The Origins of Ultimate Frisbee's

Founding Principals

Listen to New Games Interview Podcast Here

 

These ironclad findings prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Spirit of the Game has little to do with good sportsmanship and everything to do with something called the New Games Doctrine and the principals that it was based on.

 

The original blueprint for Ultimate Frisbee's framework came straight out of a movement that pre-dated that very first game of Ultimate at Columbia High School in New Jersey by over two years!

A movement that created a whole new genre of games that were designed for inclusion irrespective of physical or athletic ability.

What did making Double Teaming a thrower illegal have to do with eliminating the "win at all costs" mentality?

Absolutely nothing.

Read on.....

 

*doctrine

noun
1. something that is taught
2. a principal or position or the body of principals in a brand of knowledge or system of belief : dogma

*dogma

noun
1. a religious doctrine that is proclaimed as true without proof
2. a doctrine or code of beliefs accepted as authoritative

 

Play Hard.  Play Fair.  Nobody Hurt.

Does that sound familiar?  That is the slogan of an organized group that ushered in an completely new genre of games that were designed to imbibe a new spirit of cooperation and inclusion rather than the mentality of win first, ask questions later.  The genre of games was cleverly called New Games.

The spirit in which these games were intended to be played by was such an important factor that in fact, some documentation refers to the slogan as the 'Play Hard, Play Fair, Nobody Hurt Spirit'!! or this:

"New Games Spirit: the positive experience of playing together is more important than winning or losing; the rules of the game are always flexible. What counts is the enjoyment of playing" [7]

or check this quote:

"Ultimate Frisbee - one of the few sports organizations to successfully embody the spirit of New Games" [6]

For one to understand and appreciate the origins of Ultimate Frisbee's ideology, it's critical to place the game in context of the sociopolitical milieu of the country (United States) at the time to fully grasp philosophically what kind of thinking went into the development of the rules.

In 1966, two full years prior to the creation of Ultimate Frisbee, Stewart Brand (The Founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, The Well and alumni of the Merry Pranksters)  spearheaded a movement against a backdrop of dramatic social and economic change fueled by the Vietnam War, NASA Lunar Missions, a looming energy crisis, environmental activism, civil rights, assassinations of MLK, JFK and RFK, feminism, Richard Nixon, unhealthy widespread drug abuse, free love and the Rock & Roll revolution.

 

(photo of record setting 309 people in The Lap Game, 1973)

In late 1966, as the American commitment to the Vietnam War was ramping up, the War Resisters League at San Francisco State College asked an itinerant multimedia artist named Stewart Brand to stage a public event on its behalf. Brand, who would soon become famous as the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, gathered a hundred or so pacifists into an open field and with their help, inflated a 6-foot-diameter medicine ball that had been painted with continents, waterscapes, and clouds—an “Earthball.”

He then took up a megaphone and announced,

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who want to push the Earth over the row of flags at that end of the field, and those who want to push it over the fence at the other end. Go to it. (New Games Foundation & Fluegelman, 1976, p. 9) [1]

The crowd on the field charged the ball from all sides. The ball began to roll toward one end of the field—yet as it did, members of the pushing team defected, rushing around to the other side of the ball and pushing it back the way they had just driven it. When they reached the other end of the field, they turned around again.  Glimpsed from half a lifetime away, this hour-long runaround may look like little more than the most ephemeral of countercultural happenings. Yet, over the next 10 years it gave rise to an entire New Games movement, with publications, organizations, and events held around the world. For the members of this movement, as for the War Resisters at San Francisco State, to play a new game meant far more than to amuse oneself. Pat Farrington, who would help organize the first New Games Tournament in 1973, explained that “By reexamining the basic idea of play, we could . . . [create] a sense of community and personal expression. People could center on the joy of playing, cooperating, and trusting, rather than striving to win” (New Games Foundation & Fluegelman, 1976, p. 10).

Because the competitive “win-at-allcosts” model was blamed for being destructive to children’s development, the New Games movement developed as an alternative to competitive sports. As the New York Times (1973) reported, “the occasion [New Games] may be to a change in sports what the storming of the Bastille was to the French Revolution” (Fluegelman, 1976, p. 10).[2]
 

Like-minded contemporaries R. Buckminster Fuller (World Game), Robert Smithson (Spiral Jetty), and Christo and Jean-Claude (Valley Curtain) responded in kind to these environmental and sociopolitical quandaries with their "earthworks." Stewart is widely credited with the creation of a new class of socialistic games that were meant to be friendlier and non-competitive. 

