Theory vs. Practice – A Grudge Match Case Study

So, had a bit of hiatus from blogging – 7 straight weekends of ultimate tends to ruin other plans… As a result I’ve got a bit of a backlog of things I desperately want to write about – especially after a rather historic nationals – but this one has been sitting about for a while, and really deserves to get to see the light of day.

Grudge Match 2.0

It was *the* match. The game we’d been hoping to avoid all weekend. And unfortunately we messed up and found ourselves playing it.

Our very own Grudge Match.

Now, having written a post about precisely that sort of game (with exactly the game we ended up playing in mind!), it felt to me at least like there was a fair amount of pressure on us for this game to not completely stuff it up, from a spirit point of view.

So with some wise words from Shim J and Kneetu pre-game we went into it with a new mindset.

No contests. Our aim was to come out of that game smiling, and long, scrappy, rage-y calls (like we’ve experienced previously against that team) weren’t going to help that. We could call stuff ourselves, but the plan was to not spend too long discussing stuff in a potentially bad way and instead to just play ultimate.

Equally, with the aim of smiling and the no contest rule, the pressure was off. I think previously we’ve felt the NEED to win against that team in order to prove that they were making bad calls, that we were better, that we were the righteous. By separating the calls from the outcome so drastically and by giving them so little space in the match, the game felt lighter – even before we started playing.

We went into that game with the aim of being well-spirited. Of introducing ourselves. Of finding a way to connect with a team when we’ve previously struggled to do so. Of calling only what we really needed to. Of complimenting their good plays.

So… what happened?


No Contest – Respectful or Cynical?

Me and Robbie were having a chat about the concept of a team-wide ‘no contest’ rule recently. I quite liked it as an idea as I’d never heard of it, and I thought of it in a kind of ‘ultimate respect’ way – you’re trusting your opposition to only call stuff which is true, and when they call it, you take for granted that it is true (plus, my US college crush team implement it, so it must be good, right?). Robbie took the position that it’s actually disrespectful to the team you’re playing against – to an extent you’re saying that calls aren’t worth discussing, you don’t think they can discuss calls properly, and hey, you’ll beat them whatever crap they call, so bring it.

Putting it into practice in a game was interesting. And I think that a no-contest rule has a great application, but not in the way I’d initially thought. And kind of in the way Robbie thought. If you’re playing against a team who are very respectful, and good at discussing calls, who call things in a discursive manner (“I think you fouled me, and I’d like to hear your interpretation”), then there’s no need for a no contest rule. You will inevitably uncontest most foul calls, or agree between you amicably that it was not a foul – or even that you don’t really know what happened even though you’ve both thought about it, so you’ll send it back.

Where No Contest comes into its own is against a Drama Team. I’m talking about ‘drama’ here in the way that Lou Burruss talks about it in his series of posts – a team which thrives off high intensity ‘discussions’, aggro behaviour and general high levels of rage and disgust for the other team. He points out pretty accurately that these teams almost unstoppably ‘drag you down to their level’ of drama, and while they thrive off it – you suffer.

Against a Drama Team (or a team with Drama players), No Contest is devastating. Suddenly, whenever they call foul, it is uncontested. There is no discussion to enlarge, to infect the sideline with righteous fury. Equally, our reduced calls for fouls on ourselves stripped the game even further of instances where drama could be injected.

As an individual who was always going to struggle just a little bit more in that game with spirit, the No Contest rule gave me a framework to follow. If you do not contest a call, it is correct. If it is correct, there is no need to be pissed off about how outrageous it is/how not in keeping with their own physicality it is/how badly it is being discussed on the sideline. It’s just a call. It happens. You play ultimate.


Drama’s Arch Nemesis

So, No Contest neutralises Drama, for sure. But what really kills it?

Because some of their players were trying pretty damn hard to generate drama anyway. Maybe this is a personal perception (it may well be), but I struggle to find a more generous way to interpret the repeated suggestion to our players that they “fuck off” (4 times, if you’re wondering).

In previous games, shit would have kicked off. We’ve never gone into a match with them with the aim of being badly spirited, but I’ll be the first to admit that we’ve descended there as we’ve been (from my perspective) worn down by this kind of disrespect and drama-generation. It’s tricky not to be.

The enemy of Drama, it turns out, is humour.  Lots of it.

I have never laughed so much on a sideline of a game I have been playing in. I have never come off from every single point smiling. We joked amongst ourselves on the sideline. It made the occasional bouts of ‘aggression’ easier to deal with. We joked with their players on the sideline, and it was really nice to be able to do that – it’s definitely not something we would have managed in other games when we hadn’t had Drama Reduction as our main goal for the game, and I’m so glad we did.

Because that team has a lot of well-spirited and just generally nice people on it.

Equally, in calls, the introduction of joking about our own failings seemed to throw them a little. It’s hard to call someone a cheating dickhead if they’re already calling themselves that while uncontesting that foul. Drama cannot be born from laughter.


