Photograph by Jo Tabacek

Ultimate Frisbee employs a unique type of competitiveness

By Annie Erickson

The sport of ultimate frisbee is anything but a traditional competitive sport. It is strictly non-contact and has no referee to enforce that. Conversely, ultimate frisbee is governed by an official moral code called “Spirit of Game.” The official US Ultimate webpage defines this as “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.” In this way it is evident that ultimate does not focus on the rules themselves but the integrity of the players that abide by them.

The Spirit of the Game philosophy is designed to replace a referee. If a player is seen running with the disc, which is an illegal move in ultimate, it is the responsibility of the opposing player to call “travelling” and then be open to a discussion. The game is almost completely reliant on a mutual honesty and respect between teams. At a typical tournament, it is common to see opposing players congratulate each other for making a great catch. Most teams will get together in a “Spirit Circle” and reflect on the game at the end. Lewis & Clark Women’s ultimate team Artemis awards a “spirit prize” to someone from the opposing team that exemplifies sportsmanship.

For fans of more traditionally played sports, it may seem impossible to build a truly competitive atmosphere in this way. People might find it hard to understand a sport that trusts human nature above rulebooks, or that congratulates both teams for making good plays instead of encouraging adversarial relationships.

Artemis captain Ruby Holman ’19 would disagree. For her, Spirit of the Game is still about love and respect, but that does not reduce her competitive drive. This makes the game all the more challenging.

“It dictates my own competitiveness to play hard and challenge myself, while keeping integrity in the game,” Holman said.

Players on Bacchus, the men’s ultimate team at LC, have a similar opinion. Bacchus captain Azen Jaffe ’19 believes that Spirit of the Game ultimately boils down to honesty.  

“Honestly, Spirit of the Game is not something I think about often,” Jaffe said. “I am a pretty competitive person, and when I play ultimate I let that competitiveness show.”

Jaffe believes that being competitive works in sync with Spirit of the Game.

As long as everything is fair, playing your hardest against someone is one of the biggest forms of respect you can give,” Jaffe said.

New Artemis player Annika Jackson ’22 also believes that competitiveness and Spirit of the Game are connected.

“I’ve played competitive sports before and I feel that ultimate fosters a healthy competitiveness where everyone is encouraging everyone else,”she said.

Even though ultimate still possess a similar competitive edge as any other sport, Jackson believes that the main emphasis is forming connections and building comradery with people on the team.

The sport of ultimate is unique, but in the opinions of LC Ultimate players, it should not be considered less competitive or to involve any less work than a sport dictated by a whistle. The culture that is created from Spirit of the Game is undeniably a positive one. It does not discourage winning, but instead encourages winning fairly. It is a sport that is moving away from the “winning at all costs” mentality and promotes a competitive environment that allows all players to cultivate important values of fairness and respect.

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