Ultimate Frisbee: How to Play and Win Every Time

playing frisbee

Ultimate Frisbee, sometimes referred to as simply “Ultimate,” is a fast-paced and enjoyable game that combines spirited competition with plenty of goodwill among players. In the following article we will introduce you to this fun game—the basic rules and how to play the game—and provide some helpful tips on how you can “ultimately” help your team win.

What Is Ultimate Frisbee?

The game of Ultimate Frisbee is a non-contact sport that uses a flying disc—the Frisbee or a similar disc—rather than a ball of some type as the actual playing prop. The game was initially developed in 1968 by a small group of students at Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey, and while the game resembles certain sports like football and soccer in form and the athletic requirements need to play it, Ultimate Frisbee has always been—and continues to be—a self-officiated sport, even at the highest levels of competition. In other words, instead of relying on a referee to enforce the rules of the sport, the players on both teams rely on a type of honor code to call out their own fouls, etc.

Since its inception in 1968, the game of Ultimate Frisbee has gradually grown and expanded from its local roots. The game is now played across the globe in the form of pickup games, and by recreational, school, club, professional, and national teams at various age levels, with open (professional men), women’s and mixed divisions. There are currently nearly 5.5 million people in the United States that play Ultimate Frisbee at some level. If you’re ready to lace up those cleats and play a game, then check out the basics and our tips below.

What Are the Rules of Ultimate Frisbee and How Is It Played?

Players per Team

The rules of Ultimate Frisbee are fairly simple and straightforward. In a regulation game of outdoor Ultimate Frisbee, there are 7 players on each team. However, it is not uncommon for the game to be played recreationally with only 5-6 players on each team. Any less than that takes away from the fast pace of the game.

The Ultimate Frisbee Field

Like football, soccer, lacrosse and some other field sports, the field for a game of Ultimate Frisbee is rectangular in shape with end zones at each end of the field. The dimensions for a regulation field—fields on which the game is played at the highest levels—are as follows: 70 yards (64m) long by 40 yards (37m) wide with end zones that are roughly 20 yards (18m) deep. Of course, many Ultimate Frisbee matches are played as pickup games, so these dimensions can vary slightly.

How Is Play Initiated?

At the beginning of the game, an appointed captain from each team meets in the middle of the field for a coin flip. The team that wins this coin flip can choose to be on either offense or defense first. From there, both teams line up horizontally along their own end zone line, and the defensive team throws the disc to the offensive team. In Ultimate Frisbee, these throws are called “pulls.”

At the beginning of each point in Ultimate Frisbee, the alignment is the same as it was at the start of the game—the team that scores the point will then switch to defense and the two teams will again align themselves along their own end zone line, and the defensive team will throw or pull the disc to the offensive team.

Scoring in Ultimate Frisbee

Each time the offense completes a pass in the defense’s end zone, a point is scored for the offense. Play is then initiated after each point in the manner described above.

Movement of the Disc in Ultimate Frisbee

The Frisbee or disc used in the game of Ultimate Frisbee can be advanced in any direction. This is accomplished by completing a pass to a teammate. Although the game of Ultimate Frisbee requires a lot of running, it’s crucial here to note that players cannot run with the disc at any time. After a pass is completed, the person with the disc—known as the “thrower,”—has no more than 10 seconds in which to throw the disc. Time is typically kept by the defensive player who is guarding the thrower—known as the “marker”—via an audible 10-second stall count.

How Does Possession Change?

We have already explained that possession of the disc in Ultimate Frisbee changes after each successful score, but there are also other occurrences in which possession changes immediately from any spot on the field. In a nut shell, any time a pass is not completed by the offense, the defense immediately takes possession of the disc and becomes the offensive team. Incomplete passes can be the result of blocks, drops and throws out of bounds, as well as interceptions, when the disc is caught by a member of the opposing team. Possession is also immediately changed if the thrower fails to throw the disc within the allotted 10-second time frame.

Substitutions

Much like soccer, substitutions in a regulation game of Ultimate Frisbee can be made after each score, whether on offense or defense, and during injury timeouts—when the clock is stopped to attend to an injured player.

Ultimate Frisbee Is a Non-Contact Sport

If you watch American football, soccer and lacrosse, you will no doubt see a lot of pushing, shoving and jostling for position. These tactics are prohibited in the game of Ultimate Frisbee. Absolutely no contact is allowed between players. Even picks and screens are prohibited in a regulation game. If contact of any kind does occur on the Ultimate Frisbee playing field, the player who was contacted has a right to enforce a foul call on the other player. When that foul disrupts possession of the Frisbee or disc, the play shall resume as if the possession was retained. However, if the player committing the foul disagrees with the foul call, the play is redone.

More about Self-Officiating

As you can see from the example above, players are expected to make their own foul calls. They are also expected to make those calls honestly. In the example above you can see how these disputes are often settled. Simply put, all players are responsible for their own foul and line calls, and players are responsible for settling their own disputes. Because of this self-officiating, Ultimate Frisbee remains a very fast-paced game, one that is not interrupted by endless whistles and stoppages of play.

Tips for Excelling at Ultimate Frisbee

Now that you have a basic understanding with regard to the game of Ultimate Frisbee, here are some tips that can help you truly excel on the field.

Never Give Up on the Disc

One of the great things about Ultimate Frisbee is how long the disc can potentially stay in the air. This length of flight for makes for some very exciting moments on the field, such as when a player runs 40 yards or more to make what may have looked like an impossible catch. With this flight in mind, remember to never, ever give up on the disc. No pass is truly over until the disc hits the ground.

Utilize a Pump Fake from Time to Time

A pump fake is when you act like you are going to throw the disc to one player but you instead hold onto the disc. These types of fakes can catch the defense off guard, perhaps even making a defender leave his man for the person he “thought” you were going to throw the disc to. This can leave the man he was “supposed to be” guarding wide open for a pass, increasing your chances of a completion. And while the pump fake can be a very good weapon in your offensive arsenal, take care that you don’t rely on it too much. This may allow the defense to catch on to your strategy and be ready for it.

Take Your Time

One of the biggest mistakes made by novice or rookie Ultimate Frisbee players is impatience when passing. Trying to rush your passes can lead to drops, blocks and even interceptions, each of which causes a change of possession in the game. Instead, try to take your time between throws in your effort to find the open man. Remember, you have 10 seconds to release the disc, and in the frantic pace of Ultimate Frisbee that 10 seconds can seem like a lifetime.

Use Two Hands when Catching the Disc

Catching a fast-moving disc is a lot like catching a fast-moving football or baseball: you should always use two hands. Whenever it’s possible, it is imperative that you use both hands to catch the disc. That’s because the high velocity rotation of the disc can often make one-handed catches difficult at best. Never risk a possession trying to be a hot dog or show-off. Each possession counts so get both of your hands up as the disc nears you.

Enjoy the Game and Embrace Its Motto: Spirit of the Game

Lat but definitely not least, you should always strive to have as much fun as possible when playing Ultimate Frisbee, while also obeying the rules of the game.

The game of Ultimate Frisbee was invented at a time when fair play and honesty were being stressed daily. As a result, the sport stresses—even demands—sportsmanship and fair play. Although the game of Ultimate Frisbee can be quite competitive, even heated at times, that competition should never overshadow the respect players are supposed to hold for each other. Nor should this competition be a reason to break the established rules of the game, or cut into the pure joy of playing the sport.

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