While originally called "Ultimate Frisbee," the sport is often simply called "Ultimate." This is because "Frisbee" is the trademark for the line of discs made by the Wham-O toy company. In fact, discs made by Wham-O competitor Discraft are the standard discs for the sport, because they are more streamlined and have a softer curved edge for easier handling. For this reason, the sport has also been called "Ultimate Disc" by many teams and clubs. Today, the sport is simply known as "Ultimate."
While the rules governing movement and scoring of the disc have not changed, the early Columbia High School games had sidelines that were defined by the parking lot of the school and team sizes based on the number of players that showed up. Gentlemanly behavior and gracefulness were held high. (A foul was defined as contact "sufficient to arouse the ire of the player fouled.") No referees were present, which still holds true today: all ultimate matches (even at high level events) are self-officiated. At higher levels of play 'observers' are often present. Observers only make calls when appealed to by one of the teams, at which point the result is binding.
The first intercollegiate competition was held at Rutgers's New Brunswick campus between Rutgers and Princeton on November 6, 1972, the 103rd anniversary of the first intercollegiate game of American football featuring the same schools competing in the same location.
By 1975, dozens of colleges had teams, and in April 1975, players organized the first ultimate tournament, an eight-team invitational called the "Intercollegiate Ultimate Frisbee Championships," to be played at Yale. Rutgers beat Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 26-23 in the finals.
By 1976, teams were organizing in areas outside the Northeast. A 16-team single elimination tournament was set up at Amherst, Massachusetts, to include 13 East Coast teams and 3 Midwest teams. Rutgers again took the title, beating Hampshire College in the finals. Penn State and Princeton were the other semi-finalists. While it was called the "National Ultimate Frisbee Championships", ultimate was starting to appear in the Los Angeles and Santa Barbara area.
Penn State hosted the first five-region National Ultimate Championships in May 1979. There were five regional representatives: three college and two club teams. They were as follows: Cornell University-(Northeast), Glassboro State- (Middle Atlantic), Michigan State-(Central), Orlando Fling-(South), Santa Barbara Condors-(West). Each team played the other in a round robin format to produce a Glassboro-Condors final. The Condors had gone undefeated up to this point; however Glassboro prevailed 19-18 to become the 1979 national champions. They repeated as champions in 1980 as well.
The first College Nationals made up exclusively of college teams took place in 1984 in Somerville, MA. The event, hosted by the Tufts University E-Men crowned Stanford its winner, as they beat Glassboro State in the finals.
In the same year, ultimate arrived in the United Kingdom, with the UK's first clubs forming at the University of Warwick and the University of Cambridge, and Purley high school, by the late 1970s and early 1980s there were also clubs at the University of Southampton, University of Leicester, and University of Bradford.
The popularity of the sport quickly spread, taking hold as a free-spirited alternative to traditional organized sports. In recent years college ultimate has attracted a greater number of traditional athletes, raising the level of competition and athleticism and providing a challenge to its laid back, free-spirited roots.
Founded in 1986, incorporated in 1993 the Ottawa-Carleton Ultimate Association based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, has the largest summer league in the world with 354 teams and over 5000 players as of 2004.
In 2006 ultimate became a BUCS accredited sport at UK universities for both indoor and outdoor open division events.
Regulation games are played on a field of 70 yards (64 meters) by 40 yards (37 meters). Under UPA rules, endzones are 25 yards (23 meters) deep, while under WFDF rules, endzones are 19.5 yards (18 metres) deep. Normally, ultimate is played outdoors on grass. Boundaries are marked by chalklines and cones.
The pull is often started by a member of the defending team raising one arm with the disc to show that they are ready to pull the disc and begin play. The team that pulls to start the game is usually decided in a manner similar to a coin toss. One popular way to decide which team pulls involves a player from both teams flipping a disc into the air while a third player calls "same" or "different" depending on how the discs land. If the player guesses correctly, their team gets to decide if they who gets the disc to start the game or choose the side that they wish to start on.
Upon receiving the disc, a player has ten seconds to pass it. This period is known as the "stall", and each second is counted out (a stall count) by a defender (the marker), who must be standing within three meters of the thrower. A player may keep the disc for longer than ten seconds if no marker is within three meters, or if the marker is not counting the stall; if there is a change of marker, the new marker must restart the stall from zero.
