Ultimate sport

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Ultimate (commonly called Ultimate Frisbee) is a competitive non-contact team sport played with a disc weighing 175 g. The object of the game is to score points by passing the disc into the opposing endzone, similar to American football. Players may not run while holding the disc. The game was invented in 1968 as an evening pastime. Ultimate is distinguished by its Spirit of the Game - the principles of fair play, sportsmanship, and the joy of play.

While originally called "Ultimate Frisbee", the game is more appropriately called "Ultimate" because the name Frisbee is a trademarked brand name for discs made by Wham-O, which are rarely used in competitive play. The 175g Discraft Ultrastar is the only disc approved for Championship Series events hosted by the Ultimate Players Association, the national governing body for Ultimate in the United States [1].


Teenagers from Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey were the first to play the game of Ultimate initially as an evening pastime, from which it evolved into a kind of counter-culture joke in 1968. Joel Silver proposed a school Frisbee team on a whim in the fall of 1967 [N.B. This date may be in error, since Silver didn't learn the game until he attended the Mount Hermon Summer School in the summer of 1968, fall 1968 is likely]. The following spring a group of students got together to play what Silver claimed to be the "ultimate sports experience," adapting the game Frisbee Football. Silver, now a Hollywood film producer (48 Hours, Weird Science, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, The Matrix), first played Frisbee Football at a Summer School in Mount Hermon, Massachusetts in the summer of 1968. Note that this year has sometimes been cited as 1967, but Silver only attended the summer school for one year, 1968, according to the summer school catalogues of the institution. In any case, the teaching fellow who taught him the game was named Jared Kass. Kass created the game with a group of friends while at Amherst College. The name "Ultimate" comes directly from Jared Kass, who came up with the name, when asked by a student, on the whim that it was the ultimate sport. The students who played at Columbia High School were not the athletes of the school, but an eclectic group of students that represented leaders in academics, student politics, the student newspaper, and school dramatic productions.

While the rules governing movement and scoring of the disc have not changed, the early Columbia High games had sidelines that were defined by the parking lot of the school and team sizes based on the number of players that showed up. Gentlemanly behavior and gracefulness was held high. (A foul was defined as contact "sufficient to arouse the ire of the player fouled.") No referees were present, which remarkably still holds true today as all Ultimate matches (even at high level events) are self-officiated, though at higher levels of play 'observers' are often utilized. An observer is different from a referee in that he does not typically actively make a call. Observers only make calls when appealed to by one of the teams, at which point the result is binding. [2]

The first intercollegiate competition was held at Rutgers New Brunswick campus between Rutgers and Princeton on November 6, 1972, the 103rd anniversary of the first intercollegiate game of American football featuring the same schools competing in the same location. The popularity of the game quickly spread, taking hold as a free-spirited alternative to traditional organized sports. In recent years college Ultimate has attracted a greater number of traditional athletes, raising the level of competition and athleticism, and providing a challenge to its laid back, free-spirited roots.

Rules of play

It should be noted that the Ultimate Players Association (UPA) rules provide the framework in North America whilst other parts of the world use rules overseen by the World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF) and that the two sets of rules contain significant differences. The rules described below give a general overview of the shared rules. For more specifics see the websites of the relevant organizations listed below.


The object of Ultimate is to score points by receiving a teammate's pass in the opponent's endzone. (One could of course argue that this is only a secondary goal, and the primary goal is to have fun and a good time; in many tournaments, the "Spirit of the Game" award (see below) is just as valued as winning the finals.) The outcome of a match is usually determined by one team achieving a predetermined number of points first.


Regulation Ultimate is played between two teams of seven players. In informal "pick-up" games, this number may vary. Subsitutions are allowed between points and teams are usually able to have around 20 players on their roster in a major tournament. A shortage of players may force teams to play the entire game without substitutions, a condition known as savage or Ironman.


File:Ultimate field.png
The outdoor Ultimate field

Regulation games are played on a field of 64 meters (UPA: 70 yards) by 37 meters (UPA: 40 yards), with endzones 18 meters (UPA: 25 yards) deep. Normally, Ultimate is played outdoors on a grassy surface. Boundaries are marked by chalklines and cones if available, but any highly visible object may be used.


Sometimes, Ultimate is played indoor on an indoor soccer field, or the like. If the field has indoor soccer markings on it, then the outer most goal box lines are used for endzone lines. Playing off the walls or ceiling is usually not permitted. As indoor venues tend to be smaller, the number of players per side is often decreased.

Indoor Ultimate is played widely in Northern Europe during the winter due to the frigid weather conditions.

In North America, indoor Ultimate tends to be played in venues that can accommodate a field of regular or near-regular size and the playing surface is AstroTurf or some other kind of artificial grass.

