SOTG – Part 1 – Rules Knowledge

Hopefully, everyone who is reading this is aware of the fact that Ultimate is a self-officiating game and thus has no independent referees. This may have surprised you when you first started playing and maybe you were told that this is unique to Ultimate, but this is not true! I have heard lots of people question that referees should be included in the game, like ALL other sports, but when you think about it, that is not the case, not all sports do have referees. Golf, for instance is self officiated at the highest level and if you don’t know the rules, you risk disqualification. Nearly all sports are self officiated at low levels and Ultimate is no different, with the introduction of observers and game advisors at professional and international level. A phrase often quoted by Ulticritics (people who don’t think Ultimate is a real sport) is “How can you have a tightly contested game with no referees?”, however there is one fundamental flaw in their argument. There are referees on the pitch, 14 of them, and to be a referee you have one job, KNOW THE RULES. Which nicely segways on to this weeks topic, and the first part of the Spirit of the Game series: Rules Knowledge.

As explained above, there 14 referees on a field at any one time and thus, everyone who wishes to play Ultimate should know the rules. It’s OK not to know some of the more obscure rules but teams and players who are unaware, or have a poor understanding, of the basics put themselves at a serious disadvantage. In my view there are 3 skills you have to learn in Ultimate; Handling, cutting and self-officiating and I believe they are all equally important skills. If you want to make a team and are a good handler but don’t know or care about the rules then for my money you shouldn’t make that team.

Now before I go any further I feel I should post the current rule book:



If you have a spare 4-5 hours you could try and memorise them, however I would recommend skimming through them, particularly Picks (18.3), Marking Infractions (18.1) & Fouls (17). I know it may seem quite daunting but please ask questions when you see something you are unsure about. Witnessing and questioning rules is often the best way to learn them. To help guide you through the world of self-officiating, I have split it into the fundamental pillars of rules knowledge, 3 things to remember to make refereeing decisions as easy as possible.

  1. Ultimate is a non-contact sport.

    Hopefully, by now, somebody has spoken to you about how Ultimate is a non-contact sport as it is the most fundamental part of the game. What this means, is that you must avoid contact with the other team as much as possible. If you “initiate contact” this means you actively move into the contact with your opposition, whether you, run into them, hit the disc whilst they’re holding it or just bump them in the stack. It is a foul! It is also a foul if you put yourself in a position where it is impossible for the other player not to hit you, unless you are making a play on the disc (i.e. going for the D, not just screening them off) You’ll hear the argument “I got the disc first”, a lot, but this should be irrelevant. The rules say that if you have to make contact to make a play on the disc, then it is a foul or dangerous play (fancy way of saying foul)

  2. The rules favour the offence.

    As harsh as it may seem, this is a fact, the rules are heavily weighted towards the team that has the disc. I know there are certain rules that do help the defence, such as picks and stall counts, but the majority of calls will fall the way of the offence. This is seen particularly in forcing fouls, the thrower makes 100% of the decisions, they chose; where to throw, what to throw and when to throw, leaving the force very little time to respond and get the legal block. Generally 95% of fouls on the throw are the forces fault. If you watch footage from the US, you will see they are a lot less physical on the force and take responsibility for their fouls on force, as they know it will often go against them. I’m not saying to concede every call immediately, as discussion is vital, but once you realise that the rules aren’t “fair”, not only will your self-officiating improve but so will your defence.

  3. 2 players might see the same the same thing differently

    If you just accept the fact that people, including yourself, make bad calls it will nearly always improve your self-officiating experience. There is a lot of evidence to show that 2 people can witness the same event entirely differently in pressure situations, whether it’s on an Ultimate pitch or any other aspect of life. There is little point in getting worked up over what you believe is an incorrect call, everyone makes bad calls and genuinely believe they are correct, often the best you can do is discuss the call, ask for the opinion of other (best perspective) and if all else fails send it back and come to terms with the fact that they aren’t cheating but just disagree with your opinion.

Now, as I mentioned above learning the rules needn’t be a chore so, we going to play a game, I don’t care what the call in the video was as I believe some of them were wrong, but I would like the newbies (2015 frisbee fresher) to comment on the calls in these clips (either on the facebook post, or in the comment section below), and if I feel they have made a good point they are entitled to a chocolate bar of their choosing (<£1), don’t be afraid to disagree, as I said, two people will see the same thing differently and healthy discussion is great.





Matthew Kirk

Social Sec 14/15, Women's Coach 15/16

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *