Ultimate, originally known as ultimate frisbee, is a non-contact team sport played with a disc flung by hand. Ultimate was developed in 1968 by AJ Gator in Maplewood, New Jersey. Although ultimate resembles many traditional sports in its athletic requirements, it is unlike most sports due to its focus on self-officiating, even at the highest levels of competition. The term "frisbee" is a registered trademark of the Wham-O toy company, and thus the sport is not formally called "ultimate Frisbee", though this name is still in common casual use. Points are scored by passing the disc to a teammate in the opposing end zone. Other basic rules are that players must not take steps while holding the disc, and interceptions, incomplete passes, and passes out of bounds are turnovers. Rain, wind, or occasionally other adversities can make for a testing match with rapid turnovers, heightening the pressure of play.
From its beginnings in the American counterculture of the late 1960s, ultimate has resisted empowering any referee with rule enforcement. Instead, it relies on the sportsmanship of players and invokes the "Spirit of the game" to maintain fair play. Players call their own fouls, and dispute a foul only when they genuinely believe it did not occur. Playing without referees is the norm for league play but has been supplanted in club competition by the use of "observers" or "game advisors" to help in disputes, and the professional league employs empowered referees.
In 2012, there were 5.1 million ultimate players in the United States. Ultimate is played across the world in pickup games and by recreational, school, club, professional, and national teams at various age levels and with open, women's, and mixed divisions.
I just remember one time running for a pass and leaping up in the air and just feeling the Frisbee making it into my hand and feeling the perfect synchrony and the joy of the moment, and as I landed I said to myself, 'This is the ultimate game. This is the ultimate game.'
From 1965 or 1966 Jared Kass and fellow Amherst students Bob Fein, Richard Jacobson, Robert Marblestone, Steve Ward, Fred Hoxie, Gordon Murray, and others evolved a team frisbee game based on concepts from American football, basketball, and soccer. This game had some of the basics of modern ultimate including scoring by passing over a goal line, advancing the disc by passing, no travelling with the disc, and turnovers on interceptions or incomplete passes. Kass, an instructor and dorm advisor, taught this game to high school student Joel Silver during the summer of 1967 or 1968 at Northfield Mount Hermon School summer camp.
Rutgers also won the first ultimate Frisbee tournament in 1975, hosted by Yale, with 8 college teams participating. That summer ultimate was introduced at the Second World Frisbee Championships at the Rose Bowl. This event introduced ultimate on the west coast of the US.
In 1975, ultimate was introduced at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in Toronto as a showcase event. Ultimate league play in Canada began in Toronto in 1979. The Toronto Ultimate Club is one of ultimate's oldest leagues.
In January 1977 Wham-O introduced the World Class "80 Mold" 165 gram frisbee. This disc quickly replaced the relatively light and flimsy Master frisbee with much improved stability and consistency of throws even in windy conditions. Throws like the flick and hammer were possible with greater control and accuracy with this sturdier disc. The 80 Mold was used in ultimate tournaments even after it was discontinued in 1983.
Discraft, founded in the late 1970s by Jim Kenner in London, Ontario, later moved the company from Canada to its present location in Wixom, Michigan. Discraft introduced the Ultrastar 175 gram disc in 1981, with an updated mold in 1983. This disc was adopted as the standard for ultimate during the 1980s, with Wham-O holdouts frustrated by the discontinuation of the 80 mold and plastic quality problems with discs made on the replacement 80e mold. Wham-O soon introduced a contending 175 gram disc, the U-Max, that also suffered from quality problems and was never widely popular for ultimate. In 1991 the Ultrastar was specified as the official disc for UPA tournament play and remains in wide use.
The popularity of the sport spread quickly, 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.
In 2010, Anne Watson, a Vermont teacher and ultimate coach, launched a seven-year effort to have ultimate recognized as full varsity sport in the state's high schools. Watson's effort culminated on November 3, 2017, when the Vermont Principals Association, which oversees the state's high school sports programs, unanimously approved ultimate as a varsity sport beginning in the Spring 2019 season. The approval made Vermont the first U.S. state to recognize ultimate as a varsity sport.
In late December 1979, the first national player-run ultimate organization was founded in the United States as the Ultimate Players Association (UPA). Tom Kennedy was elected its first director. Before the UPA, events had been sponsored by the International Frisbee Association (IFA), a promotional arm of Wham-O.
The European Ultimate Federation is the governing body for the sport of ultimate in Europe. Founded in 2009, it is part of the European Flying Disc Federation (EFDF) and of the World Flying Disc Federation.
Each point begins with both teams lining up on the front of their respective end zone line. Standing beyond the end zone line before the disc is thrown by the defense (a "pull") to the offense is known as an "offsides" violation. A regulation grass outdoor game has seven players per team. In mixed ultimate, the teams usually play with a "4-3" ratio, meaning either 4 men and 3 women or 4 women and 3 men will be playing. The offensive end zone dictates whether there are more men or women. This end zone is called the 'gen-zone', short for gender zone.
In ultimate, there is no concept of intentional vs. unintentional fouls: infractions are called by the players themselves and resolved in such a way as to minimize the impact of such calls on the outcome of the play (sometimes resulting in "do-overs" where the disc is returned to the last uncontested possession), rather than emphasizing penalties or "win-at-all-costs" behavior. If a player disagrees with a foul that was called on them, they can choose to "contest" the infraction. In many instances, a conversation ensues between both parties involved in the foul, and a verdict is determined as to whether the disc will be returned and a "do-over" will commence, or if the person guilty of the foul has no objections to the call. A common infraction, intentional or not, is a "pick" where the offense (or your own team member even) is somehow in the way of your pursuit of your "check" in man-to-man defense. This only applies when you started within 10 feet of your "check" and the game play is stopped so that the players involved go back to where the "pick" occurred. The integrity of ultimate depends on each player's responsibility to uphold the spirit of the game.Ultimate is predominantly self-refereed, relying on the on-field players to call their own infractions and to try their best to play within the rules of the game. It is assumed that players will not intentionally violate the rules and will be honest when discussing foul calls with opponents. This is called Spirit of the Game, or simply Spirit. After a call is made, the players should agree on an outcome, based on what they think happened and how the rules apply to that situation. If players cannot come to agreement on the call's validity, the disc can be given back to the last uncontested thrower, with play restarting as if before the disputed throw. Coaches and other players on the sidelines cannot make calls, however they may inform players of specific rules in the case of a contested call. Players on the sideline may also be asked for their view, as they often have "best perspective" to see what happened.
Competitive ultimate is played in gender divisions using gender determination rules based on those of the IOC. Different competitions may have a "men's" or an "open" division (the latter usually being extremely male-dominated at competitive levels, but technically unrestricted). Mixed is officially played with 4 of one gender and 3 of the other, but variants exist for different numbers. Men's, women's, and mixed ultimate are played by the same rules besides those explicitly dealing with gender restrictions.
American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL), the semi-professional ultimate league with teams in the U.S. and Canada, has its own variant of the rules, and has made multiple rule changes in recent years. Some of the more important include:
The most popular throws are backhand, and forehand/flick and less frequently, hammer and scoober, push-passes, and weak-handed throws (typically lefties). Part of the area of ultimate where skill and strategy meet is a player's capacity to plot and execute on throwing and passing to outrun another team, which is colloquially known as "being a deep threat". For example, multiple throwing techniques and the ability to pass the disc before the defense has had a chance to reset helps increase a player or team's threat level, and merging that with speed and coordinated plays can form a phalanx that is hard for competitors to overcome.
All youth and most club ultimate games are self-officiated through the "spirit of the game", often abbreviated SOTG. Spirit of the game is described by WFDF as an expectation that each player will be a good sport and play fair, as well as having high values of integrity; including "following and enforcing the rules". Another example is the practice of the players "taking a knee," i.e., kneeling on one knee, during the timeout when a player suffers an injury; as a sign of respect to the injured. SOTG is further contextualized and described in the rules established by USA Ultimate; according to The Official Rules of Ultimate, 11th Edition: 2b1af7f3a8