In Europe, on the other hand, such facilities are rarely available and indoor Ultimate is usually played five-a-side on a handball or basketball court. Northern European and Scandinavian countries usually use handball courts, whereas in the UK and in Southern Europe basketball courts are more commonly used. Presumably because there are few handball courts available in those countries. Players often wear protection such as knee, elbow and wrist pads, much like in volleyball to avoid bruises and cuts when laying-out.

European indoor ultimate has evolved as a variant of standard outdoor Ultimate. Due to the small size of the court and of the absence of wind, several indoor-specific offensive and defensive tactics have been developed. Moreover, throws such as scoobers, blades, hammers, and push-passes are rarely used or discouraged outdoor because even little wind makes them inaccurate or because they are effective only at short range, but they are common in the small and wind-free indoor courts.

There are regular indoor tournaments and championships and stable indoor teams. The best-known and longest-running indoor tournament is the Skogshyddan's Vintertrofén held in Gothenburg, Sweden every year. Largest tournament (by number of teams) will be the 2005 NSUT, 20th anniversary tournament of National Student Ultimate Tournament, held in Vaasa, Finland.

Beach Ultimate

Beach Ultimate is variant of the sport. It is played in teams of four or five players on small fields. It is played on sand and, as the name implies, normally at the beach. BULA (Beach Ultimate Lovers Association) is the international governing body for Beach Ultimate.

Most Beach Ultimate tournaments are played according to BULA rules, which take elements of both UPA and WFDF rules.


The pull or throw-off

The players line up at the edge of their respective endzones, and the defensive team throws, or pulls, the disc to the offensive team to begin play. Pulls are normally long, hanging throws, giving the defense an opportunity to move up the field. Sometimes, though, a pull consists of a short throw intended to roll out of bounds upon hitting the ground. If the pull is touched by the receiving team while in the air, without being caught, it is a turnover.

Movement of the disc

The disc may be moved in any direction by completing a pass to a teammate. Players may not run with the disc, except a few steps to run out their momentum. They must establish a pivot foot until after their throw, and they may not catch their own throw unless it has been touched in the air by an opponent.

Upon receiving the disc, a player has ten seconds to pass it. This period is known as the "stall", and each second is counted out by the defender (a stall count).


A point is scored when any player catches a pass in the endzone in which they are trying to score. (In older versions of the rules, only offensive players could score. UPA rules allow a defensive player to intercept a pass in the endzone they are attacking to score a Callahan goal, however WFDF rules do not count this as a point.) After a point, the team who just scored remains in that endzone and the opposing team returns to the opposite endzone; play is initiated again with a pull by the scoring team.

The Greatest

In Ultimate, a disc is considered in-play so long as it does not touch the ground, even if it is out of bounds. A receiver who wishes to play a disc that is flying out of bounds may only do so if his last point of contact with the ground is in-bounds; otherwise, the disc is now out of bounds, resulting in a turnover. If an offensive player leaps from in-bounds, catches and releases a throw again before contacting the ground and another offensive player is able to catch the disc in the end zone, the team not only scores a point, but has completed The Greatest, due to its being the greatest play in Ultimate. Such plays often are cause for a certain degree of amazement from both the crowd and the players around the action.

Change of possession

Whenever a pass is not completed, the disc changes possession; that is, the defense immediately becomes the offense. After a change of possession, the offense must throw the disc from where it first touched the ground, or where it first traveled out of bounds. Changes of possession do not cause a stoppage of play.

Common reasons for changes of possession include:

  • Drops - The player on offense accidentally drops the disc onto the ground.
  • Blocks - A defender deflects the disc in mid flight, causing it to hit the ground.
  • Interceptions - A defender catches a disc thrown by the offense.
  • Out of Bounds - The disc lands out of bounds, hits an object out of bounds or is caught by a player who lands or leapt from outside the playing field.
  • Stalls - The stall count of ten expires before the player on offense throws the disc.

Stoppages of play

Play may stop for the following reasons:


A foul is the result of contact between players, although incidental (not on purpose) contact does not constitute a foul. When a foul disrupts possession, the play resumes as if the possession was retained. If the player committing the foul disagrees with ("contests") the foul call, the play is redone.


A violation occurs when a player violates the rules but does not initiate physical contact. Common violations include traveling with the disc, double teaming, stripping the disc away from a player who has possession, and picking, or moving in a manner so as to obstruct the movement of any player on the opposing team.

Time outs

Play stops when the player with the disc calls timeout. The number of timeouts available for team is agreed upon by both teams at the beginning of the game.


Play stops whenever a player is seriously injured—this is considered an injury time-out.


Teams are allowed to substitute players after a point is scored or for injured players after an injury time out. In the case of an injury substitution, the opposing team is allowed to make a substitution for a non-injured player.


