Photo by Scott Roeder –

In the Dogfish’s inaugural season, part of our mission is to introduce the sport of Ultimate to the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. Many people in the community have never watched an Ultimate game, nor sought to learn about the sport. Sadly, this means they are missing out on an exhilarating game that exemplifies sportsmanship and pure athleticism.

If you are one of those “Ultimate outsiders” who are intrigued but could benefit from a concise overview of basic rules and jargon, this guide is for you.

Basic Rules:

Rosters: Each team has 7 players on the field. Teams may have a maximum of 25 people on their roster.

The Field: The playing field in Ultimate matches the dimensions of a professional football field (120 yards long, 53.3 yards wide). The only noticeable difference is deeper end zones, with each being 20 yards long, compared to 10 yards in football. So, the natural field, from end zone to end zone, is 80 yards long as opposed to the 100 yards in football.

Game Time: Games are split into four quarters, each with 10 minutes of gameplay. This excludes clock stoppages (timeouts, injuries, after each score, etc.). Between the second and third quarter there is a 15-minute halftime break.

The Pull:  After a coin toss, the game begins on a “pull,” which is very similar to a kickoff in football. In this case, both teams line up on the front of their respective end zone line, and the defense throws the  disc to the offense. The pull signals the beginning of a point, and occurs after every goal scored.

Disc Movement: The disc may be advanced in any direction by completing a pass to a teammate. Players cannot run with the disc, nor move their pivot foot (left foot for righties, right foot for lefties) once it has been planted. If a player does move his pivot foot, he is called for a travel resulting in a turnover, identical to the travel foul in basketball.

Types of throws:

 – Backhand: The most basic throw in Ultimate, where the back of the hand leads the throw and the throwing arm extends across the body. If you have ever thrown a disc with a friend, this is more than likely the toss you used.

 – Flick: Another basic throw for Ultimate players, but more difficult to master for a beginner. In this case, the hand is turned upside down and the front of the hand (pinkie first) leads. A quick snap of the wrist gives the disc momentum.

 – Huck: A deep throw downfield (backhand-huck or flick-huck).

Hammer: An infrequent and riskier throw that can be very useful against defenders, as it is able to go right over the marker’s head. The disc is held in a similar fashion to the flick and thrown overhand. Similar to serving in tennis or throwing a baseball, the arm starts behind the head and extends towards the target.

Stalling: The person with the disc, called the “thrower,” has 7 seconds to release the disc from the moment that the player gains possession and is guarded by a defender, known as the “marker.” If the player takes longer than 7 seconds, they are whistled for a stall foul resulting in a turnover.

Change of Possession: If a pass is not completed (lands out of bounds, or is dropped, blocked, or intercepted), the defense immediately takes possession of the disc and becomes the offense. The offense starts from wherever the change of possession occurred, either from where the disc went out of bounds or ends up on the natural field. 

Scoring: When the offense completes a pass in the defense’s end zone, it’s called a goal, and the offense scores one point. After a quick break, the team that scored now pulls the disc to the opposing team.

Substitutions: A team can substitute players under the following circumstances: after a goal, during a time-out, or to replace an injured/ejected player. Simply put, during a clock stoppage, a team may replace any number of players.

Violations: Each game has five referees, who will be primarily watching for violations (for example, physical contact and travels). The penalties for these fouls are either yardage-based (moving the disc back or forward a certain number of yards), spot fouls (the disc will be placed at the spot of the foul), or loss of possession.

Spirit of Sportsmanship: A unique component distinguishing the MLU from many other professional sports is the ability of a player or coach to overturn a referee’s call. A call can be immediately reversed if a player realizes an official has incorrectly ruled in his favor. While this may seem counter-productive to many outside fans, it demonstrates one of Ultimate’s core principles, a strong commitment to sportsmanship and integrity.

Hopefully, this quick guide gives you a basic understanding of how Ultimate is played, and now you can simply appreciate the competition.

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