Spirit

by | December 3, 2015, 10:54am 32

Spirit of the Game. It’s something that has intrigued and repelled me from ultimate. At its best spirit makes me believe in humanity, at its worse it makes me think planet of the apes has already taken place and I am not sure if I am human or ape but I know I want to fight.

Thankfully, I’ve evolved from my apeish adolescence, and have taken on a pursuit of spirit of the game. The main reason I’ve come to appreciate SOTG, is after witnessing the players who showcased spirit under the highest stakes. When you see spirit woven into the very fabric of the game, it is hard to ignore and eventually even a ultra competitive ape like myself can adopt it.

People said SOTG would wilt with observers, they said it would go extinct with refs, it has not. It is and always will be up to the players to nurture it and keep it growing in adverse conditions. SOTG is even more powerful when there are refs and there is money, contracts and the very future if the sport on the line.

So what is Spirit of the Game?

For me spirit comes down to respect. Respect for your opponent, respect for the game and respect for yourself. All three of those could be discussed in detail but I think a little introspective can embellish them to the proper extent.

If sport represents life then perhaps in one way life can follow our sport. In a world that seems to increasingly resolve confrontation with violence, I wonder what what would happen if we all had a bit more SOTG.

We all play by different rules with different goals created by unique creeds and diverse backgrounds. And just like in sport, in life there will be fouls, bad calls, crazy emotions where hate binds and success blinds. It is in those hardest moments where having a small bit of SOTG can have big change. Who knows with enough SOTG maybe humanity can realize that deep down we are all on the same team.

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  • Bola

    “We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.”
    ― Charles Bukowski

  • Martin Gottschalk

    I share the hope on SOTG for humanity´s sake. That said, i think observers and refs, and any other active decision making (AKA ruling), enhance SOTG´s vulnerability, rather than strengthening players.
    The idea of sotg is to put yourself to a test AMONG others like you. Big business, money, idolatry are adverse conditions because they can just accumulate until they bend any moral will power.

    Protecting SOTG is not only about being fair and respectful. It´s also about recognizing potential threats and combat them. It´s about caring for that setting that is MOST appropriate for the already huge challenge of self officiation. That setting is to have NO hierarchical superior to protect you from wrong decisions. To embrace the effects of your actions, feel them, atone, believe in SOTG and work for it. That is when it´s perfectly clear who plays with SOTG and who is just pretending.

    Thinking that SOTG is untouched with observers and refs, in my opinion, is shortsighted, or short term. Social dynamics are complex and sometimes slow to figure out effects right away. But we definitely can read the huge records on what similar paths have generated in other sports.

  • Almost a grandmaster

    Just like life? Refs? I don’t know about your daily experience, but I don’t have refs/cops/big brother following my daily interactions with others. I have to make my own calls and negotiate with others directly, just as in the self-officiated version of ultimate. Yes, when I can’t reach an acceptable agreement with others in real life, I can then appeal to an authority (cops, courts, big brother) just like with the observer system in ultimate. But refs do not make me think of real life.

    • dusty.rhodes

      but you DO NOT get do-overs in life. This is the easy out we use all-too-often in self-officiated play.

      • Almost a grandmaster

        To me, real life mimics the observer system where a disagreement, a situation initiated by the players in which they don’t agree on the resolution or outcomes, goes to mediation by a 3rd party at that point in time, similar to an observer. We don’t immediately have an authority hovering around to tell us who was at fault for a collision or violation. We identify it ourselves and go to an authority when we can’t work it out ourselves.

        • dusty.rhodes

          I’m on a pet peeve thing about the Do-Over. It gives an easy out for a difficult negotiation that players are often ill-equipped to resolve.

          The rest I agree with for the most, save that I’ve seen traffic cops, state patrolmen, regular cops and more interrupt the play of life with violations with no input from “the players”. I’ve been ticketed for jaywalking, open containers, noise violations, trespassing, and pulled over for “making an admittedly safe decision which could have turned out poorly if you were less aware.” And that doesn’t even start in on traffic cameras which have distributed fines to people regardless of context for low-level speeding which no cop would pull you over for and running redlights in totally rational situations.

          All of these interactions with authority can and should be modeled in sports. There is not one single model of authority, there are many. Often sports are a place where more “unruly” kids/people find themselves and their way. The rules and enforcement of them are a boon rather than a hindrance. I’ve also been in situations in ultimate the desperately needed a third party to intervene and no one was to be found (which in and of itself is a lesson in self-reliance).

          The question for ultimate is not “how do we best model past methods of interacting with authority?” but “how do we best model future interactions with authority in a surveillance state?” Meaning, I watch a ton of ultimate tape. I can spot the cheaters. Anyone who watches carefully can. Pretty soon, more games than not will be available on video. Even those city league games will be Periscoped.

          How do we act then? How do we navigate the greay areas if our entire lives are recorded?

          The world and the game are changing around us. What should they be?
          We have more control over the game than the world.

          • Almost a grandmaster

            My perspective: if you teach citizens to self-regulate and stick to the established rules, then the instances and increasing reality of “referee” mechanisms that immediately correct or punish rule-breaking still function. Those that do not need the immediate enforcement continue to not need it, even if it’s there. So I see no argument that it’s “better” to play by a system where accountability & responsibility for rule-abiding is moved off of the players and onto an ever-present third party that makes all calls rather than upholding or overruling improper calls made by players themselves.

          • dusty.rhodes

            I’d love to play in a game with 13 other folks well-trained in the rules&applications as well as certain in their disengagement from self-interest.

