Friday, October 15, 2010

How to Cheat to Win (without Cheating): An Introduction

There is sportsmanship, which in our little sport is embodied in Spirit of the Game and then there is gamesmanship. Sportsmanship is the ideal of playing within the rules (and the customary understanding of them) because it is the right thing to do. It is concern and respect for your opponent. Gamesmanship is looking at the rules in a lawyerly way, analyzing them and finding opportunities to exploit them. It is looking at the customary ways rules are enforced and tweaking them to advantage. It is always looking to see rules enforced to one's own advantage, rather than impartially, evenly and fairly.

Ultimate's system of self-officiating opens huge doors to gamesmanship that are not open in other sports. It also creates a moral dilemma for teams and individuals. In the NFL, when a coach calls a last minute timeout to ice a kicker it is considered good strategy. In ultimate, if you call a double time-out to throw off another team's rhythm, you're an asshole.

After the debacle of the CUT-Florida final last spring, I had a long conversation with Scoops (Greg Connelly) about SofG. One of his observations (which I agreed with) was that SotG was stronger in Club ultimate that college. (Note: this is only true of Men's. Women's ultimate has a strong and thriving sense of SotG at all levels.) This is odd, because the level of gamesmanship is so much higher in Club than College. Those crafty vets know all the moves - shouldn't that make their SotG worse? SotG is an agreement between the players and the teams; an agreement of what is and isn't accepted. (This is why behavior that is perfectly acceptable at the college Nationals is taboo at city league.) At the Club level, there is widespread agreement that gamesmanship is part of ultimate and therefore, ok. If I was dumb enough to be marking tight on stalling 7, I knew I had to accept the bullshit pivot-foul-call from the thrower. I knew if I tried to go up line on a Monkey, they'd try to knock me down. But as they say, "If it's in the game..." Contrastingly, in College ultimate, there's no consensus on what should and shouldn't be ok and everyone takes it way too seriously.

This series of articles is my attempt to help with that problem a little bit. My hope is that by understanding the particular techniques of gamesmanship, they will be less effective and that people will have a bit more perspective about them.

Up next: Drama


  1. Lou! Interesting post. Felt like someone needed to break the seal on these comments. Can you give an example of poor SofG in college that wouldn't be considered gamesmanship in club? - Dodge

  2. Dodge, take the classic step-through backhand. It requires a level of physicality that is largely absent from college ultimate. There are some throwers who use the step-through and some who hammer throwers who try to pivot. Both behaviors are considered bad SotG by the rank-and-file of college ultimate players. Club players, while acknowledging that this behavior is gamesmanship, tolerate it in their opponents and teammates.
    So perversely, while gamesmanship is much more advanced in club ultimate, so is SotG because opponents are more respectful of each other.