Most people consider frisbee something you play on holiday; a casual throw around on the beach, perhaps with a dog. However, ultimate frisbee is a far cry from this scene. This fast paced team sport originated in the USA in the ‘60s and has developed into a competitive game played up to international level, recognised by the International Olympic Committee.
How do you play?
Two teams of seven players compete using a flying disc (Frisbee) on a large grass pitch (roughly the length of a football pitch but a bit narrower), or sometimes in an indoor sports hall or on a beach pitch using slightly adapted rules.
It is a non-contact sport and games can be either mixed or single gender. Games on grass are usually around 70 minutes long. One team starts on offence (i.e. starts with possession of the disc), the other on defence. Players on the offensive team pass the disc between one another and attempt to score in the ‘end zone’, while the other team tries to stop them from scoring, and to obtain possession themselves. You cannot run when holding the disc, and can only hold the disc for 10 seconds.
If the disc is intercepted by the other team, if it hits the ground (for example due to a dropped catch) or if it is held for more than 10 seconds, this is a ‘turnover’ and the team that was on defence is now on offence and has a chance to score.
The majority of ultimate frisbee matches take place at weekend-long tournaments, where teams travel from all over the country to play each other. These range from university indoor beginner tournaments (such as Leeds Beginners) and fun tournaments to the more serious, such as UK Club Nationals, European Ultimate Championships and World Ultimate Championships.
How do you score?
At both ends of the pitch there are areas called End Zones. Each team defends an End Zone and scores by a member of their team catching the disc in the opposite End Zone, like in American Football. Once a point has been scored, players can sub on and off and must then return to the starting position (in their defending endzone) ready for the start of the next point.
To get a feel for what a game looks like, check out this highlight video from UK Club Nationals 2017!
What about the referee?
Unusually, ultimate is self-refereed. This means that if there is a breach of the rules, play stops and the players involved briefly discuss what each of them thought happened, and go through a set process to reach the outcome.
This means that the sport relies on ‘spirit of the game,’ or simply ‘spirit,’ and it is a big part of the culture of ultimate. Spirit is a set of expectations for teams and players that ensures fair play. At every tournament, teams score their opposition on how good their spirit was during their game (although this cannot affect the outcome of the game.)
At high level tournaments, Game Advisors are sometimes present. They are there to provide a third party perspective on a call and have excellent knowledge of the rules, however any decisions are still left to the players.
Frisbee at the University of Leeds
At the University of Leeds we have a thriving ultimate frisbee society with mixed, women’s and men’s teams. We compete at university nationals and have achieved excellent placings in the past, including 2nd at Mixed Indoor Nationals 2016, and our women’s team have been northern regional champions for three years running. We train several times a week and have dedicated beginners’ sessions (most of our players hadn’t played, or even heard of, ultimate before they started uni) as well as our own qualified coach. New players can join at any time, just come along to one of our training sessions. To get involved, join our Facebook groups; General group or Beginners group
Each year we also host our ‘Leeds Beginners’ tournament. We invite teams from other universities to bring their newest players for a weekend of games in Leeds and a party on the Saturday night. Alongside the beginners division runs an experienced division, where university first teams and non-uni teams battle it out for the top spot, showing the beginners what they can aim for.
Why should you play?
Aside from being really fun to play, ultimate frisbee is a great way to improve your fitness, and is a chance to try something a bit different. The sport is surrounded by a really friendly culture while still remaining competitive, and there is something for everyone, whether you want to represent Great Britain or just play the occasional fun tournament. It’s the best sport you’ve never played!