            1. I’m still waiting for that game.
            2. This still does not obviate the sheer utility of having third party officials who can do basic things (up/down, in/out, keep time, ) and also (if you like) step in when there is total obstinacy on the part of one or more parties on the field.

            Last time I played in an observed game, I was in trouble before my second point because the observer had already overstepped the bounds of his stated authority and I had informed him of such. Only to have the same interaction again later in the game.

            Third party officials are not a panacea. They too can be ill-trained. But at least they’re not distracted from officiating by playing.

            If players would reduce their reliance on do-overs as a crutch, i’d have more respect for the process. Not as a player, but as a spectator. Which is what I am more often than not.

          • Almost a grandmaster

            Indeed you are not getting resistance from myself on the presence & reasonable amount of assistance of a third-party official, as you are from Trent. I’ve seen the breakdowns in a pure self-officiated system that did not have adequate mechanisms to handle admitted cheat-to-win opponents. That was not a good system. My perspective is that a sport system that puts the onus to know (challenge #1) and to play by (challenge #2) the rules, so that the first-person and second-person perspectives are considered BEFORE a third-party, is better than one that relies upon ONLY a third-party official or one that does have some mechanism to go from third- to second- or first-person “integrity” overrules, in some instances (calling an infraction on oneself but not on one’s opponent). All of that said, knowing the rules is definitely a pre-requisite that the observer’s presence does not guarantee, but the misconducts that typically come from making “bad” calls should be helpful in providing some extra motivation to the player who isn’t “well-trained” for primarily self-officiated play.

      • Trent Simmons

        Its called making amends or giving somebody a second chance. A do-over where neither party is entirely certain, or both parties are completely confident is the correct call most of the time. Its only when someone abuses it that the do-over system doesn’t work; and the solution should be to get rid of the abusers, not the system.

        • dusty.rhodes

          I am not arguing that do-overs should not be available. I am stating that we tend to use them as a crutch b/c ultimate players shy away from conflict and choose, instead, to not-resolve it. Something happened. 14 empowered witness-officials. And no one saw it clearlyor cares to get so deep into the discussion to resolve it? THAT is a problem.

          No empowered and self-respecting 3rd party would let that slide. Their whole job (ref or observer or whatever) is to make the game work regardless of the personal and team BS carried to the game by players that they are or are not aware of.

          We all agree that the one thing that didn’t happen (the thrower still has the disc in-hand) is the thing we agree to?
          We all agree that the one thing we were all not-doing when the foul occurred (Standing still) is what we’ll do now?

          That. Is. Ridiculous.

          I 100% agree that “the solution **should** be to get rid of the abusers” (emphasis mine) So… how do we do that?
          Do we give the power to each team to eject opponents for bad behaviour? For bad-faith negotiations? How?
          Does the other team get counter-ejections or ejection-protections? Where does this end/lead?

          Does the USAU remove players from rosters for egregious and/or constant rule-breaking? By what authoritaaay through which officials?

          The thing I bet we don’t see eye-to-eye on is making amends. There is nothing you can say/do that makes cheating right. There is no recourse and there is no way to walk it back. It will take 100(+) acts of non-cheating for you to overcome one act of cheating. To use Seinfeld “Stuff your sorrys in a sack” b/c they mean nothing. All you had to do was not-cheat. And you* failed. There are no amends and to pretend otherwise (like that we can “simulate what would have occurred absent an infraction”) is ridiculous and I reject it outright.

          There is no recourse and no room for amends. You cheat? You break the game. You have to live with that.
          Why should your opponent also need to live with that??

          Let’s put this a second way: How many second chances does one get in a self-officiated game in which the rules explicitly state that cheating is a gross offense to the game? How many over a career of tournament play? How do we track this? How do I know that the second chance I give you isn’t the same second chance you rely on *every* *single* *game*?

          These are not easy questions and I enjoy grappling with them. But I never wanted to grapple with them while I was playing– too busy playing. I don’t now want to watch others grapple with them– too busy trying to watch the sport. So… who is it that wants this played out in high-level play?

          I will always advocate for self-offication for the majority of ultimate. Especially for youth level play. It is vital to learn how to negotiate with the good, the bad, and the ugly. (and you don’t need “ultimate” to learn this… you need “self-offication”) Self-offication teaches how to do this. But not every athlete who makes it on to a top-level team is also a saint. Nor can/should we expect them to be.

          What we can expect and demand and set expectations for is not-cheating. A hard cultural norm which, no matter the level of play, is adhered to. I don’t need to see that in your head you believe in SotG and, in truth, I cannot know. But what I do need to SEE is you not-cheating. Mindstate versus action.

          This is an important distinction.

          *- I don’t know you. I’m using the general “you”.

          • Trent Simmons

            A lot of do overs occur because players can’t be honest with themselves AND they are unwilling to give their opponent the benefit of the doubt AND because teammates are unwilling to take the uncomfortable step of convincing their teammate that they are wrong. The first and third items are definitely addressable and could be handled in any number of ways, many of which you have listed. But, based on what I have observed, the UPA was terrified that if they started banning players for bad spirit, players would split off and form their own league. USAU also appeared terrified by the Nexgen league proposal, to the extent of implementing the TCT even though the panel of experts they assembled to advise them picked it dead last. But now that bird has flown the coop, so to speak, and the pro leagues are a reality. Maybe USAU is banking on the Olympics in 2024, or maybe they are closer than we know to having ESPN pay them, rather than the other way around. Either way, its time for them to admit their mistake and do away with observers. Observers are nothing more than a bandaid which allows players who can’t handle the core principles of SotG to remain in the game.

