Sunday, May 15, 2011

Spirit of the Game

Probably one of the most fundamentally important issues to Ultimate is the concept of the Spirit of the Game. Taken directly from the USA Ultimate 11th Edition Rules:

"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."

I'm a super competitive player and coach. Every game I've gone into from random league games to nationals elimination games are games I want to win. I play to compete and to win as much as I can. However, this does not mean that I do not respect and believe in the Spirit of the Game. 

Spirit has nothing to do with cheering the other team after the game, or avoiding big collisions or even not spiking the disc. Spirit is about a respect for the game and a respect for your opponent.

When I say respect for the game, first and foremost I mean knowledge of the rules. I still can't believe how the vast majority of players are so clueless about the actual rules. Personally, I have a very acute knowledge of the rules, and I'd say in about 75% of games I play in or coach, I still have to correct people. My biggest personal peeve is the "it's your call" advice to a player in an in-out or up-down situation. Because as I've explained to dozens of people, it's the best perspective of a player of the field, which is not necessarily the person(s) involved in the play. 

To have a respect for the game, you need to understand how the game is supposed to be played. I don't agree with all the rules in the rulebook for sure, but I know what they are and I make sure that I adhere to those rules as much as I possibly can. As a coach, I always encourage my players to make the proper calls at the right time, even if it is not to my team's benefit.

The second thing that Spirit means is having respect for your opponent. You respect their rights as a player and competitor as much as you respect your own. As corny as it may sound it's very similar to the golden rule. I'm not going to gratuitously bid into someone with no chance at the disc because I don't want that to happen to me. I'm not going to show the disc to my opponent after I score because I don't want the same done to me, etc.

However, I don't believe spiking in itself an un-spirited thing. Spiking is showing that your fired up, that you're pumped to score. The vast majority of spikes aren't meant to be disrespectful to the other team, they're meant to get your  team's blood flowing. As the game has progressed at the college and club level I think that more and more people are realizing this. I can think back to times (especially when playing co-ed), that any spike would get mumbles of "douche" from the other team. But, as long as the spikes aren't directed at the opposing team and don't damage the disc, they're is nothing un-spirited about them. In fact, I'd say that a good spike embodies the "joy of play" as much as anything. 

Another aspect of respect for your opponent that I believe is prevalent is the nature of hard, physical play. I always teach and encourage my players to play a physical game, because that's a cornerstone of good play. It's not about hacking on the mark, or intentionally barreling somebody over, it's about good-natured physical play, like jockeying for position on a deep throw or getting a solid layout-d where you knock the disc away before the contact with the offender. 

Now there's a fine line between physical play and dangerous play, but playing physically does not mean you are playing un-spirited. The two biggest parts of the rules that need to be examined when dealing with physical play are as follows: 

"XVII. Positioning
A. Each player is entitled to occupy any position on the field not occupied by an opposing player, unless specifically overridden elsewhere, provided that no personal contact is caused in taking such a position."


"XVI. Violations and Fouls
4. Reckless disregard for the safety of fellow players or other dangerously aggressive behavior (such as significantly colliding into a stationary opponent), regardless of whether or when the disc arrives or when contact occurs is considered dangerous play and is treated as a foul. This rule is not superseded by any other rule."

The things to keep in mind of when dealing with positioning are that two players going for the same space on the field are both entitled to that space. And while contact may occur if both arrive at the same time it's not a foul on either person because they both went for uncontested space. However, if Jon Fasterthankatfish is covering me on an underneath cut where I begin with the inside position on the disc he cannot go through me with his speed to D the disc. He's can go around me, but "personal contact is caused" if he attempts to just run through me (Corwin getting run over at the Conference Championships, I'm looking at you). 

Now the line between good solid defense and dangerous play can blur. I was at Heavyweights with DTL several years ago and we ran into situation like this: The opposing team set up in a center stack in the endzone, with their primary cutter (a female) setting up in the back of the stack. She made a good cut heading towards the cone and was open force-side on her defender. One of our male players recognized the play and poached off the front of the stack towards the same cone. Our male player got to the cone slightly first, D'd the throw cleanly, then collided with the cutter, knocking both of them down and breaking her collar-bone. The other team was upset, calling it a dangerous play (the gal with the broken collar-bone called a foul which our player did not contest)  

Now I want to step back for a second. This is a special situation unique to co-ed because of the general size difference between guys and girls, but let's look at the play not taking gender into account. The defender and offender both went for open space on the field, both of which they were entitled to occupy. The defender obviously got there first since he got a clean D on the disc. Now, in no way am I saying that the outcome of the play wasn't unfortunate. I've never want to see any player on the field get hurt, but the foul should have never been called. I actually think that the foul being called and not-contested is a decidedly un-spirited outcome. Firstly, it wasn't a rules violation. Should both players have gone for the disc knowing a collision was imminent? Heck yes they should have, it's a competitive game! Secondly, it degraded from respect for the opponent portion I talked about above. Should our defender have given up on the play and allowed the cutter to score? No way, that completely disrespects the cutter as a player. 

If we step back into context, there may be some unspoken rules in co-ed about male-female collisions, and given that, perhaps the call made was correct ( but I'm not going to start in on that topic, another time perhaps)

In the end, Spirit can be made into a fairly simple couple of concepts:

1) Know the rules. Think to yourself anytime a call is made involving you, what rule does that pertain to, what happened, then make the correct call. That is the spirited play. An uncontested stall or conceding that someone was in the endzone is not inherantly good spirit, it's good spirit if it was the CORRECT CALL.

2) Respect your opponents on and off the field. Don't engage in dangerous play. Don't taunt your opponent or spike the disc in their face as they lay on the ground after a good bid. Spike the disc towards your teammates, give a yell at the sky, then give them a hand up. 

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