There’s that classic bullying story: the slow/nerdy/fat/ugly/what-have-you kid gets chosen last for the team. The narrative changes slightly between editions, but the message is more or less the same: at the end of the day, everyone deserves respect and the underdog is often just waiting for their chance to shine.
Having addressed the cliche, I’ll state the obvious: Bullying, and its younger sibling cyberbullying, are serious problems in our society. 28% of middle schoolers can tell you how painful it feels, and 70% of youth can paint you a picture of what it looks like.
Sometimes the consequences are dire. Other times they take form in small insecurities we carry around with us. Rarely does the victim rise completely unscathed.
We all know bullying is bad. Bullies know bullying is bad. Unfortunately, despite our best intentions as kind and socially conscious human beings, idiocy runs rampant in our species. So what perpetuates it?
The lack of a system to deal with confrontations like these.
What if kids had a framework to confront bullies, and their personal insecurities, head-on? What if it came packaged in a fun sport they could play with their friends?
Good news, that sport actually exists. Ultimate Frisbee is a sport that is founded on a principle that its players call “Spirit of the Game.” Translation: the conviction that sportsmanship should be valued above competition. The most basic way that players experience this founding value is through self-officiation, the governing rule of the sport. Self-officiation means that players make their own calls, and contest them with their opponent in real time. This quality creates a framework for conflict resolution that players carry with them off of the field.
Some sports tout their lessons in teamwork and dedication. Aside from teaching both of those skills, ultimate develops your ability to work cooperatively through decisions that could make or break a point, or a game, with your opponent. In the course of each game, kids have the obligation to confront conflict, and an established system to facilitate that process.
What happens if we ditch the idealism, though.
Ultimate definitely has unsportsmanlike moments and skill inequity isn’t just blissfully ignored while we join hands, singing kumbayah around a disc. I am confident that people have felt discouraged because they are not “good enough” to play. Despite all our efforts to defy it, ultimate does mirror reality. This can simply be attributed to the fact that it is played by real people, not Care bears.
People can be idiots. Anyone who lived through middle school, or watches cable television can confirm that fact.
People can also be exemplary visions of sportsmanship and compassion. Our goal as humans should be to strive for a higher ratio of the latter. One simple way to achieve that is by giving people the context and the tools to say no to idiocy. Ultimate players have biases, experience feelings of anger and frustration, sometimes they even act on them. Through the rules and foundations of the sport, they also have the tools to work through negative reactions and emotions positively, with teammates and opponents. This cultivated SKILL of measured response by the ultimate community is what sets the sport, and its players apart. It’s also a great tool to have in your back pocket to tackle instances of idiocy in life.
To that slow kid that was chosen last for the team,
To the nerdy kid who had their books knocked out of their hand,
To the fat kid who learned early on to make fun of themself so other people wouldn’t,
To the ugly kid who was victimized for not fitting into some manufactured standard of beauty,
To the weird kid,
To all the people who are bullied each day that don’t fit into these hollywood stereotypes,
To the kids that aren’t magically transformed when they take off their glasses, who won’t be their tormentors bosses someday,
To any person who has felt like they are a waste of space:
Contest your label.
Don’t let words or the people that spit them define you.
Bullies: try to remember that we are all on the same team. Celebrate your own insecurities instead of taking them out on people who are more openly vulnerable than you. To get through the game of life, we need all the help we can get.
We are all only human.
Acknowledge your shortcomings.
Let the negative feelings happen, then kick them to the curb.
Practice using a framework to work through problems.
Cultivate the capacity to communicate issues in your daily life.
Spirit of the Game is more than just a value. It’s a skill. It needs to be nurtured and exercised. What you do with it is your choice, but everyone can benefit from having its framework for conflict resolution.