            Any argument that can be made for observers speeding up the game or getting calls right, or preventing cheaters, can be made doubly for refs. There is no difference between a jersey grab, an arm bar, a bump on the mark, or a wrist slap that an observer doesn’t see and one that a ref doesn’t see. The only advantage of observers is that they maintain the facade of a self officiated game, but once you give anybody other than the players on the field the ability to make a ruling, it’s no longer self-officiated.

            And that right there is the biggest difference between us.
            You believe that the most important thing is preventing cheating and keeping the game flowing. Security over freedom. Legislating morality. Gun control, the Patriot Act, the war on terror, the war on drugs. I realize that these are vastly different issues but isn’t a cheater really a terrorist, willing to use your respect for the rules against you and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals? Why change the rules to accommodate them?

            I believe that the most important thing is maintaining the culture of personal responsibility and resolving disputes yourself, without turning to a judge. I believe that this is the value we have to offer the world of sport and the world in general. I believe this strongly enough that I work full time in a volunteer capacity running an international youth Ultimate charity. The people I talk to day in and day out don’t care about Ultimate as a sport. They care about it as a social experiment; a way to use sport to teach kids the core principles of Spirit of the Game which we teach.
            – Your opponent is not your enemy
            – You can hold yourself and your teammates accountable for following the rules
            – If there is a dispute, you can resolve it yourselves, calmly and without resorting to violence or a third party judge.

            This is the message that school administrators care about. This is the philosophy that NGOs and governments are willing to fund. This is approach to sport which parents and youth coaches are looking for. The whole world of sport right now is trying to brand themselves as “Fair Play.” Spirit of the Game soccer leagues are being attempted, the Italian soccer league has instituted a system of Green Cards for good spirit, you can’t read about the Olympics without Fair Play being mentioned. People are waking up to the fact that the core values of many sports are broken and we have what they are looking for.

            This doesn’t work if we abandon these principles at the highest level. Thank goodness WFDF resisted USAU’s attempt to push observers onto the rest of the world. Because at the highest level is where this matters the most. There are no refs at a pickup basketball game or a pickup soccer game, or most sporting competitions where the stakes are low.

            Right now millions of people all over the world are learning about Ultimate from youtube videos. But they aren’t learning about SotG, and a kid in Bangladesh or Zimbabwe watching a USAU game sees a referee wearing an orange shirt. And they aren’t learning about SotG from ESPN either.

            Final question. If observers are so great, they why are teams being FORCED to play with them now; can’t 50 grown men and women agree to officiate themselves if they choose to?

            Final comment. USAU is now training Observers for the Youth division; so much for that line in the sand.

          • dusty.rhodes

            “A lot of do overs occur because players can’t be honest with themselves AND they are unwilling to give their opponent the benefit of the doubt AND because teammates are unwilling to take the uncomfortable step of convincing their teammate that they are wrong. ”

            The question that this raises, to me, is… has self-officiation ever really worked then? The whole point of it is to overcome exactly those issues. Players get trained as players. How many spen(t/d) as much time training as officials? How many want to? If the answer isn’t “all” and “most”… we’re asking untrained/uninterested officials to manage games. That is a recipe for trouble as with most jobs/duties.

            “Observers are nothing more than a bandaid which allows players who can’t handle the core principles of SotG to remain in the game.”

            Players who can’t handle those core principles have been and always will be a part of ultimate. Not everyone who loves ultimate loves self-officiation. Some because they know that they themselves cannot be trusted in those situations, some because they willfully choose to undermine the concept… Some because they just want to play the sport that brings them joy. We’ve never really developed a way to handle this. Ultimate is a blast to play with or without 3rd party officials. And, as previously stated, we can’t MAKE people believe something. But we can demand that they control their actions and adhere to standards. But without the power to remove players from games for gross offenses to the rules, in a sense, none of this matters. Where this power resides currently is outside the purview of the rules as it is up to individuals/teams to manage their teammates.

            Then… if we can’t rely on a team to train its players as officials, why are we certain they can make difficult decisions like removing a player who constantly undermines the self-officiating process? We’re back to “have we trained these teams and players to do these things?” and if not, where do we expect them to have learned it? Which brings up the related issue of “officials need to know the rules”. I would argue that officials need to know the rules well enough to competently and appropriately cite the rules from memory, but that may be too high a bar considering how many high-level players do not know the rules and do not plan to.

            “Any argument that can be made for observers speeding up the game or getting calls right, or preventing cheaters, can be made doubly for refs.”

            The thing is… officials do not prevent cheaters. Even if cheaters are caught, this does not necessarily deter future cheating. The arguments I stand on in favor of third party officials of some sort:

            – There are basic non-judgement calls which players are in terrible position to make (line calls, up/down) because the ideal positioning for an official to have the best perspective is wholly separate from the ideal position for a player to make the best play going forward.

            – There are game mechanics issues (timing btw points, caps, ground checks, disc checks, keeping score, stalls) which compromise the players in terms of focus on playing the game rather than running the game.

            – Faster resolution.

            Now, that last one… that could easily be managed by player-officials. But… I’ve seen/experienced very little evidence to suggest that a sufficient number of players are capable or interested in this while they are playing. They are interested in it while watching the games of others. This is a galling lack of awareness. The same players who take an eternity (in game-time) to discuss calls heckle players for taking too long to discuss calls. There is no requirement for discussion in the rules.