Players are responsible for their own foul and line calls. Players resolve their own disputes. Occasionally, official observers are used to aid players in refereeing (see below). This creates a spirit of honesty and respect on the playing field. It is the duty of the player who committed the foul to speak up and admit his infraction.


Some additional rules have been introduced which can optionally overlay the standard rules and allow for referees called observers (the Tenth Edition, Gen-X-Rules or Callahan Rules, named after Henry Callahan from the University of Oregon). An observer can only resolve a dispute if the players involved ask for his judgment. In some cases, observers have the power to make calls without being asked: e.g. line calls (to determine out of bounds or goals) and up/down calls (actively ruling if the disc has touched the ground before being caught). Misconduct fouls can also be given by an observer for violations such as aggressive taunting, fighting, cheating, etc., and are reminiscent of the Yellow/Red card system in soccer. As of 2003, misconduct fouls are extremely rare and their ramifications not well defined. Observers are also charged with enforcing time limits for the game itself and many parts within the game, such as the amount of time defense has to set up after a time out or the time allowed between pulls, are honored. If a team does not honor a time limit, it is a turn over.

The introduction of observers is, in part, an attempt by the UPA to allow games to run more smoothly and become more spectator-friendly. Due to the nature of play and the unique nature of self-refereeing, Ultimate games are often subject to regular and long stoppages of play. This effort and the intensity that has arisen in the highest levels of competition have led many members of the Ultimate community to lament the loss of the Spirit of the Game. It should be noted that some of the differences between the UPA and the WFDF rules reflect a differing attitude to spirit.



One of the most common offensive strategies in Ultimate is referred to as stack offense. This strategy aligns the offense in a straight line running from one end of the field to the other. From this position, players in the stack make cuts toward or away from the thrower in an attempt to get open and receive the disc. The stack generally remains in the middle of the field, thereby opening up two lanes on either side for cuts.

Other offenses include a horizontal (ho) stack, similar to a spread offense in American Football, and a specific position-defined offense designed to play against a zone defense.


The most important idea in defense is that of the force. Since it is physically impossible to block all throws, the defensive player guarding the disc, or marker will prevent the thrower from throwing to a preselected side of the field. The rest of the defense will therefore know to which side of the field the thrower may throw and position themselves accordingly. The terms force away or force home are often used to denote to which side the marker should aggressively defend. The "home" side of the field is determined by which sideline the team places their gear. The away side is on the opposite side of the field. This can be further generalized as a break mark side of the field (on the opposite side of the force) and an open side.

Defensive strategy will usually consist of "man" defense, where each defensive player guards or "picks up" an offensive player, or zone defense, where players will cover an area. In zone defense, players will try to contain the disc, preventing forward movement while allowing lateral passing. This prevention of the forward movement of the dics is done through hard marks on the handlers and defense formations such as a cup. The Zone defense forces the offense to throw a large number of passes while gaining little ground. If done well, the offense will eventually make a mistake and a turnover will result.

Spirit of the Game

Ultimate is known for its "Spirit of the Game", often abbreviated SOTG. The following description is from the official Ultimate rules established by the Ultimate Players Association:

"Ultimate has traditionally relied upon a spirit of sportsmanship which places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of the bond of mutual respect between players, adherence to the agreed upon rules of the game, or the basic joy of play. Protection of these vital elements serves to eliminate adverse conduct from the Ultimate field. Such actions as taunting of opposing players, dangerous aggression, intentional fouling, or other 'win-at-all-costs' behavior are contrary to the spirit of the game and must be avoided by all players."

Pick-up games

In the spirit of Ultimate's egalitarian roots, there are many types of pick-up. Often this consists of tournaments played outside the championship circuit, including hat tournaments, in which teams are selected on the day of play by picking names out of a hat are generally held over a weekend, affording players several games during the day as well as the chance to socialize and party at night. Pick-up leagues also exist, hosting weekly pick-up games that may be played on arbitrary week nights. In addition, less formal games of pick-up are frequent in parks and fields across the globe. In all these types of pick-up games it will not be uncommon to have as participants the same people who play on nationally or globally competitive teams. Newcomers are always welcomed at pick-up games or whenever people are simply throwing, and enthusiastic players will sideline themselves to spend time teaching beginners the throws and maneuvers necessary to play.

Hat tournaments

Hat tournaments are common in the Ultimate circuit. They are tournaments where players join individually rather than as a team. The tournament organisers form teams by randomly taking the names of the participants from a hat.

In practice, in most tournaments, the organisers do not actually use a hat, but form teams taking into account skill, experience, sex, age, height, and fitness level of the players in the attempt to form teams of even strength. A player provides this information when he or she signs up to enter the tournament.

Hat tournaments have a strong emphasis on having fun, socialising, partying, and meeting other players. Players of all levels take part to such events from world-class players to complete beginners.

