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.

What follows is a transcript of two phone conversations.

In addition you may find the new SOTG survey at the following locations:  http://beachultimate.org/blog/2009/10/spirit.html and http://wfdf.org/index.php?page=rules/spirit.htm

Tushar: Who was involved in creating this new survey?

Patrick: We have a group of, I would say, 11 people.

[Editors Note: Patrick has provided the following list of people that were involved in creating the new guidelines:  Chris Schneider (CH), Christian Jennewein (FR), Dan Engstrom (SE), Daniel Bailey (VE), David Raflo (US), Ethan Milberg (CA), Jerry Rosenberg (US), Momme Butenschön (IT), Natalie Visser (CO), Patrick van der Valk (PT), Paul Bernier (IT), and Rue Veitl (DE)]

Tushar: Did you count yourself in there?

Patrick: I’m of course involved, I’m the chair and rally the troops and get things done.

Tushar: Did you select this group of people then?

Patrick: Yes, it was a suggestion by Rue and then he suggested a couple of people and then we got this WFDF Spirit of the Game committee going two and a half to three years ago.  We’ve now been working on various things and the big one is Spirit of the Game Scoring sheet.

Tushar: You released one last year so is this one for this year?

Patrick: Yup, so last year it was mostly BULA originated spirit of the game sheet which had it’s origins actually in Montreal.  I think in 2005 I got a hold of this Montreal scoring sheet and this laid the foundation for this objective spirit of the game scoring sheet.  Because before that it was which team had the best cheer or which team did you like the most and there was no real objectivity in any of the scoring and that didn’t feel right.  It felt like that the people that won the spirit were usually in the lower ranking because they just had so much fun and that’s not really spirit.  Spirit is fun but that’s not the only thing that counts.

Tushar: Yes, agreed.

Patrick: So we wanted to focus much more on the on-field spirit than the off-field spirit which was in many cases how people actually started to rate spirit of the game on how good the game was after the actual game.  And there’s still sort of a part of the new spirit sheet but we made a conscious decision that that’s definitely not the focus.

Tushar: It certainly seems like, I’m looking at the new spirit system, it’s a simple five questions as opposed to the old one from last which I think was almost double of questions.

Patrick: Yeah, so we launched the previous version, which was at 8 questions, and you had three possible answers:  bad, normal, and good.  We’ve actively been going out soliciting feedback on the sheet through BULA and partnership with Lookfly.  Any tournament who did the spirit of the game scoring sheet during the tournament and gave us feedback Lookfly would give them either a hat or sweatbands with a Japanese logo which sort of dignified spirit.  So we had 20, 30 tournaments giving us feedback.  Then there was feedback rec.sport.disc, on Eurodisc, and I collected those and created a report on what people liked and what people didn’t like.

That sort of became the basis on which we decided to change.  Some people felt that it was took much and some felt that it wasn’t enough.  Only bad, normal, and good didn’t seem like it was enough.  Sometimes bad is too much and normal not enough so we said let’s reduce the number of questions from 8 to 5 but increase the scoring options.  So now it is: Poor, Not so good, good, very good, and excellent.  So the good is sort of what we consider to be normal as good spirit should be normal and that allows people to say it was “not so good” but not “poor”.  Poor is 0 points, not so good is 1 points, good is 2 points, very good is 3 points, and excellent is 4 points.

Tushar: It certainly allows for a good range of decisions to be made for each especially where we’ve had problems.  Here in Waterloo we’ve used the survey from last year in our league and it seems to be that it’s very hard, everybody pretty much gets ones:  normals; even if there’s that range.

Patrick: Yeah, we found that the other sheet was used at Worlds in Vancouver and there were some statistical differences with the teams.  There were some teams scored really low, some that scored really high, and a whole bunch in the middle.  So it did work in larger tournaments.  It definitely didn’t do the scoring sheet justice.

And there is one thing I want to mention, one of the reasons we did the scoring sheet was to educate people.  Ultimate is starting to and you know spirit and it’s something to educate to tell people, there’s no rules, yet it’s rule number 1 but it’s really generic.  So something we really do is give examples and get the essence of good spirit so that if tournaments use this then we are actually helping people to know what good spirit is without having to have spirited people on the team.  As long as it’s grassroots it’s ok because you have people with spirit teaching others and it progresses.  At the moment, as it becomes really popular, it’s really tough to say what good spirit is.  So that was definitely part or main intention of the spirit sheet to educate people on what good spirit is.

