Growing up, I was immersed in the world of conventional sports. My opponent was my enemy. The team would do whatever it takes to win. I had grown up playing Soccer. I was seemingly happy when teammates would intentionally break the rules to gain an advantage. I was, and still am, hyper competitive. Unfortunately, for soccer, my soul was not all in.
Then I went to college and a bunch of amazing hippies taught me the game of disc golf and, through their actions, the culture of the disc. I competed in my first disc tournament, VA States. My goal was to make the cut so I could play on Sunday. I didn’t make the cut. Rather than mope, I was given a staff shirt and asked to help out. I did. This was a new, and amazing, concept to me. Everyone pulled together. Really.
Then this same group drew me into their pick-up Ultimate games. Ultimate requires insane athleticism, skill, and endurance. I loved the game instantly. When I went to my first Ultimate tournament - April Fools Fest in Fredericksburg, VA, I remember being amazed that ALL of Ultimate was self-officiated. I’d played pick-up Soccer and Football games without officials, but when you go to a tournament or play in a “real” game, you need someone to make sure you follow the rules, don’t you?
It turns out you don’t. All you need is a shared respect for your competitors. My soul had found a sport as much as my body had. And then it got even better. Our team won the Spirit Award. At the time, I’m not sure I understood it exactly, but I was proud. We went one and six, and I went home happy. We played with respect and honor. And Spirit.
Over the next eight years, I would play in dozens of tournaments and I always had two goals. Win the tournament and win the Spirit Award. One of the proudest moments of my life was a tournament where we won both.
In retrospect, I now understand that the person or team winning the Spirit Award should not be trying to win it, it should just happen. Perhaps for everyone else on the team they were just flowing with it, having fun, doing right. For me though, there was effort behind it. I tried not to call pics unless they affected the play. I never doubted my competitor calling my foot out on a great catch near the line. I always tried to have the best cheers for the other team after the game. For me, the Spirit Award was something to compete for.
Then one day, it suddenly wasn’t.
I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere in that eight year journey, playing with Spirit just became the way to play. It became obvious that you would respect your competitors, that winning only counts if it is done honorably, and that losing a game is better than losing your self-respect.
Over time, playing with Spirit became a habit. A really good habit, like breathing. The culture of the disc was given to me like a most beautiful gift. Because I had come from conventional sports, it took a long time for this gift to sink in, to become self-evident. In disc golf, the culture of the disc is fading as more conventional sports players are drawn to the game. This is happening because we are not teaching it as a fundamental aspect of the game. I propose that we embed Spirit, the culture of the disc, back into our sport.
At Ultimate tournaments, each team votes for one other team for the Spirit Award. The team with the most votes wins. If there is a tie for most votes, the folks running the tournament make the decision (and it is an agonizingly tough decision to make).
At Disc Golf tournaments, I propose that each player vote for one other player at the event. The TD counts up the votes and makes the final decision and then recognizes the Spirit Award winner during the awards ceremony. Over time, the culture of the disc will be engrained in the sport as it was for me.
New players coming to Ultimate or Disc Golf will be immersed in a culture of competition and spirit. Over time, they will learn to understand that winning is the goal and competing with honor must be the starting point. Now is the time to put forth a concerted effort to insure that rather than losing the culture of the disc, we permanently embed it in the sport. Over time, as Disc Golf and Ultimate continue to grow, perhaps our disc culture will simply be known as our culture.
- Is fair-minded and respectful
- Has a positive attitude
- Is happy when someone else makes a great shot
- Listens and considers
- Is respected by their competitors
- Treats others as they would want to be treated
- Believes there is someone else more deserving
- Instantly helps to find a lost disc
- Is happy to be surrounded by so many friends while playing disc
- Has fun