            I’m really not that concerned about accuracy of calls- we’re all going to get those wrong because we’re human, not because we’re players or officials or both.

            “You believe that the most important thing is preventing cheating and keeping the game flowing. Security over freedom. Legislating morality. Gun control, the Patriot Act, the war on terror, the war on drugs. I realize that these are vastly different issues but isn’t a cheater really a terrorist, willing to use your respect for the rules against you and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals? Why change the rules to accommodate them?”

            You have painted me into the wrong camp. I do not blame you (we, again, don’t really know each other) for the inaccuracy of your assumptions, but their inaccuracy remains. This (though seven years old or so) http://ultimatejournal.blogspot.com/2008/03/talkthinking-about-refs.html is decent background. The discussion extends into the comments in which one of my all-time-favorite teammates in anything ever reminds me about things I knew but failed to verbalize and adds much to the train of thought. Specifically that “You don’t have to be a cheater to end up in a 10 minute discussion. And that’s just no fun for the players involved, their teammates,”

            You bring up an interesting thing when you write “Legislating morality”:
            Ultimate is the only sport I know of which actively legislates morality.
            It is right there in the Preface which states that players are “morally bound to abide by the rules”. Not expected to follow the rules or uphold the rules consistent with expectations… but **morally bound**. Whose morals? Which morals? Of all the 21 definitions in section II, there is no definitions of “morally bound” or even just “morals”. “Morals”, despite being one of the more difficult to standardize and define concepts for humans (there are whole books and libraries and disciplines and schools and wars and more sprung from just that topic!) , is dropped into the rules of a game without explanation like it is no big deal.

            “The people I talk to day in and day out don’t care about Ultimate as a sport. They care about it as a social experiment; a way to use sport to teach kids the core principles of Spirit of the Game which we teach.

            – Your opponent is not your enemy
            – You can hold yourself and your teammates accountable for following the rules
            – If there is a dispute, you can resolve it yourselves, calmly and without resorting to violence or a third party judge.”

            Welp, I care deeply about both. I am adamantly on the side of teaching and modeling this behaviour and I am 100% committed to pushing ultimate “the sport” forward. There is joy out there on both sides– in pure play and in learning to self-officiate. The things you set out above are great! We should be teaching self-officiation separate from ultimate! The two are NOT inextricably linked.

            “This doesn’t work if we abandon these principles at the highest level. ”

            Having third party officials, of whatever stripe, does not lift the burden of sportsmanship. Removing third part officials does not guarantee good sportsmanship. Regardless the type of rule-enforcement, players can choose to not-cheat and to be upstanding in their interactions with others. With officials, with player-officials, with players. Having refs does not stop shirt-pulling. Nor does not-having refs. Cheaters gonna cheat unless they mature. The maturation process for each individual as they learn to navigate their own self is not identical. Some of us need to be pulled back from the brink by others before we even realize there is a cliff. Some of us never put our hands on hot stove. We don’t get to pre-select which folks play ultimate. We all have a shared responsibility to all of us, again, regardless of officiation style.

            “Final question. If observers are so great, they why are teams being FORCED to play with them now; can’t 50 grown men and women agree to officiate themselves if they choose to?”

            I never said observers were so great. I never said referees were either. And yes, 50 grown folk could choose to officiate themselves quite cleanly. But we keep on not-doing it. In watching worlds in Lecco… I was sad because the officials were awful. Thing is… the officials are the players. So… in a sense… the players were awful. So too every weekend at unobserved club games everywhere and in city league games and even party tournaments. The officials are awful. And the players moan about “them” constantly without irony.

            You know one of the things crews of officials do before games? They all get together talka over key points, discuss things they are specifically looking for and how they feel the game should be managed. Then they go and speak to the leaders of each team (or to the team as a whole, depending on the sport/official) When teams take self-officiation seriously, they will do the same. Currently, we walk into games with no common standards and then try to figure it out as we go. That’s really not the most effective way to solve problems with a large group of people. And we could so easily choose otherwise. But we keep not-doing it.

            “Final comment. USAU is now training Observers for the Youth division; so much for that line in the sand.”

            Well, they won’t let coaches help, control, or manage the officiation process (http://www.usaultimate.org/resources/coaching/spirit_of_coaching.aspx), so it would be nice to have someone who can engage with the players and encourage their ability to self-officiate. In a very literal way with youth, it helps to have an adult in the room to oversee the process in real time and help children who are immature by definition learn to be mature in this context. Even in that bit from the website… the way coaches are specifically not to engage is couched in terms of outcomes rather than process. The assumption being that a coach would not intervene to help the process, but rather to change the outcome. The USAU seems to lack both the awareness of nuance and trust in coaches necessary to help us all create an environment where players are responsible for the process.

            Thanks for engaging in this discussion with me, for whether it ends sooner or later, my thoughts are more refined and nuanced than they were previously.

          • Trent Simmons

            The whole point of self-officiation is not to overcome anything. The whole point is to preserve something. That something is self determination. Being a law abiding citizen under the Soviets or any other communist/fascist regime is no moral accomplishment. Being a good person when everybody is watching is nothing compared to being a good person when no one is watching. Sports are based around a challenge, the whole point is to be the best that you can be, not to be beat somebody else.
            Spirit of the Game adds to that challenge; can you perform at your best under pressure while still holding yourself accountable? Nobody knows better than you if you cheated.* Until someone understands that, they can never grasp SotG and they can never gain the full benefit from competition. This is the fundamental flaw in most current acceptances of SotG and why some players say they hate Spirit. Its why some teams get bad spirit scores and can’t understand why, and its why un-spirited teams still get average and above average spirit scores. Spirit of the Game, at its core, has nothing to do with the other team. Spirit is not about calling the other team on their transgressions, that’s an area where self-officitation often gets confused with SotG.

