My son plays Ultimate for a varsity team and also for a city boys team and by 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 down the field from one player to another until one catches it while he is 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 Ultimate game is the lack of referees. My son has explained to me that the game of Ultimate is totally self-referred. There is a rule book and the 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 may also signal the infraction. If there is a difference of opinion, the two players or teams continue to talk 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 are only called in to make a decision if the two teams cannot come to 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 real physical exercise, but they don’t take the game so seriously that they can’t have fun. They help opponents get up when they fall down. They chat with opposing players on the sidelines. Sometimes they even play fun games of skill 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. He has 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 she didn’t really know anyone. Ultimate has been a way to meet a lot of new people.
I discovered that the Ultimate game has its own vocabulary. After every game, I ask my son about the meaning of terms I hear players use like throw, break, cut, throw, hammer, poach, move, and swing.
My son is a high school PE teacher who teaches his students how to play Ultimate during gym class. He says that many high schools are developing men’s and women’s teams and are having inter-school competitions. Ultimate is apparently 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 one day he would be in the Olympics. He doesn’t think so. Too much organization and commercialization of sport would defeat its purpose: socializing with friends, getting healthy exercise and having fun. I am certainly having fun watching my son play Ultimate and learning more about a new and popular sport.