Monday, July 23, 2007


Spirit of the Rules?

Many say spirit is linked to knowledge of the rules. Some want
to require rules quizzes for teams. Every player is a referee, right?
So shouldn't all be required to know the rules?

Though I am attracted to the logic of these arguments, I reject
them wholeheartedly. In fact, my recent effort to learn the rules was
to better understand the connection, if any, between rules and spirit.
(Administratively, quizzes would be nearly impossible anyway.)

It's true that players are referees, so they should know what a violation
and what a foul is. By and large, these are easy to recognize.
The consequences of foul calls and violations are much more
subtle, and whilel I *do* think that every game should have a
copy of the rules on the sideline, I don't think it is incumbent on
individual players to know all intricacies. If playing the game were
like operating heavy machinery, then there'd be an easy argument
for knowing the rules. But it's more like knitting. If there's a stray purl here and
there, the sweater will still keep you warm.

On-field conduct is simply way more important.

Examples from actual play:

* Player calls equipment time-out just before his team turns the disc
over. The "technical time out," however, cannot be called in running
play. This was explained to the player, who was gracious in acknowledging
the turnover. Poor rules knowledge, but excellent spirit.

* I have the disc waiting for a check, when a self-check (a.k.a. "ground check")
would suffice. Had I known that, I could have put the disc into play earlier and
had an easier time making the throw I wanted. Result: I would have
benefitted from better rules knowledge, but that's all.

* Close call on the sideline and I ask for clarification as to whether the
defender touched the disc ("yes" says defender's teammate)... and
while he was still an in-bounds player? ("yes --- I know the rules," perhaps
a bit snidely). So far, knowledge of rules, yes, but no evidence of great (or poor spirit).
Later that game, I call a foul on the player who had responded earlier, indicating his
knowledge of the rules. (Perhaps my only foul call all weekend, but he wouldn't
have known that.) I claim that he bumped me while I tried to catch the disc. He says that
his hand was under mine -- "contest." I try to explain that his point is moot, as
the hand had nothing to do with the foul. He (without 60% of the vote, mind you!)
demands cloture and cuts off debate stating "contest -- the disc goes back --
that's what the rules state" (or something like that). Well, my understanding of XVI.B
is that one needs to contest a play on specific grounds relating to the infraction.
My point here: knowledge of the rules demonstrated satisfactorily. Spirit? Not
so much.

* I bobble the disc but eventually catch it in the endzone. I did not intentionally
mac it in order to advance the disc. Opponent asks whether it is not a goal. I
call it a goal, explain the rule after the point, and he graciously accepts the result.
Verdict: spirited opponent with imperfect rules knowledge.

* Before the no-double-turnover clause XII.C was established in the rules
(this is quite some time ago), I used to argue for a double-turnover, on occasion.
Most of the time, these efforts were dismissed summarily. Summary: my attempt
to apply my knowledge of the rules was seen as unspirited.

* I have, on occasion, called a foul on myself. This is not allowed in the rules.
I can alert an opponent of the infraction, but it is up to him/her as to whether he/she
will make a call. Fair enough, the opponent may prefer to let play continue.
Calling my own foul was ignorant of the rules, but I don't think it has ever
been seen as unspirited.

Maybe I'm stacking the examples, or maybe these are exceptions that prove the
rule, but I just don't see the connection.

I do understand the argument that you have to *know* the rules to *follow* them,
but I don't think you have to have a detailed knowledge to play with sportsmanship.
Generally, good intentions take you a long way. I know that people *intuitively*
feel the connection between rules knowledge and spirit -- or at least between
rules knowledge and rule abiding? -- but I can't support the contention after a
close review. (We don't base national policies on intuition. Um... er... well, at least
we *shouldn't.*) Can you?


p.s. The version of the spirit guidelines currently under consideration by the
UPA has language mixing "knowledge of" and attempts to "adhere to"
to the rules (i.e. not cheating). I think we are all against intentional nonadherence.

I've come to the conclusion that spirit, for the most part, is BS. For any number of reasons...but mainly because ultimate varies by regions and each region has their own interpretation of the rules and spirit is based upon the interpretation of said rules. Therefore, if someone isn't playing your style, you consider them unspirited...but is that true (obviously I argue no, bc that same player is probably thinking the same about you!).

