Spirit of the Game is Hard Work

by Marlise Richter


There is a curious misconception that Ultimate is so mellow that you need not worry much about Spirit of the Game (SOTG), as ‘it just happens’ (cue: snap fingers). People need only be ‘chilled’ and ‘not take things too seriously’ and ‘things will work themselves out on the field’.


True commitment to SOTG requires much more of players, of teams, and of tournament organisers.

And it sometimes means blood, sweat and tears.

I have argued elsewhere that SOTG is made up of 4 key elements:

  •  Honesty, fairness and 100% integrity;
  •  Self-discipline;
  •  Knowledge of the rules; and
  •  Calm and respectful communication

None of these elements appear magically or organically if you just ‘chill out’.

You have to work hard at buffing and developing certain personality traits and values within yourself and your psychological approach to playing in serious or hotly contested games. You have to sweat it through the WFDF Rules often, and especially through the challenging WFDF Advanced Rules Accreditation test. And you have to invest in ways to communicate with your opponent – sometimes in the heat of a terrible, terrible moment – that respects yourself, your opponent and the game.

These are individual tasks that every player should focus on – just as you would in training physically and mentally for a tournament. It also means that teams have to invest in a Spirit Captain, and the discipline of frankly and honestly assessing their opponents on the WFDF Spirit Score system. Teams should study the examples of SOTG scores given, and be able to motivate why they would like to award particular scores to their opponents. And of course assess themselves according to the same criteria! It is worth pointing out here, that unlike at dreaded school, a 2 out of 4 score is considered ‘Good’ in the world of SOTG, and if a team is scored 10 out of a possible total of 20, they can be quite happy with their performance.

Nothing spectacular happened. But also nothing wrong.

A good Spirit Captain is one that will introduce him/herself to the other Spirit Captain before a game, check-in during halftime with the other Spirit Captain to see if things are cool, and when the team has decided on a spirit score after the game, discuss this with the opponents’ Spirit Captain frankly and honestly. (If you haven’t noticed yet, Spirit Captaincy is not for the lazy or the meek) Lastly, tournament and league organisers have a responsibility to ensure that a well-functioning and nimble SOTG submission system is in place, so that average SOTG scores are released at the same time as the event winners are announced. This requires a designated Spirit Director who is proactive and follows the provisions of the WFDF Spirit Director Manual to a tee. Duties include providing a Spirit Briefing during the Captains and Spirit Captains meeting before a tournament, checking in on SOTG scores throughout the tournament and raising any consistently low Spirit scores pre-emptively with that team’s Spirit Captain. The Spirit Director is also responsible for ensuring that detailed SOTG scores are released into the public domain after a tournament, so that teams can review themselves in relation to others. Not necessarily a fun job, but such an important one!

Worldwide, Ultimate players are rising to the challenge of presenting Ultimate as a serious, athletic, unusual and passionately loved sport. This does not however mean that we relinquish the quirkiness of Ultimate – the reason why many of us play it. It does require though that SOTG is treated with the utmost respect it deserves, and that we defend it fiercely.

To this end, we have to invest time and hard work in applying SOTG correctly, consistently, and in line with international standards. No just chilling out ! :)

Marlise is the current Spirit Chair of the South African Flying Disc Association (SAFDA) and also serves on the WFDF SOTG Sub-committee.  SAFDA recommends that every team selects a Spirit Captain, and that every Ultimate committee designates a specific portfolio to promote SOTG.

See the following WFDF resources:

●    Spirit educational materials can be found at www.wfdf.org/sotg/spirit-education-a-improvement

●    Spirit score management and Spirit Director guidelines can be found at www.wfdf.org/sotg/spirit-rules-a-scoring


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