Spirit Scoring – A Dissenting Opinion

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.


¹ To be fair to them, there turned out to be an error in someone’s submission and they finished mid-table, but nonetheless being told you are the worst spirited team and being able to dismiss it out of hand is deeply worrying.
² One thought I have, but which I’m not clear enough about to put in the main text, is that we can be a little more objective with our scoring. Rather than a general sense of ‘good’ or ‘bad’, the psychology of ‘taking a mark off’ leads us to look for specifics. When did they foul us? How many times? How did they display a bad attitude? Perhaps even the scoring notes could reflect that – “The following behaviours all cost one mark…” or whatever.
³ When someone calls a foul, it is my duty under spirit of the game to assume that he genuinely believes a foul occurred, even if I disagree. I have to assume he’s not cheating, but that he saw the events differently to myself. He gets the benefit of the doubt. Why then is it reasonable for me, in a wider context, to assume that his spirit is mediocre until proven otherwise? Rather, I should be assuming it’s perfect until he actually demonstrates imperfect behaviour.
By the way, I’m definitely NOT recommending unilateral action to start giving 20s to everyone. If a few teams do that, it creates so much noise in the data that it makes the feedback from other teams invisible. What we have now isn’t useless, and it would be selfish in the extreme to try and subvert the system based on a belief about how it should be scored. I am arguing for a top-down change in policy that would then apply to all the feedback.
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28 Responses to Spirit Scoring – A Dissenting Opinion

  1. Gabriele says:

    I can see your point, but respectfully disagree: while it is true that we should aim for great spirit in all games, setting the target to score 20/20 in all games is unrealistic since in some games there may not be enough opportunities to assess if an opposing team is behaving exceptionally well (a requisite for scoring a 4)
    On the other hand, I do agree that we can do better that what we are doing now. Some concrete proposal:
    1) The TD should alert the teams that are performing below the average during the tournament, and see if this leads to an improvement
    2) Spirit scoring reports should display a breakdown in each area and highlight areas where there is room for improvement regardless of the overall spirit score (eg: if a team scored badly in “Rules knowledge” but well in all other areas, the overall result may be good, but still not good enough)
    This way, teams will be actively encouraged to improve, and will be able to better target their corrective actions. All of the above hinges on the teams to provide the spirit scoring in time and accurately, which is often not the case. Maybe we could add one more spirit score field to be filled by the TD on timeliness and accuracy of the Spirit scoring? Providing the spirit scores and helping the TD is part of having good spirit, too!
    Last but not least, we need a simple, easy to use tool to collect these scores, or else the TD will drown in paper, and waste WAY too much time copying data. (Developing such tool would be a great little project to run. I may look into that… )


    • Hi Gabriele – I agree that there is no opportunity to show that you deserve a 4 in most games (with a ‘4’ as currently defined). But my point is that we should assume you have ideal spirit unless demonstrated otherwise. A score of 4 becomes the default, not an ‘exceptional’ score. And then every other score demonstrates how far we fell short.

      We may not have an opportunity to display spirit under pressure in every game, but for sure we have an opportunity to display poor spirit on every single play. If we go through a whole game with no examples of bad spirit, then I strongly believe the assumption has to be that my spirit was good.

      I’m not saying we should always award a 20 based on the CURRENT wording of the spirit sheet – I’m saying we should define 20 as the new normal.


      • In a sense, you’re begging the question a little. My point is that I don’t believe there should be room in the scoring system for a ‘better than expected score’, but your complaint is that the scoring system wouldn’t allow an opportunity for someone to demonstrate great spirit. That’s deliberately what I’m aiming for – I’m trying to argue that there should be no way to ever demonstrate better than expected spirit, but rather that perfect spirit should be the default assumption. 🙂


        • Edd says:

          I agree that it’s too easy to see an average of 10 and not think about it again. Or to see that I’ve come third-bottom, but with like 9.8, and thought “well that’s basically fine, it was just that one match against those utter tools that skewed it”.