For instance, iIn NC they play a different version of ultimate than is played in Boston, in SF, in Vancouver. Does that mean that each of those teams have less knowledge, or more knowledge of the rules than any other team? Or, *might* it mean that they interpret the rules differently in each region. Thus, what they consider to be spirited play is different?

However, this is what makes nationals interesting. The best team will be the one that can best adjust to the different styles of play.

Will refs, or observers solve it...I don't think so...but recognizing that different locations play differently is a good opposed to saying someone is playing unspirited...jmho.

good post, interesting questions raised. i agree that it is possible for one to not know the rules and approach fouls & violation calls fully cognizant of one's ignorance, hence making one spirited.

i feel like being "spirited" and knowing the rules can combine to form a spectrum, akin to those political "compasses" you see. ( i.e. they are not mutually exclusive nor does one necessarily beget the other.

i have another interesting real-game scenario to add to the list of examples:
*it's late in the finals of a competitive tournament (two teams playing were both at nationals the previous year). turn. team A tries to fast-break huck it 60+ yards for a score. throw is completed, but comes back on a travel call by captain of team B who maintains that the thrower did not establish his pivot foot at/near where the disc lay. the outrage of team A was not that the thrower didn't indeed establish his pivot foot distant from the dead disc (this fact wasn't disputed), but rather that the travel call was "horrible". Summary: rules knowledge impeccable but application seen as unspirited.

it's true the rules are open to some interpretation, but what i think a lot of people fail to appreciate is that what varies more is people's interpretation of what happened on the field. was the disc up or down, was the foot in or out, was the contact incidental or influential? being spirited, to me, means being open to others' interpretations of what happened, being honest when you're not sure or you didn't have best perspective, and being willing to engage in a calm discussion with your opponent.

Two comments:

1. there is a quiz, the observers for official events take them (or at least they did a few years ago). i don't think there's much oversight, but whomever wrote the questions asked some pretty damn hard ones.

2. defense is never out of bounds, if the the D touched the disc, it comes back to the nears point on the PFP.
Many unspirited moments on the field I have witnessed (both by myself and others) have been based on not knowing the rules properly. Saying that knowing the rules is important for upholding SOTG is trying to avoid the situation where people are conducting themselves based on erroneous "knowledge" of the rules.

A previous poster mentioned that the rules are interpreted differently in different parts of the country. While that may be true, advocates of knowing the rules are trying to get everyone to know and play by the SAME set of rules by going off the letter of the law. I think that there would be a lot less regional-variation if there was a better understanding of the rules. No other sport is played under different sets of rules in different cities.

If more people knew more of the rules, there would be less thinking someone was unspirited for following what the rule book says.
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hi Gwen...two sports of the top of my head that vary by and soccer. So, this theory (or whatever you would like to call it) is not specific to ultimate. Interesting that Ultimate is based off of those two sports to some extent :)

I agree the rules try to have everyone play by the same set of rules. Again, how they are interpreted in the that specific location determines how the rules are in effect "enforced" in that region.
To halvey, you're right. I meant to say "offense."

To gambler, I provided six examples supporting
my argument, but you rebut saying "many unspirited moments on the field I have
witnessed... have been based on not knowing
the rules properly." Please provide examples.

To $, I am a universalist, if there is such a word.
A main reason I had for introducing a proposal to
establish a single set of spirit guidelines was
so that we could reliably compare spirit scores
across regions, divisions and time. Otherwise,
the scores are basically just random numbers.

I'd agree that most* unspirited games come about from teams** using different rules of enforcement, and that adding refs or observers could be _a_ solution. The arbiters would not only enforce a more uniform interpretation, but would also provide a foil of spirit, giving each team another, closer-to-the-middle interpretation to measure the other team's spirit against.

* -- Brown-Colorado final from two years ago with the gazillion calls, historical NC (travel-calling) vs West Coast (travel-happy) college games. However, there are also games where both teams are highly aggressive, and "my team right or wrong" is more the reason (plus some contribution from the fans having a looser interpretation).

**-- As if everyone on a team has the same interpretation. We all know that O and D players have different interpretations of how much contact is allowed.

Interpretation also varies not only by region but by gender and level of play. This is as it should be, I think. You wouldn't want the same strike zone in the majors as you have in Little League.

