Spirit of the Game Makes Ultimate Ultimate

Spirit of the Game is a core concept in Ultimate. Although vital, Spirit of the Game can be a tricky thing to define or describe to those who have not experienced it. On the surface, Spirit of the Game is a framework for rules enforcement, it requires each player to do their best to look objectively at situations in an ultimate game that they are involved in and to apply the rules correctly, regardless of the effect that their decision will have on their own fortunes in a game.  Put into practice, Spirit of the Game forces players of ultimate to look into themselves and decide how they are going to respond when they are called to personal responsibility.

Ultimate is Fragile by Design

In the extreme, a single player who rejects Spirit of the Game has the power to make enough calls in their own favour to guarantee a win or at least a tie for their team; I imagine that most ultimate players realize this is an option at some point in their career, usually sooner than later. When I first realized this I wondered how a sport that was so vulnerable to abuse of the rules could possibly function, but over time I came to see this apparent weakness as a strength.

A Happy Accident

The happy accident or subtle genius of a sport that crumbles under intentional cheating is that it requires those who choose to play it to defend the sport they love or watch it crumble. There is little room for apathy. Practically this means that team captains will often bench players that make bad calls in their own favour and apologize to their opponent. In cases that a team captain refuses to control players on their team who intentionally cheat, bids to tournaments can be withheld and often new players will refuse to join for fear of acquiring the reputation of playing on a team that intentionally cheats. There are some counterexamples to this but in general our system of informal community-based rule enforcement creates an environment that many players find refreshing when compared to the refereed field sports.

Not for Everyone

A second side effect of Spirit of the Game turns some potential players away. Playing league ultimate successfully requires a level of rules knowledge and mindfulness that some find intimidating and stressful. While some look forward to the need for personal responsibility and mental challenge of being their own referee, others will find the sport overly complex and preachy. Other aspects of ultimate raise early barriers for new players. Learning to throw a disc is hard and requires a level of body control greater than kicking or throwing a ball. The fitness requirements of the sport can be immense and ultimate tournaments feature massive amounts of play over a single weekend (often 7 games in 2 days), rarely seen in other sports. All of these barriers add up to a difficult time for new players. While it is possible to teach yourself to play, the best way to learn the sport is to find an experienced mentor to take you on their team and teach you to throw and how to apply Spirit of the Game. As a result, and by design and by evolution, most players that do succeed in the Ultimate are well immersed in its culture before they are effective enough to claim positions of leadership for themselves. We sacrifice speed of growth in exchange for quality of community.

An Experiment in Progress

Ultimate is an ongoing social experiment. As the sport has grown over the past 50 years, the Ultimate community collectively agreed that we would attempt to answer the question: “Is it possible to have a competitive team sport that enforces its rules solely by personal responsibility of the players?” It is still unknown whether our sport can or will continue to progress, driven by the principles of Spirit of the Game. Will we see pockets of rife, unchecked cheating or dangerous play when the stakes get high enough or will our community rise up to stand for something better. I believe we continue to grow with Spirit of the Game as our guiding principle, but to do so will require new generations of leaders to continue to commit to the hard work of mentorship and action.

The experiment is continues.

Written for International Spirit of the Game Day.  Learn more at http://www.spiritofthegameday.org/

CUC 2011 Photos by Jon Hines – Day 3 part 0

Memory card recovered!  All pictures below are from that card that was returned to me by the excellent volunteers and staff at the tournament following a thunder storm on day 4.  The morning of day 3 was filled with upsets highly intese play as teams were fighting avoid elimination from the championship.  I watched Train Wreck loose on Universe point to No Clue? and MuD loose to TFP at the same time.  In the same set of games, Union was eliminated by Onyx. Continue reading

CUC 2011 Photos by Jon Hines – Day 3

Well, day 3 is done. The Masters and the Juniors finals have been played, won by the Nomads and Shock respectively. Of interest to myself as a mixed ultimate player from Ontario is that all the Ontario mixed teams were eliminated from the top 4. Quebec dominated mixed today taking 3 of the top 4 positions. On the other hand, Open seems to have been dominated by Ontario with 3 of the top 4 teams coming from Ontario. Continue reading

CUC 2011 Photos by Jon Hines – Day 2

Today I went fishing for exciting ultimate pictures.  I wandered the pond looking for the prime fishing spots, typically settling in for a while to shoot at a game that was fairly closely matched and then moving on when I felt another game could yield better action.  At several points I managed to get myself between two games that were closely matched and that had the sun shining on the side of the players I could see, which filled my short term goals nicely.  Two such notable combinatinations stand out to me in my 2am haze.  The first was the games between Zen and Spawn on one side and MuD and Prodigy on the other, both games went to universe point and were hard fought all the way.  The second prime fishing spot I found was Vortex vs. Overdrive and Onyx vs. Team Fischer Price.  Both of these games were well matched and TFP won on universe point.  These two sets of games were intese and were loaded with layouts.

The fact that I could find adjoining down to the wire games is evidence that the competition is starting to heat up as teams work their way towards their final placement in the tournament.  I’m really looking forward to the championship play that will be taking place tomorrow as there should be a ton of close games which leads to intense games which leads to more interesting pictures :) Continue reading

CUC 2011 Photos by Jon Hines – Day 1

Day one has finished and I can sleep well, having seen a massive variety of top level ultimate, all played on one set of fields.  In general, my experience of the day was that most games I saw ended as I was expecting them to, but even heavily mismatched games could yield some exciting ultimate.  During the second last time slot of the day I wandered from field to field looking for a game that was not mismatched and close to the end of the list of available games I finally settled on a juniors division game between ResurreXion and CUJO, (Ottawa and Calgary) who did have a close game, hard fought game.

I was reminded today that juniors division provides some of the most entertaining ultimate to photograph as the number of contested throws and layouts is much greater due to the ability of youngsters to survive collisions with each other and the ground better than most of the older ultimate brethren. Continue reading

No Borders 2011 – Pictures by Jon Hines

No Borders 2011 was the site of some really exciting ultimate.  The addition of a cash prize lead to some interesting sideline discussions about exactly what a team would need to do to win the coveted 9th place and the $500 prize that comes with it.  I played for “Wax Power” an open pickup team made up mostly of men from various Ontario mixed teams.  We won all our games in our pool (Fire Bird, Roy and O Town Throw Down) and lost to Red Circus in our crossover.

I’m afraid that I was a bit too busy playing the first day to take many pictures but I did come back with a bunch that I was happy with from the second day (image 3 and onwards).  I ended up covering 3 PPF games, 2 of them were against the Capitals (playoffs and the final) so PPF and the Capitals are well represented below.  I shot straight through the women’s final, images 14 – 22, and the open final between Goat and Phoenix which accounts for images 23 – 32.

The following pictures were taken over the course of No Boarders 2011 by Jonathan Hines.



Continue reading