          Do you have any upcoming events that can have a rewritten Spirit sheet trialed at? Say, UMON..? Something which rephrases things as “why can’t you give 4/4 for fouls?” and puts the onus on the Spirit sheet filler outer to justify not giving perfect scores.


          • Graham says:

            With regards to those ‘utter tools’, I’ve wondered in the past along the same lines, is there any room in the spirit-scoring system to analyse the scores you give as well as the scores you receive? I mean, if there is a team out there who consistently score their opponents 7 or 8 for no other reason that they feel morally superior but got beaten, then surely someone should have a word with them? Assuming their opponents all score them average they may never realise what utter tools they’re being by marking everyone else down, when statistically evidently they are the problem. Not sure if I’ve explained that very clearly, but it’s just a thought I’ve had in the past, a bit off topic from UU’s post!


            • We’ve considered adding in that mechanism for the Spirit Championships in the US since spirit scores will be part of determining which teams advance. http://www.freefallseries.com But its a complicated mechanism, so it seems unlikely that most people would put in that much extra effort if it wasn’t playing a part in who advanced, or in determining a substantial spirit prize.


  2. Erik Postma says:

    Did you mean 9.6 out of 20, rather than 9.6 out of 10?


  3. Andy says:

    I’m in full agreement!

    So many times you come out of a game with very few calls (particularly in much shorter indoor games) and find yourself giving 2s for rule knowledge because there wasn’t any discussion of rules throughout the game!

    When zero fouls are called in a game we hardly ever end up giving a 4, because its rare that people have the opportunity to display an act that stops contact occurring or pulls out of a dangerous situation (and why should that be marked higher than someone who never gets into potentially dangerous situations anyway?)


  4. epicalex says:

    Working with the concept of 20 as the new normal is the right feedback received by both teams?

    Team 1 commits 1 foul, the player just says ‘no contest’. They have no occasion to have any other discussions. They have no occasion to demonstrate their rules knowledge. But, as you say, we should be presuming perfect knowledge etc, even though there were no opportunities to show it, so we mark them 19/20, losing 1 mark for Fouls and Body Contact.

    Team 2 commits 1 foul that could have been avoided, there’s discussion if it was a dangerous play, but the player had tripped before the contact. The player in question takes a long time in the discussion, even though he’s kind of accepting it could have been avoided, even though it was accidental. At 30 seconds the captain comes in and tells his player that from his perspective it was a foul and explains the rules on initiating contact. The player doesn’t contest. Team 2 lose 1 mark from Fouls and Body Contact. They get scored 19/20.

    When Team 2 get their spirit scoresheet, they get 5/5 for communication, the same as Team 1.

    Is this right? Haven’t Team 2 demonstrated better spirit, and demonstrated better rules knowledge? Shouldn’t they be placed higher based on our actual experience of their spirit? The 10/20 therefore gives an opportunity to alter someone’s score +vely and -vely in different categories. You’re only able to penalise someone, not reward them when normal is 20/20.

    (p.s this feels really similar to empiricism vs rationalism)

    I do feel like the current system is broken, by the way, but more because the distribution around 10 isn’t what you’d expect for ‘average spirit’. I’d actually just suggest working out the average score for that tournament, and an individual team’s relation to the average does then give them something to strive to improve. They’re no longer comparing themselves to the ‘average’ of 10, but the actual average. This would eventually drive everyone up towards 20/20, if we presume people care about their ranking and relation to the mean…


    • I think that’s the nub of the question – should we, or should we not, be able to ‘reward’ those who /demonstrate/ good spirit above those who merely don’t behave badly?

      I take your point, to some extent, and I totally get why so many people think it’s absurd to not be able to mark someone up for doing the right thing. But I’d argue you could just as easily look at it the other way.

      I’d argue that the ‘feedback’ received by the two teams you mention is utterly perfect – neither has demonstrated that they have anything much to work on besides the occasional foul, and so the feedback says only that.

