In most sports, good sportsmanship is a principle that is encouraged, but not required. Something we tell our youth athletes to abide by that often isn’t reflected at the highest level of play.
In ultimate, good sportsmanship is literally codified in the rule book as “Spirit of the Game.” As per the Official Rules of Ultimate:
“Spirit of the Game. Ultimate relies upon a spirit of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, adherence to the agreed upon rules, or the basic joy of play…”
On the playing field, this generally means that ultimate is self-refereed. Players must make their own foul calls, and in the event of a dispute, they are called upon to respectfully come to the correct call between each other on the field. As a result, ultimate “requires” a level of sportsmanship that is unparalleled in other sports. “Requires” as in even at the highest level of play in the most heated moments, an ultimate player is still expected to observe spirit of the game.
A few organizations have taken spirit of the game beyond the playing field, creating camps and programs that teach kids communication, cooperation, and conflict resolution through the sport of ultimate. Here’s a closer look at three ultimate programs that are revolutionizing social good in sports.
1. Bridging the Gaps
In India, as Matty Zemel writes in Skyd, it is extremely rare for people to play together if they are from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Or for women to play a sport together, especially after marriage. Or even to see Indians traveling outside one of their 29 home states and into the larger country. UPAI, the governing body of Indian Ultimate, has taken steps to address some of these issues by promoting efforts to develop the sport at the youth level and efforts to ensure women stay involved in the sport.
One such effort is “Bridging the Gaps,” a youth camp held biannually that seeks to use sport and art to inspire the next generation of Indian youth to transcend the societal boundaries created by differences in gender, caste, and socioeconomic background. They specifically chose the sport of Ultimate because of “how well it lends itself to promote personal development and intercultural exchange.”
The fact that the sport is co-ed is already “an aberration to cultural practices within Indian communities where boys and girls rarely mix in sport.” Then, you pull in kids from all over the country from all different backgrounds who even speak a variety of different languages and instruct them in this sport that places a premium on communication and understanding. The result, as one camp participant put it, is that “you can see the gaps being bridged, but if you ask me to say it in words I can’t.”
2. Ultimate Peace
Perhaps the best known and most established of these programs, Ultimate Peace was based on a simple question: what would it be like to have Muslim, Christian, and Jewish children in the Middle East sharing the joys of throwing and catching a soaring disc, playing on a team cooperatively, and settling on-field disagreements collaboratively?
Ultimate Peace provides an incredible opportunity for the youth of a politically charged region to interact with each other, often literally for the first time in their lives. As one participant puts it, “it is astounding that I lived 11 years here in Israel and yet I did not have a real conversation with a single Arab Israeli kid until I came to Ultimate Peace.”
When you bring all these kids together from a conflicted region filled with stereotypes and ignorance and have them play ultimate with each other, something incredible starts to happen. As one camper describes it: “When someone calls a foul and then another person said ‘no it’s not a foul’ and they can’t speak the same language so they bring in a third and fourth person to translate and they start having a dialogue…they learn how to communicate with each other.”
No, you can’t solve a 60 year old conflict by tossing around a frisbee. But you can provide future problem solvers the opportunity to work together for the first time, to understand each other, to break down stereotypes, eliminate ignorance, and learn cooperation and conflict resolution in a low stakes environment. And that is an amazing start.
3. 10 Million Discs
10 Million Discs looked at the success of programs like Ultimate Peace and thought “what if we could promote that type of program on a global level?” 10 Million Discs supports the work being done by Bridging the Gaps and Ultimate Peace and additionally is promoting Regional Youth Development Camps in a number of places including the Balkans, East Africa, Southeast Asia, and Colombia. Like Bridging the Gaps and Ultimate Peace, they focus on the sport of Ultimate because it is the only sport to have conflict resolution built into the rules.
10 Million Discs is currently building out a potentially incredible program called “Refugees without Referees” across many European countries as a way to use ultimate to address the current refugee situation.
I realize I didn’t talk about tech at all in this post, so here is a bonus section. Have you ever been at an Ultimate tournament, where you were making that long walk to the TO table to report the score of your game and thought “why is there not an app for this?” If so, I highly recommend you check out the Ultimate Tournament App, a complete software suite for managing Ultimate Frisbee tournaments. The app already has a lot of incredibly useful features for managing a tournament, and it is only going to get better over the next few months. Direct your next tournament’s TO to the app so that you can avoid that long walk in the future.