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/

Canada Day 2012

Like those around the country (and beyond) I visited my parents and sister today for a BBQ in the evening before fireworks.  My sister is a few years younger and not quite as involved in sports as I am (she is a bit of a brainiac though, just a bit).  A few years ago she started to take an interest in Ultimate but it never went beyond wanting to throw in the park.  Unfortunately she moved away and I was unable to teach her to throw.  Today I took the opportunity to get her to throw.  It was the first time that we’d thrown a disc together and my focus was to impart as much knowledge as possible.  We progressed quite quickly and before long she was asking me to throw it so she could jump for it.  We went through the usual coaching of how to catch it in the air (don’t just throw your hands at the disc!) as well as tracking and before long my looping 15 yard throws were easy for her to track.  It was interesting how quickly she picked things up.  I’ve played with league players for years that still struggle with basic concepts and I wonder if it’s because of ingrained habits or whether somebody just didn’t tell them what few things to change at the beginning.

Nevertheless a few minutes later my wife (yes, I’m married now, ruined my life, etc. etc.) joined us to also throw the disc.  My wifey isn’t an Ultimate player but she knows how to throw and catch basic 10-20 yard backhands.  She learned her throws under pressure at a small train station in Italy after we were kicked off the train for not having tickets (minor oversight).  Regardless, since she’s had more throwing time her spin and release were much better than my sister’s.  After 15 minutes of throwing amongst ourselves they headed indoors to have some tea but I still wanted to throw.  Fortunately, my mom stepped in.

Like the other ladies mentioned in this post, my mom has never played Ultimate, she’s not athletic nor does she participate in sports.  However, as we started throwing it became very obvious why I was able to learn how to throw so easily.  When I started playing quite a while back my backhand was pretty good right from the get go (my flick, still isn’t great).  It turns out that when I was a kid my mom and I used to throw a frisbee from time to time.  My original coach was my mom.


As the night ended and I was walking home I came to a realization that I wish to share.

It is not enough to have great coaches to develop great players and teams.  In order for any country, province, or region to have a great team we must start with the parents.  Parents must teach their kids how to throw and develop basic skills.  We see this constantly in other sports and we too must teach our children.  This isn’t the end of the realization though.  In particular we must concentrate on Women’s Ultimate.  Women are still the primary caregivers for children in their formative years.  Women also tend to build skills constructively rather than for purely competitive advantages.  With this in mind, I believe, that putting resources into Women’s Ultimate will generate a larger set of talented youth that can enter regional programs.  Simply concentrating on Open (as exciting as it may be) does nothing other than make good TV.  Those countries that invest in Women’s Ultimate now shall reap the rewards for the coming decades with improved performance across all divisions.

That is the realization I have come to:  Women’s Ultimate is more valuable than we give it credit for (I’ll go into this in another post) and develops Ultimate in general far better than any other investment we can make into Ultimate at this time.

Sidelines 2012 – 02 – 03

Welcome to this SuperBowl edition of Sidelines! But only because the game is Sunday, I predict a boringly efficient game, and I really don’t care which of Tom or Eli gets another ring. Wouldn’t you rather see Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis headlining this game than possibly the frailest quarterbacks around?  Anyways, I digress…

This week on Sidelines:


The international scene

NYNY v Big Brother


Tom Crawford

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Sidelines 2012 – 01 – 21

Welcome! To the second Sidelines of 2012, which is shaping up to be quite a year. The AUDL, the NGN, the end of the world, it’s even an election year. (Colbert/Stewart 2012! Hey South Carolina, a vote for Herman Cain is a vote for Colbert, just saying.) Bob was right, the times they are a-changin’.


This week on Sidelines:

Ultimate Digg

Stanford Bloodthirsty v Cal UGMO

The Top 10

The Bottom 10

The NexGen Network!

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King of Spirit

Continuing with conversations this time around I chat with Patrick van der Valk who is Executive Director of BULA.  Patrick and I first chatted with regards to Paganello and helping me find a team for this year.  We also met at Paganello and have talked from time to time since then.  Earlier this year he contacted me with regards to a new Spirit Survey that WFDF and BULA were putting forward.  In conjunction with the release of the new survey Patrick agreed to an interview and after a few months of trying to set it up I managed to find some time to speak to him.

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Shark talk

In an interest to learn more about people and our sport I will from time to time stop heckling and instead have a conversation with a fellow player.  In keeping with the theme of this weekend (CUUC) I had a quick chat with Scott Hislop of the UWO Sharks and TFP (as he’s probably better known for).  I first met Scott two years ago in the WODS indoor Winter league where we were on occasion decimated by the UWO team.  Since then our paths didn’t cross until CEUUC when we had a small chat; that chat leads us to this conversation.

This conversation will be in two parts with the first one now and a followup after CUUC 2009.  If you feel I missed any questions then please let me know.20090927-img_5600

[Tushar]:  You seem to be quite active with sports in general with Badminton and Ultimate.  Are there other sports that you play?  Do you find that Badminton helps you in Ultimate?

[Scott]:  I played soccer until I was about 18 years old.  A lot of sports will help you cross train for ultimate because it is such a dynamic sport. I have found badminton to be an excellent sport in terms of cross training especially for the handler position because it works on lunges for stepping around the mark and overall agility.