      Indeed, I could make your argument much more strongly against the current system. This next is a slightly big-headed paragraph, maybe, but it’s the best demonstration I can think of… 🙂

      I know the rules pretty well. I sit on the WFDF rules committee, and I got 10/10 on that really hard Advanced Accreditation quiz (without looking at the rules, even though it’s an open book exam). But I don’t get involved in that many contentious games where I could demonstrate it.

      The feedback I get, in the current system, is that my rules knowledge is right in the middle of the pack – there is almost always a bunch of teams scoring higher than my team. That, I would say, is really really poor feedback, because it completely fails to motivate any action. (Or perhaps, motivates me to go and study the rules more, which as a confirmed rules geek I will find pretty tough to do!).

      The feedback you describe in your example above is actually very good – it tells you what you’re doing wrong, and what you need to fix.

      If we set the level to 20, then you’re right, we miss a lot of opportunities to give feedback about the good things people do. But when we set the level to 10, we give a lot of INCORRECT feedback. It’s telling me to go and learn the rules! 🙂

      If there’s a team out there with utterly impeccable spirit in every circumstance, chances are good that they will NOT get the highest score in a given tournament under the current system. Someone else will play closer games and get a higher score. That is truly /terrible/ feedback, insofar as we believe that the purpose of feedback is to tell us what to work on!

      Are you really convinced that the feedback from a 20/20 system is worse than what we have now? It seems to me it’s at worst a matter of personal preference. And given that I so strongly believe that setting an ‘acceptable’ level of spirit is dangerous, I’m more than happy to move to a system that solves my feedback issue, creates your feedback issue, and ALSO makes clear that spirit should always be an impossible ideal and not something where we accept mediocrity.


      • epicalex says:

        I follow, and agree with, everything you’ve replied with, and I’m not suggesting I’m in favour of the current system and against your concept, I think there are just a lot of nuances and I’m interested in it 😉

        But, think about the flip side of your point about your own rules knowledge. The 20/20 system doesn’t give the team with average rules knowledge any information that their knowledge is actually average – just the information that on this occasion they didn’t demonstrate anything to detract from a presumed excellent knowledge.

        How then do you differentiate between those whose rules knowledge is presumed excellent, and those whose rules knowledge is demonstrably excellent? You get both the teams with utterly impeccable spirit in every circumstance on 20/20, as well as the teams who just didn’t have occasion to screw up 😉 It just feels like starting on a maximum gives too little ability to introduce variance, if you always work from presumed excellence, as the rules of SOTG imply.

        Which raises another point – should the table and standings be of importance? Should more emphasis be placed on delivering the scores to teams directly, discussing their scores, comparing them to the average at the tournament (as per my last point), as opposed to the ‘acceptable average’ of 10, if our focus is on relevant feedback to help teams improve in areas where they are weak?

        I’d be interested in a discussion about how spirit scoring, and scoring people higher than 2 in a category in the current system fits into the idea of loss aversion; if, even though you’re ranking another team, it requires more to have gone wrong to mark someone down, than it takes to mark someone up… Maybe there are studies into that already, maybe with figure skating or gymnastics? I think that’d provide some interesting material if it does exist. But then we’re getting away from the idea of SOTG…


        • Thanks Alex.

          On your point about how we distinguish between those who are excellent and those who merely had no opportunity to show where they fall short…

          The answer is that we play multiple games. Whenever we do something wrong, we get marked down, whereas that ‘perfect’ team do not. If we’re perfect in so many circumstances that we go through a whole tournament without getting marked down, then great. At some point our Achilles’ heel of spirit will be revealed, and we’ll get feedback to tell us where we went wrong. Until then, we’ll just be told we’re doing a good job. I see nothing wrong in that.

