Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Spirit Score Guidelines: A Proposal

I am writing to suggest a proposal to the UPA and to solicit your feedback.

The mission of the UPA currently is, in part, "to uphold the Spirit of the Game."
As chair and member of the Conduct committee, I tried to do just that,
including drafting the code of conduct. Standards of conduct and rules for
their consistent enforcement are ways of upholding fair play.

Personally, I think that "uphold" is not a strong enough
word. I think the UPA should "foster and promote" the SOTG.
(No, my proposal is not about changing the mission statement,
though I would support doing so.)
Talking about SOTG is one way that the ultimate community
reinforces its values. I tried to make the *practice* of SOTG
a bit more concrete by drafting Ten Things You Should Know
About Spirit of the Game (www.upa.org/spirit/10Things),
a practical guide to good behavior.

Still, this classifies as "just talk." It was my intention then, and is my
proposal now, to follow "Ten Things" up with something somewhat
more tangible.

Oddly, the thing which makes discussing SOTG difficult
is that we have no measure of the state of spirit;
whether it is getting better or worse over time; and
whether any effort to improve it is working, or would work.

To this end, I would like to develop a standard for measuring
SOTG. A very crude measurement is spirit scores. It is crude
because there is no rubric for creating a spirit score -- a captain
or group of players usually just picks a number out of mid-air.
"Three." "Five." "Four." "Whatever." What's good about taking spirit scores
is that it is a mechanism already in place for gauging spirit. Scores are
taken at many tournaments. The administration for collecting SOTG data
is already up and running. The problem is that the data is unreliable.
There are no standards.

My proposal is that the UPA adopt the following set of guidelines for
spirit scores.


1. Multiple incidents of acrimonious disputes involving
derision, name-calling, or taunting.
2. Game marked by one acrimonious dispute or several
smaller disputes involving needling remarks or other players
getting involved. Some level of disrespect in evidence.
3. Game played without any significant incident. Perhaps a few emotional
outbursts or disputed calls with terse words, but no overt signs of
4. Game played without incident and with evident good will
between teams. One or two areas of dispute settled
civilly, if not amicably.
5. Game played without incident and with evident
good will between teams. Contested foul calls were
honored with respect and without emotional outbursts. No
heckling from the sideline.

Notes: A score of "5" does not require any cheers, colorful antics,
or "give-back" calls. This measure of SOTG is entirely distinct
from the "spirit" of ultimate: its zany characters, inside jokes, and
cultural touchstones like Rochambeau. Physicality of the game
is not mentioned. (N.B.: perhaps the guidelines should address
the possibility that one team voices unhappiness with the physicality,
to no avail.)

Of course, this will not change spirit overnight. But it would give us
a way of collecting reliable statistics about SOTG. We could:
* determine areas of superb SOTG, and then learn what's working;
* determine areas of spirit deficit, pointing where we should focus efforts;
* give relative comparisons of spirit over time and across regions;
* identify teams with exemplary spirit, e.g. for awards

Without reliable information about SOTG, efforts to foster and promote
it will be too broad and too blunt. My proposal is...

That the UPA:

1. Adopt the above guidelines for SOTG scores.
2. Print the guidelines as part of the literature for every UPA-sanctioned event,
and require TD's to announce and distribute them at the captain's meeting.
3. Require that observers learn the guidelines.
4. Print "Ten Things" on the back of waiver forms.

Cynics will see such moves as either heavy-handed and/or cornballish.
I think it is "handed," but not too heavy, and I'll take cornball if it's effective.
What do you think? Your voiced support will buttress the proposal. Your
disapproval could dissuade me from submitting.

Your voiced support will buttress the proposal. Your
disapproval could dissuade me from submitting.

I voice my support and say submit. I think you could make the guidelines longer and more specific, too, perhaps with examples to go along with them. Perhaps a detailed version online and a shorter version to distribute to captains?

Also, in my personal opinion, certain types of heckling does not necessarily diminish SOTG...

Vox clamantis in deserto,
Hey Zaz,

I like the idea of specific guidelines, but the wording of them shouldn't be in the proposal. Can you imagine debating the actual wording at the Board meeting? I think I'd try to gouge my eyes out with a spoon.

I like the idea of specific wording and guidelines, although what you have does look different from what the UPA (already?) has.

I do think I like your wording better, but the actual wordsmithing is probably better done by buying Will a beer and haggling in the corner than in a full board proposal.

Thanks for your comments, and I await more.
I confess that I did not spent a lot of time on
the specific wording, as I would expect, as
Jello notes, that these details would be hammered
out by people more careful and knowledgeable
than I am.

I like Jello's idea of removing the specific guidelines
from the proposal. Instead, I would offer the
written ones as an *example* of possible guidelines,
and propose that the UPA adopt *some* set of
guidelines and implement the remainng points
of the proposal.

