What is Ultimate Frisbee?
Ultimate frisbee, more commonly referred to as ultimate, is a fun non-contact sport that is easy for beginners to pick up and play. The game is played on a 120x360 ft field. Seven players from (three handlers and four cutters) from each team can be on the field at once, making a total of 14 players. Ultimate is like football in that the goal is to get to the opposing team’s endzone. The two main differences between ultimate and football is that ultimate is played with a disc, and once you are passed the disc you have to stop running, only being able to pivot from one foot. This means that to score a point you have to catch the disc in the opposing team’s endzone. Ultimate is unique in its emphasis on sportsmanship. “The spirit of the game” is a major part of ultimate and it is one of the few sports that is self officiated.
While the frisbee was invented in 1957, it wasn't until 1968 that high schooler Joel Silver came up with the idea for the sport of ultimate frisbee. He pitched his idea to the Columbia High School (located in Maplewood New Jersey) student counsel and the first game was played in the school’s parking lot. The first organized ultimate tournament would be played at Yale on April 25th, 1975.
Ultimate frisbee is played on a 120x360 ft grass field, with 75 ft on each end making up the endzone. There are very few dedicated ultimate fields, so games often occur on turf football and soccer fields.
All a casual player needs to play ultimate frisbee is a sizable field and a disc. More competitive players use regulation discs (175g and 10.75 in. across), cleats, and frisbee shorts typically made out of nylon spandex blend. While not necessary, many players also prefer to wear gloves to increase grip on the disc.
Ultimate is a fast past game that can change possession between teams multiple times within a matter of seconds. Games last 90 minutes or until one team scores 15 points, and it is not uncommon for teams to score double digit points in a game. Conditioning is a major part of ultimate because the only breaks are when the disc is thrown out of bounds or a point is scored. Substitutes can only come in after a point is scored.
Positions and Roles
Each team can have seven players on the field at once. When on offense, three of those players are handlers and four are cutters. On defense, for each point, it is usually one player covering a designated opponent.
Rules and Regulations
One of the most essential rules of ultimate frisbee is that it is a non contact sport, so any intentional contact that alters (blocks, screens, shoving, ect.) the play is a foul. On defense you can’t double team (one defender per person), must stay a disc length away from your opponent, and can’t touch the disc until it has left their hands.
On offense, as soon as you catch the disc you must stop (allowed a few steps to slow momentum) and are only allowed to pivot from one foot. You have a 10 second count, called by the defender, to throw the disc. The disc is turned over if the count reaches 10, the pass is incomplete (blocked,dropped,out of bounds, intercepted), or a team has scored. Each point begins with players lined up on their respective end zones with one team pulling (throwing the disc as far down the field as possible). A point is scored when a team completes a pass in the opponent's end zone.
Referees and Officials
Ultimate frisbee is unique in that it is one of the few self officiated sports. If there is a referee it is only to ensure the game is facilitated quickly. If a player believes there was a foul they can call it and the game stops after the next catch (excluding scoring catches). The two players involved will discuss the foul and if they agree it was a foul the disc returns to the fouled player, if they don't agree, it is contested and the previous play is replayed.
Lingo and Terminology
Like any sport, there are dozens of slang terms used in ultimate but most are pretty intuitive. Below are the terms that non-ultimate players would never be able to figure out alone.
- Callahan: A play where you intercept a pass in the opponent's end zone, resulting in an immediate score.
- Airbender: Someone who is exceptional at throwing the disc.
- Bet: Laying out for the disc.
- Fire: This is yelled to indicate a switch from man on man to zone coverage.
- Landshark: Someone who lays out a lot, maybe more than they need to.
Ultimate is a relatively new sport, still establishing itself, so coaches are typically just other ultimate players. It is the coaches job to call offensive plays, sub in and out players, and designated handlers and cutters. Additionally, it is an unspoken responsibility of the coache to make sure the spirit of the game is upheld and their players are respectful.
Skills and Techniques
While ultimate frisbee is an extremely athletic sport, there is still a lot of technique in throwing the disc. Because defense is so tight, it is important to not only be accurate but also decisive in the throw you chose. The three main ultimate throws are forehand, backhand, and hammer. A backhand is when you throw with your arm across your body and a forehand is when you throw with your arm out to the side. A hammer throw, while rare, is when you throw the disc (holding it vertically) over the top of the defender. The throw you chose all depends on the positioning of the defender. Defenders will often force their opponent to pass with their weaker throw (usually a forehand).
There are many different strategies or plays in ultimate, all of which revolve around creating separation between the cutter and the defender. The general strategy is for the handlers to methodically work the disc up the field while the cutters work to break free for larger plays. A common play is called the vertical stack, where players lineup then run out in alternating directions in order to confuse defenders.
Drills are usually focused on improving throws and route running. A popular handler drill is the three person weave where players pass the disc and rotate to each of the three positions as they move up the field. Another popular drill is where a small group will pass the disc between each other in a circle with a player in the center defending.