          If we look at it from a perspective of awarding a spirit ‘prize’, then of course we all do believe that the deserving team is the one who showed spirit under pressure, not the one who coasted through easy games. But if we believe the purpose of spirit scores is to give you feedback on what to improve, then I really do think it should just be about showing you where you messed up. That will fail to differentiate between teams in many instances, but that’s OK – what matters is that when we mess up we get clear feedback about it.

          Imagine a team, under the current system, that plays a bunch of great games to average 12 against their (weaker) pool-play opposition, then makes a couple of shocking calls in the semi-final to win a close one. They might go home with an average of 10 and be quite happy.

          Whereas under my proposed system, EVERY bit of bad spirit would show up in the data. You can’t dismiss your bad scores based on the fact that another team really liked the way you played – it’s unequivocal that in one of your matches you let yourself down.

          I agree there is a slight downside in that we don’t differentiate between teams quite as well, because we lose one of the ways of separating them (i.e. rewarding ‘good’ spirit). But the trade-off is that we get really, really good feedback whenever we do mess up.


  5. Dear ‘Understanding Ultimate’, did you read the additional documentation of the WFDF Scoring system? There is an Examples Document that shows what to score and when: http://wfdf.org/sotg/sotg-downloads/doc_download/507-examples-sotg-scoring-system-2014-en.

    The key is not the number, but the consistency in scoring. If teams use the Examples Document and a team has an average of 9.6, chill… It could mean that in 3 games (up to 5 hours of playing!) they had two 10’s (good Spirit with zero problems) and one 9 (e.g.. 2 instances of body contact). That is not worth fretting about.

    What about the majority of games where there is no need to display ‘great’ Spirit? It is just a good game. No calls, no problems. Just normal. Like 80% games we play. Should that get your top score of 20 points? Then there is a game with more difficulties. Very intense, possibilities for body contact are much higher, lots on the line, and a team clearly avoids body contact and when shouted at because of a call, they maintain calm and display good Spirit. Should they also get a 20 like in the other game? Or should they get ‘rewarded’ for keeping a cool head and avoiding body contact? The WFDF system can reward Spirit above the normal we all should strive for and has clear examples on what that means.

    Is one of your dislikes the actual number? A 20 instead of a 10? I know Americans are used to 20 being a perfect score. Many Europeans are used to a 10 being a perfect score, and other groups think a 5 or 100 is perfect. The system was designed to be global and we settled on a 10 for many reasons.

    I hope you read all the documents and see how it is a complete system with roles, responsibilities, guidelines, and examples. It is much more than a bunch of numbers on a sheet that you have to fill in: http://wfdf.org/sotg/sotg-downloads/cat_view/42-sotg-documents/133-spirit-scoring-management.


    • Hi Patrick,

      I do understand the current system – I even contributed to the discussion about the wording of it, through Amberish and the UK SotG committee. I think it’s a very good system, given the underlying philosophy that we should be able to reward good spirit.

      I disagree, though, with that underlying philosophy.

      I understand that for many people it’s so immediately obvious that we should be able to reward good spirit that they don’t even realise there’s a choice in the matter – witness some of the comments in this thread.

      But nevertheless, I do disagree with it.

      The point of spirit feedback is surely to tell me where to improve. And given my belief that we should all be acting with perfect spirit all the time (even though in practice we’ll fail), then what we need to know is where we messed up. The current system doesn’t give us that information cleanly.

      Let’s say that sometimes I act with good spirit, and sometimes not. Under the current system, I might finish the tournament with an average of 10 and go home happy. Perhaps I did a few things that weren’t great (and got scored down), and a few things that were correct despite the game being closely fought (and got scored higher), so I end up with a score that says I’m doing well overall. But that disguises the fact that there were occasions where I messed up! In acting as a referee, I did something wrong – how can I seriously go home content that I did a great job with my SotG? I should be aiming for ZERO instances of imperfect spirit.

