The Central Dogma of Ultimate Frisbee

The Central Dogma of Ultimate Frisbee
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This is Part III in a series of Six Articles on the History of the Rules of Ultimate Frisbee

In the 50s, after Watson & Crick's discovery of DNA, Francis Crick coined the phrase The Central Dogma of Biology to describe how biology works (all of main tenets of which have almost entirely been proven false by now). This topic, in a way, is perfect in an article on Ultimate Frisbee because dogma belongs as much in scientific research as it does in sports. In truth, there's zero room for dogma in either.

Ultimate Frisbee is a fun game, played by millions, and is highly addictive, which also means that it's extremely difficult to change. When Irv Kalb codified the rules, he mistakenly combined concepts from both downs-based sports with concepts of possession-based sports.

This is important to understand from the standpoint of risk/reward ratios. A requirement in the design in any game is to have a balanced ratio between risk and reward so that naturally organic learning processes can occur. By creating a hybrid sport as Irv did, he may have created an extremely fun game for his buddies in Maplewood, NJ but he also inadvertently built a game, community and culture based on dogma.

an official system of principles or tenets concerning faith, morals,behavior, etc., as of a church.
a specific tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down, as by a church:the dogma of the Assumption;
the recently defined dogma of papal infallibility.
Synonyms: tenet, canon, law.
prescribed doctrine proclaimed as unquestionably true by a particular group:
the difficulty of resisting political dogma.
a settled or established opinion, belief, or principle:
the classic dogma of objectivity in scientific observation.
Synonyms: conviction, certainty.

This article breaks down the first several paragraphs of the official rules in Ultimate and if you look back at the rules since the UPA's inception in 1979, you'll see that by and large, this has pretty much remained identical. For those who would argue that the original intentions and concepts that went into creating ultimate don't matter because the game has evolved so much, think again. All changes over the past 40 years have been superficial and none of them have changed the game at its core (and in most instances have only provided 'band-aid' type relief to foundamentally unsound rules)

1) (1st paragraph) It is assumed that no player will intentionally violate the rules; thus there are no harsh penalties for inadvertent infractions, ......

Read it again, carefully. Implicitly, this line (in the very first sentence of the rules), states that the only reason for penalties in sports is to prevent cheating.

Do you agree with this? Do you think the only reason for penalties in sports is to prevent cheating? If your answer is no, that you don't agree with this, you're ineligible to play ultimate (see below).

The entire game rests on this one falsehood. You may not follow the logic but if you restructure the sentence and simply flip it around ...there are no harsh penalties for inadvertent infractions because no player will intentionally violate the rules... (same exact meaning, sentence just reversed), it's much more obvious. This idea in the first sentence of the rules is a specific tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down by the UPA/USAU.

2) (1st paragraph--same sentence) ....but rather a method for resuming play in a manner that simulates what most likely would have occurred absent the infraction.

This is actually impossible. It might be conceivable when you're playing a two dimensional down-based style (like football), but when you are playing a three dimensional, possession based style (like basketball), there is simply no way to resume play as if there hadn't been an infraction.

Imagine trying to resume a basketball play in the middle of a high pick and roll with all the moving pieces and parts. Impossible. Of course, 40 years ago, there was no way to anticipate somebody implementing something like the Triple Threat principal in Ultimate, but at the same time, the game just hasn't changed to accommodate advancement in ideologies.

3) (1st paragraph) In Ultimate, an intentional infraction is considered cheating and a gross offense against the spirit of sportsmanship. Often a player is in a position to gain an advantage by committing an infraction, but that player is morally bound to abide by the rules.

It is highly in appropriate to impose a misguided sense of morality on players to induce good sportsmanship. There are no absolutes when it comes to morality and this rhetoric doesn't belong in the rules for any game. It's not that conventional sports don't have a way of dealing with abhorrent behavior and in fact, this is the whole point here.

