Playing with Spirit - A How-To Guide
by John Harris
Some players say that it is easy to play with Spirit - all you have to do is follow the rules. But I believe SOTG is way more than this, and is quite difficult to do all the time. Here is my list of 5 steps needed to fully play with Spirit. Each step is challenging, but Step 4 is by far the hardest.
I have phrased all the steps in the first person ("I will ...") to emphasize the point that only an individual player is able to change his or her own actions and attitudes. When all players in a game are following step 1 to 5, then the game will truly be Spirited.
Step 1: I will try not to break the rules
- I will try not to drag my pivot foot when I pivot (travel)
- I will try not to cross the goal line before the pull (offside)
- I will try not to cause significant impact when going for the disc (foul)
- I will try not to count faster than 1 second intervals (fast count)
Step 1 is more difficult than it sounds. First of all, you must know the rules before you can be sure you are not breaking them. Unfortunately, some of the rules are a bit ambiguous and interpretations are debated by even the most experienced of players. My overriding philosophy is that "whatever is the most fair" is usually the correct interpretation of a rule. Secondly, you must make the decision to watch yourself all the time to make sure you don't accidentally break a rule.
Step 1 is absolutely necessary before you can go to Step 2.
Step 2: I will not allow myself to get away with breaking the rules
- If I realize that I've dragged my foot to pivot around a marker, I won't throw since I would have gained an advantage. Instead I will pivot back to my original position and ensure that both the marker and myself are in legal positions before continuing the play.
- If I cross the goal line before the pull, I will take a few slow steps before going into a sprint to nullify the advantage I might have gotten.
- If I foul someone I will call the foul on myself.
- If I start the count too fast, I'll stop counting for a few seconds to nullify the advantage.
Step 2 really tests your personal integrity. You might be the only player who realizes you've broken a rule. Force yourself to admit it (at least to yourself). Don't allow yourself to get away with breaking even the smallest rule. In some sports breaking the rules is allowed; players might even be convinced that "if the referee didn't see it, it didn't happen". In Ultimate you are referee. So if you saw it, then you did not get away with it. Part of being a Spirited player means being an honest player.
Step 3: I will encourage my teammates to follow steps 1 & 2. I will tell them when I think they are not.
- A teammate always travels when they throw a hammer. Tell them, and follow through by helping them practice throwing legally.
- My teammates often cross the line before the pull is released. Ask them to "hold the line" when your team is pulling.
- Your teammate fouls an opponent hard and decides to contest. Talk to this teammate; say something like: "Wow, that was a hard hit, maybe you shouldn't contest" .
- Call fast count if your teammate is counting to quickly. It might surprise your opponents, but they will probably appreciate it.
Here things get a little tricky. I am not saying that you have to jump on your teammates for every little infraction. If they do break a rule without realizing, it is helpful for someone to let them know. This will allow them to improve their game. This goes against a common belief that you should support your teammates in every situation. But if your teammate is wrong then you should make it your responsibility to tell them. They are more likely to respond well if they hear it from you, then if they hear it from an opponent.
Step 3 is more important than you think. The most effective way for improving Spirit is peer pressure and this pressure works better when coming from teammates than when coming from opponents.
Now is Step 4, which in my opinion is the hardest of all.
Step 4: I will believe that ALL players (myself, my teammates, and my opponents) are doing their best to follow steps 1, 2, and 3
- I never travel, but my mark says I traveled on my pivot. I get the disc back, and make smaller pivots to avoid whatever it was that my opponent saw. After the game I ask him or her to show me what it was that I was doing that constitutes a travel.
- My opponents occasionally get 10 or 15 yards across the line before they pull. I kindly ask their captain to check this and to mention it to his/her teammates. He/she does and their team is much better about off sides for the rest of the game.
- My mark slaps my arm every time I pivot. I ask him to be more careful and/or I call a foul. We both try to be more careful - he doesn't mark so close, and I don't reach out so far on my throws.
Step 4 is what SOTG is all about. When everyone on the fields is following Step 4, it is fantastic. There still might be rule infractions, but the players involved will resolve situations quickly and amicably.
Step 5: I will accept that different perspectives will see different outcomes
Step 5 doesn't work unless you believe Step 4. Even when you believe step 4 there will still be disagreements. Line calls are a perfect example of differing opinions on the field. A player catches a disc close the side line - in or out? Sometimes these calls can be very close. Even with linesmen and professional referees (e.g. pro football), line calls are sometimes unclear.
- I catch a disc on the sideline and I'm 100% sure I was in, my opponent with equal perspective is 100% sure I was out. Since I accept Step 4, I have to believe that the opponent really saw that I was out - he saw something different than I did. Since I know I was in and he knows I was out (and neither of us is breaking the rules) it must be too close to call. The Rules of Ultimate include a solution for this situation: disc back to the thrower - Play On!!!
OK, this was pretty long winded, but I hope that it makes a little sense to somebody. In some ways, playing with SOTG is more difficult than playing without (e.g. where referees make the calls so players don't have to). However, I believe the extra effort is well worth it.
Written by: John C Harris
"Spirit of the Game" - Always play with Spirit!