Tushar: Do you feel that this spirit survey should be used by leagues and at the grassroots levels?

Patrick: I definitely think that’s a great idea.  The more people that are using it, spirit should be checked into in control, it is such a great part of the sport that by educating people we can keep that part of Ultimate going.  It will keep the enjoyment of the sport.  Ultimate players are different from most others because we have this self refereeing and not getting pissed off at the other players.  I would love to see this being used in every league and every tournament.  That’s one of the reasons why we have now translated into 25 languages.

Tushar: I’m definitely looking forward to it especially if there’s a common basis across the world.  One of the big problems, especially in Canada, that there’s a little bit of talk about is that the World’s teams that are coming out of Canada are getting relatively low spirit scores.  At the National level and International level is this an issue?  Is low spirit an issue?

Patrick: Yes, I think we’ve definitely talked about Canada.  They came out of Vancouver with low spirit scores.  At World Games they came out with low scores and we don’t know why.  Personally I would have expected the US to to be as least bad and they aren’t.  The US at Vancouver and World Games scored high, maybe top 3, or at least top of the middle level.  The US has International teams are capable of playing better spirited games than the Canadians.  Now Ethan joined us six months ago and we have him look into how this can change in Canada.  It is too bad if Canada would get a bad rep.  I’ve played in Canada, in the Toronto league; I’ve played seven years in Canada and I know there’s lots of spirit in Canada.  The people that go outside need to be ambassadors of the game and you can’t go outside and play an International game with bad spirit; it looks bad on the country and it’s completely unnecessary.

Tushar: I think that’s a bit of a concern for me as I’ve played in some tournament Internationally like Paganello and am heading to Asia shortly as well.  I had an incident at Paganello and I had an encounter with a Russian player, and I can see it from his angle, but is it possible that Canadian players are simply more physical.  We saw it during the finals in Mixed Finals where Canada played Japan and there was a lot of body contact.

Patrick: That’s against the rules and it’s against spirit.

Tushar: How do we shut that down since it’s clearly a spirit issue, how do we as a competitive team and as a player shut that down?

Patrick: That’s going to be key in Canada and the US to a lesser extent: How do you shut that down?  You should be capable of playing without the physical contact, without the bump and grinding and still play a great game.  You see it, you don’t need to do it to play well.  You see it with the other teams it’s not a necessity it doesn’t give you a bigger advantage it just takes away from the enjoyment of the game.  That’s a problem if in Canada this is becoming mainstream this constant contract, how do you solve it?  At this point I don’t have an answer for it.  We might talk about it within the Spirit of the Game committee.  I know we’ve talked about Columbia because Columbia and Venezuela came out of World’s pretty poorly with spirit scores of 0 and 1.  We actually setup a Spirit of the Game project for those countries.  We never got the funding for it, we’re still hoping the WFDF gets us money to do this.  We have a whole project to increase the spirit because there it is one of those places where it has it’s own life where people are playing their own game and if nobody steps in then it keeps on self perpetuating.

Tushar: Because I play with high level players but won’t be playing at the International level like they are, how do I affect their spirit?

Patrick: Partially education.  If you look around Canada spirit education is not very high.  Growth has been extremely high.  I think that’s a problem.  Most other countries outside of the Canada and US the growth is slow, it’s grassroots.  So the first people that pickup the disc and play Ultimate are those that have played it before usually they come from “the old era” and I mean the 1980s type of thing and they can pass on the spirit because they’re highly involved in building the teams.  I saw that in Poland, where I was recently for a tournament, spirit is great because there’s a bunch of guys who started Ultimate there in 2002 and slowly grew.  Now they have 15 teams but they all have contacts with good spirit.  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.  I think that in Canada and maybe the US as well this type of scoring system where it’s a bit more clear what you can and cannot do and what is against the rules can actually help people, in general, play better.  If you look at the scoring system it’s very easy to figure out which teams have a problem.  I see it in Europe where people actually want to learn.  At the European championships which were held a few weeks ago one of the teams that scored lowest in spirit actually asked us for their spirit scores, who rated them and what they were rated as because they want to learn and don’t want to be known as a bad spirit team.  I think that’s a good thing.

