS distributed a copy of the rules to each and every player.
- Placed a league coordinator at every play location to oversee games and any conflicts that may arise.
- A feedback mechanism for each and every game that the league director and coordinators monitored.
- Immediately engaged in conversation with captains depending upon feedback.
- Provided coaches to newer teams to provide assistance during games and assist with calls.
- Ran clinics for newer players and teams that taught them basic rules by example as well as improving skills.
- Ran a fall hat league geared towards new and mid-level players. Special emphasis on strategy, skills, and SOTG as all captains were touring players with good knowledge in all areas. In this area our skills/development director, Greg Matthews, produced a lesson guide to ensure all teams were developing at the same pace.
By being proactive the issues of spirit that we have with newer teams joining our league have dropped off almost completely.
Why did I bother with this post if my home league doesn’t have issues? Well, I tend to travel and play in many other leagues. At tournaments I see such issues firsthand in my own games or on a neighbouring field. Our sport will not grow much at the highest levels if there isn’t an improvement at the league level. Our sport will not grow at the league level unless we get many more players. We won’t get and keep players at the league level unless players enjoy playing there. One bad team can ruin a league. Improve SOTG leagues; do it now rather than later.