After a point is scored, the teams exchange ends. The team who just scored remains in that end zone, and the opposing team takes the opposite end zone. This can be commonly referred to in the phrase: "Losers walk." Play is re-initiated with a pull by the scoring team.
Reasons for turnovers:
The introduction of observers is, in part, an attempt by the UPA to allow games to run more smoothly and become more spectator-friendly. Because of the nature of play and the unique nature of self-refereeing, ultimate games are often subject to regular and long stoppages of play. This effort and the intensity that has arisen in the highest levels of competition have led many members of the ultimate community to lament the loss of the Spirit of the Game.
Some indoor leagues play Speedpoint, also known as Quebec City rules (4 on 4), in order to speed up play:
Indoor ultimate is played widely in Northern Europe during the winter because of frigid weather conditions. In North America, indoor ultimate tends to be played in venues that can accommodate a field of regular or near-regular size and the playing surface is AstroTurf or some other kind of artificial grass. In Europe, on the other hand, such facilities are rarely available, and indoor ultimate is usually on a handball or basketball court. In northern European and Scandinavian countries handball courts are the norm, whereas in the UK, Russia, and Southern Europe, basketball courts are more commonly used. Players often wear protection such as knee, elbow and wrist pads, much like in volleyball to avoid bruises and cuts when laying out.
European indoor ultimate has evolved as a variant of standard outdoor ultimate. Because of the small size of the court and of the absence of wind, several indoor-specific offensive and defensive tactics have been developed. Moreover, throws such as scoobers, blades, hammers, and push-passes are rarely used or discouraged outdoors because even a little wind makes them inaccurate or because they are effective only at short range, but they are common in the small and wind-free indoor courts. The stall count is reduced to 8 seconds because of the faster nature of the indoor game.
There are regular indoor tournaments and championships and stable indoor teams. The best-known and longest-running indoor tournament is the Skogshyddan's Vintertrofén held in Gothenburg, Sweden, every year.
Beach ultimate is a variant of this activity. It is played in teams of four or five players on small fields. It is played on sand and, as the name implies, normally at the beach. Players are barefoot. The Beach Ultimate Lovers Association (BULA) is the international governing body for Beach Ultimate.
Most beach ultimate tournaments are played according to BULA rules, which are based on WFDF rules with a few modifications.
One of the largest and most notable beach ultimate tournaments is the co-ed tournament held annually at Wildwood, New Jersey.
Teams employ many different offensive strategies with different goals. Most basic strategies are an attempt to create open lanes on the field for the exchange of the disc between the thrower and the receiver. Organized teams assign positions to the players based on their specific strengths. Designated throwers are called handlers and designated receivers are called cutters. The amount of autonomy or overlap between these positions depends on the make-up of the team.
One of the most common offensive strategies is the vertical stack. In this strategy, the offense lines up in a straight line along the length of the field. From this position, players in the stack make cuts (sudden sprints out of the stack) towards or away from the handler in an attempt to get open and receive the disc. The stack generally lines up in the middle of the field, thereby opening up two lanes along the sidelines for cuts, although a captain may occasionally call for the stack to line up closer to one sideline, leaving open just one larger cutting lane on the other side.
Another popular offensive strategy is the horizontal stack. In the most popular form of this offense, three handlers line up across the width of the field with four cutters upfield, also lined up across the field. It is the handler's job to throw the disc upfield to the cutters. If no upfield options are available, the handlers swing the disc side to side in an attempt to reset the stall count while also getting the defense out of position.
Many advanced teams develop specific offenses that are variations on the basics in order to take advantage of the strengths of specific players. Frequently, these offenses are meant to isolate a few key players in one-on-one situations, allowing them more freedom of movement and the ability to make most of the plays, while the others play a supporting role.
Players making cuts have two major options in how they cut. They may cut in towards the disc and attempt to find an open avenue between defenders for a short pass, or they may cut away from the disc towards the deep field. The deep field is usually sparsely defended but requires the handler to throw a huck (a long downfield throw).