There are five categories in the new spirit sheet, so one is Rules Knowledge and applying the rules.  So how well do they know the rules?  The number one rule in sports spirit is that you have to know the rules.  The second one is physical contact, is there physical contact?  The third one is fairness, how fair are you?  Are you going to say “yes you’re right”, are your teammates going to correct you on your calls such as was it up or down?  Your teammates may say it was really down and then you call it down.  The fourth one is positive attitude, I think it’s a necessary part of Ultimate.  You have to have a positive attitude, when you’re can’t play get pissed off and negative, you have to play with a positive attitude.  The fifth one is a mirror, it’s a self reflection, how did our teams do with all the four categories.  It’s a very interesting way of looking at it so you don’t only give the other team the rating, you rate yourself.  Was your spirit worse?  You look at the four things and was your spirit worse  than the other team?  Was it better?  How much better or worse was it?  And so you rate yourself on that as well.  I think so those five things, four concrete, and a fifth self reflection, is a really good indicator of spirit.  If you have a bunch of hotheads on your team and your positive attitude sucks then you can see that.

If you see that physical contact is a real issue, a lot of people give you a fault, you can see that.

I think from this scoring, you learn much more if you know the scores than, for example, if you had aptitude delay, which is a much more generic… A score applied means that they played with great spirit and there was no problem.

A score of forward – they played with good spirit and there were some problems. Then it sort of cascades out, but as a team you can’t learn from that. You can’t figure out where your problems are.

So, if you go back to the beginning, maybe it is a good idea that in North America, they start to play with spirit force. Now, there is one issue there. If everybody plays the same physical contact type of game, most people will then talk between themselves, “Oh, that was acceptable. That was good. I guess it must have blinded a bit, but that’s normal.”

So there is a state of an issue, but the moment you start getting to the international game and you see how the rest of the world plays, then you start knowing that Canada is an outlier, or Colombia is an outlier. You can see what the problems are.

The rest of the world plays at a certain level, and that certain teams or certain countries do not. And it is not to say bad things about Canada. I loved playing at UPA, played there for many years, and had lots of fun in there. There were lots of great players, great spirit.

But, so far in the international tournaments they haven’t shown the spirit that I sometimes see in a normal league, in a normal turnout. And that, hopefully, can get solved.

Tushar: I completely understand what you are saying there. I play with that same system. I play more physical. I had that incident with an international player, where I did get called out on that. It just seemed normal to me. In fact, I thought I wasn’t doing it wrong. It just seemed to be somewhat part of our culture to play that way. Now, one thing I noticed is that there is a lot of mention of – you mentioned UPA.  What are the odds that UPA is going to adopt the sort of spirit system?

Patrick: I don’t know. We tried to involve the UPA from the start, that we started creating this new scoring system. They told us that they had a good thing, that they had invested a lot of time and effort in their current scoring system. So they didn’t want to change. I hope, now that we have the scoring system in 25 languages, it is going to be used around the world. That you will be able to look at it and hopefully see the value that it can bring.  UPA has its own way of doing things as the largest, ultimate players association in the world. So they have a lot of responsibility to their players. I truly hope that they have a real look at this and really adopt it. It would be great if the entire world can play at the same spirit level as everybody else.

And we have a good system that we can measure things against. We can just grow the sport without destroying the spirit. But that’s a step back. They are just as concerned that if the sport gets big, that the spirit dies. And that will be the saddest day of my life.

I have been playing for too long. I am one of the old guard. But I think I truly know that spirit can really win. That’s the beauty of this sport.

Tushar: Now, one of the areas that I see, problem areas in Europe though, is the UK. It seems to have explosive growth. Is that an example of a place that would be a good time to attack the spirit issue now, because it is an international issue?

Patrick: Yeah. And UK is very active in the whole spirit system. They have implemented our previous one into their league. UK is going through this growth spurt. The UK UA, the Ultimate Association, is very active in think spirit and educating people on spirit. I am very happy to see how UK is doing, because they have a potential of growing really fast. By doing this I think they are containing the spirit. That makes me very happy to say.

Tushar: That’s good to hear. Because I have heard stories in the past, have experienced things in the past, but certainly this year it seemed much better than in the past. I think your program is working. And it is something that I am going to use as an example.

Patrick: I agree. I have a lot of contact with them. Cy Hill, who is the coordinator; and he really takes this seriously. He really wants to see great Ultimate and great spirit. When I see people like that I am very happy. I am very happy that they are willing to roll up their sleeves, educate the people on what good spirit is, and have spirit in a country and growing the sport at the same time.

Tushar: OK. Now, there is the decision I see between Regular Ultimate and Beach Ultimate as well. Now the view that I have had with some of the players is that they don’t take Beach Ultimate as seriously, but then we get some incredibly talented teams, like Los Ox, which was here this year, as well as UTI – these incredibly talented players, but still incredibly spirited games.Is there just a distinction in mindset between Beach Ultimate and normal 7-on-7 Ultimate?

