17 October 2009

A proposal for building stronger spirit

My last post talked about my observations with spirit in Colombia and, to an extent, Venezuela. Between my arrival here in Colombia, the recent Huddle blogposts on spirit and the discussion on line assistants in Australia, the topic seems, well, topical.

There are several factors at work when spirit goes bad.

I believe one of the key ones is a “them and us” attitude. A minority of players adopt a mindset that individuals, or other teams in general, have behaved poorly and are likely to do so again in the future. These other people are framed as “them” in comparison to “us”.

“They” are cheats; “they” often play dirty; “they” think “we” shouldn't have won that last match, but “they” are wrong.

This attitude is built by what ultimate is available.

In Australia, players train and compete with elite clubs during the elite season. It is “them” and “us”.

But, importantly, there is also Other Ultimate, which elite men take part in. There are weekly mixed city leagues. There are numerous mixed tournaments. There are hat tournaments. There are numerous training camps and selection events prior to World Championships. And Australia tends to do well in spirit scores at international tournaments. A bit of a leap to assume causation, but the extent of Other Ultimate in other countries and their reputation for spirit seems to roughly correlate, at first glance.

And this Other Ultimate forces elite players to play with, socialise with and befriend other players outside their club. Ultimate becomes a community, moreso than a collection of clubs where some players happen to know other players, and socialise when they happen to meet.

In a true community, “them” and “us” dissolve into just “us”.

So this is a theory. And there are some facts I have pointed out that seem to support it.

I don't think refining spirit score systems or adding observers address this underlying issue.

I have a different proposal.

The proposal is for the countries and regions that have the desire, to build community through “other ultimate”.

The national organisations and local leaders can build “other ultimate” through many means: ask elite clubs to host hat tournaments, build an annual calendar where mixed ultimate and open/womens ultimate doesn't clash, subsidise travel or minimise travel costs in general, expand selection and development events for National teams, hold gala dinners where a broad range of folk can attend, create incentives for the open club season to be restricted to certain months. When US players head to Kaimana and Paganello on teams with a real mix of players, as they regularly do, this is a positive thing.

And a big "goodonya" for everyone who has built and is building this ultimate.

In the end, with Other Ultimate in place, it's much less likely that Joe Handler will yell abuse at Fred Receiver and complain about Fred when he is in the pub that night, if Fred is on his mixed league team and played a hat tournament with him last year.


  1. In my personal experience, one other thing that improved spirit amongst people from different cities was billeting. It's pretty hard to be an unspirited arse against the people who are (potentially) going to be putting you up for the night. This is definitely a function of the "Other Ultimate" (ie. you're more likely to be billeted for Hat tournaments than at Nationals) but I've felt a greater part of the community when you hang out and stay with players from other teams and other cities.


  2. Yeah billeting!

    I still remember rocking up to disc golf on the Friday night before a Melbourne Hat years ago, not having any accommodation organised. And not being worried in the least, because a group of ultimate players can always organise a billet.

  3. I like your theory.

    I would add that I don't think 'other ultimate' needs to be a lesser standard ultimate- you seem to be focusing on the social league / hat tournament sort of thing.

    I'm thinking of national teams in particular here. If the leadership of most of the competitive teams in a division in a country are teammates on the national team, then that would surely go a very long way to eliminating a 'them and us' mentality in that division.

  4. I touched on National teams and selection events. It's one reason I use the term "other ultimate" not say, "social ultimate".

    Certainly there is elite ultimate that builds bridges too. It applies for only a minority of players though.

  5. I see you mentioned that now. Sorry, I should have read more closely.