Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I or D Part 4-Self-Officiating

Wow. Very busy time right now. I was in Boulder for the past weekend for the Board meeting, planning for the UCPC is really ramping up, plus there is that thing called life that has its normal demands....ok.....moving on.

Kevin and Glenn had comments about self-officiating in my "Game Pace" post that lead me neatly back to the Imitate or Differentiate thread. Clearly, this is a controversial subject and this post is not meant to evaluate self-officiating or to wade in on the "ref" debate. It will simply discuss that, for good or for bad, self-officiating is probably the clearest and most obvious example of an opportunity to differentiate ourselves.

I will first start off by saying that this post makes the distinction between SOTG and self-officiating. In the broad scope of things, SOTG is essentially good sportsmanship, which can be found, to a greater or lesser degree, in the basic teachings of most sports. While SOTG makes the assumption that knowingly breaking the rules is in violation of SOTG, I don't think that SOTG mandates that Ultimate can ONLY be self-officiated....we wouldn't be able to have observers if this were the case.

As I said above, self-officiating is perhaps the most obvious means by which Ultimate can set itself apart from other sports. Maybe it is naive, but I think self-officiating can be looked upon as "social experiment". A project in which assumptions about the way we behave in competition are challenged. Maybe it is laughably optimistic, but maybe the way folks treat each other in the context of "positive" self-officiating could be a major component of what the sport has to offer. Maybe Ultimate without some self-officiating component is not Ultimate anymore.

Clearly, there are some challenges. Other sports, in a pick-up context, practice self-officiating. There is an image problem if the one of the things that differentiates us is generally known as a "school yard" means of arbitration. It doesn't take a lot of insight to see how people outside of the sport can't take it seriously.

A big question I have is can self-officiating be viable if money is involved? If not, does self-officiating therefore limit our potential?

I think a helpful perspective comes down to an answer that is familiar: Let's concern ourselves more with making the game great to play...and less with "external" standards of success.


runga_kutta said...

I believe ultimate should differentiate when it comes to self-officiating. We are a niche sport like it or not and if we completely imitated sports like football, it would be like a corner grocery trying to compete straight up with walmart with the same product, price, and location. We simply don't have some of the same advantages other sports enjoy, but we enjoy some other advantages instead.

Self-officiating might be enforcable through the power of reputation. With increasing video evidence (and surely more if money were on the line), we'd be able to know who the cheats are, and not acquiring a reputation as a cheat I'm guessing would still mean something. Who knows, maybe if something was really egregious we'd see a sit-down protest or refusal to play or something else memorable to combat the cheating.

Most of the time with nationals type clips, I've seen calls that are wrong, but they are usually close enough that I can at least see why they thought what they did. Its not like officials are 100% right anyway.


insideultimate said...

If self-officiating is what mostly differentiates Ultimate from other sports, I think that may not be a good thing. You nailed it when you said that it creates the "schoolyard" perception, and that may be the sort of thing that keeps Ultimate from being a legitimate sport in the eyes of outsiders.

Even though SOTG is vital to how we play and what we do, everyone sees people lose their sense of Spirit every once in a while and either bends a rule, makes a wrong call, etc. We see it at all levels, from pick-up, to local leagues, to championship levels. Self officiating cannot always ensure fairness, SOTG or not.

I wouldn't say referees are necessary, as the Observer system seems to work very well, but if the sport is to grow, there needs to be a perception, at least, that things are done fairly and professionally.

If you ask me (although no one did...), what really differentiates Ultimate is the purity of the sport itself, combined with our grassroots traditions and SOTG...

The Cruise said...

Wondering how we are going to get on TV is idiotic. There are roughly 25,000 UPA members. There are almost 300,000 dodgeball players. That is just the first other fringe sport I looked up for comparison. And I also found out that it's only been around for 10 years in the current form.

We need to focus on enjoying the game as it is played right now, and make sure the rules focus on that aspect. That is the only place where refs/self officiated talk needs to focus: What does it mean to quality of play.

Grow the game by getting youth involved, not by chasing an imaginary dream of daily write-ups on

I love this game, enough to post on these blogs and rsd, run tournaments, volunteer for the upa, and play for a dozen years. but I don't harbor pipe dreams of this becoming a major sport any time soon.

Julian said...

Ultimate should, above all, be fun to play. Thank you George and The Cruise for pointing that out. What is growth worth if it comes at the expense of the joy of play? And might real and sustainable growth happen as a result of enjoyable game-play?

el Presidente said...

I and others have made the ultimate-tennis comparison a few times and I think it applies here as well. Tennis is played self-officiated at almost all levels, with line judges assigned or available at request in competitive tournaments (all ages), to whom a player can appeal a line-call. Very similar to observers. At the highest level, the players make no calls themselves, but still reserve the right to appeal to the head official (in the chair) on a call.

I think that this is a reasonable path for Ultimate to follow. Self-officiation is very important. It distinguishes us, similarly to how it distinguishes tennis. It allows for inexpensive and easy recreational play. Players learn the rules early and continue to know them and abide by them as they become more competitive. By the time they are at any level that would not have self-officiation, they are well aware of their responsibilities as players. The counterargument is perhaps that there are cheaters in tennis, too, but the observer/appealable line judge works fairly well to neutralize them.

So my point is that I think ultimate can and should maintain it's individualism by keeping self-officiation and this will help secure some of the values that we consider important (SOTG, etc). However, implementing refs at the very highest level could be a reasonable and realistic addition without compromising the values of the sport.

gcooke said...

Hi Folks,

At the UCPC panel discussion a week ago, one of the questions we discussed was the tension between SOTG and highly competitive play. Not surprisingly, this morphed into a discussion about refs. Miranda Roth suggested, as I did in this post, that SOTG and the debate about refs are distinct concerns.

There were a variety of opinions offered that were similar to your comments here. Suggestions such as refs at the elite level only were met with approval and skepticism...again, to be expected.

At the conclusion of the discussion, the attendees could "vote" by placing sticker dots on large sheets of paper that outlined various options about this question. The UPA will take this data and combine it with other data gathered as part of its Strategic Planning Initiative (Ultimate Revolution) in an attempt to get a clear picture of how we should proceed out into the future.