Patrick: I definitely think so. I think being on a grass field, putting on your cleats puts you in a certain mindset. Going on the beach and taking off your shoes puts you in another mindset. I fully believe that there is a difference in mindset. And so yes, I think the positive attitude that people have on the beach carries on. But it shouldn’t take away from physical contact, fairness and rules knowledge. Those should be identical on grass or on a beach.I just think that people in general, they get happier on the beach, and I think that’s a very normal thing and that’s why I love Beach Ultimate because you don’t even get the initial testosterone rush of the men where, rah, we’ve got to win. And it’s much more, yes, we want to win.

Look, every single game I play, I play to win, I play to play well, I don’t like to lose but it’s only a game, and I’m on the beach. So, at the end of the game I crash out on the sand, have a cold beer and get myself up and have the charcoal and have fun.

But yes, I do think that there is a sort of inherent attitude difference between playing on the beach and playing on the grass, especially when it comes to the positive attitude.

Tushar: I like to compare, just with my friends and myself, the game that was held at Paganello finals this year, and the 2008 finals at World Ultimate & Guts Championship in 2008. Both games were incredibly fast, exciting to watch, but they seemed to have relatively good spirit. You know probably the spirit scores best from both games. Are they comparative?

Patrick: I don’t know. I saw Paga and I think I saw Vancouver finals but I’m not sure so I don’t know. It’s hard for me to compare those two.

Tushar: OK. No issue, I’ll show you the video for the ’08 ones in a couple weeks if you have the time. Now, one of the other issues I see is, especially in this new spirit survey, it seems that number two, the fouls and body contact, it seems to have overlap between rules knowledge and use.

Patrick: Sorry, I didn’t hear that?

Tushar: So, in the new spirit survey, fouls and body contact seems to be overlapped with rules knowledge and use. So in terms that if you scored low on, like you’re going to score pretty much the same on both of those questions, or do you really want captains to make a distinction between the two?

Patrick: I think there is overlap but the whole body contact is, I think so important in Ultimate that we needed to take that out, to not have it be within rules knowledge. Yes, it is against the rules. But the rules are not always perfect, it’s not always clear. And that little bump and grind, sometimes it’s truly by accident but some people just, they just let it go. I will try to stop, but some people just stop later or it becomes a part of the game. So those two are definitely similar in many ways. But I think since body contact is such a big part of spirit, we need to tell that we need to do to highlight that one.

Tushar: That’s a pretty good explanation. Now, I have just a couple more questions and then I’ll let you be on your trip. Now the first one’s going to be, what’s your view on observers, and do they improve the spirit or are they detrimental?

Patrick: Sorry, I didn’t hear that.

Tushar: What’s your view on observers?

Patrick: Interesting. So, there is some talk in the WFDF about line assistants. And the only time personally I would be in favor of a line assistant is if that’s truly their job to check if my feet were in or out, because I am involved in trying to grab the disc, my defender is looking at the disc. It’s very difficult to see what you’re doing on the line. That is as far as I would go even though I could personally live without any type of line assistance. But there are also conversations going on those lines assistants can also be involved in other calls.And the idea is that they’re just there to give a judgment call, it’s not mandatory that you take it. They don’t even proactively tell you whether you’re in our out or in the more extended case, the disc was up or down or whatever it is.

Somebody who constantly looks at the line and will tell me if I ask for was I in or out, personally, I could live with that. I don’t want anybody to tell me if there was a foul or not because it’s too far on the field most of the time.

On the line it’s reasonably straightforward. If somebody’s looking at the line that’s not in the field, that somebody’s looking at the line, and I don’t have to ask the sideline for was I in or out. I don’t know, I make my attempt to catch the disc, I will try to be in and try to put my feet where I think I should be, but I don’t always know.

So there’s a few times that I go, “Was I in or out,” and then if I say three people say, Oh, you were out, and I go, “All right, out.” And that’s fine. So if there’s a lines person doing that that I can ask and they don’t proactively do anything, I’m fine with it.

The moment it goes towards anywhere else, then I go no, that takes away from the self-refereeing, and the self-refereeing is still key to the sport.

So I’m not a fan of observer types, and only lines people because they actually have a good chance of making the right calls. Apart from that I’m personally against it.

Tushar: Now, just extending on that a bit more, it would seem that if you do allow observers and you take away some of that self-refereeing in the game, then it will detrimental towards Spirit. Would you agree with that?

