Ultimate Frisbee; how do the rules work?

When the World Games 2005 took place (the Olympic games for pre-pre-olympic sports), the 6 best countries met each other in Duisburg. For the spectators there was an explanation available in the shape of a rule card and live coverage through the speakers. The German reporter Clauf Lufen was covering for National TV. It was very amusing to hear his observation that the rules were so simple that they could be written down in 10 rules. 

He was right, but of course he didn’t understand the full scope of the rules.

The ground rules of Ultimate are clear in their simplicity and objectiveness. Once you master them, you can play the sport. After you have gained some experience, your understanding of the rules will deepen. Your responsibility within your teams grows because of it.

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Spirit of the Game

The first and foremost rule of Ultimate Frisbee is called the “Spirit of the Game” (SOTG). The SOTG is the foundation of the disc sports. It describes the attitude of the players and is related to the Olympic Ideal. In short, it is a code of honor that reads: “It is more important to have fun in the game and trust and respect your opponent than to win.”

Within the Ultimate community there is quite a bit of discussion about this, and rightly so. Because you can also turn it around and say: “Do your best to win, but not without losing respect for your opponent.” How you weigh that exactly depends on you as a player and also on the level at which you perform. The higher the level of play, the more important the details become.

It certainly does not mean that winning is not important, quite the contrary, but basically it is most important that you enjoy your sport. Winning is part of that fun sometimes. You can’t always win, so the trick is to balance losing respectfully, having fun nonetheless, and getting the best out of yourself and your team at the same time.

The SOTG ensures that in Ultimate games the feeling of togetherness is more important than rivalry. The special thing about the rules of Ultimate Frisbee (SOTG included) is that it allows playing without a third party referee. Together, the players are responsible for the course of the game.

How does that work in practice?

The players on the pitch function as referees in all situations in which they take part. Punishments do not exist, so neither does theatrical behavior. You quickly find a solution together and if you do not, the frisbee goes back one step in the game. Disagreements are therefore allowed.

This concept is applied to all matches, whether friendly, youth matches, a tournament or a World Cup final. Winning the Spirit of the Game prize is highly regarded in Ultimate. It is the price for the most fair team in the tournament. Because losing with spirit is more difficult than winning with spirit, that prize often goes to a team that fights and fights, but doesn’t have the quality to win. But it also happens that the winner of the tournament wins this sportsmanship award.

Being a referee as well as a player

Being a referee and a player at the same time means you must know the rules and must try to remain objective. At the level of youth teams you learn something new every time. When you play for your national team, in-depth knowledge is expected.

When you read the rules of Ultimate carefully, you will understand that in addition to mutual respect and knowledge of the rules, objectivity, clear language and emotional self-control are also important. 

It has also been determined that if a novice player violates a rule out of ignorance, you as an experienced player have the responsibility to explain this to him, so he will learn.


Your responsibility as a player grows with your experience. Of course your knowledge of rules also grows, so that goes hand in hand. But you never stop learning!


Resolving infractions and fouls 

A player calls out a certain code word during the game, such as “Foul!”, “Out!”, “Not in!” (No score), “Travel” or “Down!”. Then the game freezes. After this “Freeze Call”, the other involved player explains how he sees the situation and the follow-up. 


When players agree, it’s easy. 

If not, the frisbee returns to the previous handler. Examples of good spirit are admitting your opponent is right, giving someone the benefit of the doubt because they could see the situation better, or listening to your opponent and then explaining the rules in disagreement. Treat your opponent the way you want him to treat you. That is a universal human value.

By playing Ultimate, you declare that you understand the rules, agree with them and will apply them in good faith. Then you also have the responsibility to help others. And a referee is therefore unnecessary. Not only is this easier to organize, it is also less frustrating. Referees are human too and also make mistakes.

Line up

After each match, the teams meet each other in a big circle, shoulder to shoulder. One speaker per team explains what he thought of the opponent’s game.

This so-called “line up” sometimes also takes other forms or is extended with a song, a play, a game or a physical challenge. The rivalry of the game is forgotten and the battle has therefore ended.

Of course you can really speak your mind if you think that the spirit could be better.

Spirit scores

At official tournaments, this spirit assessment will also take place in writing, on spirit forms in addition to the line-up. And to top it all off, the spirit form asks the question: “If you objectively compare your team with the opponent, which team had the best spirit?” Was it more or less at the same level, or was one team better? Criticizing others is easy, but do you always set a good example yourself? Is there something you could do better?