Olympic Ultimate Frisbee
While ultimate is recognized as a sport by the Olympic committee, it will not be featured in the 2024 Paris Olympics. However, many are hopeful that ultimate frisbee will make its debut in the 2028 L.A. Olympics.
Ultimate Frisbee Brands
Because ultimate is a relatively small sport, there are very few dedicated ultimate brands. Many major sportswear brands will sell discs but other gear used, like cleats, are intended for different sports. The major brand in ultimate is called 5 Ultimate, which sells frisbee attire.
While professional ultimate is still working to establish itself, youth ultimate is rapidly gaining popularity due its accessibility and co-ed nature. Parents also show a preference to ultimate over other non contact sports due to its focus on sportsmanship and “the spirit of the game.”
Disc Northwest: Seattle-based ultimate organization
USA Ultimate Youth Division: Comprised of 15,000 players and 400 different clubs across the country
Despite ultimate being such a new sport, the coaches below have managed to make a name for themselves. While popular coaches were frequently once dominant ultimate players, aside from stellar records, most coaches solidify their names in their work off the field, furthering the sport of ultimate frisbee.
- Tina Booth: University of Massachusetts Men’s Team
- Alex Ghesquiere: San Francisco Revolvers
Because ultimate isn't a very nationally established sport, the below players are or were the most dominant in their respective divisions. While popular ultimate frisbee players may not garner the same fame and fortune as other professional athletes, their athleticism equals if not exceeds that of other professional athletes.
|Beau Kittredge||AUDL and MLU|
While AUDL is the U.S. professional ultimate league, the state of competitive ultimate is a little confusing. AUDL used to compete with the MLU (Major League Ultimate) for the spot as the top frisbee league but the last season of MLU was played in 2016. While the AUDL is the only professional ultimate league, it isn't necessarily considered the most competitive.
Many believe that the club ultimate leagues frequently play at a higher level than the pro league; this is mostly due to the fact that there is a great overlap in players for both leagues. All the ultimate club teams belong to the USAU, the largest ultimate organization in the country. USAU is recognized as ultimate’s governing body, and has a range of competition levels from their club to youth teams. New to the ultimate scene, having just been founded in 2019, is the Premier Ultimate League (PUL). While USAU has some very popular women's club teams, PUL is the first and only professional ultimate women’s league.
|AUDL||Professional Ultimate League|
|USAU||Club, College, and Youth|
|PUL||Premier Ultimate League|
Below are some teams that are well known for their current domination within their respective leagues. The AUDL is composed of four divisions (east, west, central, atlantic) and 22 teams, three of which are based in canada. The New York Empire is the reigning league champion. In the USAU there are 16 men’s, 18 women's, and 16 mixed club teams.
|San Francisco Fury||USAU|
|New York Empire||AUDL|
Most ultimate events are casual fun spirited tournaments that dozens of teams can enter and compete in. Events like Windmill attract thousands of visitors, either player or spectator, from all over the world. Other events like like this include:
|Bangkok Hat||Bangkok, Thailand|
While every major league has their own ultimate tournament, the National Ultimate Championship is considered the most competitive. The World Ultimate Tournament includes teams from about 80 different countries, the next one will be held in 2022. While Spring Reign is a youth tournament, it is the largest ultimate frisbee tournament in the world.
- National Ultimate Championship: USAU Championship
- WFDF: World Ultimate Tournament
- Spring Reign: Located in Washington, it's the largest mixed youth tournament in the world.
With all professional ultimate leagues being very new, books on ultimate focus on the culture and techniques of the sport.
|Ultimate Glory||David Gessner|
|Universe Point||Kevin Cramer|
|Ultimate||Pasquale Anthony Leonardo|
The most comprehensive ultimate websites belong to the two most popular ultimate leagues, the AUDL and USAU.
What is Ultimate Frisbee?
Ultimate is a fast-paced, no-contact sport that is played between two teams, each with seven players (three handlers and four cutters) on the field at a time. The goal is for a team to pass the disc down the field until the disc is caught in the opposing team’s endzone for a point.
Where is Ultimate Frisbee popular?
Ultimate is played all over the world but is most popular on the U.S. west coast. Seattle is widely regarded as the ultimate capital of the world.
Is Ultimate Frisbee an olympic sport?
Even though the International Olympic Committee recognizes Ultimate as a sport, it did not make the cut as a represented sport in the upcoming Olympic games for Tokyo 2020 or Paris 2024. When the Games come to Los Angeles in 2028, the Ultimate community is going to try and advocate the inclusion of Ultimate.
What makes Ultimate Unique?
The reason why Ultimate is different from any other sport in this way is because the thought of intentionally fouling, or trying to gain an advantage through disregarding the rules, is heavily discouraged. To lose respect from any party, including teammates, is to not uphold the positivity of the sport. Being a part of the community, players have a responsibility to show rookies that Ultimate isn't just about the game, but about the environment and encouragement between people.