The post-game handshake. We see it in most sports. The clock hits 00:00 and one team celebrates, while the other lowers their heads in despair. It’s time to congratulate the opposing team, a tradition that goes back further than we know, the act of shaking someone’s hand as a sign of respect for one another.
In the widely-used post-game handshake, athletes typically pair the physical action with “good game, good game, good game..,” on and on and on. But, do players really mean those ‘good game’s? Or is that just something we are taught to say at a young age?
Today, there is a new tradition brewing. In Ultimate Frisbee, the next big sport to hit the world, we are creating new traditions of respect and sportsmanship.
One of those traditions, the spirit circle, allows players to address what that “good game” really means.
I want to take a hot second to explore this act of sportsmanship and the reasons why it is turning heads in the sports community. What is a spirit circle, you might be asking? Spirit circles are an up-and-coming post-game tradition in ultimate. After the final score is made, the teams huddle up to talk openly, and honestly with one another about the game: how it went, what went well, and most importantly, how each team can improve in spirit in future games.
I played on the University of Oregon women’s college team, Oregon Fugue, for the past five seasons. When we started using spirit circles, I was elected to speak on behalf of our team. Together, we discussed the main requirements within the circle: the importance of honesty, clear communication, and above all, respect. After each game, I shared what the other team did well (ie: swift handler movement, sick deep hucks, cheers, etc.), and what they could have improved on (ie: avoiding late layouts, safety of other players, bad calls, etc.).
Since ultimate is a self-officiated sport, the players make their own calls and resolve disputes on the field. So, naturally, sportsmanship and integrity are highly valued in ultimate. Some teams even symbolically reward one player on the opposing team who exhibited the best spirit on the field. Richard Moore, chairperson of the Spirit of the Game subcommittee for the World Flying Disc Federation shares, “At WUCC 2014 it was great to see the joy on a player's face when they received a mini soft kangaroo, a Japanese cookie, or a traditional Russian bread ring.”
These awards, along with the feedback given in spirit circles offer an opportunity to reward sportsmanship and address poor or unspirited calls made during the game.
What about spirit and self-officiation? Sarah Davis, media director of the Girls Ultimate Movement (GUM) and current Seattle Riot player, believes that self-officiation and spirit circles go hand in hand. Davis says, “I think if there were true referees in Ultimate, spirit circles might die out. Referees are one more layer between opponents, and so make the intense experience of a game less personal. You would no longer have to talk out differences on the field (or off), and so there would be less of a spirit component to talk about during the spirit circles.”
It all comes down to honesty, a quality that is not only valued, but required in ultimate. Honesty is a necessity of spirit, a byproduct of self-officiation, and a motivation for spirit circles. If you think you got fouled, you are the one to make the call, not a referee or coach. You, the player, are in control. This process of resolving a dispute with your competition is unheard of in other sports. It is this quality of spirit above competition that makes Ultimate thrive.
In ultimate we call it Spirit of the Game, or SotG.
I remember talking with my old coach, Lou Burruss, about the difference between ultimate and other sports. What is that “it factor” that makes people turn heads? He would say that the life lessons you learn through Ultimate outweigh what you can learn in say, basketball, or soccer. Sure, many sports, teach you teamwork and respect, and those are extremely valuable in life, but ultimate allows players an additional opportunity: to develop as leaders through sportsmanship and self-respect.
Spirit circles are a chance to capitalize on that opportunity. “My motivation on it [spirit circles] is that SotG is a very workable system, but it requires a lot of work to make it happen successfully. Spirit circles are one piece of that work,” says Burruss. These circles are just one of many key characteristics of the sport of Ultimate and how it offers more to the athlete than just “good game”.
In my opinion, Ultimate is a sport that builds character unlike any other. The fact that Spirit circles exist in the first place proves that. Standing in a group of around 40 other women my age discussing what we did well and what we can improve on?
Now that takes guts.
It takes guts calling out other players on their style of play, both in a complimentary and critical way. By critical, I don’t mean “you suck at this sport,” but, rather, questioning certain motives you may have during the game. It takes guts to be honest and to look people in the eye and actively critique them. That’s exactly what ultimate is: gutsy.
As the game of Ultimate is rapidly expanding across the globe, the traditions of the sport generally travel alongside it. Spirit circles are facilitating communication all over the world, and that communication, is key.
“It all boils down to one purpose or goal: communication,” says Moore. “Communication aids understanding, understanding builds mutual respect and that respect between players is described in the definition of SotG on the World Flying Disc Federation site.”
As traditions evolve in our sport, the ones that aid in communication, understanding and respect keep the spirit of ultimate alive. Imagine Steph Curry handing LeBron James some San Francisco sourdough at the end of the NBA Finals. Or, even better, imagine Pete Carroll and Jim Tomsula skipping the usual handshake in favor of a spirit circle.
Ashley Young creator of Sport Shorts and contributing reporter at Ultiworld
Ashley played for the women's college team at the University of Oregon for the past five seasons. During her time, Oregon Fugue finished as one of the top three teams in the country and winning nationals in 2013 and 2015. She recently graduated from UO with a degree from the School of Journalism and Communication. Her hobbies include drinking way too many iced vanilla lattes, hiking & outdoor adventures, and watching close to a scary amount of sports. Want to talk Ultimate? Great! Me too! Feel free to strike up a chat anytime.
Follow her on Twitter: @AshleyHopeYoung
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