      Contrast my suggested system, where the good things I do are expected, but every single time I fall short of good spirit, that lost mark SHOWS UP in my score. That feedback is much, much cleaner – everything I do wrong is pointed out. And since I believe, strongly, that we should all be aiming for perfect spirit, I don’t really care that any occasions of ‘good’ spirit go unrewarded – there’s no such thing as ‘good’ spirit (it’s only what I’m supposed to do in every single instance).

      Honestly, I’m not surprised to find a lot of people disagreeing with me. I’m utterly, perhaps foolishly, convinced I’m right, but I can certainly see why people would differ. But I’m honestly scared by your assertion that 9.6/20 is OK. They were the worst, out of 22 teams!

      This rather demonstrates that you DO believe there is an acceptable level of spirit – even if every other team is better, it’s OK for you to just do a mediocre job. But for me, that idea is utterly incompatible with self-refereeing. It’s mad to expect our ‘referees’ to do only an ‘OK’ job of controlling their emotions or playing the game fairly. We have to hold ourselves to the highest standards.

      In other sports, it is definitely possible to display sportsmanship that is above what is necessary. But when we are the referees, it should not be. SotG MUST be a perfect ideal that we strive for, and not something where doing ‘OK’ should be acceptable.


  6. Did you read the examples document (http://wfdf.org/sotg/sotg-downloads/doc_download/507-examples-sotg-scoring-system-2014-en)? That really helps determine how to score and what it means to get a 10.

    Most of the games played are just good games. Spirit is normal because nothing special happens.Should those get anything less than your 20? There is nothing any team should consider to improve. There were no bad calls. There was no question about rules, etc…

    Your statement of “Well, 10/20 is good enough, even though I could have done better.” builds the wrong premise: a 10 means you did nothing wrong. It was simply a good game. If there is nothing to react to, how can you do better?

    But then there is a game where you have to *actively* avoid body contact and when your teammate makes a call you don’t agree with you respectfully tell him why you think that is the wrong call. Should that game also be rewarded with a 20? Or should active Spirit behavior be rewarded?

    The WFDF system allows for that nuance, because there is the Examples Document. It clearly states what to expect. Be happy with a 10. You displayed good Spirit even though it wasn’t obvious. For anything less, and especially looking at the categories, learn from it. For a score higher than a 10, be happy. You showed that you can *actively* display good spirit!


    • Weird. I commented last night but this morning my response was not up. So I posted again. Now both posts are up. Slightly different wordings.


    • “For a score higher than a 10, be happy.”

      What about the point I make in the article that scoring 13 is an incentive (possibly subconscious) to be LESS spirited in the future? If I’m a serious competitor, and I’m told that 10 is good enough, then I am literally throwing away games I could have won when I score 13. I could have done a much more selfish, biassed job as a referee, and STILL been designated as ‘good’.

      That’s madness, surely?


      • Gabriele says:

        I would not go that far: I have never heard of people deciding to behave differently since the spirit score told them they were being too nice. I think on the other hand that it is a positive celebration that will reinforce the behavior.

        Besides, the spirit scoresheets are a work in progress: we have seen important changes just a couple of years ago (the change to “communications” was a great improvement over the previous version, and another critical improvement was the inclusion of the guidelines to foster better consistency in the scoring. – which should address the issue of a 9.6 being the bottom scoring in a tournament.)

        The important question is how the scoresheets can become even better.

        I do agree that providing constructive feedback on any incidence of “not great” spirit would be VERY valuable, but that would require every team to provide the scoresheets very soon after a game (or else it becomes difficult to remember the exact incidents in the game, and who was part of it in the other team), and to provide a description of each occurrence, possibly with suggestions for improvement. This long, qualitative feedback would be extremely useful for the opposing team, and the TD. However, this would be impractical for any tournament with paper-based forms: the amount of work needed to transcribe the feedback would be massive!
        If we had the technical tools to collect feedback in such detail I would completely agree that it would be a sign of good spirit to aim for a perfect record, where the opposing team has recorded no instances of poor spirit but only kudos. However, as long as the teams provide feedback late, and the scoresheet can collect only very limited text, the current scoresheets do a good job of capturing how a game went, and any exception to what is expected as good behavior. While it is not ideal, it is as good as it can be done right now.
        To move this forward we would need a tool to remind (demand?) the captains to fill the scoresheets, submit them to the TD, and then share the feedback with the opposing team. We could bring this one step further and create a single unified database of spirit scoresheets to shows team progression across different tournaments… but i would stay on what is practical and doable right now.

