Spirit of the Game – How Ready Are We to Compete at the World Stage?

I had the pleasure of flying with Karina Woldt back to Paris after the world championships in Royan. Karina is the Event Program Manager of the World Flying Disc Federation (“WFDF”) and I had met her briefly at the captains’ meeting. I didn’t even realize it was her sitting beside me until we started talking on the plane. She seemed just like the vacationing mom, traveling with her adorable baby girl. I was skimming through some photos on my phone when she casually asked, “So how’d you guys do?” And, of course, she then introduced herself. While still momentarily star-struck, I answered how exciting it was to beat the US in the pool play coming from a 6-point deficit, how we lost to Canada in the semis and eventually lost to Germany for the bronze medal. Of course, I ended the “Philippines-Still-Did-Really-Well” spiel with 4th is the highest rank the mixed team has ever achieved – yet – at worlds. Like she even cared to know. Apparently, she meant to ask how our SPIRIT scores were.

I could only assume 2 things at that moment – either she had heard about our very intense semis game versus Canada or she was just interested in the SPIRIT scores of teams in general and had been monitoring them. Prior to WUGC 2017, we ranked 3rd to the last in terms of SPIRIT and had been warned that we needed to improve. I was proud to share with her that our 3 teams finished with above average SPIRIT scores.

Behaviors Translating to Good / Bad Spirit
Behaviors Translating to Good / Bad Spirit. Source: All About U

One of my biggest realizations at Worlds was how much we seem to take SPIRIT for granted in how we conduct our games & Ultimate education in the Philippines. We have yet to exert conscious effort in promoting SPIRIT. It still seems so “uncool” to gather around after a game to score SPIRIT. At Worlds, you’d be ashamed if you were the only team that didn’t. Frankly speaking, being SPIRIT captain was by far a much harder role I had to take on than playing captain of the PH Mixed team as Wendell Simbulan was not a playing coach. During the games, as captain, I just more or less had to do introduce my team, do the toss, pick a side or possession, verify the roster, and sign the scores at the end of the game. As SPIRIT Captain, it felt like it was my duty to defend the honor of my country. I had to make sure that everyone in my team understood the rules. By understand, I mean days and days of going through the rules together, ensuring everyone would pass the exam. Whenever there was a dispute with another country, my heart would raise because I knew I’d have to run to the middle of the field, resolve the call in 15 seconds and keep my cool as there were times when our opponents would unfortunately use harsh words, bordering on racism just because not all of my teammates could articulate themselves clearly in English and so would assume we didn’t know the rules. And then, at the end of every game, gather everyone to PROPERLY score SPIRIT, even after a really bad loss (sending a shout-out to the Boracay Pirates for never giving me a hard time).

Spirit Scoring After Games
Spirit Scoring After Games. Source: All About U

SPIRIT is scored based on 5 criteria:

  • Rules Knowledge & Use
  • Fouls & Body Contact
  • Fair-Mindedness
  • Positive Attitude & Self-Control
  • Communication

I believe that the only way you can be good in the last 4 areas is if you are GREAT at #1 by heart. I cannot think off the top of my head if there is any other sport that requires athletes to take a VERY, VERY HARD rules accreditation exam before being allowed to compete at the world championships. Probably only Ultimate. There is so much responsibility and accountability to playing this sport. You don’t just have to be great at making plays, but you also need to know the rules and self-officiate each game. Arguments arise because there are so many assumptions as to when it is a stall. Is it in or out? Is it a foul? I could go on-and-on. We assume we know the sport because we’ve been playing it for many years and it’s just how we’ve gotten to learn it or sadly how it was taught to us. But, how well do you really know the rules? If only players would diligently do their part, there will be much fewer arguments on the field. Below is my personal favorite.

Section 12.8 All players must attempt to avoid contact with other players, and there is no situation where a player may justify initiating contact. “Making a play for the disc” is not a valid excuse for initiating contact with other players. (And yes, even if it is at the end-zone)

In my opinion, if there was one team whom we played against that exemplified GREAT SPIRIT at worlds, it would, hands-down, be Team USA. They didn’t discriminate our team for not being able to articulate ourselves in English. They allowed us to explain our calls and made no prior judgement that just because we didn’t know English or that PH is fairly new at playing Ultimate, we didn’t know the rules. They retracted calls when we cited the rules to prove the call was sound. Even as when we had started to catch on, they never used the rules to their advantage because they weren’t trying to win at all cost. They praised us each time we won a sky battle against them. There was a high level of physicality but a foul was never called unless deemed intentional. There was mutual respect & I don’t remember any calls in the 2nd half which started at 2-8 until we won the game at 9-8. It was such a fantastic game because both teams had a clear understanding of how the game was supposed to be played – based on SPIRIT that’s codified into the rules of the Ultimate.

US vs PH WCBU 2017
Source: All About U

Just imagine how embarrassing it would have been for any player representing his/her country to make a call and defend a WRONG call at the world stage just because he/she didn’t know the rules? Making the right call boils down to how great of an Ultimate player you are. It’s not just all about the sick plays but also how you carry yourselves on the field. If anyone aspires to ever compete at the world stage and consider themselves world-class Ultimate athletes, one must not just train hard. One must learn the rules harder. Ultimate is such a beautiful sport and probably the only sport that’s perceived to be a microcosm of an ideal world and a true testament to sportsmanship. Let’s all promote SOTG! Besides, it’s what our beloved sport is all about.

See you on the fields!

Article by Chlods Manguerra
Edited by Jansie Santos