A variation on the horizontal stack offense is called a feature. In this offensive strategy three of the cutters line up deeper than usual (roughly 5 yards farther downfield) while the remaining cutter lines up closer to the handlers. This closest cutter is known as the "feature." The idea behind this strategy is that it opens up space for the feature to cut, and at the same time it allows handlers to focus all of their attention on only one cutter. This maximizes the ability for give-and-go strategies between the feature and the handlers. It is also an excellent strategy if one cutter is superior to other cutters, or if he is guarded by someone slower than him. While the main focus is on the handlers and the feature, the remaining three cutters can be used if the feature cannot get open, if there is an open deep look, or for a continuation throw from the feature itself. Typically, however, these three remaining cutters do all they can to get out of the feature's way.
One of the most basic defensive principles is the force. The marker effectively cuts off the handler's access to half of the field, by aggressively blocking only one side of the handler and leaving the other side open. The unguarded side is called the force side because the thrower is generally forced to throw to that side of the field. The guarded side is called the break-force side because the thrower would have to "break" the force in order to throw to that side.
This is done because, assuming evenly matched players, the advantage is almost always with the handler and against the marker. It is relatively easy for the handler to fake out or outmaneuver a marker who is trying to block the whole field. On the other hand, it is generally possible to effectively block half of the field.
The marker calls out the force side ("force home" or "force away") before starting the stall count in order to alert the other defenders which side of the field is open to the handler. The team can choose the force side ahead of time, or change it on the fly from throw to throw. Aside from forcing home or away, other forces are "force sideline" (force towards the closest sideline), "force center" (force towards the center of the field), and "force up" (force towards either sideline but prevent a throw straight up the field). Another common tactic is to "force forehand" (force the thrower to use their forehand throw) since most players, especially at lower levels of play, have a stronger backhand throw. "Force flick" refers to the forehand; "force back" refers to the backhand.
When the marker calls out the force side, the team can then rely on the marker to block off half the field and position themselves to aggressively cover just the open/force side. If they are playing one-to-one defense, they should position themselves on the force side of their marks, since that is the side that they are most likely to cut to.
The opposite of the "force" is the "straight-up" mark (also called the "no-huck" mark). In this defense, the player marking the handler positions himself directly between the handler and the end zone and actively tries to block both forehands and backhands. Although the handler can make throws to either side, this is the best defense against long throws ("hucks") to the center of the field.
The simplest and often most effective defensive strategy is the one-on-one defense (also known as "man-on-man" or simply "man"), where each defender guards a specific offensive player, called their "mark". The one-on-one defense emphasizes speed, stamina, and individual positioning and reading of the field. Often players will mark the same person throughout the game, giving them an opportunity to pick up on their opponent's strengths and weaknesses as they play. One-on-one defense can also play a part role in other more complex zone defense strategies.
With a zone defense strategy, the defenders cover an area rather than a specific person. The area they cover moves with the disc as it progresses down the field. Zone defense is frequently used when the other team is substantially more athletic (faster) making one-on-one difficult to keep up with, because it requires less speed and stamina. It is also useful in a long tournament to avoid tiring out the team, or when it is very windy and long passes are more difficult.
A zone defense usually has two components. The first is a group of players close to the handlers who attempt to contain the disc and prevent forward movement, called the "wedge", "cup", "wall", or "clam" (depending on the specific play). These close defenders always position themselves relative to the disc, meaning that they have to move quickly as it passes from handler to handler.
The wedge is a configuration of two close defenders. One of them marks the handler with a force, and the other stands away and to the force side of the handler, blocking any throw or cut on that side. The wedge allows more defenders to play up the field but does little to prevent cross-field passes.
The cup involves three players, arranged in a semi-circular cup-shaped formation, one in the middle and back, the other two on the sides and forward. One of the side players marks the handler with a force, while the other two guard the open side. Therefore the handler will normally have to throw into the cup, allowing the defenders to more easily make blocks. With a cup, usually the center cup blocks the up-field lane to cutters, while the side cup blocks the cross-field swing pass to other handlers. The center cup usually also has the responsibility to call out which of the two sides should mark the thrower, usually the defender closest to the sideline of the field.