            Its not Ultimate without self-officiation. Oh, sure, I can’t keep you from claiming to play Ultimate, but the personal accountability is what makes it the Ultimate game, and its where the name comes from.

            Players who can’t handle this will always be part of the game as long as we allow them to and as long as we water down the definitions of Ultimate and of Spirit so that we don’t make the cheaters uncomfortable or hurt their feelings.

            I feel like this conversation has gone on long enough. I apologize for any inaccurate assumptions on my part, they were based on this thread and not on history. Some people are capable of changing their minds. I’ll likewise thank you for your engagement and echo your sentiments about refinement of thoughts. I would like to start to wrap this up by stating some point which I believe we agree upon. Please feel free to correct me by simply reposting the ones you do agree with. I’ve got to get back to work saving the world from itself. :)

            1) Ultimate would be better off if teams were more proactive in controlling their teammates, whether by direct intervention, or simply not inviting them to play with them in the future.

            2) Until this happens, or until a system of standards is implemented to control bad spirited players, some of them will continue to play this game.

            3) It would be better if teams communicated more before the game about what they feel is acceptable behavior.

            4) Teaching self-officiation to kids is a worthwhile endeavor.

            5) Players should be able to resolve disputes themselves in a timely manner.**

            6) Ultimate is fun to play.

            I didn’t want to disrupt the flow above with these sidebars but didn’t want to leave them out either

            * I define cheating as intentionally breaking the rules or playing without regard for the rules. Someone else often is a better judge of whether or not you inadvertently violated the rules. This is where mutual respect for your opponent and trusting them to not cheat comes in.

            ** I won’t claim that the Indoor Ultimate Championships are better spirited than other forms of Ultimate, but I will say that I’ve never seen a dispute last more than 10 seconds and I have seen a significant percentage of calls either go uncontested, or if contested, the person originally calling the foul waived it off. Typically in 3-5 seconds. The continuously running clock plays a very large role in this, but other probable factors are that the stakes are lower, both for an individual call and for a game.

          • dusty.rhodes

            “The whole point of self-officiation is not to overcome anything. The whole point is to preserve something. That something is self determination. Being a law abiding citizen under the Soviets or any other communist/fascist regime is no moral accomplishment. Being a good person when everybody is watching is nothing compared to being a good person when no one is watching. Sports are based around a challenge, the whole point is to be the best that you can be, not to be beat somebody else. ”

            How is that not overcoming one’s self? I think you’re taking issue with something I failed to articulate clearly or taking issue with a word I should have taken more care in choosing.

            “Being a law abiding citizen […] is no moral accomplishment.”

            You needn’t choose a particular type of government for this to apply.
            Law-abiding ≠ moral. Moral ≠ law-abiding. That there is overlap or that there can be a 1:1 correspondence does not make the terms equivalent.

            “some players say they hate Spirit.”

            The way that this plays out (at least in my experience) is often that folks affix the label of “unspirited” to teams for things like “different legitimate interpretations of greay areas in the rules” or “over-adherence to the rules” or “not wearing goofy costumes” or “not coming up with a fun cheer after the game” or “blowing us out 15-0 without having goofy points” or “blowing us out 15-0 while throwing nothing but no-look scoobers”. We’ve devalued the notion of SotG by confusing it with so many other things which have been part of ultimate’s culture. This is the way we cheapen language in many places, not just ultimate.

            “the personal accountability is what makes it the Ultimate game, and its where the name comes from.”

            If it weren’t for copyrights, we’d all just call it frisbee.
            I bristle every time someone tells me it is “the ultimate game/sport”. I find it incredibly self-righteous and rather insulting to all of the other games and competitions which taught me and others like me a large portion of “SotG” before I had ever played ultimate or heard it put in those terms. The sport is not defined by SotG. The sport is a context in which you can display SotG. Just like other sports. The difference can (and should!) be in the culture. We have to invest in and cultivate that culture constantly and scrupulously. You can separate SotG from ultimate and apply it to other sports. Even those who are playing frisbee without SotG are still playing frisbee. The thing that makes it frisbee is the frisbee.

            Each of the six points you wrote are great. EXCEPT you throw around “Them” casually as in “not inviting them to play” and “some of them will continue to play”. The thing is… if this sport is “the ultimate sport” because of its ability to instill values and teach respect and all… the “them” in those sentences are precisely the people who will benefit most from participating.

            But at the same time they are the players who ruin the frisbee by cheating the rules. So… if SotG is the most important part of ultimate, shouldn’t these folks be not turned away as they present worthy challenges to SotG? If the only people we ever challenge ourselves against wholly agree with us and our worldview, we are not in fact, challenging ourselves. When we play sports (or at least when I play sports) the challenge is to test yourself against the best opponents you can find. The most challenging and imposing. If the game is about SotG, don’t we then seek to test ourselves against the least-spirited to see if we truly hold our convictions? This is in part what my piece 7 years back was about… finding a way to win by realizing that we’re not playing the same game.

            The reasons you don’t want “them” to play isn’t solely because they lack SotG it is because by lacking SotG they make a really fun game (frisbee) onerous at best to play.