        Lacking the tools to provide detailed feedback, I think the current scoresheet do a good job of highlighting recurring issues and celebrating admirable behavior, which does drive the players to improve… if they care for it. If not, it is the tools that will make a difference.


        • I think we have to agree to disagree on this one mate. I don’t agree that we need to give a team every bit of specific data to make that negative feedback worthwhile – I think the current system will work fine, just with the emphasis and definitions switched to make 20/20 the new normal. The teams giving a score would hopefully be clear about why they were marking you down, but it isn’t vital that every single foul is written about carefully for you to work out how to avoid it – the general feedback of losing a few marks in a category is enough.

          My point is that at the moment that negative feedback – the really important stuff, that tells us where we failed to uphold spirit – is being hidden by the idea that we can get ‘bonus’ points for spirit that is better than expected. I don’t think that we SHOULD be able to perform better than expected, because the expectation should be perfection, and I don’t think it’s helpful to have those +ve scores hide the important feedback.


      • In the gazzilion years I have played, I have never heard that someone would even consider playing differently because they got a high Spirit score before. I really don’t think that is a valid argument.

        I still don’t see an explanation why a game with nothing happening (positive or negative) should get the same 20 as the game where great Spirit is *actively* displayed.

        Active display of good Spirit should be rewarded. Active display of bad Spirit should be penalized. The rest is just the game we play: normal, good Spirit.


        • 🙂 I know you think that good spirit should be rewarded, and I know that many others feel the same way. The question that is hard to answer is ‘Why?’. Most of us have a gut instinct that we should be rewarding good spirit, but my point is that I don’t agree and I can’t see a really good argument for it when we actually look in detail.

          That’s precisely the point at issue, and your last sentence just states an opinion on the matter. I guess I’ve failed to make a good case as to why we shouldn’t reward good spirit – but it’s not clear to me that that’s the only direction this discussion can go in. What about if I just make the claim that it’s equally obvious to me that we /shouldn’t/ reward good spirit – can you frame an argument to change MY mind? Or are we both just stuck in unarguable philosophical positions?

          They’re two very different ideas I think; I’ve tried (and possibly failed) to express why I feel the way I do. Can you try to justify your reasons for feeling the other way? I’m very interested to see where we get to in that discussion.


          And as for the other point – I agree that I don’t know of anyone consciously choosing to be less spirited. But is it the case that teams who are performing consistently above ten are able to ignore spirit? To stop focussing on it at training and stop pushing the concepts for new players? And does that then tend to degrade their spirit over time? I think so.

          Are there teams out there scoring 11 who could do an even better job of self-officiation but don’t focus on it because they’re already ‘good’? Again, I think so. The current system does not drive improvement nearly as well as a 20/20 system would.

          There are certainly teams out there who pride themselves on spirit and will keep striving even if scoring 12 or 13 on the current system. But there are, unarguably, teams – I could name three or four in the UK off the top of my head – who are content to score between 8 and 10 and are able to pretend to themselves that this is ‘close enough to OK’. I really do believe that under a system which had no ‘acceptable’ level, we would remove their excuse for poor behaviour.

          They currently feel zero pressure to perform any acts of what you might call ‘good’ spirit; under my system they would certainly be pushed to improve. They might still ignore it of course, but the change in the psychology is significant I feel.


          • I don’t have the time to do a literature review, but I would be shocked if science shows that only highlighting negative behaviour makes people change.

