the spirit of the game

Seth Godin recently posted an observation regarding those who get ahead by gaming the system vs. those who work the system to get ahead. The post is called “Spirit of the Game,” and it’s called that because Ultimate Frisbee has a tenet by the same name.

I think the point of his post, that there is a difference between beating the system and working the system is generally sound. I would quibble, instead with the analogy.

As a 20 year veteran of Ultimate Frisbee, I’ve always found that the “spirit of the game” claim is nothing more than marketing that serves more to make ultimate players feel their game is superior to other sports.

Nearly all sports, except ultimate, have referees. However, ultimate hints at superiority over other sports because they’re all level-headed and fair enough to call their own rules transgressions. The only problem is that though the sport may claim those things, it is still played by human beings… the same humans who compete in other sports – and in business.

My experience has been that show me a competitive ultimate game, and I’ll show you a call made by a player that leads to a game-stopping, ill-will driving (and possibly entire-team-involving) delay. Whereas other sports would have an impartial referee call infractions so the game can stop, reset and move on, even the highest levels of ultimate can devolve to a pick-up game level argument that interrupts the game.

Systems evolve due largely to human behavior. Ultimate Frisbee, instead, adheres to the belief that they can use an outdated system that has long since been discredited by those who game the system.

Seth’s analogy also falls apart because many players learn the rules simply so they can use them against the other team. Take this example:

I played in a tournament in which one of our players caught the frisbee in the endzone for a point. There was no disagreement that she was in. However, our player didn’t know she was in, so she threw it to another of our players who was “more” in. That player let the disc hit the ground because he knew the point had already scored.

The opposing team called us out on a little known rule that said if the player doesn’t know their in, then the point doesn’t count. This was 11 years ago, so I’m not sure if that rule still exists.

So, which is a greater display of “spirit” – to learn the most obscure rules and use them against a competitor or to allow a point that was scored legitimately and without incident to count?

There’s a fine line between gaming the system and working the system, and NewTunes hopes only to play within the system. There are a lot music discovery websites out there – Pandora, Musicovery, to name a few. We’re not afraid of them, nor are we trying to beat them.

Music discovery is a big space, and we’re pretty sure there’s room for all of us – and then some. There are enough musicians and enough fans that I think we can all enjoy success in this industry.


3 Responses to “the spirit of the game”

  1. June 1, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    Except that you don’t have impartial referees because they’re human, too, and, by your logic, somewhat biased.

    The problem with referees is that once you have them, the game becomes how much can you get away with without the referee noticing. With the spirit of the game in place, you have not only the other team calling you on your bad play, but also your own team telling you you’re wrong (and if you don’t, you have the whole community pushing back on you, telling you to clean up your act). Locally, there have been players banned from pickup because they chose not to play spiritedly.

    Ultimate at the highest level now has observers. Calling violations is still the responsibility of the players, but the observer can overrule the result of the call (if contested) AND one of the players asks the observer. Fair play is still the responsibility of the players, which is way different than other sports and, I would argue, way better.

    I much prefer to rely on my own judgment if I was fouled (as an example) than the 2 or 4 referees who were looking someplace else when I was fouled.

    The case you were commenting on, where a player scored but didn’t acknowledge the score, has been fixed with the 11th edition rules. With previous editions, the opponent had to “give” the point to the scoring team. Now, if a player catches the disc in-bounds and in the endzone, then turfs the disc trying to pass to a teammate, the score still stands.

    There are, admittedly, still obscure rules that can help a team, if you want to learn them.

  2. 2 Jon
    June 2, 2008 at 7:42 am

    You nailed the problem with self-officiating in the “I much prefer…” statement.

    When left to the players to call, you have 14 different approaches to traveling, fouls, line infractions, stall counts, etc. There’s no consistency and far greater room for interpretation… and argument. With refs, you only have that many views on the rules. This allows the players to adapt to how the game is being called.

    In baseball, a pitcher/catcher combo will spend the first few pitches of the game sorting out what the umpire’s strike zone is, then pitching accordingly. Imagine if each hitter were allowed to call the strikes and balls. You’d have nine different strike zones to learn. And some hitters would be perfectly honest about the zone – sometimes even giving benefit of the doubt to the pitcher – while other hitters would never call a strike.

    I’ve had fouls called on me in ultimate that I would never have thought of calling on someone else. So, who’s right?

    My other problem with spirit of the game is that it implies that players of other sports don’t have it. My experience shows all too well that there are just as many asses playing ultimate as any other sport – possibly even more so because of the arrogance they have about playing ultimate.

    When playing a sport, one should know the general rules. I think everyone can agree on that. But some ultimate players seem to, almost maliciously, memorize every obscure rule to be used as a weapon during play. While that’s perfectly legal, it seems to fly in the face of the “spirit of the game.” I would think that the spirit of the game is that everyone knows the general concepts and the game is played accordingly.

    But then, there’s room for debate on what “spirit” means, isn’t there?

  3. June 4, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    One answer to referees: Worldcup 2006. In particular, the “unprecedented number of cards issued” as players took advantage of the single referee on the field. The love of the sport degenerates into a what-can-I-get-away-with attitude and further abuse of the rules.

    Yes, there are as many interpretations of the rules as there are players in ultimate, but there are ways to resolve the differences. The different interpretations of the rules is actually a strong point made in the UPA’s coaching clinics: each team has certain expectations of what is within the rules, and the differences in those expectations can create strife that leads to the long discussions (arguments) that everyone hates.

    Easy example for me: when playing a Japanese team at Worlds two years ago, most of their players travelled (by like 6″ – 12″) when throwing breakmarks. We called the travels, they rolled their eyes, disc came back. When we threw breakmarks, there was often (what we believed to be) incidental contact. They called fouls, we rolled our eyes, the disc came back. To them, personal contact was always a foul, but travelling was okay. To us, a certain level of incidental contact was okay, but travelling was not.

    Even with the disagreement in the interpretation of the rules, we were able to play the game at a high level, and resolve our differences. The rules specifically call for a do-over if both sides can’t agree. How many times in life have you wanted to contest something, only to realize that, darn it, you’re not on the ultimate field, and live itself doesn’t work that way?

    If you take away the spirit of the game and the self-refereeing aspect of the game, you also abdicate personal responsibility of fair play, and instead let an “authority” (who, honestly, may not know how much that opponent has been elbowing you during the point before you received the disc) have the responsibility of enforcing fair play. The game becomes something far, far different at that point.

    With ultimate over 35 years old, people have been saying the spirit-of-the-game is dying, that it’s not what it used to be, that its time is over. I don’t think so. There are still players and teams with incredible sportsmanship and personal integrity that even at the top levels of play, play honestly and fairly (I’m thinking of Brass Monkey, in the Mixed division here, when I write that).

    Having pulled out my rulebook, I think the area where you are most frustrated is XIX Eitquette. Lack of respect for those rules are where most problems arise.

    And, yeah, there are asses playing ultimate. We have the bell curve just like every other sport.

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