            Ah. I can feel goaltimate summoning me. I bet it’ll be a pretty spirited and competitive affair.
            I think I’m playing in the IUC this year. I’ll take note of how the timing of discussions go. I have certainly played running-clock games with players who both intentionally and unintentionally filibustered playing time away.

    • Trent Simmons

      Traffic cops are refs. Your homeowners association is a ref. Your HR department and their performance reviews are refs. The IRS are refs. MSNBC debate moderators are refs. The divorce judge and child custody judge are refs, well maybe observers at their worst. Filing a lawsuit is like taking a call to the observer, both are Failures by one or both parties to behave decently. You have refs and intrusive observers everywhere in real life, you’re just so used to them, that you don’t even notice them. Personal civility in the US has been steadily decreasing over the last 20 years, just as Spirit has been steadily spiraling downhill in the US since the introduction of observers. Observers were put in place to control a few bad apples, but observers are just a band-aid, that has allowed those bad apples to stick around, and plenty of other bad apples to join the game.

      The greatest thing our sport has to offer the world is the opportunity to teach kids how to play a sport where you have to figure out a way to resolve disputes yourself AND just as importantly, you are taught that you can hold yourself accountable for following the rules. I personally couldn’t care less about the acceptance of mainstream society, except where it allows the principles of SotG to flourish. Throwing away or watering down the best part of our sport in order to make it more palatable to the masses or because we lack the will power to kick bad spirited players out of the game is an absurd approach. “Hey everybody look at us! We play a game that was never designed as a sport for the casual spectator, and you should pay attention to us because we play with something you regard as a toy or as a past time of hippies.”

      • Almost a grandmaster

        Obviously perspective & specific experience matter, but I’ve seen lots more evidence of increased spirit since the addition and empowerment of observers in the USAU system. I’m at a loss for any evidence to back your claims of decreased spirit (“spiraling downhill” as you put it). I do indeed recall the bad apples, but I’ve not seen those apples flourish under the observer system. They’ve either been tempered in their behaviors or “kicked out of the game” as you put it, with an objective method of doing so. I’m at a loss for how you think realistically they could be kicked out in a “better” way. If you truly value anarchy, lack of any authority to protect innocence from sociopathy, then I do understand your desire for zero mediation and no appeal to a 3rd party perspective.

        • Trent Simmons

          If you haven’t noticed the remarkable decrease in Spirit in the US over the last 20 years, then you either never experienced high levels of spirit 20 years ago or are choosing to focus only a very narrow slice of the pie. It is possible that among quarter-finalists at Nationals, the level of spirit has gone up. Possibly even at Nationals across the board. I do know that at almost every other level, it has spiraled downhill, and there are more bad apples than ever before. If you define bad apple as someone who doesn’t believe in spirit, then I would say that even at Nationals they are on the rise.
          But far more importantly than any of that, I know that observers makes it way harder to market the sport as a self officiated sport which can be used to teach youth conflict resolution and personal accountability.
          And I do know that a kid who is learning about the sport by watching a youtube video doesn’t care than one set of refs wears orange and is called something different. All they have to see is one instance where a non-player makes a ruling and the whole concept of officiating oneself is lost.
          So what if we spread the sport all over the world, if the concept that “you can hold yourself personally accountable for following the rules” is lost. Who cares? A bunch of players who need somebody else’s approval that we’re playing a real sport? I know how athletic and artistic our sport is, I don’t need external validation. And I haven’t sacrificed everything which I have just to spread a game.

  • Junior Coach

    Dear Beau,

    Your idea is a great one. But what is hard to swallow, is that it’s presented by someone who plays with referees, and who promotes it.
    As a player seen like an icon by many people (especially young ones), you have a big responsability.

    Here is what is explained on the WFDF site about SOTG. You should know that.

    Spirit of the game :
    “Ultimate relies upon a Spirit of the Game that places the responsibility for fair play on every player.
    THERE ARE NO REFEREES ;
    the players are solely responsible for following and enforcing the rules, even at World Championship. Competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of respect between players, adherence to the rules, and the basic joy of play.”

    Also, if I agree that SOTG is a concept, it is not only a concept but also a rule, the 1st one in the WFDF rule book !
    In that rule, it is written that “Ultimate is a non-contact, self-refereed sport”.

    USAU is a member of the WFDF.
    We can discuss if with observers, USAU Ultimate remains self-refereed or not, http://ultiworld.com/2015/10/12/in-all-but-name-observers-are-looking-too-much-like-referees/ and http://ultiworld.com/2015/02/17/usa-ultimate-observers-acting-like-referees-shouldnt-happen/ , but definitely the 2 semi-pro leagues are not self-refereed…

    And also, those semi-pro leagues don’t play with SOTG. The words “Spirit of the Game” are not in their rules, and it’s normal because they play with referees…

    Your idea that playing Ultimate for money, and so with referees of course, together with the SOTG, is really naïve or even cynical.

    In all the team sports played with money, and so with referees, the word “respect” is used, even written in big letters everywhere in soccer…
    The word “respect” is also used in Ultimate and in the SOTG rule of the WFDF, but in another way… :
    “Ultimate is a non-contact, self-refereed sport. All players are responsible for administering and adhering to the rules.
    Ultimate relies upon a Spirit of the Game that places the responsibility for fair play on every player.
    It is trusted that no player will intentionally break the rules; thus there are no harsh penalties for breaches, but rather a method for resuming play in a manner which simulates what would most likely have occurred had there been no breach.
    Highly competitive play is encouraged, but should never sacrifice the mutual RESPECT between players, adherence to the agreed-upon rules of the game, or the basic joy of play.”