            As a parent and Ultimate coach I see that recognizing positive behavior and rewarding of good actions makes people want to repeat them. Why would this be different in Spirit scoring? Did I ever quantify it? No. Does that mean that the logic is flawed? No. Is it a good enough reason for feeling the way I do? You tell me.

            As for your other point, do you think that the three or four teams you mentioned would change their ways because they would get an 14(?) out of 20 instead of a score between 8-10? And would you change an entire system, including stopping rewarding positive behavior, because there are a few teams that you think are possibly taking advantage of it? I think there are better ways to change those teams, while continuing to publically recognize positive display of Spirit of all the other teams.


            • Thanks – I think that’s a sensible response. I do agree that rewarding positive behaviour generally works better than punishing negative behaviour. Where I still disagree is on the existence of positive behaviour in SotG – I still don’t think there’s such a thing as ‘good’ spirit. We have to expect spirit to be perfect – we’re the referees! How can I be surprised or impressed when one of the referees makes a call to the detriment of his own team? That’s surely what he’s supposed to do, every time, is it not?

              I don’t think we’ll ever agree on this one as it comes down to a basic philosophical question about what spirit is. For me, it means perfection; for others, perhaps it means doing well enough to make the game work and /hopefully/ going above and beyond that. I just can’t, philosophically, be comfortable with a system that suggests that doing what we’re always supposed to do can be ‘exceptional’.


              • Graham says:

                i can see both sides of this argument. I agree with UU that in an ideal world everyone would play with perfect spirit, and so everyone should be assumed to have perfect spirit unless there’s evidence to the contrary. The current version of the score-sheet is an improvement on the previous version in that respect. I always disliked the previous version’s ‘their spirit compared to yours’ category, which prevented you from scoring a team above 2 unless you felt your own spirit was below average. Or meant you might have to mark them down if you thought your own spirit was above average, even if theirs wasn’t below average. (Albeit UU’s argument is that there shouldn’t be an ‘average’ spirit.) I’m glad that category’s been changed, though the current version’s ‘examples sheet’ still has some bits like that.

                However, we don’t live in a perfect world. The current system recognises that by assuming an average score which always leaves room for improvement. It also creates more scope for identifying (and rewarding) the team with the best score. A system which defaulted to the maximum score would presumably be more likely to see several teams scoring that 20 in a tournament (given most teams score above the current default 10 in most tournaments at the moment) so how would you decide who to award the spirit prize to?

                I suppose you could combine the old-old and new systems, so the score-sheet was used to compile data and give feedback for improvement, but teams also simply voted for their most spirited opponent for the purposes of awarding the prize on the day?

                When I started playing, 17 years ago, there was roughly the same prestige given to winning the spirit prize as winning the tournament. That no longer seems to be the case (or at least it feels like that to me). I suspect that’s because nowadays you have to wait days or even weeks for the Spirit data to be compiled and calculated so the spirit winner is often announced some time after the event, or even forgotten about altogether.

                UU and Patrick both agree that positive reinforcement of good behaviour works better than negative reinforcement of bad (in fact another of UU’s recent posts was on that very topic). So you hopefully both agree that awarding a spirit prize is a good thing. It’s the carrot to the critical feedback’s stick. I think we need both.

                I think UU’s system would be a better way of determining and feeding back where improvements needs to be made. With that system no team could be happy with an ‘average’ score of 10. But without the positive reinforcement of the prize as well, the spirit score could be at risk of becoming just another stat that gets forgotten about. Anyway, that’s my tuppence.


  7. Interesting stuff. I got thinking along these lines while watching that point between Lleyton Hewitt and Jack Sock (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q24vr-nwpbI) that has been heralded as amazing sportsmanship.

    (Lleyton serves. Called out. Sock tells Hewitt to challenge because it was in. It was in. Sock is God of sportsmanship)

    What I have said in chats with ulty players and others is that in ultimate you are expected to help reverse the call if you are gaining an advantage unfairly (am I right or not? I think I am). In ultimate we can do it without going through an official so its easier, but that’s not amazing sportsmanship on an ultimate field. If I am on the field and my teammate catches the disc with his foot on the line, I am supposed to call him out, or tell him he’s out, or whatever. If I don’t, I am deficient in spirit. If I do, I am getting us 3 or better on the current spirit sheet, 4 on UU’s sheet.