[T]: As most everybody knows you’re a core member of TFP, winning gold in almost every tournament you’ve been in.  That is until this year.  What happened at CUC or ahead of it?

[S]: Part of the reason TFP is so successful is because we don’t like making excuses for why things did or did not happen. The fact of the matter is we came 5th.  What I can tell you is that this was a serious wake-up call for us. You can expect to see a team that’s not only going to meet expectations, but exceed them.

[T]: What’s it like playing with your family?  Is there a greater connection in games?

[S]: Playing with my siblings has been a real honor.  We have all managed to fill various roles on the team and excelled in each of our respective positions.  With my brother, Tyler, on the mark, a handblock is sure to ensue and when Tory sees one of TFP’s talented receivers going deep, you know she’s going to hit them with pinpoint accuracy. There definitely is a great connection with my siblings and me.  That might be because of how often we play together; we play on two other teams together in the summer in the Vancouver Ultimate League as well as TFP.

[T]: How deep is TFP?  With such a young roster how were you able to destroy veteran teams at Nationals and World’s?

[S]: TFP is deep. Like Grand Canyon deep.  Our roster may be young, but we are all experienced players.  When you combine the experience that all of our players are bringing to the table with the athleticism we have because we are young, it’s a pretty unstoppable mix!

[T]:Shifting gears to The Sharks now.

You folks had a dominating performance at CEUCC, do you think you’ll be able to carry it through into CUUC?

[S]: Yes.

[T]: Overconfidence can be a debilitating condition.  Are you and the Sharks more confident going into Nationals than Easterns and do all y’all understand the higher stakes?

[S]: We definitely have a more confident team than we did going into Easterns, but our goal from the very beginning of the season is to win Nationals. Our guys had their first taste of victory as the Sharks, and let me tell you, we are hungry for more.


[T]: Who’s been taking the lead on your team with managing and captaining?

[S]: We realized at the beginning of the season that some people were better than others at certain things in terms of captaining so instead running a dictatorship-style of captaining; we’ve established a group of captains. Aaron Leung is the administrative captain among other things. Mark Lloyd is one of the most experienced men’s players on the team so he definitely plays a big role as captain.  Higy knows everything about the game and has a good sense of team dynamics.  Ray is the captain of the B squad but he often helps out in practices with the A team guys.  I do a little bit of everything.

[T]: I quite enjoyed how much field time rookie players were given at Easterns even with the powerhouse lines that you have; was that intentional against teams like Guelph and Toronto or is there simply that much talent out there?

[S]: Like I said earlier, our goal is to win Nationals.  Easterns was a great stage to see how the rookies perform under pressure.  Needless-to-say, we (the captains) liked what we saw!  That being said, our team has bonded so much since try-outs that we don’t even really see our rookies as rookies anymore; they are our teammates. We know how everyone plays and we trust that any one of our teammates will make the “big play” when comes down to it.

[T]: How many more years will you be playing at UWO?  After University will you stay out West or move here?

[S]: I have one more season after this year.  As it stands now, I will be heading back West.

[T]: Who do you think will be your primary threats at CUUC?  Toronto and Guelph will likely be more focused and the errors that we saw from the GOAT players are likely not to occur again; how will you counter their strong players?

[S]: Everyone at CUUC is a threat.  Every team there wants to win the title.  We don’t expect any team to rollover and give us the win; we’re going to have to bust our (can I say “asses”?) to win.  We are expecting teams to play harder against us because many of them saw us play at Easterns.

[T]: During Easterns there seemed to be a bit of miscommunication between you and Mark Lloyd, is this something that was due to lack of familiarity and something that’s been resolved since then?  Is your cutting too quick for most other handlers to anticipate?

Mark and I hadn’t had much of chance to play on the same line that weekend. When we did end up playing together in the finals, a little bit of miscommunication is expected.  I thought it was pretty minimal in the grand scheme of things, but then again, the view from the sideline is 180 degrees different from the view on the field. Haha I wouldn’t say my cutting is too quick to anticipate! I think it comes down to the fact that I am a receiver on TFP and a handler on the Sharks so sometimes I might mix up my roles. For example, I might make a cut that is usually reserved for a receiver when I am handling.

[T]: Ten years of Ultimate so far…what else do you have to work on?  What do you see lacking in your game?

That’s the beauty of this game: there is always room for improvement!

Ett Samtal

One of the reasons I started this blog was to share conversations with friends around the world.  I’ve been fortunate to attend amongst the best tournaments in the world and as I continue to attend more and more I’ll meet more interesting people.

This first conversation is with Kim Modig of Sweden.  I first met Kim in 2008 in Rimini.  I’d spent the better part of the week on the beach playing with local teams when on Wednesday I found a group of young gents doing very silly things on the beach.  They were running huck drills, juggling discs, throwing a disc into the wind and then throwing themselves after it, horsing around, and in general starting Paganello as early as they could.  This young team was Tailspin from Sweden.  We joked around on the beach and threw the disc for a bit before heading our separate ways late in the afternoon.

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