The right thing… for the wrong reasons


lou-pinellaSomeone calls a foul on you. You don’t think it was a foul.  How do you respond?

Spirit of the Game is pretty clear on this – you respond politely. You assume that he merely has a different perspective than you, and you don’t entertain for a second the idea that he’s knowingly biased (or, indeed, a flat-out cheat). You respect his call, even though you disagree, and you set about discussing it in a calm, considerate manner.

But of course there are plenty of times when we struggle to live up to these ideals. In the heat of the moment, your inner toddler has a tantrum and leads you to react badly – if not actually aggressively, then perhaps with ill-disguised contempt or the kind of astonished disdain that very clearly communicates what you think of this idiot’s call.

It’s hard not to react that way sometimes. When we’re tired, or when the adrenaline is flowing, it’s hard for the more rational areas of our brains to overrule our more basic emotional and selfish responses.

It’s worth the effort, of course, if you believe in SotG. But is it worth the effort even if you don’t? Are there selfish advantages in at least pretending to be a nice guy?

Let’s stop a moment and think about what you want to achieve when you disagree with an opponent. It’s pretty simple – you want to persuade them round to your own point of view.

But of course, they have an inner toddler too – they’re every bit as likely to react emotionally to a perceived insult as you are. And when you jump down their throat after a call, how do you think they’ll feel?

Two people getting defensive, getting their fight-or-flight response kicked into action, have almost no chance of reaching a resolution. The one thing guaranteed to make people search around for any awful argument in support of their original position is to have that position attacked on an emotional level.

People don’t like to be wrong, but they really don’t like to have their opinions dismissed out of hand; to be treated like an idiot; to be disrespected or accused of bias or cheating. They’ll never back down if they feel like that. Even when you’re demonstrably correct, they’ll be looking for other ways to ‘win’ the argument – ‘Well, if it wasn’t a foul, I’m calling the travel instead,’ or some other such nonsense.

You can go away from the encounter utterly convinced that they’re wrong and you’re right – but what good is that? Did the call get resolved in your favour? No.

Another scenario. Perhaps you are playing against a team whose intent is to rile you, to make biased calls or to push the boundaries of physicality in order to take you out of your comfort zone. Is it really a good idea to lose your temper, make accusations, square up to them? Probably not – that’s pretty much what they want. It’s unlikely to stop them doing it. Better, even in this scenario, to take it calmly.

That’s not to say you wouldn’t want to talk to them about the way the game is being played, or to try to resolve the issue in whatever way you can. But doing so with anger and accusations, even if you’re right, will not improve your chances of a resolution.

Every time you interact with an opponent on the pitch, it pays to be polite. The opponent might not retract his call (or moderate his behaviour) all that often, but a respectful discussion is guaranteed to give you more chance. Politeness, respect, the display of spirited behaviour (even for unspirited reasons) can win you games. That’s not to say that cheats can’t prosper in a self-refereed sport, of course – but even amongst cheats, those who do it without needlessly getting their opponent riled will have a competitive advantage.

I’d like to think that everyone reading this would prefer to behave politely because they respect the sport, the spirit of the game, and the opponent. But even if you don’t, there’s still no good reason to be personally unpleasant in Ultimate. Any time you react poorly to a call, you’re hurting your team, and you’re letting down your team-mates.

Whether for good reasons or bad, be calm.

A couple of caveats, of course.  First, if your own team’s policy is to deliberately make the game unpleasant, to get in the opponents’  heads, to disrupt their thinking, then most of the above doesn’t apply. Trying to resolve an individual discussion requires calm, but trying to rile the opponent may be a successful strategy for the game as a whole. All I can say is that such thinking clearly has no place in a self-officiated sport, a sport which we all play solely for the joy of competing. If you really enjoy winning that way, I feel sorry for you.
Secondly, one of the few times that a confrontational response might help to resolve an individual discussion in your favour is if you’re in a position to bully the opponent. If you’re a ‘reputation’ player and he’s a beginner, you can probably shout him down.
But the vast majority of the time, if you’re in a position to dominate a verbal exchange like that, you probably don’t need to. The greatest demonstration of strength is to not feel the need to show it. If you’re in a position to bully him, you’ll probably be in a position to politely talk him round to your point of view also. If he’s that respectful or scared of you, then it doesn’t much matter how you communicate.
[As a final note, let’s talk about Observers or Referees. In many sports, there might sometimes be an advantage in showing anger as it demonstrates to the official that you have something to be angry about. But remember who these observers and referees are in our young sport – ultimate players. They probably have the ultimate player’s healthy dislike of histrionics and aggression, and any advantage you get from persuading them you really believe in your call is likely to be offset by their personal distaste for your behaviour. They’re only human, and they’re just as likely to be influenced by emotion as anyone else, but it’s not clear that you’ll influence them in the right direction by exploding at every incident.
Indeed, if you did wish to use a bad reaction to influence a third-party official, it can only be as a variation to your normal polite persona – a player who always whines and shouts will very rapidly suffer a ‘cry wolf’ effect – whereas  a team or player with a reputation as consistently polite (but who then explodes) may have some persuasive power. A game-theoretic (rather than spirited) approach to interactions with opponents and Observers would still suggest politeness as a default reaction, even if only to create a contrast when you do lose your temper.]
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One Response to The right thing… for the wrong reasons

  1. Pingback: Monday Dumps: Juega Ultimate Frisbee, Queen City Tune Up Photos, Sandslash Promo | Skyd Magazine

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