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It is difficult to really describe Spirit of the Game, and I know that what I write next will be a little ramble-y, but I sincerely believe that Spirit is one of the most important parts of Ultimate, so please read on...

Spirit of the Game is the high standard of sportsmanship, honesty, and respect without which Ultimate would simply not work. The sport is completely self-officiated. There are no referees, but there are certainly a lot of rules, so it is up to the players to make sure those rules are followed. Thus, every player on the field needs to be committed to following/enforcing those rules to the best of their ability. Good Spirit is crucial here. If we're out of bounds, we call ourselves out of bounds. If the disc touched the grass just before we caught it, and everyone else on the field thought it was a catch, we STILL set the disc down, call it a turnover, and play on. If we accidentally foul someone, we admit it, and we apologize! In Ultimate, if I make an honest call that benefits the other team, no one will hold it against me. If I make a dishonest call, even one that wins us the game, I will lose the respect of my teammates, my opponents, and my coaches.

Spirit is also about benefit of the doubt. Disagreements on the Ultimate field happen all the time, even if both players are playing completely honestly. These disagreements could devolve into shouting matches and anger, but more often than not, they don't. Why? Because one player stops to think about it, and realizes "well, maybe he did have his hand on the disc first...", "I probably wouldn't have been able to catch that disc after all...", "I guess she was closer to the action and probably had a better view of the play than I did..." And then that player gives their opponent the benefit of the doubt, even if they are still not 100% sure that it's the right call. Play continues. I'm not saying that you should yield to your opponent when your honest perspective differs. Spirit requires the courage to stand up for your honest opinion. But you need to also have the courage to admit you could be wrong, that you made a bad call in the heat of the moment, or that someone else might have had a better perspective on the play than you.
THIS IS NOT EASY. Spirit takes work, it takes practice, and it is not just a philosophy that we passively believe in -- it is determined by our actions on AND off the field. This can be especially difficult for some players coming from other sports. How many of you have heard from soccer or basketball coaches, "if the ref doesn't call it, play on!"? That mindset needs to change in Ultimate because you are your own "ref", and it is your responsibility to uphold the rules of the game and challenge yourself to always play with integrity. Again, this is a skill that takes practice, just like throwing forehand huck or getting open against a good defender. Even the most Spirited players in Ultimate have made unfair calls and gone against Spirit of the Game at some point, but I guarantee you that every single one of those spirited players regrets it and tries even harder now to play remain Spirited, no matter what. This is what I'd like to ask of the Barton team: that every player tries their hardest to play according to Spirit of the Game at all times, and actively tries to improve this aspect of their game as much, or more, than any other skill needed in Ultimate.

To summarize, I am going to quote from a fantastic article by Ben Van Heuvelen about Spirit of the Game in Professional Ultimate:
"...we played because it was fun – and we played hard because we wanted respect, and we played fair because we wanted self-respect. When our opponents made huge plays, we thought it was awesome, because they inspired us to rise and meet their challenge. There was no coach telling us to think like this. There was merely the Spirit of the Game, and the fact that, if we didn’t use it, the game wouldn’t work and we wouldn’t be able to look our opponents in the eye later that night as we ate our lasagna. Ultimate was different: not because it emphasized sportsmanship – which is an ancient thing compared to our young sport – but because ultimate couldn’t function without it."

That's enough about Spirit for now -- thank you for reading my long speech. If you disagree with something I said about Spirit of the Game, feel free to email me, and I'd be happy to discuss it.

(April 2013)