Never Lose a Game

We lost. Maybe if we’d played harder, played more intensely, smiled less, we would have won.

But here’s my strong belief: if we’d played harder, played more intensely, we still might have lost. And we would have felt like we lost to bad spirit, and with bad spirit.

It would have sucked.

I realised this weekend that you never need to lose a game to bad spirit.

By not rising to it, by actively playing with almost ridiculously good spirit, you take back control of the game. By denying their drama a space to grow, you make the game yours.

That weekend, we lost to two good teams. There’s no shame in that. One of them didn’t do so good at spirit when they beat us. There’s no shame in that either (for us). They played hard, we played hard, we’re both good teams. It ended in sudden death.

Our biggest fear of losing to them has always been, I believe, that their victory would serve to validate some of their players’ behaviour. Having faced that situation, we know now – it does not. We still know it is unacceptable to tell another player to fuck off. And so do they. They still did it, sure, but I doubt that they would be able to argue that it was acceptable, even though they won the game. The outcome of the game changes nothing in terms of what is spirited and what is not – and that’s good for us to experience.

I won’t say that I am ok with the abuse that some of our players took in that game. I am angry about it, as someone who cares about respect for other players and about spirit of the game. But there is an odd thing going on that while I am angry about that player’s disrespect for us, I have no rage towards their team to bring away from that game, I have no niggling resentment, I have no bitterness about this call or that call.

This is because we went into that game to win spirit and, yes, I believe we won.


Note: I had a big think about whether it is fair to talk about another team’s spirit/behaviour, when it’s pretty clear who they are and when I’m not portraying them (or all of them) fantastically well. I then realised that anything I do on pitch that I do not apologise for I should be willing to have examined by other members of our community. Sometimes we all get a little angry on pitch, or frustrated by a call. We discuss stuff badly. Then we apologise for it, talk it through with the other person, learn from it, and do our damn best not to do it again. My assumption is that if you don’t apologise for it, then or later, you mean it. You think it’s acceptable. So you should be happy having it examined by others.


  • Ashley

    A very interesting post Megan. I really enjoyed reading it but I couldn’t help thinking not only now but at the time that our goal was not to win the game on the scoreboard at the end but our goal was to ensure the game was clean fun game.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love having fun when I play ultimate but I find it very hard to accept any result whether it’s a win or a loss and feel happy with the game if I do not think we have played our hardest. At times in that game it felt like that was the situation, It felt like we’d backed down to the challenge before they had even brought it to us and for me that was hard to take. I may be wrong and maybe everyone did play their hardest but it just felt like we’d lost an edge, a desire to win that we had in all of the other games.

    I believe that a game should be a clean and fun one but you should not go out there to think that you have to be the calming effect on the game. There are two teams out there and sometimes games will have lots of calls, contesting and discussing calls are part of the game and there are ways to do them calmly without affecting the way you play.

    I’m just saying when you are in a National Championship and there are medals at stake then you should go out there fighting and if you lose, you lose but at least you gave it your best shot of winning a medal and you can come away with no regrets.

  • Therapist

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, hence the delay in time to reply.

    As a quick point – I don’t remember our captain telling us definitely not to contest things but rather not to contest anything trivial – if there was still something ridiculous called then we were, on my understanding, well within our rights to contest. This I think, would help Ashley’s points out to the point that we were giving our opponents the respect that they deserve by discussing calls when it the outcome of the call wasn’t trivial.

    Maybe some people thought that the outcome of any call with said team is trivial because of past experience but actually, in that game (minus the few obscenities and cursing towards us) the few discussions I witnessed looked fine. The outcome was perhaps obvious but the discussion generally OK. Actually, quite a few weren’t very nice, hmm. Anyway, I am digressing…

    I know from my experience of said game I was still giving 100% to win the game. I threw a few things away and got beaten every now and then but actually I put everything in to win it, I was just ready to accept when I had been beaten a bit more easily. Its not something I have often done – accept defeat with a smile – and not something I make a habit of. It hurts when I am beaten and makes me want to come back stronger to get some sort of revenge. I, for one, won’t let that team beat me again.

    All that said, I think given the team that we had that weekend and who we were up against it was important for us to take the smiling approach and actually I came away from a tight defeat with my head held really high. I was a bit of a dick at times during the game but generally, for the most part, felt good about how I conducted myself. However, once I arrived home that evening I realised that I was, actually, devastated that we had been beaten and I had missed out on a medal. But this I actually took to be a big positive for me moving forward and being stronger. I knew I had enjoyed the game very much in the moment but was still destroyed over the loss.


    I will just add that I have played against that team once more since then and their behaviour (and ours, I hope) was impeccable and all credit to both teams for making a very hard fought encounter a great game of ultimate.

    1. Ashley

      I completely agree with you last statement Rich. It was a hard fought game from both teams but the spirit remained good throughout.

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