Self-refereeing & Spirit of the Game by Dominick Smyth

Ultimate is a self-refereed sport that places responsibility on all players to administer and adhere to the rules. Ultimate relies on fair play, honesty and mutual respect between opponents.

“Ultimate is a non-contact, self-refereed sport. All players are responsible for administering and adhering to the rules. Ultimate relies upon a Spirit of the Game that places the responsibility for fair play on every player.

It is trusted that no player will intentionally break the rules; thus there are no harsh penalties for inadvertent breaches, but rather a method for resuming play in a manner which simulates what would most likely have occurred had there been no breach.

Players should be mindful of the fact that they are acting as referees in any arbitration between teams. They should: know the rules; be fair-minded and objective; be truthful; explain their viewpoint clearly and briefly; allow opponents a reasonable chance to speak; resolve disputes as quickly as possible, using respectful language; make calls in a consistent manner throughout the game; and only make a call where a breach is significant enough to make a difference to the outcome of the action.

Highly competitive play is encouraged, but should never sacrifice the mutual respect between players, adherence to the agreed-upon rules of the game, or the basic joy of play.”

At it’s core, self-refereeing means speaking up when you think a rule has been broken, talking with, and listening to, your opponent and reaching a conclusion to get the game re-started.

At all times, players should feel free to express their opinion in a discussion with their opponent. There is no obligation to agree on one opinion over another, but there is an obligation to listen respectfully and consider each others point of view. In any discussion, three basic outcomes are possible:

  • Agree that Player A’s point of view is correct and restart appropriately.
  • Agree that Player B’s point of view is correct and restart appropriately.
  • Agree that no agreement can be reached on which point of view is correct so restart the game as it was before the incident happened.

Spirit of the Game

Teams consider ‘The Game’ to be more important than winning or losing and thus strive to treat each game, their opponents and their team mates with equal respect at all times.

Spirit of the Game scoring is the method used in ultimate to monitor a teams ability to self-referee games and display the respect expected of them. At the end of games, teams evaluate their opponents on their behaviour and demeanor. This can be as simple as a rating from 1 to 10, or as detailed as assigning rating of 0 to 4 in 5 categories (Rules knowledge and use; Fouls and body contact; Positive attitude and self-control; Fair mindedness; Communication).

In competitions the team that receives the highest average Spirit score from all their opponents is awarded the Spirit of the Game prize. While teams strive to win the competition, equal pride is placed in winning the Spirit prize and thus receive the recognition of their peers.

A good example of self-refereeing at the highest level: a call, quick discussion and uncontested foul with hand signals, all at the 2018 World Championships

Note: full details of the World Flying Disc Federation rules can be found here: WFDF Rules, and Learn about SOTG.

Learning & Teaching SOTG

Playing with great spirit requires practice, and WFDF have resources to help teams to practice using SOTG during games. For more ideas, see Practicing Spirit

The key to playing with great spirit is to have a solid understanding of the rules. Consider getting a WFDF Rules Accreditation to test your knowledge.

Linked Drills:


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