I don’t like the WFDF spirit scoring system.
I don’t like it because it tacitly undermines my own idea about what spirit is.
Let me ask you a question: Is it possible to display surprisingly good spirit? The kind of spirit that should be rewarded with a higher than normal spirit score?
Many of you will say yes. Many thoughtful, intelligent people whom I respect greatly do say yes when we have this argument. You’ll be thinking that playing with spirit in a tense semi-final sudden-death point deserves more credit than doing so at 5-0 in a meaningless fun tournament. Perhaps it does, on a human level. But I don’t believe that the spirit scoring system should reflect that. It doesn’t mesh with my own concept of spirit.
Spirit isn’t about being ‘good enough’. It’s not about committing few enough fouls to not get marked down, or about having an attitude just pleasant enough to not cause a fight.
Spirit is an ideal. It’s a code of perfect behaviour. We know the rules, and we do not look to take unfair advantage of them; we avoid fouling as much as possible; we treat our opponent with respect; and all the rest of it.
A ‘normal’ score – an ‘expected’ score – should be 20/20. It is not possible to be more spirited than the ideal; and if you fall short of the ideal, then you shouldn’t be thinking, “Well, 10/20 is good enough, even though I could have done better.” Anything less than perfect is failing.
Of course, we’ll fall short of the ideal all the time – almost no game was ever played in utterly perfect spirit. But we should all be striving for perfection (albeit failing) rather than being content with being ‘not awful’.
What a spirit scoring system should be doing is showing us where we fall short of that ideal, and preferably showing us the path to improving in the future. The WFDF system is set up beautifully to do exactly that – the 5 categories do an excellent job of showing where you can get better. But by describing a score of only 10 as ‘good’, it also strongly implies that there is a level of spirit which is ‘good enough’. I think that’s nonsense. We should be aiming for 20/20.
Sometimes, the current system does work properly – teams who do poorly in spirit do often make the effort to improve. But the psychology isn’t quite right, as demonstrated at a tournament I ran just a few weeks ago. I pointed out to a team, halfway through the weekend, that they were ranked bottom of the submitted spirit scores at that point. By any measure, that should be a cause for concern – but they were able to dismiss it by saying, “It’s OK, we’re at 9.6 out of 20, and 10 is a ‘good’ score, so nothing to worry about. “¹
That, to me, is a broken system.
Wouldn’t it be better to have a score that reflected how far short of the ideal we had fallen², rather than how far we sit above or below what is acceptable?
I think psychologically that would be very different. Even the team at the top of the rankings could look at their data and say, “You know, we could still improve our communication.” And a team at the bottom of the rankings would have zero excuses – they are the worst, and can’t fall back on any numerical definition of ‘acceptable’.
All of the pull over time, for every team, would be upwards – towards an improvement in spirit. Everyone, no matter where in the rankings, would still be told they’re falling short, just by differing amounts.
Compare that to now, where teams at the bottom are able to dismiss it, and those above 10 are able to relax and assume they are wonderful people. Worse – the logic of the situation suggests that if I’m scoring 13s the whole time, I could win more games by making more bad calls or more contact, and I would still be ‘good’.
That last sentence should hopefully drive home what I think is wrong. THERE SHOULD BE NO SUCH THING AS ‘ACCEPTABLE’ SPIRIT. How can we have a system that encourages teams, even subconsciously, to be less spirited? Why would we encourage teams to aim only for mediocrity? Spirit is a goal, an ideal, and the spirit scoring system should at all times encourage us to strive for perfection.
If our team finishes bottom of the pile – even if we score way above what is currently ‘good’ – it should be clear to us that our opponents believe we are gaining an unfair advantage on the other teams, who were viewed as playing more fairly than we did. We shouldn’t be able to fall back on some definition that says we were pushing the boundaries an ‘acceptable’ amount – we were the single worst-spirited team playing, and if we have any conscience whatsoever we shouldn’t enjoy winning like that.
And what would we lose if we defined a good score as 20/20? Only the ability to ‘reward’ examples of great spirit. But there is, in my opinion, no such thing as displaying great spirit – to say that there is is to say that actually we expect our opponent to cheat a little bit (or at least to delude herself in the heat of the moment) and that we’re surprised when she does what she is always supposed to do.³
The concept of ‘great spirit’ comes from comparison to other sports where there is no obligation towards sportsmanship, and going above and beyond is very much to be celebrated. But under self-officiation, perfect spirit has to be an expectation and not a surprise. It’s madness to suggest that there is an ‘acceptable’ level of imperfect spirit from someone acting as a referee, or that we should assume only mediocre spirit from a referee until proven otherwise in the heat of a close game.
In short – I believe that the current scoring system misrepresents what spirit is, by implying that there is a level of spirit which is ‘good enough’. But more than that, I also believe that in the longer term it will do a poor job of driving improvement (or of slowing any decline). Both of these can be fixed, in my opinion, by starting from 20/20.⁴