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 condensed transcript of two phone conversations.  You can read the full conversation here:

In addition you may find the new SOTG survey at the following locations: and

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 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.

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, on Eurodisc, and I collected those and created a report on what people liked and what people didn’t like.

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: 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.

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.

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: 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.

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: 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.

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: 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: 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.

Tushar: 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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