    I’m the founder and a player of the Mooncatchers team, I’m also coach of the Mooncatchers Juniors and I was coach of the U20 Belgian team a few times.

    I was also the co-autor of an Open Letter to the WFDF against the possible introduction of observers or a third-party (now we know that they call it “advisor”) in the WFDF Rules : https://docs.google.com/document/d/12UhAOXUDPUzcd6DIK8JFTYI1G189MFM3VaudIAhLOeY/export?format=pdf

    Peace on the World,

    Olivier

    • pancakemouse

      “And also, those semi-pro leagues don’t play with SOTG”

      How do you know, Olivier? Have you been to a game? Have you talked to the players themselves? You have a player in front of you saying that spirit of the game LIVES, even with referees.

      Every single semi-pro player I’ve ever talked to agrees that there is no difference between spirit in high-level club ulitmate and high-level semi-pro ultimate.

      Spirit may not be as inherent in the US as it is in Europe, but I have played on both continents and I have seen great and poor examples from both sids.

      I encourage you to visit the United States and see how we play here, instead of looking down at us in disdain and presuming that we have lost our way.

      • Junior Coach

        Some players are ready to cheat (in all the meanings of the word) just to win a game or to win a tournament, just for glory or a medal, in the US, in Europe too and in the whole World also.
        It is the human nature.
        So, when humans play for money, they are even more ready to cheat.

        You always reply to what you want, but never to the fact that you don’t respect the WFDF SOTG Rule definition, the 1st one in the WFDF rulebook, when you play with referees.
        Even in USAU, when you play with the current active observers, you don’t respect it.

        The fact that some games in the US worked really well with observers, and some games in Europe didn’t work well without a third-party, doesn’t change anything to the fact that when using a third-party you don’t respect the WFDF definition of the SOTG.

        I went to the US, I played a lot of World’s (clubs and national team), I also have internet, it is not disdain, it is just sadness.

        • Johnny Walker

          you’re jumping to conclusions here. your assumptions are 1) players without refs play with ‘spirit’ – however defined 2) if there’s significant money involved players will cheat – ie, everyone’s got a price 3) that the money involved currently is enough to induce #2, and finally 4) the money involved in pro leagues will continue to grow, further exacerbating #s 2 and 3.

          as both a pro and club player, i’d say all four are wrong. #1 is absurd – look at revolver’s hacking marks for an easy example. #2 ehh maybe. #3 so very wrong – we’re talking less than a few hundred dollars a season – further, no one moves up or down based on their performance on the small number of close calls where playing with or without spirit would make a difference. #4 is a huge leap – pro leagues have yet to turn a profit – they’re just dumping investor money at this point.

        • Bob

          Why should the WFDF definition be respected? They simply came along, took the rules to ultimate, changed some of them as they saw fit, and then get to point back at other parties who like to play different ways and say “you aren’t respecting our definitons!”? No, there is no reason to bring up anything the WFDF thinks in this discussion.

          • Trent Simmons

            WFDF took the definitions set forth by the founder of the UPA and kept true to those definitions, while the UPA ended up bowing down to the cheaters in what turned out to be a futile attempt to prevent refereed Ultimate.
            To put it another way, they sold out so they could remain in power. And now they are on the verge of losing their power, because the simple fact is that most top players don’t really see much of a difference between refs and observers. And most of the ones I’ve talked to prefer refs, because the culture of Spirit has become so diluted. If you are a Spirited player, the worst thing in the world you can do is cheat and the second worst thing you can do is to use the rules to gain an advantage.

  • Gary McGivney

    As UPA director from 1986-88, I tirelessly preached SOTG from coast to coast, in person, in print, and on tv. The organization and sport itself was at a turning point then, with Uglimate rising, and credit is due to all the captains and players who helped pull us back from the precipice. I’ve always thought that the best solution was using observers as a last resort when the players themselves couldn’t agree on the call. A foul is called, the players confer for 20 seconds or so, and if they can’t agree, then they appeal to the observer. In today’s game, stats could be kept on players and the accuracy of their calls…an SOTG stat, as it were. An ideal game would have zero appeals.

  • ligdrlt

    What I don’t understand : all* semi-pro players were once non-pro players, who played with the same SOTG as non-pro players are still playing with and (I hope) will always play with. Why has anything changed ?
    I agree that refs eliminate the need for SOTG, but as Kittredge accurately says, “Spirit is woven into the fabric of the game,” thus, I would hope that any player making the transition from Ultimate to “semi-pro” would still play with the same SOTG and thus eliminate the need for refs. I would hope that a semi-pro ref’s job is the most boring job on earth because he doesn’t actually need to do or say anything because the players are all too Spirited. Thank goodness for the integrity rule in the AUDL which allows players to contradict the ref if he made an inaccurate call in their favor and thus allows players to exercise Spirit.

    • Junior Coach

      I assume that you are ironic.
      The “integrity” rule in the AUDL…
      But a player can only contradict the referee when he made an inaccurate call, not when there is no call from the referee…
      That rule is just to pull the wool over one’s eyes.

      If some play Ultimate for money…, they will need referees.
      If some play for money and so with referees, it is against the WFDF SOTG rule that explains that Ultimate is a self-refereed team sport.

      And so it is not only against the WFDF SOTG rule, but also against the definition of the Ultimate itself, the WFDF Ultimate I mean, :-)
      (I anticipate the stupid usual reply that will say that in the 1st set of rules in 1968, there was the possibility to use a referee).