Patrick: I’m sorry, could you repeat that?

Tushar: Sorry. If you allow observers into the game in order to make calls such as lines, and then go a bit further than that and actually allow them to make calls, then that takes away from the self-policing, as you said. The self-refereeing in the game. Would that be detrimental towards Spirit?

Patrick: Yes. I definitely agree that the moment you start to provide other people – it becomes like any other sport. And you start to rely on a referee type. And I think that just opens a Pandora’s Box, where people that grew up with Ultimate and have been playing it for years, they can probably deal with it. The new players that are coming in and they’re starting to get used to this referee type of thing, they will try to get away with things, which is so against the spirit. That, to me, is the spirit. It’s not fair.The fairness part of the spirit is knowing that somebody was right, or that you might have made a wrong call, or that somebody on your team might have made a wrong call. So I definitely think that will be detrimental to the spirit.

Tushar: And it seems to be a bad precedent to even allow observers to make lines calls to start with. I know that you said you’re still against it. But in my opinion, it just seems so incredibly bad to just allow anyone in, because people will say, “Oh, they’re there. They can do the next step.”

Patrick: And that is my exact thought as well. I said that I’m only in favor of it because Jonathan Potts, who is the WFDF president, said that he is going to make amendments to the WFDF rules that preserve self-refereeing. Now exactly what that means, that is still to be seen. But he wants to put something into the statutes, into the rules. I don’t know how he is going to do that, to not open the box for referees.Now that is not an easy thing, especially now that we’re talking about line assistants and how much can they say, how much they can do. So as long as WFDF will somehow clearly close the door on any type of referees, I might be OK for the line assistants. But as long as it’s clear that it doesn’t go further.

If it goes further, then I’m against it because it’s opening that Pandora’s Box, and all the problems that come with it.

Tushar: That leads into my questions, hopefully, probably, my last one. A few years ago, they had MLU, Major League Ultimate, which was one tournament, four teams involved, in the US. And this year in the UK, they had an equivalent. Some semi-pro….

Patrick: I saw that.

Tushar: That was one quote that really sticks out in my mind and this really – it bugs me constantly. There was one quote were a players said you get a certain number of fouls per half in a game. That means by half you should have this many fouls. And that sort of – people are coming from Ultimate and the mentality that was there. This was a UK player, which is why it was disturbing. But we had talked about they’re improving that.The mindset seems to be going in that direction, so how do we make Professional Ultimate without referees? Is it possible? I mean, it’s a vague question, but any thoughts on that?

Patrick: I have no doubt that Professional Ultimate could be without referees. What does professional mean? It means that somebody is paying you to participate. If you don’t have the number of participants or you don’t have a lot of sort of goods that you can sell, then it becomes problematic because there’s not many companies interested in sponsoring this, therefore you’re not going to be paid to travel.I don’t think that a referee is going to make a difference there. I don’t think you get better acceptance because you have referees. I actually think that you will probably get better acceptance because you don’t have a referee than when you do have a referee.

I don’t believe that the Major League Ultimate will have a better chance of making a case than regular Ultimate. I think if people want to do it – and I think that most of the general consensus that came out of the UK is there’s certain people that want to do this. If you turn it into another Frisbee sport and you call it, I don’t know, Major League Disc Throwing or you name it.

Just don’t call it Ultimate. Ultimate is something that has no referees, it is fair play; it’s all those type of things. That is what’s signified by Ultimate. If there’s people that want to play that type of game, we shouldn’t stop them. More disc sports is fine. Some people play Ultimate, some people play Double Disc, some people do Freestyle. It’s great.

Just don’t call it Ultimate. And if they want to promote it, I don’t think they’re going to go very far. There’s just not much money in Ultimate. There isn’t. Companies cannot sell much. They can sell jerseys and stuff, but there’s not much else that you can sell. Discs are cheap.

I never think that Ultimate will really get professional, where you get professional teams. Major League Ultimate, if they change the name, I don’t think will be any better off. I think they’ll have a really hard time breaking into the big sports. Here in the US, of course, that’s football, basketball, baseball-type of things. And even lacrosse and anything like that.

I don’t think that they will get into that. So I don’t see that as a threat as all. Just don’t use the word “Ultimate” in it, because that takes away from the beauty of our sport.

Tushar: I completely agree. Thank you for your time. I very much appreciated this. I’m looking forward to seeing how this survey, this scoring system for Spirit of the Game works out.

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