If you're new to the sport of Ultimate, you may be shocked to find about the rules of the game itself. It's called Spirit of the Game and basically involves relying on human decency, respect, and consideration in order to play a sport at the highest level without referee interaction. Maybe we're wrong here at CoachUp, but we believe that SotG has to be up there in terms of the greatest sports achievements of all-time. Consider an MLB game without umpires, an NFL clash without sideline judges, or a professional soccer match without somebody willing to hand out yellow cards -- simply enough, they just wouldn't work out very well, if at all.
Here's how USA Ultimate crafts it in their rulebook:
"Spirit of the Game. Ultimate relies upon a spirit of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, adherence to the agreed upon rules, or the basic joy of play. Protection of these vital elements serves to eliminate unsportsmanlike conduct from the Ultimate field. Such actions as taunting opposing players, dangerous aggression, belligerent intimidation, intentional infractions, or other 'win-at-all-costs' behavior are contrary to the Spirit of the Game and must be avoided by all players."
However, it's important to realize that SotG doesn't just entail the lack of refereeing, but instead an overarching range of behavior and general guidelines for having a successful game of Ultimate. So, in honor of that shared end goal, CoachUp has put a list together of the most important things to remember from USA Ultimate's Spirit of the Game.
Don't Be a Jerk
Now, this seems like it should be a no brainer, but you'd be surprised. Don't yell rude things at people, be nice, be understanding -- it's that easy. If it's a player's first game ever, maybe don't call them on ticky-tack travels or be mean about simple misunderstandings. At its core, Ultimate is intended to be a game for all, not just the world's elite or most competitive. Sure, there are varying levels of intensity and skill -- from college, club, grandmasters, hat, Olympic-level, or the newly-formed Major League Ultimate right here in the USA! -- but, on the whole, it is for everybody. Treat everybody the way you'd like to be treated, keep a (mostly) level head, and we promise you that Ultimate will give it right back.
Don't be a jerk
Just because there isn't refereeing, that doesn't mean you can intentionally hurt an opponent or take payback in any other way than hard play. If you've been wronged, try taking a step back, evaluating the situation, and come to a reasonable solution with the other team. Don't skirt the rules, don't blatantly cheat, don't go outside the lines in order to gain any sort advantage intentionally -- if you did, would you really feel great about it later on? In the end, you'll feel tons better about the things you didn't do as opposed to taking a shortcut to winning.
Don't be a jerk
One of the greatest advancements we've made as a human race is the ability to self-referee. In doing so, it encourages players to compete honestly and considerately. Much like pickup basketball, Ultimate's foundation is built upon calling your own fouls -- which also includes owning up to yours as well. If you got hit on the elbow as you released, call it; hopefully, your opponent will respect your decision and allow the play to reset. When disagreements arise, Spirit of the Game pushes athletes towards calm, level-headed conversation instead of intense-in-your-face-yelling.
Make sure you're only calling fouls you truly believe in -- using the honesty and integrity of the game to get an advantage or another chance is majorly frowned upon. If you've blown your throw for whatever reason -- it slipped, it's windy, good defense, whatever -- don't call it back. Instead, use it as motivation to play better defense and force your own turnovers.
Don't be a jerk
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Ultimate thrives once people realize that they do not need to win-at-all-costs. It's very easy to get caught up in an intense match, contest a tight call, and then lose your head in the name of winning. Whether it's a scrimmage, game, or championship match, the competitive nature can often take control far past the point of reason -- however, Spirit of the Game urges its players to do whatever it takes to quell that thought process. Sure, you'd like to win, but at what cost? Is it worth hurting yourself? Is it worth embarrassing an opponent? Your own teammates? Everybody would like to win, but Ultimate stresses that a loss isn't the end of the world. There will be more games, there will be new opportunities, there will be time to redeem yourself.
(Related: Read about throwing the hammer here.)
Of course, that's just skimming the surface on an amazingly deep and thoughtful outline on Spirit of the Game -- if you're interested in checking out the entire thing, you can head to the USA Ultimate website and read it in full over here. Frankly, Ultimate is like no other sport in the entire world -- it's a full-contact, full-speed sport that not only operates but thrives without referees. It wouldn't work in any other sport, honestly, but with Ultimate, and thanks to SotG, it helps set the foundation for an intense game powered by respect and understanding.
If you're serious about becoming an Ultimate player, take some time to digest these ideals and let it start creating your identity as an athlete, competitor, and better human being. When you respect others, others respect you and then you can start growing and evolving as not only an elite Ultimate player, but as a person as well. What are you waiting for?
(Thanks to Major League Ultimate for the gif!)
Be prepared for the biggest moments by mastering the small ones off the field.