    If his foot is inside the line, there is no call to be made. With nothing else interesting happening in the game, we’re getting a 2 on the WFDF spirit sheet, and still a 4 on UU’s. But I promise, I would have called him out, I swear. But I didn’t get the chance. And I’m judged as less spirited on the current score sheets than someone who got that chance.

    Along those lines…

    The difference between 2 and 3 in the fouls and body contact is…

    Nothing significant occurred beyond
    incidental contact


    There was at least one clear case of
    thoughtful contact avoidance

    Having a chance to take someone out means our score will likely either be 1 or 3 though I’m the same guy…

    Anywho, I still stand by the I-SIP (Imbibing Spirit in Practice) system where you give more of your booze to good spirited teams. No scoring system can beat that…


  8. I’ll confess that Benji’s initial arguments had me convinced. Perfect spirit should be the ideal. But to me this comes down to a common mistake I believe most people talking about spirit are making. To me, lack of good spirit does not equal bad spirit, and lack of bad spirit does not equal good spirit. There is also simply unspirited. Good spirit, no spirit, and bad spirit. For the most part I agree that a team which demonstrates good spirit should not get the same score as a team which never had an occasion to demonstrate good or bad spirit; although there is something to be said for not putting yourself into position to make a dangerous play or pull off from a dangerous play, for example.
    It’s actually one of the problems I have with the current sheet; it seems more geared towards judging whether or not your opponents demonstrated bad spirit, rather than if they demonstrated good spirit.

    I think the best solution is a dual score sheet. On one side of the definitions you have a box where you can mark your opponents down for their instances of bad spirit, on the other side you can mark them up for their good spirit. I understand that at first thought this might seem to complicate matters further, but I think this could actually speed up scoring once people get used to it. “Did the other team demonstrate any lack of rules knowledge, or did they use the rules to gain an advantage?* 0, -1, -2, -3, or -4” If nobody says anything, then you mark a zero. If 1 or 2 people say something you give a -1, if several people say something, then a -2, and if the whole team says yes, then you discuss if it merited a -3 or -4. Then the same thing for demonstrating a good knowledge of the rules on other occasions, and not using the rules to take advantage or even correcting a teammate about a rule.

    After you are done, you’ve got a record of how a team fell short in each category and how they excelled. And if you really want to give feedback, why not have the teams quickly huddle up immediately after the game to fill out the spirit sheet AND THEN do the spirit circle. I will admit that as an American, I’m about as far as possible from being an expert on spirit circles, but isn’t the point of the spirit circle to share feedback? Why not have that feedback be as specific as possible.
    Then teams can write the spirit scores they’ve received down as well as what they gave their opponent, or with an online system, both captains can submit the game score and the spirit scores together.

    Teams that are really diligent can even designate somebody to take notes during the game, and you can even have a short spirit circle at halftime.

    You could also have a bonus section at the bottom: Did the other team exhibit any negative or positive behavior which isn’t covered by this sheet?

    *The biggest problem I have with the current sheet is the term Rules Knowledge and Use. Using the rules is a violation of SotG. You can follow the rules, you can adhere to the rules, but using the rules to your advantage? Come on! The rules are armor to protect you from being taken advantage of, not a weapon you wield to gain an advantage.

    Rules Knowledge and Respect or Rules Knowledge and Lack of Abuse – I know fairmindedness is covered later on, but to start out with how well a team uses the rules sets a bad tone for the rest of the sheet in my opinion, not to mention that have Rules Knowledge first implies that its most important. I’ll share the new Spirit Sheet I’m working on once its done.

    Good article Benji, and good discussion everyone, each argument made me think.


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