Other sports do have a way of dealing with it, rather than just attempting to legislate it out of the game by attempting to manipulate using guilt trip or any other psychological and/or social constructs. What does using a misguided sense of morality as a means of control sound like to you? (hint: it involves grown men wearing robes, burning incense and molesting young boys)

There is also an underlying problem with this clause that most people don't understand. Maybe you've experienced this and not understood what was happening. Have you ever noticed that when you call someone for traveling or foul or whatever, their reaction is typically the identical kind of reaction you would expect as if you are accusing them of cheating? Believe it or not, this indignation is a byproduct of the Central Dogma of the game. Admittedly, this may sound a bit convoluted, but there's no doubt we've all witnessed this on the field many times. What this clause is saying indirectly is that rules violators are inherently cheaters.

4) (1st paragraph) The integrity of Ultimate depends on each player's responsibility to uphold the Spirit of the Game™, and this responsibility should remain paramount.

In sports like basketball, committing fouls at the end of the game is a tactical and strategic part of the game and obviously not considered cheating. Do you 'gain an advantage' by it? Of course. People in sports have actually pushing the envelope in rules to the limits to try to win since time immemorial. Is there something wrong with that? Again, this rhetoric is suggesting that pushing the envelope on what the rules/boundaries are is bad and something to be discouraged. Pushing the envelope is what sports is all about, but then, some would argue that Ultimate isn't a sport.

There is this inherent you're either with us, or against us kind of mentality built into the lexicon of the rules and this is but one example of it. It's as if playing Ultimate is an entitlement but you're only entitled to play the game if you're willing to subjugate yourself to the Central Dogma.

But what if you want to play, you're an excellent player and you don't agree with any of these institutionalized beliefs? Does that mean you're disqualified from playing?

5) (2nd paragraph) Ultimate is a non-contact disc sport

This is ridiculous. Ultimate may not be a collision sport like football (although I've seen some pretty sensational collisions over the years, as dangerous or more than you would see in basketball or soccer), but there is as much contact as soccer or basketball. Just watch this classic video and who can forget this one (I love the way her head bounces off the ground)?

Unfortunately. because of the community's collective denial, there is nothing in the rules to limit the quantity and severity of contact. The dogma, or the systemic and institutionalized belief here that Ultimate is a non-contact sport, is obvious here.

6) (2nd paragraph) A player may not run while holding the disc

Simply not true. Sure, there are conditions to being able to run with the disc, but the statement, as written is totally false and misleading. It's mind-blowing that this is still in the official rules. It's categorically false and to state this in the first three paragraphs of the rules is clearly dogmatic. It creates a situation where participants are led into a belief system that isn't true.

7) (3rd paragraph) Ultimate relies upon a spirit of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the player

This is one of the most outrageous of all the dogmatized statements in the rules. The basic truth is that the rules for Ultimate Frisbee are inherently unfair. There is a tremendous bias towards mediocre players and teams and away from excellence. For example, there are teams that have successfully run offenses where only three steps are required to stop. These offenses require more refined skills and sophistication but when mediocre players and teams can take as many steps as are required to stop, then the rules are not fair. There are some teams that play superior defense and foul less often and less aggressively and yet they are being asked to play by the same standards of mediocre teams. It requires more refinement and more teamwork to play good defense and not foul as often or as hard so it's not fair to ask these organizations to play by the same lowest common denominator standards the rules set.

Throughout the rules, the benefit of the doubt goes to the mediocre teams/players and yet the responsibility for fair play is placed on the player? Subliminally what this sentence implies is that the rules are fair and if you don't think they're fair, go play another sport.

8) (3rd paragraph ) ...but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, ..

Where else in the world of sports is there mutual respect between players? As a person, sure, people can respect the other person, but as a player, respect is earned on the field. You may have all the respect in the world for a person who's learning the game, but why would you respect that player's knowledge of the game, his/her abilities etc? This makes absolutely zero sense

This concept of mutual is not only completely artificial but it is highly subjective. For example, one form of rehab may incorporate 'tough love' type of tactics while another may utilize compassionate communication. But for someone to say one method is more or less respectful than the other would be completely a subjective opinion.

When a rookie steps on to the basketball court with Michael Jordan, is there mutual respect? Mutual respect in Ultimate means that some young kit can foul a veteran and not know he's done anything wrong. Mutual respect is a horrible idea. Idealistic in principal but a bad concept in practice. It's part of the Central Dogma in Ultimate and tends to indoctrinate players into a belief system that is inconsistent with their own internal moral compass.