Hat tournaments (and sometimes also regular tournaments) often have a theme, such as: wild west, aliens, pirates, superheroes, ect. The organisers often name teams also according to a theme, such as: beer varieties, movie characters, sex positions, etc.

Current leagues

Regulation play, sanctioned in the United States by the UPA, occurs at the college (open & women's divisions), club (open, women's, mixed (co-ed), and masters divisions) and youth (boys & girls divisions) levels, with annual championships in all divisions. Top teams from the championship series compete in semi-annual world championships regulated by the WFDF, made up of national flying disc organizations and federations from about 50 countries.

Recreational leagues have become widespread, and range in organization and size. There have been a small number of children's leagues. The largest and first known pre-highschool league was started in 1993 by Mary Lowry, Joe Bisignano, and Jeff Jorgenson in Seattle, Washington. In 2005, the DiscNW Middle School Spring League had over 450 players on 30 mixed teams. Large high school leagues are also becoming common. The largest one is the DiscNW High School Spring League. It has both mixed and single gender divisions with over 30 teams total. The largest adult league is the Ottawa-Carleton Ultimate Association, with 350 teams and over 4000 active members in 2005, located in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.


This is a partial list of terms relevant to Ultimate.

For descriptions of various types of throws, see frisbee throws

  • Bid: An aggressive attempt to catch or block the disc, usually a layout or sky.
  • Brick: A pull that initially lands out-of-bounds, untouched by the receiving team.
  • Callahan: When an opposing team's pass is intercepted in their end zone, scoring a point for the intercepting team.
  • Catching Garbage: When the thrower makes a particularly poor throw, but the the catch is made anyway.
  • Chill or be Chilly: Used to urge a player with the disc to have patience and not throw the disc too quickly. Phrases like "take your time" are avoided, since they could be mistaken for the act of calling a time-out.
  • Dump: An offensive player close (usually beside or behind) to the player with the disc.
  • Dumping: A throw to the dump.
  • Force: The direction in which a person who is marking tries to force the handler to throw. Alternatively, the marker can try to force the handler into a specific type of throw, e.g. 'force flick.'
  • Going ho: The same as a layout. It is short for going horizontal. Some believe it to be a play on words for ho or for the phrase 'gung ho'.
  • The Greatest: when an offensive player leaps from an in-bounds position, catches the disc, and releases a throw again before touching the ground out-of-bounds, and that throw is caught by a teammate.
  • Handler: Either the person currently with the disc or players designated to "usually" have the disc (especially used when playing against a Zone offense).
  • Hospital Throw:
  1. A throw that stays in the air for a considerable amount of time, allowing multiple players to get under the disc, and therefore leading to a greater chance of injury.
  2. Used to describe a throw that "dies" before it gets there to the intended recipient.
  3. A desperation throw made by the handler to prevent being stalled when there are no open in/out/dump cuts to throw to.
  • Hot: An adjective used to describe good play. (e.g. hot snatch is a good catch)
  • Huck: A long throw, generally at least half the length of the field.
  • Layout: A dive to catch the disc.
  • Mark: To try to hinder the throw of a person with the disc by blocking possible avenues of release using the body or arms (no physical contact is allowed). Also refers to the person in the act of marking the person with the disc.
  • Ogre: A talented and beast-like (in appearance or action) player.
  • Poaching: In man-to-man defense, the act of defending an area of the field instead of one's assigned man. This will inevitably leave someone open, who is said to be Poached.
  • Pull: The throw that begins every point, akin to a kick-off. These are typically long and hang in the air to allow the defense a chance to set up.
  • Punt: A throw that is launched downfield to force the opponent to begin play further downfield, often thrown at a high stall count when no other choices are available. Taken from American Football and Rugby, where a 'punt' is a kick downfield.
  • Sky: Leaping and catching the disc at maximum height over an opponent
  • The Stupidest: A term used for someone attempting "The Greatest" when they could have landed in-bounds and the resulting pass is incomplete.
  • Swill: A throw that can only be completed with an amazing effort by the intended receiver. Often used to describe hospital throws or the throw lacks sufficient spin, causing the disc to fly without stability through the air. Also commonly used to describe an upside-down throw that curves back in a helix-ing flight path.
  • Swing: A throw from one side to the other of the field left to right or right to left. Much like a cross in soccer. This type of throw does not in itself have the purpose of getting closer to the endzone line, but of shifting the focus of play to the other side of the field.
  • Turf: To throw the disc so that it hits the ground shortly after being released, usually a result of poor execution by the thrower.

See also

Pages for other disc-based games:

External links

cs:Ultimate Frisbee de:Ultimate Frisbee es:Ultimate fr:Ultimate io:Flugo-disko he:פריזבי אולטימטיבי pl:Ultimate frisbee ru:Алтимат фризби fi:Ultimate sv:Ultimate