Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Get in the Back of the Line, Sucker!...or Why Refs are a Bad Idea

Right now, ultimate is in the front of the line. A line of one, but we're in the front. As soon as we add referees at any division of the sport, we move to the back of the line. Behind soccer, rugby, lacrosse, rowing, tennis, name it. In case you haven't noticed, resources are incredibly scarce out there right now. Even sports on the big time are struggling. As we consider these issues, we should consider where we are, where we are going and how we can best get there.

Right now, under SotG, our sport is growing at a breakneck pace. We are outgrowing soccer, lacrosse, name it. This is absolutely fantastic. There is nothing that will help our sport more right now than growth. A big part of that growth it SotG and self-officiation. Most of our growth is coming in the youth division and parents love SotG and the culture it brings to our sport. The moral lessons inherent in ultimate and SotG are ones that every parent wants to teach their kid: respect, restraint and honesty. Not only that, the culture of ultimate is a welcome respite from the nastiness of high-stakes soccer or basketball. At the core of that culture is SotG. Every game you play, SotG helps build that respect and culture. To be able to say to a parent, "Ultimate is self-officiated at all levels," is incredibly powerful.

Club and college ultimate should serve as banner divisions to promote the growth of our sport. As such they should do so within the framework of SotG. It kind of goes back to If it Ain't Broke... We are growing at a torrid pace with SotG at all levels. Why would we change it? As a brief aside, both the college division and the club division need some changes to function better. The Open College division needs to make some changes in the way games are observed to prevent the kind of debacle we saw in the finals last year. Less time for discussion, TMFs for every bad call and censuring of coaches. The Club division needs to get out of Sarasota and out of October. Please! Who watches those games? Put the finals in Boston or Seattle where you will have 10,000 fans and youth players watching.

Now that I've distracted you from my main point, let me conclude in a high quality, middle school conclusion kinda way. The most important element for the development of our sport right now is growth. We are currently growing at the fastest rate of any sport in the country and we are doing it with SotG functioning at all levels. Not only should we keep SotG at all levels, we should strengthen the presentation of it at the Club and College levels so they can serve as flagships for the sport.


  1. Our sport is growing at a breakneck pace as you say. However, and maybe I've missed them, do you have statistics showing, that at the youth level, Parents love SOTG? I do think there is merit to considering, if it isn't broke, don't fix it attitude towards getting the sport to grow. There are changes I would like to see, more active observing, quicker rulings, and as you said TMF's for every bad call.

    BJ- NoLookScoober

  2. I really wish we could quantify now often parents cite SotG as one of their favorite parts of the sport.

    At every single youth practice I coach or tournament I attend this is the #1 comment I hear from parents. I probably hear this more than every other 'about the game' parent comment combined. Not that parent happiness is the benchmark that should be used for deciding sporting issues, but in this case I think it is interesting, at the least.

    So I wish I had numbers...

  3. 2 things.

    1- I've found the same from parents whose kids I've coached. They have LOVED spirit of the game, and have commented on its marked distinction from the other sports their kids play-- they see a difference in their child's attitude and participation from soccer to ultimate, noting more camaraderie, respect, and the like.

    2- The Colombian Government is really pushing ultimate's growth in schools thoughout their country. They helped sponsor Torneo Eterna Primavera, an incredible 2 week program of youth clinics, ultimate seminars, and culminating in an international tournament. The COlombian Government (along with some other sponsors) even paid to fly down Seattle's Sockeye and Riot and Vancouver's Furious George and Traffic for as much as the players were able to participate in, for some including the full two weeks. It was an unbelievable trip, and was amazing to see such a push for the game on an institutional level.

    This is all because the Colombian gov't sees SoTG as a method to teach core principles of respect, honesty, mediation and non-violent dispute resolution in a country whose youth are faced with violence regularly.

    Losing SoTG would be a major, major loss to the sport, and this type of sponsorship and support would never happen.


  4. @nolookscoober I don't have stats beyond the same experiences Ben and Tyler shared in their comments. This is obviously unscientific for 900 different reasons, but the consistency and uniformity of parent's comments tells us something. I was expecting USAU to implement some observing changes this year and I saw from your blog that it happened at QCTU. What was the effect on at the play and game level? At the tournament level?

    @Fish (Ben and Tyler) Thanks for chiming it. That's really cool about the Colombian government; we'll chalk it up as another awesome thing I missed by moving.


  5. great post, lou. i think your articulation of ultimate moving to the back of the sports line is the most succinct and pragmatic argument for why self-officiation should remain an integral part of the game. i believe both golf and tennis (at lower levels) are self-officiated but those are both individual sports and in a completely different category from ultimate.

  6. For one, right now getting a TMF seems like a very big deal for the players. People don't really understand it, that you can get a TMF for a hard mark, even if you uncontest the foul. I found that it changes games and mindset, people start worrying about the sideline, not fouling on the mark, etc. The warnings are already built into the system, thus TMF's should be given out liberally for the first offense. This doesn't "take the game out of the players hands" because no penalty is accessed for the first two actions. The problem is that it seems to be different from observer to observer. Any blatant disregard for the rules should be a TMF.