Non-Paper: Spirit of the Game and Innovation in
Officiating Ultimate’s Great Assets - Our Challenge BY DAVID BARKAN, PH.D.
The sport of Ultimate has two of the most compelling, distinctive, and cutting edge assets in the world of sports, but for many years, leaders within Ultimate have struggled with how to best describe, package, and fully capitalize on them.
This paper posits that fully embracing,
developing, and marketing the following two features of Ultimate has the potential to explode interest and growth around the globe, and distinguish the game as one of the next great sports of this century: 1. The principles and practices of sports- manship, fair play, and respectful camaraderie among opponents – commonly referred to as Spirit of the Game.
2. Our unique and variable on-field deci- sion making rules - these range from pure self-officiated play to authorized observers making discreet and specific calls.
1. What are the principles and practices of great sportsmanship, fair play, and respectful camaraderie among oppo- nents that we promote in Ultimate?
Here are a few examples, applying my terminology: • Principle A: Mutual respect • Practice A: Players show respect by playing their hardest, but their efforts never come at the expense of disrespecting opponents. Crossing that line displays disrespect for oneself, the Ultimate community, and the
sport. As we know from many other sports, when violating the respect boundary is an accepted norm, trash talking, taunting, and verbal assault are common and expected. With so much focus on youth, this dynamic causes damage.
• Principle B: Fair play • Practice B: We learn the rules, respect the rules, and always strive to play within them. Players understand they (almost always) do not have an objective party (referee) taking responsibility for enforcing and penalizing on-field behavior, so they must hold themselves fully accountable for adhering to the rules and standards of fairness. In other sports, players try to fool referees and “get away” with unseen pushing and shoving. In Ultimate, there is no referee to deceive. If you do not practice fair play you are simply cheating, and damaging the integrity of the game.
• Principle C: The right call • Practice C: We make the right call, even when it gives our opponents the advantage. Players who practice this principle call themselves out of bounds, hand the disc over when they know it hit the ground, and don’t call a travel just to stop the flow of offense. This practice challenges athletes to the core, because it bumps up against their desire to win, but the rewards are great and can be much more far- reaching than victory.
2. On to decision rules – what does this mean? It is the actual agreed upon method that determines how a decision is made within a specific context. For example:
• In soccer, the decision rule is: Referees and line judges decide (in their areas of the field)
• In Baseball, the decision rule is: The umpire decides
• In the Supreme Court, the decision rule is: Majority - 5 out of 9 judges vote one way = decision
• In a typical jury, the decision rule is: Unanimity – All jurors must agree for a decision to pass
• In Ultimate, the decision rule is… well, it depends…
99% of the time, the players make their
own calls and decide how to proceed, all within the framework of very specific procedural guidelines. There is a fallback solution if agreement cannot be reached. If there are observers, certain pre-
determined decisions are made by players, and others are made by the observers So those are the two key pieces. Some
will say, “Ah, you’re just talking about SOTG . That’s what those two things are about”. That, I’m afraid, is one of our big problems.
WHY CONFLATING THESE TWO THINGS IS WRONG
I contend we have conflated sportsmanship and self-officiated play and called it SOTG. This has two negative effects. First it confuses people who are trying to understand and use the concepts. Second, it weakens the impact of both of these unique aspects of the sport. Here is why it does not work: • Sportsmanship, fair play, and respectful camaraderie among opponents are values. We strive to put them into practice. Self-officiated play is a rule. We don’t have a choice about it. It is the mechanism that enables decisions to happen. Making both of these part of SOTG is mixing apples with oranges and neither gets its due. They need to be separated.
• We continue to explore new and innovative ways to enhance and support player responsibility with greater accountability, accuracy, and efficiency through the ever-evolving observer model. Pure self- officiated play is not
Ultimate Canada Magazine — www.canadianultimate.com
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