The New Games Foundation

By the mid 70's, Brand, along with the addition of George Leonard* and Pat Farrington, incorporated the movement's organization under the name of The New Games Foundation.  Workshops were given coast to coast and around the world in an effort to teach a new form of play that focused on togetherness, non-aggression and non-competitiveness and by 1976 (three years before the formation of the UPA), The New Games book was released [1].

The turmoil that was ripping the country apart at the time created a segment of the population that would strive for a better way of sustainable living, with an emphasis on cooperation, community, inclusion and well being.

"Everyone can play New Games regardless of age, ability, size, or gender. They require little or no equipment and are presented and played in a safe manner that encourages participation, creativity, and personal expression. New Games offers a new direction for traditional sports, physical education, and recreation. Ultimately, by cooperating in play, we learn to live together better." [3]

And read this:

"Anyone who has played "New Games" knows that the games aren't really new.  What is new is the spirit in which they are played -- a spirit in which it is clear that fun is more important than winning, the players are more important than the game.  Though many New Games can be seen as "cooperative", the truth is that just as many of them involve competition -- a competition that is held in check by the Spirit of New Games and the overriding mandate for universal fun.

These competitive New Games (like Dho-Dho-Dho, Smaug's Jewels, Tweezly Whop, Slaughter, Dragon's Tail, Hug Tag, Lemonade and Ultimate Frisbee) were selected because they were not only fun, but also funny.  They included silly names, silly rituals, silly noises, silly performances, because, as long as they were seen as funny, players would not take them too seriously, and hence be able to keep the competition in check and in appropriate perspective" [4]

Sound familiar?  Silly team names, hat tournaments, ro sham bo for conflict resolution, guys wearing skirts (ultimate in the 80's), energy circles (most of you probably don't even know what those are).  The New Games Movement provided the original "dogma" that was then directly or indirectly indoctrinated into the very fabric of Ultimate. 

 

The Author of Ultimate's Spirit Of The Game

Dan "Stork" Roddick (pictured below in this photo he sent me of him fouling the crap out of some player--nice spirit there Stork) is the original author of the Spirit of the Game clause in Ultimate.  Dan was familiar with the New Games movement in as early as 1975, is good friends with Bernie DeKoven, a key figure in the movement and Ultimate Frisbee was a mainstay in the New Game Movement's tournaments throughout the 70s.

While Ultimate Frisbee was not directly one of the New Games Foundation's creations, it was germinated out of the very same sociopolitical soil, is listed on some New Games websites and is very commonly referenced in research papers and studies regarding the basic premise of the creation of games that are focused on fair play for ALL participants in a friendly, cooperative, non-competitive, non-aggressive atmosphere.

The Spirit of the Game in Ultimate is only an adopted child of the Spirit of New Games and if you do even the slightest bit of research and evaluate the documentation, the evidence is astounding and jaw dropping.  It is incontrovertible.

"In New Games, there are no rigid rules; rather players are encouraged to make up their own rules [an apt description of the UPA], to create their own games. The object of New Games is not rigid adherence to a prescribed set of regulations, but imaginative play in an atmosphere of spontaneity and fun. The emphasis in New Games is the cooperation and participation of all players, regardless of age, sex, or ability.

While there is an emphasis on cooperation, New Games does not deny the need to compete or the need to release hostility; however, the player's competitiveness is usually directed against his own limitations and his hostility is released without harm to others. In New Frisbee, for example, the player concentrates on perfecting his own skills, not on defeating his partner. While New Frisbee looks very much like Old Frisbee, it is philosophically quite different. The player gets no points if he catches a good throw; on the other hand, if he catches or even misses but makes an all-out attempt for a difficult throw, he gains a point. Since the catcher calls his own points, each player is competing against the limitations of not only personal skill but personal integrity."[5]

The idea behind New Games was that through an atmosphere of playfulness, fairness and cooperation, participants could develop interpersonal and social skills through having fun on a leveled playing surface.  Games were specifically designed to be fair irrespective of age, race, gender, build (fat or thin, tall or short), athleticism, intelligence and handicaps.

Think long and hard about this.  Is this what you signed up for when you began playing Ultimate Frisbee?

At long last, I finally have an answer to the question "Why is Double Teaming illegal?"!!!  Double teaming is illegal because it's not universally fair.  Picks are illegal because they are not universally fair.  Out of bounds isn't really out of bounds because it's not universally fair.  No penalty for excessive fouling or traveling is because it wouldn't be fair.  George Leonard*, one of the early pioneers of the movement had this to say:

"The New Games Movement was less about the design of individual games and more about the development of an ethos intended to alter the way people interacted with one another. Its goal was to transform culture by creating opportunities for people to play collaboratively. Play hard. Play fair. Nobody hurt. These three core principles order the design (and play) of any New Games game. The movement organized festival-like 'Tournaments' that brought people together to play cooperatively, erasing (if only for a brief time) barriers of race, age, sex, size, ability, socioeconomic background, and creed. Values of freedom and the creation of community through game play were woven into a utopian rhetoric that advocated new forms of player empowerment.

