Spirit scores and why they are so important

Posted on January 17th, 2012 by Mark "Spike" Liu

This is a guest post by Patrick van der Valk, the Chair of the WFDF and President of BULA
For more td-tuesdays articles: http://leaguevine.com/blog/tags/td-tuesdays/

Many tournaments have some type of Spirit of the Game (SOTG) scoring system while others don’t. Should they?

What are spirit scores?

Spirit of the Game is, and always has been, a fundamental part of Ultimate. It is rule number 1. Yet, when teaching Ultimate, it has always lagged behind the rules. The rules on how to play the game are fairly easy to teach. You can simply give players a rulebook and they can learn it themselves.

SOTG is less straightforward. It is more of something that has been passed on by ‘the elders’ to their disciples. The principle behind SOTG and competitive play coexisting is as follows:

“Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, adherence to the agreed upon rules, or the basic joy of play”

The interpretation of this is in the eye of the beholder and Spirit has been taught and interpreted in different ways around the globe and even within local communities.

Nevertheless, many tournaments offer a prize to the team with 'the best spirit'. Over the years there have been many different ways Tournament Directors (TDs) determined which team should receive that prize. Most commonly, captains are asked to indicate who they thought the best spirited teams were and then some type of calculation is done on the results to determine the winner.

However, until recently, there was no common set of rules by which TDs could compare the results. There was no objective scoring. What one captain or team thought SOTG meant, was not the same as another. So how can a TD combine scores and feel comfortable awarding the SOTG prize to the right team?

History of the objective scoring sheet

Around 2003 an objective Spirit of the Game scoring system was developed in Montreal. This was a great step forward over the alternatives that were around. This system was adopted by the Beach Ultimate Lovers Association (BULA), and they further developed it to help promote and standardize SOTG.

The updated scoring system got a real boost when Lookfly (Ultimate Clothing) started offering TDs cool SOTG prizes in return for feedback about the new system. BULA collected a lot of input from tournament/league directors, as well as players from around the world. This lead to two significant upgrades to the scoring system: a major revamp in 2008 and an extensive translation effort in 2009 when BULA and the World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF) joined forces to translate the SOTG Scoring Sheet into 27 languages

According to the international community, Spirit should be broken down into 4 categories: Rules Knowledge, Physical Contact, Fair-mindedness, and Positive Attitude. In the scoring system teams were scored on each category resulting in a score between 0 and 20 for each game. 

How to use the scoring sheet consistently

The latest version of the SOTG Scoring Sheet has been used at many tournaments and championships, including all BULA and WFDF events. The biggest concern with this scoring sheet has been that different teams were still interpreting it differently from one another. Some teams gave out mostly scores of 20 points while others averaged 10.

People contemplated normalizing the scores but this was complex and didn’t adequately solve the problem. The best way to resolve it was through further education.

In December 2011 the WFDF Spirit of the Game Committee released a document that explained the objectives behind the scoring system and showed players how to score consistently. The underlying idea is that a normal spirited game should result in 10 points. That would be the average score.

The document also gave TDs advice on how to handle SOTG during a tournament, what to do with the scores, and how to deal with teams that have significantly lower than average scores. 

Why are Spirit Scores important?


One of the main reasons the SOTG Scoring Sheet was developed was for educational purposes.  As described in the explanation document, it is strongly encouraged that the whole team is involved in scoring. This way all players are taught what Spirit entails which, in turn, is key if we want to grow and promote a sport where Spirit of the Game is rule number 1. 

A big advantage of the WFDF/BULA scoring system is that it was also designed to help teams understand how they can improve specific parts of their Spirit. Getting a low Spirit score without feedback on why is not very helpful. By breaking down Spirit into several categories and allowing the opponent to score on each component individually, people can find patterns and teams can work on the parts they are struggling with.

As a TD, I am much happier to have the knowledge that a team gets a low score on a certain category such as Physical Contact than seeing just an overall score. I can do something with that information and so can the team. 


Naturally, it is not just education. Scoring also help celebrates Spirit by awarding a prize to the team that gets the highest score. This is an enjoyable addition to just about any tournament.

What kind of tournaments should use spirit scores?

Should all tournaments use a formalized scoring system? Ideally, yes. However, there is some effort that needs to go into implementing the system. TDs will need to chase down teams to hand in the score for each game, put this information into a computer and then determine the winner. To simplify this process, the WFDF is working on a phone application that will make life easier for both TDs and players. 

Further, there are tournaments where spirit is already understood and is consistently high. A formalized system such as the WFDF/BULA scoring system could be overkill.

Nevertheless, most tournaments will benefit from using a good scoring system. Spirit of the Game is something all players should know and take to heart. It is up to the TDs to help promote this and ensure that SOTG remains an integral part of the sport of Ultimate.

Patrick van der Valk is very involved disc sports and has more than 30 years of experience. He plays for several teams, including Paganello finalist SeXXXpensive. He is the Chair of the WFDF Spirit of the Game Committee and the President of the Beach Ultimate Lovers Association. 
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