US Open 2012: Beyond the Spirit Score

by | July 10, 2012, 3:19pm 0

“We’ve got grade inflation in spirit scores, “ says Johnny Bravo’s Joe Durst.

Durst, an English as second language teacher, also coaches the successful Denver East High School ultimate team. He cited the five-point scale used in every USA Ultimate division.

“Teams just give each other spirit scores of fives without thinking much about it. Unless something bad happens,” he said. “Giving a five shouldn’t be the average. Average is three.”

USAU’s guidelines agree. The rating scale in the official program for the US Open states: “3. [The team] generally exhibited respect towards opponents, officials and spectators. For the level of play, [the team] showed adequate knowledge of the rules and abided by them during the game. Any conflicts were resolved plainly and without incident.”

Durst views successful conflict resolution as meriting only an average. It’s especially irksome for him if contested fouls have to be re-enacted.

“When guys are out there modeling what they’ve just done, like they are their own instant-replay, it’s a waster of time.  Just decide the call and let’s play,” said Durst.

Another Day at the Office

When asked if rating teams a business-as-usual fives for spirit scores had become as inflated as a graduate school grading system of an “A” high-pass, a “B” pass, and a “C” fail, Durst disagreed.

“It’s not that bad yet. There’s a lot of fives given without thinking about it,” he continued,

“In other settings I’ve seen an occasional one or two given to a rare team that goes off the deep end,” said Durst.

He went on, “Teams usually give less than a five when they’re pissed. It can come down to a captain’s need to vent or even respond on behalf of his teammates.”

Not all agree that giving or getting a five has become too easy.

Michael Natenberg, Doublewide’s captain, said he and his team considered themselves tough graders on spirit scores.

At the end of day third day of the Open, after losing to a steam-rolling Johnny, Natenberg said, “I pride myself on closely following the [spirit] scale.

“This last game with Johnny Bravo was the first five we’d given all tournament. They deserved it. They won with class. We usually only give threes and fours,” said Natenberg.

Dude, Get Off Me

During the first day of Open play Chain Lightning’s co-captain Mark Poole observed, “Most of the time it’s just not worth it to give a spirit score for anything other than a five. It’s too much trouble to have to explain it.”

In response to repeated questions about the process of spirit scoring, and also after losing to Johnny on day-one Poole patiently explained, “It’s no different than if we were making excuses. We cannot blame our play because we are missing key players or we are adjusting to the altitude.

“It’s just like with this loss. Own it. In a spirit call, or a foul call, it’s better to just take responsibility right then and there,” Poole said.

Later that day, after winning a heated game against GOAT, and completing the obligatory team line-up and “good-game” hand-slap, Poole’s co-captain Russell Snow was approached by the official scorer.

“Captain, do you have a spirit score?”

“Three,” Snow replied.

Overhearing the exchange, Poole wheeled around and sharply asked, “Why?”

Snow started again, “Dude, didn’t you see how they wouldn’t get off us when we were on the ground?”

Poole nodded and shrugged; he kept walking.

A Mean Average

While it’s usually a captain, or captains, deciding on the spirit scoring, determining the spirit scores process may differ among teams.

Most teams don’t keep stats on what spirit scores they give, only receive.

“Over the course of the whole season I estimate we give other teams an average of 3.5,” said Ozone’s Angela Lin. “It’s only one or two teams that deserve a one or a two. and bring down the overall average score.

“But for this [Open] tournament, I’d say the average spirit score we gave was 4.5,” said Lin.

“Sometimes a captain will decide, but sometimes the team decides. It’s not like we take a vote, it’s more just a quick consensus about that team’s spirit score,” she said.

As part of the opening ceremonies, Gwen Ambler, USAU board member and Riot captain, contributed to the opening remarks. She enjoined Open players to put the concept of spirit of the game into on-field behavior.

Not easy. Pointing out the difficulty of putting that concept into action presents for some players like herself, Angela Lin said, “I like the physicality of the game. I know it’s a non-contact sport, but I am going to take my vertical space and I will make you go through or around me for the disc.”

Lin went on to state her conviction that incidental contact was necessary and added to the spirit and fun factor of playing ultimate.

She made these remarks while nursing fingers broken the day before, “No I only hit the ground,” she assured. “The breaks were only caused by a bad fall,” and not from colliding with another player.

What can raise a spirit score?

“Listening,” said Lin’s Ozone teammate and Emory University coach Kate Wilson. “When an opposing player seems to not know she is fouling, then we have to consider the possibility she actually doesn’t know. But it can be frustrating.”

“It’s especially hard when fouls repeated and the foul calls are ignored,” said Wilson.

“The on-field behavior that helps teams is if players at least appear to listen when a foul is called, and why it’s called,” she continued.

“Repeatedly fouling means we have to repeatedly point out the behaviors are unacceptable. We need to tell them and they need to listen.”

So listening to opponents during foul calls is the key?

Wilson admits that listening can occasionally be difficult, “I sometimes think I bring my own team’s spirit scores down because I can be so feisty. My voice gets high-pitched and sounds aggressive. But 20 seconds later I’m over it.”

Impact Both Scores?

Nearing the end of the Open week, USAU staffer Mike Lovinguth, pointed to the social contract among players. He cited the contract between teams keeps the game respectfully intense and interesting too.

“What happens in the game, stays in the game,” said Lovinguth. “But if anyone sees enough ultimate you can see that teams who give up on scoring a high spirit score often play worse.”

He added, “It’s obvious with teams like Revolver, Amherst, and Wisconsin this year in the [college] championship, you can compete at the highest level while having great spirit. I think Wisconsin had only one four [spirit score] the entire tournament.”

“We want to see a team win a championship and win the Spirit Award,” said Lovinguth.

Spirited play indeed. Congratulations to 2012 US Open Championship winners Riot, Johnny Bravo, and Polar Bears for their high-spirited wins.

Chain Lightning won the US Open Spirit Award with the highest team score of 4.8.

Featured photo of Emily Lloyd, of Atlanta’s Ozone, points the way up with one hand and brings down the disc with the other. (Photo by Kevin Leclaire –


Comments Policy: At Skyd, we value all legitimate contributions to the discussion of ultimate. However, please ensure your input is respectful. Hateful, slanderous, or disrespectful comments will be deleted. For grammatical, factual, and typographic errors, instead of leaving a comment, please e-mail our editors directly at editors [at]