Ultimate – The Spirit of the Game

My nineteen-month old grandson Will and I shared a special experience last week.  We both took in our First Ultimate Experience.  Truth to tell, while Will’s parents tore up and down the Ultimate field at the Playing Fields of Blaine, aka the National Sports Center. Will and I mostly strolled and gawked – he was cute and I was dutiful.  Still I caught the ultimate bug.

So, as per usual, I had to Poke Around.

For starts, I learned that the essential Frisbee (aka “flying disc”) was the brainchild of early 20th century undergrads in the US.  What I thought was Ultimate Frisbee is now officially ultimate.  Ultimate, the game, was “invented” by successful Hollywood producer and director Joel Silver in 1968 as  a post-Frisbee tournament lark.  Silver is quoted as saying “It was never a serious thing when we played.  It was more of a counterculture thing” where players joked about people all over the world someday playing the game.

And so they are.  Ultimate is the fastest growing team sports in the US where approximately 4.5 million people now play – a figure that includes high school and college students and massive numbers of adults who play in leagues and clubs on playing field that range from the grandeur of the National Sports Center to far less manicured sites.  Folks play ultimate in an estimated 40 countries around the world following rules now published in myriad languages some 30 languages ranging from English to Catalan and Chinese, Slovakian, Turkish and Ukrainian.  No excuse for ignorance of the rules or the “spirit of the game.”

Ultimate is a self-refereed sport well summarized in a section of the World Flying Disc Federation Rulebook entitled “spirit of the game”.  The elements:

  • Know the rules
  • Be truthful about your observation
  • Be fair-minded to both sides
  • Be clear in communications
  • Be respectful to your opponents

This entire essay is a delicious read, including tips on improving spirit and capturing feedback on spirit at the end of each game.

Will and I saw all this happening that evening in Blaine.

The World Flying Disc Federation is the ultimate gospel – or should that be the gospel of ultimate?  In any event, the WFDF tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the sport.  The history is engaging.  If you need to prolong the international competition generated by the World Cup, you’ll love the stats. A recent WFDC post announced a new archival website exploring the totality international ultimate. To this librarian archives make it real.

Though I’m more interested in the history and spirit of ultimate than the rules, here’s a great explanation of “the game, explained as simply as possible” that offers a comprehensible intro to the ethos, the rules, the terms, dimensions of the playing field  and ways to get involved.

For an informal and subjective take on ultimate, Dana Thompson, writing in Seattle Woman Magazine, captures the “spirit” from the perspective of women playing with Seattle’s Riots .  It’s a delightful read covering history and rules peppered with insights about the sport.   Thompson includes a number of sage quotes from Seattle Riot veterans including  Liz Duffy who observes that “ultimate takes good sportsmanship to a higher level, putting respect for your teammates and opponents above winning.”

Will and I will be back in Blaine soon for another Tuesday evening watching his parents-as-players and their ultimate friends – on both teams – running at top speed, then back- slapping, laughing, chanting some amateurish cheers, then going out for a Surly’s.

Meanwhile, Will is catching the “spirit of the game” and I’m learning to appreciate a sport that has long been a part of my life though not of my understanding.

The “spirit” of Poking Around pays off again!.


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