9) (3rd paragraph) ..... adherence to the agreed upon rules,....

Remember above in the very first section where you said you didn't agree that the only reason for penalties in sports was to prevent cheating? You are now ineligible to play.

In a subtle way, this aspect of the Central Dogma made you agree to these rules when in fact, if you've read through this post, there's no way you can possibly agree with the first three paragraphs. This has all the makings of a cult. Anyone who disagrees is an outsider, a heretic. Very insidious wording used here but no one has ever noticed or questioned it. Been there for decades. If you don't agree with these rules (you shouldn't by now), you're not entitled to play.

10) (3rd paragraph) ...... the basic joy of play....

I'm sorry, after the 1500 travel calls on me over the past dozen years (on totally legal moves) the 1500 pick calls on me the last dozen years (on totally legal moves) and the 3000 or so fouls I've drawn over the past dozen years, for some strange reason the basic joy of play is long gone. And this is just the past dozen years and doesn't include the first two decades I played.

Again, this part of the Central Dogma is inculcated into the community and into the culture in a fairly unhealthy way. It's incredibly presumptuous, its extremely subjective and as part of the preface for the framework for the game, its suggestive that the rest of the rules are an attempt to legislate fun.

All in all, at least 10 significant and undeniable statements of belief in just the first three paragraphs of the rules that make up the Central Dogma of Ultimate Frisbee.

Dogma: prescribed doctrine proclaimed as unquestionably true by a particular group

The rules for Ultimate therefore are all codified based on the doctrine described here in the first three paragraphs of the preface. I would suggest that none of these are minor nuances and when added all together, you've got a serious problem with the underpinnings of Ultimate Frisbee, as it is currently configured.

Most important about understanding and observing dogma is that wherever we see organizational dogma, there is bound to be institutionalized bigotry (lack of tolerance for non-like minded thinkers). This rigid bigotry is a natural byproduct of the Central Dogma in Ultimate. Just take a glance at the way the has treated my on RSD and now on reddit. It's blatant bigotry. They don't even try to hide it.

Furthermore, I would equally argue that because of the nature of dogma, it is precisely because of this institutionalized belief system that it's practically impossible to change the game.

For good measure, I use this example in the rules where the Central Dogma has manifested in a nonsensical rule that almost no player follows (and most would be cut from their teams if they did).

11 (XVI.H.) Fouls (II.E): It is the responsibility of all players to avoid contact in every way possible

This clause is included for completeness and to illustrate how the rules reflect the dogma. Obviously, this rule, which has been in place since the 1st edition of the UPA rules, is not adhered to whatsoever.

Especially by the kids playing the game these days, there simply isn't any effort made not to foul. In fact, I would argue that since intention is such an important constituent to the way the rules are written that the game actually encourages lack of awareness so players can plead plausible deniability "I didn't mean to foul you" is something we've all heard thousands of times. (in the world of Spirituality, we have a word for lack of awareness, it is called ignorance). "Yes, you may have not intended to foul me, but did you intent NOT to foul me"?

A great example of this is basketball when you've got four fouls on you and being called for a fifth foul means you're out of the game. I think everyone would agree that you try a lot harder not to foul at times when there are harsh consequences than when there are no consequences.

You may have been working under the assumption that the rules for Ultimate were thoroughly thought out. Codified by a committee of the game's best minds. Debated and vetted over and over for the past 40 years to create a fair and level playing field for competitors to excel at their best. Your response may be "OK, maybe Ultimate has a few idiosyncrasies but every sport has those and the game has been well conceived and is rock solid, isn't it? Its both playable and its fun yes?" The answer is an unequivocal no.

The game needs to be gutted. We need to remove the Central Dogma, we need to remove the down-based nuances (such as out of bounds not being a turnover) and we need to reboot the sport and bring it in line with the other sports of 21st century. All of this can be done while keeping the game Ultimate.

See Also Part I

See Also Part II

See Also Part IV

See Also Part V

See Also Part VI

Frank Huguenard holds a degree in science from Purdue University and has spent decades in product development in Silicon Valley prior to embarking on a career in documentary film production specializing in films bridging the gap between Science & Spirituality. He draws on his research in the fields of combination of psychology, physics, wisdom traditions, sociology and history. You can see his films at

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