If you played with  a parachute in your elementary school gym class, you can thank the New Games Movement, which helped transform the traditionally sports-based curriculum of phys ed into a more play-centric, cooperative learning experience. Much of the success of the New Games Movement emerged because of its relationships with other forms of counterculture. New Games 'Tournaments,' for example, mixed the communality of a peace protest with the cultural nihilism of an art happening.

There is no doubt that in many ways the New Games Movement and its game designs emerged out of a particular cultural milieu. But the uniquely transformative agenda of the movement is truly inspiring. Playing with the codes and conventions of gaming and social interaction, the New Games Movement sought to create positive social change through play. It did so not by creating games with explicit political content, but by designing play experiences that intrinsically embodied its utopian ideals." [1]

When the emphasis of a game is placed strictly on maximizing fun for the majority of participants, the end result will be a framework that lacks the requisite foundation for true competition to occur and without true competition, true innovation can also not occur.

The Underlying Beliefs of The New Games Doctrine (are you a believer?)

The New Games Movement originators based their theories on the premise that competition in sports is inherently a bad thing. 

When Abner Doubleday or James Nesmith invented baseball and basketball, those sports were fine as competitive recreational activities.  Competition helped evolve those sports to the point that within a few decades, they were filling up large stadiums.

That sports in America evolved into a win-at-all-cost commercial and materialistic obsession was more of indictment about modern society than it is about competition itself.  The exclusionary aspect intrinsic in sports is exactly what propels athletes to perform at their very best.

Competition is as natural and evolutionary element to human existence as is natural selection.  Competition in sports is survival of the fittest at its very finest.  At the core of the nervous system, the hypothalamus and cerebellum work together to sharpen man's reflexes and abilities to help him adapt to environmental dynamics.  Without this inherent drive at our core, mankind would have never evolved out of the caves.  While the win at all costs mentality is the ugly side of modern sports culture, competition is a good thing and the element in games that drive innovations and excellence.

The Books "Tweezly Whop Techniques and Tactics", the classic hard cover coffee table photo book "Earthball, The First Four Decades" or "Hug Tag, The Greatest Sport Ever Invented by Man" were never supposed to happen and neither were their Ultimate Frisbee counter parts.  Ironically, any book on the History Of Ultimate is absolutely incomplete without the inclusion of any findings on the New Games Doctrine as part of the pedigree of the sport.

Can you imagine what kind of person went about creating a genre of games that leveled the playing field so that a physically superior person would lose some of their God given advantage? 

I'll give you a hint, he wasn't the quarterback for your high school football team.

You can't have it both ways.  Either you have a game that is fun and fair for all or you have a sport that is designed for excellence at the highest levels. 

The original New Gamers are long gone and yet their legacy lives on in perpetuity by a Frisbee playing constituency who neither understands their heritage nor cares about it.

 

I'm not against "New Games" and the notion that playfulness is an extremely important quality and even a virtue but you can't have a competitive sport based on the kind of ideology that creates a level playing field for the weakest player to have a fair shot at winning. 

That's CRAZY.

 

References

[1]Andrew Faunergate  New Games, 1976 More New Games, 1981

"The New Games Book and its companion, the More New Games book, were resources developed for the "New Games" movement to encourage people to play non-competitive or friendlier games. Many of the "New Games" may now be seen played, in their modern variants, by church youth groups, summer campers, and even [in some cases] gym students."

[2] Why Study New Games? (an excellent Stanford research paper on New Games)

[3] The New Game Foundation

[4] Junkyard Games

[5] 1976 Article about New Games

[6] Deep Fun

[7] Spirit of New Games

Others References:

*The Ultimate Athlete Ironically named book written by George Leonard

Best New Games (even listed under a web-site called 'training-wheels.com')

Dho-Dho-Dho, Smaug's Jewels, Slaughter, etc.

Humanistic Critic of Sports (choice topical lecture from Wisconsin university sociology class on New Games that includes Ultimate Frisbee)

Junkyard Sports (another good read regarding the ideology of putting participation above competition)

Weinstein, Matt & Goodman, Joel Playfair: Everybody’s Guide to Noncompetitive Play Impact Publishers
ISBN: 0-915166-50-X.

Rethinking Youth Sports (decent article about alternative thinking to sports)

 

 

 

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