      • pancakemouse

        “But a player can only contradict the referee when he made an inaccurate call, not when there is no call from the referee…”

        Incorrect. The integrity rule was modified last year in the AUDL to allow players to call an infraction against themselves, even when a referee does not rule.

        “I anticipate the stupid usual reply that will say that in the 1st set of
        rules in 1968, there was the possibility to use a referee”

        Why is this stupid?

        • Junior Coach

          “Incorrect. The integrity rule was modified last year in the AUDL to allow players to call an infraction against themselves, even when a referee does not rule.”

          I didn’t realise about the change…, maybe it’s because it doesn’t happen really often…

          “Why is this stupid?”

          Here is the complete rule about officials in the 1st Rules of 1968 :
          “A referee or referees may officiate, and if so their decision must be final.
          If no referee is available the two teams play on an honor system, settling disputes by flipping a coin or by some other such method.”

          So, yes, a referee may officiate in the first rules, but it was normal when they put rules on paper for a new team sport, that they thought about referees.

          Nobody’s perfect…

          But the first rules also talk about “flipping a coin” to resolve disputes when there is no referee available.
          Do you still flip a coin when there is a contested call in US Nationals ? :-)

          Otherwise,at the beginning, in the games played on parking lots, nobody wanted to referee, they prefered to play (I can understand).

          So, except a few games played with referees, all the games in the US between 1970 and 1978 were played without any kind of third-party, with the “honor system”.
          I’ve never heard about a flipping coin method being used…
          It seems that at the beginning of Ultimate in the US, the “honor system” was the norm in the games.
          I mean playing without a referee or any kind of third-party.

          Then, around 1978, when Ultimate begins in Europe, observers (passive at the beginning) were introduced in USA…
          http://www.wfdf.org/about/meeting-minutes/doc_download/62-history-of-the-spirit-of-the-game-and-observers-in-the-sport-of-ultimate

          In 1978, the UPA rule about the officials/referees was replaced by the one of observers.

      • dusty.rhodes

        “If some play Ultimate for money…, they will need referees.”

        Some of us played ultimate for far more than money. We played for our lives. We went into games with our very existences on the line.

        Money is a red herring. Money is only as meaningful as the meaning you give it.

        What if I told you… that I meditated on my own death every time before I played? That I thought about waking up in the hospital and accepted that choice? And you’re going to tell me that if I played for one more season and “Money” was added to the equation that I would then need a ref??

        Make your actual argument and stop using money as an arbitrary division.

        The best argument for refs is that player-officials do not (and in some cases cannot) do the basic requirements of game mechanics and officiation. Like… Sprinting up the field to have THE BEST PERSPECTIVE POSSIBLE on every single play. Calling an accurate stall. Ensuring time limits are adhered to. The best position for an official is often the worst position for a player. How do we resolve this? The best thing that players can consider in stoppages is how best to play going forward. The best thing that officials can consider in stoppages is how best to officiate the game going forward. Why would you think that one person doing two jobs simultaneously will do both jobs as well as two people doing two jobs?

        I am not against self-officiation. It teaches lessons that you cannot learn elsewise. I want more people than me to learn those lessons. But… I learned a bunch of those lessons in pickup basketball. It is not unique to ultimate to self-officiate. But… no more than 5-20 people watched my pickup games (5-15 waiting for the next game, 5 randos).
        From a presentation standpoint? From an accuracy standpoint w/r/t to a third-party spectator?
        Third-party officials literally provide a perspective that does not exist elsewise. How is this bad?
        By ultimate’s rules even the players on the sideline do not exist w/r/t calls/resolution. They can see things from a perspective no one on the field has. Why don’t we want their input? For that matter, why don’t we want/trust coaches to provide their viewpoints? We can trust players on the field out of breath dripping with sweat but not coaches or sideline players?

        There can be many opinions about how to resolve these differing perspectives, but to argue that adding an impartial viewpoint (or a perspective from the sideline) does not increase the the overall quality of information on which to make decisions is ignorant.

        Spirit of the Game can be cultural rather than rules driven. The very simple statement of “We do not under any circumstances intentionally violate the rules” covers a massive amount of what “Spirit” means. That can stand with any kind of officiating system, with any kind of rules (except rules which specifically advocate breaking them), and for any kind of game.

        If you violate the rules, you break the game.
        Don’t break the game- we’re all playing with it!

  • disqus_KhMg9bkd0Q

    I grew up playing tennis. For the most part, this is still very self officiated. It is also more popular then ultimate among youth. With regard to players officiating, there are a lot of the same issues – some people straight up cheated, others had different (yet defensible) interpretations or implementations of the same rule set. It works okay at youth, and at the top of the sport the competition has multiple judges and a replay system striving to get every call correct. The current run of tennis champions have also included very respectful competitors. I’m not sure why this doesn’t get brought up more often as a comparison – somehow we just list sports with refs and say we are special.

    • Trent Simmons

      Good point – Ultimate in the US is no longer special. As soon as we abandon the pure principle of personal responsibility, we lose that which makes us most special. Those tennis champions will never get the satisfaction of knowing that they won AND maintained the highest level of personal integrity.
      Playing with Spirit provides an additional challenge and enhances the accomplishment.
      In regards to tennis being more popular with youth, its a varsity HS sport, an NCAA sport, has been around a lot longer and has been played at a professional level a lot longer, so I think that’s a moot point.