My son plays Ultimate for a varsity team and also for a men’s city team, and from watching him compete, I have learned a lot of new things about a game that is fairly new in the history of the sport. The first Ultimate games were played in the early 1970s.
The first thing I noticed is the simplicity of the equipment. All you need to play is a Frisbee and pylons to mark the goal lines at each end of the field. The object of the game is to pass the Frisbee across the field from player to player until one catches it while standing on or over the goal line and scores a point. Ultimate reminds me of basketball. Once you catch the Frisbee, you can’t move your feet. You have to freeze and spin until you pass.
The second thing that intrigues me about the game of Ultimate is the lack of referees. My son has explained to me that the Ultimate game is totally self-referential. There is a rule book and players agree to abide by it. If a rule is broken, the player who broke the rule can admit his mistake. A member of the opposing team can also report the infraction. If there is a difference of opinion, the two players or teams continue talking until an agreement is reached or one party concedes to the other. Someone always has to give in for the game to continue. My son tells me that at the highest level of international competition there are Ultimate officials, but they are called observers and they are only called to make a decision if the two teams cannot reach a compromise after a certain period of time. .
A third thing that I find interesting about Ultimate is the camaraderie and sportsmanship that surrounds the games. Athletes run hard and get some real physical exercise, but they don’t take the game so seriously that they can’t have fun. They help opponents to get up when they fall. They chat with rival players on the bench. Sometimes they even play fun skill games with the other team after a match is over. My son says Ultimate is definitely competitive, but it’s not about winning at all costs. You have found it to be a great way to get healthy exercise and have a good time. The game has also helped my son make many new friends. He recently moved to a new city because his wife got a job there and he didn’t really know anyone. Ultimate has been a way for him to meet a lot of new people.
I discovered that the Ultimate game has its own vocabulary. After each game, I ask my son about the meaning of the terms I hear players use like throwing, breaking, cutting, dumping, hammering, poaching, hitting, and punching.
My son is a high school PE teacher and he teaches his students how to play Ultimate during gym class. He says that many high schools are developing boys ‘and girls’ teams and are having inter-school competitions. Apparently Ultimate is becoming very popular in American colleges and universities with some even offering Ultimate scholarships.
I asked my son if he thought Ultimate would ever become a professional sport or maybe it would be in the Olympics one day. He doesn’t think so. Too much organization and marketing of the sport would defeat its purpose: to socialize with friends, exercise healthy and have fun. I’m certainly having fun watching my son play Ultimate and learning more about a popular new sport.