As for the UPA's existing guidelines (page 5 of www4.upa.org/files/RM_SOTG.pdf), I think
that they are well-intentioned but flawed as
an objective rubric.

* I don't think that understanding the rules (+1) compensates for poor sportsmanship (-1).

* I think that cheering is part of the spirited
nature of our sport, but should not be written
into part of a numeric evaluation. I think that
dispassionate, but passionately *fair*, players
are examplars of spirit.

* I have no problems with disagreements (is this
the same as "disputes"?), as long as they are
approached from the pont of view of mutual
respect. Humans are coy, though, and I agree
that a "respectfully" submitted but clearly awful
foul call is poor spirit (doubly poor because of
the guise).


But from a larger perspective, these details
matter much less than that the UPA make a
concerted effort to standardize evaluations
of conduct.


I am a big fan of the idea of making spirit scores more meaningful. I have several comments/criticisms/suggestions:

1) There are two elements of a spirit score that I think are essential that are missing from this rubric. They are:

- Like you mention, some mention of physicality. This has to be very general to account for different expectations at different levels of play. The lower ratings could have some mention of expecting and requesting less phyical contact, to no avail.

- This may seem obvious, but I think ratings should be based on whether calls/contests were, in the opinion of the rating team, BAD, and motivated by a win-at-all-costs attitude as oppose to honest disagreement. By the guidelines as written, a team can make obvious bad call after bad call, but if both teams are respectful in their disagreements, then they can't be given anything below a 4. Since such a win-at-all-costs attitude is literally (according to the rules) the definition of bad spirit, It needs to be reflected in the ratings. Obviously this makes spirit ratings a bit more subjective, but that doesn't make this any less essential.

The drawback here is that adding all these guidelines actually makes the rubric pretty hefty. I would suggest having two five point rubrics. One on "acrimony" that would be as you described, and another on elements of physicality and quality of calls. Total spirit score could be an average. This means you could give half-points in ratings, of course.

2) I don't think handing out the scoring rubric at captain's meetings is good enough/the best idea. (Also, some sectional events have very limited printed materials.) Far more important is for anyone collecting spirit scores to put the rubric in the captain's hands before asking for the score. If you put anything about mandatory distribution of the rubric in the proposal, it should say something like "volunteers should verify that team captains review these guidelines immediately before issuing a spirit score". AFAIK spirit score collection only happens at nationals, so this is fairly easy to handle.

I'm willing to contribute further to this - if you want to discuss any of my ideas with me further shoot me an email; ahtarr at gmail (or my UPA alias).

I like the proposal. I would suggest that the numerical score often steers spirit systems away from what we'd like them to reflect. If we instead simply describe various positive and negative behaviours, as you do, and ask captains to check off all those that apply, we would remove a lot of the social pressure to give other teams high scores. It would mean that collecting and tallying spirit scores would take a bit longer for TDs, but they would be much more reflective of the actual state of the game.
A few responses:

I agree (with tarr/Adam) that physicality should be incorporated into the guidelines, and that plain bad calls are unspirited (see my first comment). My new proposal (as per Jello's remark) will not actually include specific guidelines, and those written (or some improvement thereof) will only be provided as an example. I will make the actual proposal the content of the next post.

Sideline engineer makes a good point: it is more valuable to have the data of exactly which types of behavior were exhibited in the game. A composite score only provides a "course graining" of this finer data set. However, I believe that the extra layer of administration (essentially, a mini-survey instead of a single number) would not be welcome.

To tarr/Adam's second point(s), I like that the distribution of the information is at the "point of sale" (i.e., when the scores are collected), rather than at the captain's meeting hours away. As for the point that spirit scores are only collected at the biggest tournament(s), this only means that the expansion of the SOTG rankings should therefore be part of the proposal!

Thanks. I will try to incorporate these suggestions (and others) and post an improved proposal.

Thanks for this. I don't have a specific suggestion, but wanted to say I appreciate that you separated SOTG from the "character" of Ultimate (wackyness, etc). Many people consider you unspirited if you don't love the zaniness they love. Cheers, costumes, etc don't improve my experience of Ultimate or my respect for my oponnents. I'd rather play a clean, competitive game without emotional arguments and histrionics than play a crappy game with great rhyming cheers at the end.

I'm rambling. I'll stop.

Should knowledge of the rules be included under the umbrella of Spirit? Or should there be a separate forum for declaring teams excellent or inept in their rules knowledge?

I feel that the two are inextricably tied. For example, I was just in a horribly unspirited argument with someone who kept continually calling non-existant or obsolete violations and infractions. I was certainly the unspirited one in the debate (probably a 1.5 or 2) and I accept that failure-- Something to improve upon. The other fella, on the other hand, made that game a horrible experience for me.

Could/should this be covered under "disrespect?" That is what it is to lack knowledge of the rules as a playeref. You are shirking your responsibility to your fellow competitors.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?