When I first joined Andover Ultimate my Junior spring, I had little to no experience with the sport. Before, I had played recreationally here and there, but I had no idea what it would be like to to compete on a team in an established league. One thing that surprised me the most about the sport wasn’t the skill, strategy, or techniques. It was the sportsmanship.
In every other sport I’ve played, there has always been either a referee or an umpire. But in ultimate, the players are the referees. In other words, the sport is self-officiated. This distinguishing aspect of the game allows players to have control over what calls they make. By making foul and violation calls on their own, players have no reason to complain about the validity of the call. If players disagree on a call, play stops to ensure that they talk it out and if no conclusion is reached, the disc goes back to where it was before the call was made. This communication players have with one another allows the game to maintain a constructive environment as players are expected to trust their opponents. Additionally, this self-officiating aspect also signifies a shared knowledge of the rules among all players. Players must know all the rules and their applications in order to have an advantage during games. This encourages players to actually read through the rules, something that our team at Andover really prioritizes. If someone doesn’t know a certain rule, other players are encouraged to inform them of the correct ruling, which also helps establish trust between players and teams.
However, self-officiating is only one reason why the sportsmanship in ultimate is like no other. Ultimate is also the only sport that in which I’ve participated where an award is given for sportsmanship at nearly every tournament. In ultimate, all players are expected to exhibit “spirit of the game” (SOTG). It is expected that players are good sports and play fair, even at the cost of winning. At the end of every game in our league, spirit scores are tallied and assigned to the opposing team according to that team’s ability to display SOTG during the game. At tournaments, SOTG awards are given to the team that was given the most spirit points. In fact, the trophy given for SOTG is the same size as the trophy for the winners of the tournament, further emphasizing the importance of sportsmanship in ultimate.
For me, I am fortunate enough to have been introduced to the sport through a program that prioritizes sportsmanship so highly. This year, we won two SOTG awards out of the three tournaments we’ve played in (the other tournament didn’t have an award). This simply furthers the pride I have for my team, knowing that at the end of the day, we did the morally right thing and made the right calls. Having an appreciation for sportsmanship allows me to experience the sport in such a way that I cannot experience it in any other sport. I believe that sportsmanship enhances the quality of sports, and when it comes to ultimate, I have learned that the sportsmanship is a cause greater than myself.