In the VUL, we place a great deal of emphasis on what is called “Spirit of the Game”. It's a defining factor that makes ultimate different from many other sports.
Spirit is used by players to guide their actions when playing, and is essential for ultimate to work as a self-refereed sport.
Spirit in the Rules
The Spirit of the Game clause in the rules states:
“Ultimate relies upon a spirit of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, adherence to the agreed upon rules, or the basic joy of play. Protection of these vital elements serves to eliminate unsportsmanlike conduct from the Ultimate field. Such actions as taunting opposing players, dangerous aggression, belligerent intimidation, intentional infractions or other 'win-at-all-costs' behavior are contrary to the spirit of the game and must be avoided by all players.”
This clause represents a lot of what ultimate is all about: having fun, getting exercise, making new friends, and helping others enjoy the game. It’s not about winning at all costs. Dangerous and overly aggressive play is not only frowned upon, but is contrary to the values of the sport.
What does Spirit mean in practice?
At it's core, Spirit is a combination of respect, integrity, and fun. As a self-refereed sport, it is essential that players treat each other with respect in all aspects of the game. This includes understanding that players will have different perspectives, and no matter how sure one player may be about a play or call on the field, other players' perspectives need to be taken into account. The rules have simple procedures for incorporating these various perspectives into the game.
Similarly, there is no integrity in purposefully trying to break the rules to gain an advantage. Winning through intentional cheating has no place in ultimate, and it's expected that all players will understand the rules. Playing with spirit does not mean that participants don't play with intensity or a desire to win, only that they do so fairly and honestly.
Lastly, a core aspect of spirit is the joy of play. The Spirit clause helps to facilitiate a safe and fun environment. Actions like taunting and dangerous plays are against the rules. Conversely, many traditions have developed to promote spirit in games. These include awards or gifts for the other team to acknowledge skilled plays, non-traditional uniforms to emphasize a team's focus on fun, and special cheers or "spirit games" after the game. These traditions aren't required elements of spirit, but are examples of how some teams enjoy the sport.
The great thing about spirit is that it can be contagious: the more people that embrace it, the easier it is for others to catch. At the highest level of spirit, two teams can give their every effort on the field of play and walk away smiling, regardless of the end result.
After every game, when captains submit game scores to the VUL, they also answer a few questions to provide a "spirit score" for their opponent. The VUL Spirit Scoring System is a modified version of the World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF) system.