The only sport I know of that calls every violation by the book is high-level golf (maybe tennis, too, although there rarely are violations, but every line call is by the book).
I have the disc waiting for a check, when a self-check (a.k.a. "ground check") would suffice. Had I known that, I could have put the disc into play earlier and had an easier time making the throw I wanted.

Do you mean "self-check" or "ground touch"? If it was a self-check situation, then nobody should have been moving. If it was a ground touch situation, you should use that term because a self-check is something quite different.

I really do think that rule knowledge is required to have good spirited games. Furthermore, as the level of competition increases, so does my expectation of rule knowledge. Nobody wants to have to explain the concept of best perspective at nationals, whereas it's really not such a big deal in summer league.

I think many people who don't know the rules view it as unspirited when you enforce them to their detriment. I don't like coming across like a jerk, but neither do I like letting my opponents get away with stuff either. I think a lot about spirit is playing by the rules even if you can get away with not doing so.

I do not expect everyone to be a rules expert, but in a sport where we officiate ourselves even at the very high levels, is it too much to ask elite players to read through the rules once a year? It's not War and Peace. Here are some examples of conflicts that would be obviated by what I'd consider basic rules knowledge:

- Fast counts and illegal marks are pervasive. Sometimes I call these, sometimes I don't, but it's exceptionally rare that I make the call and the marker actually stops the violation and drops his count.

- Illegal marks in general. Do people really not know, or do they just not mind cheating? I'm not talking about subtle 11th edition distinction here, just the standard collegiate leg hump.

- Principle of verticality: Yes you can go over people if you can get the disc without contacting your opponent first. "I skied you" is not a valid reason to contest if you push down on someone to get up.

- When a ground touch is required: I want to be able to start my stall as soon as it is legal. It doesn't upset me if people want to offer a check rather than touching it to the ground, but do one or the other immediately. Don't make me wonder if you're to the spot yet and then throw causing me to call "violation" and then call me unspirited.

- "Check disc": There is no such call, and you can't replace a disc just because it's a bit warped. Quit stopping play for this.

- Know the cap, time-out and overtime rules. This comes up a lot, and it's always when the game is close and people don't want to spend time arguing about it.

- Understand best perspective. The discussion should be about who had it, not about the person who had a poor perspective who disagrees with the person who had a good one.

In response to $: can you give some examples of regional rule interpretations? Are we talking about selective enforcement (e.g., actually calling travels on the right coast) or actual differences of option as to what the rules are. Hopefully, there should only be one right opinion, or it's something we need to fix.
To parinella (Jim), I'm surprised to hear you
say that you think most unspirited games come
from teams using different standards of
enforcement. When I think back on the unspirited
games I have witnessed or been involved in,
they overwhelmingly are due to people who
forsake decorum in favor of aggressive
competition, people who intentionally put winning
above fair play, and people with an
ends-justify-the-means approach to conflict

There are times when a more competitive team
assumes, say, more allowable contact than a less
competitive team, but these differences in
enforcement (or in the interpretation of
"non-incidental" here) can usually be readily
recognized and repaired when both teams
bring sportsmanship to the table.

I'd allow *some* games are unspirited due
to different standards of enforcement, but
nowhere near *most.* In fact, I think *most*
unspirited games are between closely matched
rivals, who typically share enforcement standards.

I think the major factor in causing unspirited games is certainly a combination of a) different interpretation of how the game is/should be played, and b) focus on winning over playing the game with respect for the rules and one's opponent.

However, I do think that knowledge of the rules can factor into good spirit, or rather that lack of knowledge of the rules can be construed as poor spirit in some cases.

I don't have a bunch of examples, but here is one that came up recently:

- Game at nationals. Player A throws from his knees and completes a critical pass. Opposing player B calls travel stating that the player has to have a pivot "foot". Argument ensues in which neither side gives, and disc goes back to the thrower. Side bet is made about the actual rule and of course Player B loses, but nevertheless the pass went back in the game.

I would argue that this is poor spirit. First, the game is at nationals, where perhaps a higher level of understanding of the rules should be expected. After many months of training, I certainly don't want to have to stop every 5 passes and explain rules to people like in league. It is not the experience nationals players are looking for.