The wall involves four players in the close defense. One players is the marker, also called the "rabbit" or "chaser" because they often have to run quickly between multiple handlers spread out across the field. The other three defenders form a horizontal "wall" or line across the field in front of the handler to stop throws to cuts and prevent forward progress. The players in the second group of a zone defense, called "mids" and "deeps", position themselves further out to stop throws that escape the cup and fly upfield. Because a zone defense focuses defenders on stopping short passes, it leaves a large portion of the field to be covered by the remaining mid and deep players. Assuming that there are seven players on the field, and that a cup is in effect, this leaves four players to cover the rest of the field. In fact, usually only one deep player is used to cover hucks (the "deep-deep"), with two others defending the sidelines and possibly a single "mid-mid".
Alternately, the mids and deeps can play a one-to-one defense on the players who are outside of the cup or cutting deep, although frequent switching might be necessary.
A junk defense is a defense using elements of both zone and man defenses; the most famous is known as the "clam" or "chrome wall". In clam defenses, defenders cover cutting lanes rather than zones of the field or individual players. The clam can be used by several players on a team while the rest are running a man defense. This defensive strategy is often referred to as "bait and switch". In this case, when the two players the defenders are covering are standing close to each other in the stack, one defender will move over to shade them deep, and the other will move slightly more towards the thrower. When one of the receivers makes a deep cut, the first defender picks them up, and if one makes an in-cut, the second defender covers them. The defenders communicate and switch their marks if their respective charges change their cuts from in to deep, or vice versa. The clam can also be used by the entire team, with different defenders covering in cuts, deep cuts, break side cuts, and dump cuts.
Ultimate has traditionally relied upon a spirit of sportsmanship which places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of the bond of mutual respect between players, adherence to the agreed upon rules of the game, or the basic joy of play. Protection of these vital elements serves to eliminate adverse conduct from the Ultimate field. Such actions as taunting of opposing players, dangerous aggression, intentional fouling, or other 'win-at-all-costs' behavior are contrary to the spirit of the game and must be avoided by all players.
Many tournaments give awards for the most spirited team, as voted for by all the teams taking part in the tournament.
However, in most tournaments, the organizers do not actually use a hat, but form teams taking into account skill, experience, sex, age, height, and fitness level of the players in the attempt to form teams of even strength. A player provides this information when he or she signs up to enter the tournament. There are also many cities that run hat leagues, structured like a hat tournament, but where the group of players stay together over the course of a season.
In both hat leagues and hat tournaments, there is an emphasis on forming new connections throughout the ultimate community. Hat tournaments have a strong emphasis on having fun, socializing, partying, and meeting other players. Players of all levels take part in such events from world-class players to complete beginners. The tournaments (and sometimes also regular tournaments) often have a theme, such as wild west, aliens, pirates, superheroes, etc. The organizers often name teams also according to a theme, such as: beer varieties, movie characters, etc.
Recreational leagues have become widespread, and range in organization and size. There have been a small number of children's leagues. The largest and first known pre-high school league was started in 1993 by Mary Lowry, Joe Bisignano, and Jeff Jorgenson in Seattle, Washington. In 2005, the DiscNW Middle School Spring League had over 450 players on 30 mixed teams. Large high school leagues are also becoming common. The largest one is the DiscNW High School Spring League. It has both mixed and single gender divisions with over 30 teams total. The largest adult league is the Ottawa-Carleton Ultimate Association, with 350 teams and over 4000 active members in 2005, located in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Dating back to 1977, the Mercer County (New Jersey) Ultimate Disc League (mcudl.org) is the world's oldest recreational league. There are even large leagues with children as young as third grade, an example being the junior division of the SULA ultimate league in Amherst, Massachusetts.
In the United Kingdom, there are over 20 teams attending this years Junior Nations which were held in Sutton Coldfield Birmingham. This event is run by Andrew Vaughan, the coach of the largest Junior team currently in the UK, Artic ultimate. Many of the pupils also play for their national teams Great Britain Juniors. With a continuation of the popularity of ultimate a possibility of it being introduced into further high schools making a more competitive league in the UK for junior ultimate players.
UPA Club ultimate consists of Open, Women's, Masters, Youth and Mixed divisions. Teams are listed on the UPA's team listing page