Likewise, lack of understanding of the rules sets up the situation where conflict is more likely to arise. Arguments, or even good-natured discussions, certainly can be done in a spirited way. But to repeatedly be the cause of stopping the flow of a game, especially if it is to the disadvantage of your opponent, b/c of a lack of understanding of the rules is in my opinion, disrespectful.

On that note, perhaps it is more important that someone on each team know the rules so that at the very least, in the example above, the outcome on the field ends up being the correct one. It is unfortunate, and probably unspirited, that no teammates of Player B stepped in to let him know that he was wrong. Whether they didn't know the rule or just chose to strategically keep their mouths shut...either exhibits a lack of respect for different reasons.

But even one person on each team knowing what the rules are would not prevent someone who didn't from completely bogging down a game with uninformed calls and unnecessary stoppages and disputes. No matter how nicely those are resolved, my opinion is that not having to resolve them at all is the better outcome.

That is accomplished by having people know the rules at the appropriate level for the environment in which they are playing.
interesting that there was a post by dar about how spirit is dead.

Anyways, I think "the fan" jimmy holtzman hit the nail on the thread...

"dar, i fear you are a bit off here. Spirit is not dead. Spirit as it
was meant to be included in the game of ultimate has been bastardized
to the point that it no longer has any meaning so far as PLAYING the
game of ultimate goes. Spirit has come to mean cheers and silly hats
and sequined skirts, while the true meaning of spirit has been
replaced by it's truer term, "Sportsmanship"

When The Fan uses the term "Spirit" there's a pretty good chance he's
making fun of you and it's going to be a long game."

That I buy into...sportmanship...but not spirit. :)

as for is a great theory :)...
To will and jon,

I agree that rules can factor into spirit,
but I think the effect is secondary. You
both offer examples in which the flow of
the game would be improved with better
rules knowledge, but in neither example
can I see sportsmanship being eclipsed
by imperfect knowledge of the rules.
Sportsmanship has to give before things
become unspirited.

People might argue that the responsibility
of knowing the rules is akin to knowing the
rules of the road before operating heavy
machinery. I think that analogy is inapt.
Rather, I think it's more like knowing how
to operate a weed whacker before whacking.
Imperfect knowledge could cause a scrape
or two, but no one's gonna get seriously
hurt unless without the ingredient of
malice. Indeed, it would hurt to get thumped
on the head with the motor.

It's true that no one wants to interrupt
a game "repeatedly" to explain the rules,
but when pressed people usually have to
think long and hard for an example where
a game is interrupted even once.

Further, those people, I contend, themselves
have imperfect rules knowledge (as I continue
to have even after a very close reading).
So the real wish they have is that their
opponents know the rules no worse *or better*
than they do.

To $, there have always been two parallel
notions of spirit. Like any other word with two
meanings, confusion arises when the context
is not clear.

As for universalism, you offer the tried, but
never true, "it's just a theory" dismissal.
In physics and evolution this facile rebuttal
has always been good for a bit of entertainment.

if rules are universally applied, then there is no interpretation of said rules and there are no judgment would be either black or white? no?

The spirit score to me then, is who (unitentionally/intentionally?) cheated less. And really, (IMO) that is what it is now.

facile...hardly...maybe I'm a universalist too. However, if rules are left open to interpretation, even in the slightest, there will not be agreement....

To get to my point...taken from another site.

Universalism does not really identify a group. It is more a doctrine of different, even contradictory groups, who all claim universalism.

This is all well and good and this conversation has been going on ad naseum for 20 years and will continue to go on 20 years. Take a look at the latest UPA survey and compare it to a survey done in 1988 (I've got the UPA newsletter I can scan in if anyone cares to take a look). The questions may be more evolved but the bell curves look identical. The people on the fringe of the bell curve are usually either the lunatics or the most informed/knowledgeable (or in my case both) and so they get filtered out in lieu of consensus, which is unchanging for the most part. This is the problem with having a sport that is trying to find itself being ruled by peer review. Lots of talk but very little change (see UPA 11th edition).


I hope you all get a chance to play dischoops sometime during the upcoming off season, it's a lot of fun (or so I've heard....).
FYI- There is some post Nationals discussion of the new spirit rankings on RSD.
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