Contact: foul or nah?

In the last two weeks in Blantyre we’ve had some interesting discussions about the rules on physical contact. These arose from a situation where two players clearly collided but no foul was called last week; and this week where players agreed that contact occurred but did not agree on whether it was a foul.

A non-contact sport?

For those of us coming from sports like basketball or football where you can’t deliberately hit or trip a player, but most unintentional contact is allowed, it’s difficult to get into the mindset of calling fouls for contact that may be unintentional, but does affect the play.

However, in ultimate we should. Ultimate calls itself a “non-contact sport” (it’s in rule 1.1.), and this is defined further in rule 12.6:

All players must attempt to avoid contact with other players, and there is no situation where a player may justify initiating contact. This includes avoiding initiating contact with a stationary opponent, or an opponent’s expected position based on their established speed and direction.  “Making a play for the disc” is not a valid excuse for initiating contact with other players.

Which seems pretty clear, but…

There is a recognition that in a sport with 14 players running around, some contact will occur and the rules try to allow for ‘minor contact’. We see this in rule 17.2, about receiving fouls:

17.2.1. A Receiving Foul occurs when a player initiates non-minor contact with an opponent before, while, or directly after, either player makes a play on the disc. Contact with an opponent’s arms or hands, that occurs after the disc has been caught, or after the opponent can no longer make a play on the disc, is not a sufficient basis for a foul, but should be avoided

What is minor contact?

The rules define ‘minor contact’ as:

Contact that involves minimal physical force and does not alter the movements or position of another player. Contact with an opponent’s extended arms or hands that are about to, or already are, contacting the disc, or contact to the throwers hand during the throwing motion, is not considered to be minor contact.

Some examples

A contested call

In the case of what happened this week:

  1. Player O(ffense) and Player D(efence) where both jumping for the disk.
  2. The disc was dropped.
  3. They agree that contact occurred.
  4. The contact was not strong enough that either were knocked out of position.
  5. Player O felt the contact put them off catching the disc; so called a Foul.
  6. Player D felt that the contact had occurred after the disc was lost, and therefore didn’t affect the play (minor contact); so Contested the Foul call.
  7. The disc was returned to the person who threw it – offence retain the disc.

This is the correct resolution for the situation, which was a genuine and honest difference of opinion on when the contact occurred and how it affected play.

Player knocked to the ground

In the situation last week no foul was called – so this is just my perception of what should have happened:

  1. Player O(ffence) jumped straight up for the disc.
  2. Player D(efence) also jumped for the disc, but jumped diagonally, across Player O.
  3. The disc was dropped (or maybe caught by Player D).
  4. Player O was knocked to the ground.
  5. Player O should have called a foul, which could have been either a Receiving Foul or Dangerous Play.
  6. If Player D accepted the call, the disc would go to Player O; if not it would be returned to the thrower – offence retain the disc.
The player in white (Rich) is jumping straight up, the player in black (Chris) is doing a good job not to commit a foul, but if he were to jump further across and hit Rich, Rich would justifiably call a foul.

Offsetting fouls

Another way of viewing the example above is that if both Player O and Player D were jumping diagonally, into the same space, and the contact was ‘non-minor’, then this could be an ‘offsetting foul’. In which case the disc would go back to the thrower.

17.9. Offsetting Fouls:
17.9.1. If accepted fouls are called by offensive and defensive players on the same play, these are offsetting fouls, and the disc must be returned to the last non-disputed thrower.
17.9.2. If there is non-minor contact that is caused by two or more opposing players moving towards a single point simultaneously, this must be treated as offsetting fouls.
Here, both Frank (white shirt) and Andrew (black shirt) are jumping into the same space. If they make contact with one another, and either fell it stopped them getting the disc, they could call it an offsetting foul and the disc is returned to the thrower,
If Danny (green/black shirt) had dropped the disc here, he could call a foul on Frank (white shirt) as Frank has clearly made contact with him, reaching into the space where Danny was jumping.

Right of way: blocking

I was asked a question this week about fouls caused by two people wanting to run into the same space at the same time. It’s something that can come up quite often as a defender and attacker are heading for the same spot. Does the attacker always have right of way? What about if one of them changes direction?

The answer wasn’t obvious to me, so I looked it up, and there are two relevant rules, 12.5 and 17.4:

12.5. Every player is entitled to occupy any position on the field not occupied by any opposing player, provided that they do not initiate contact in taking such a position, and are not moving in a reckless or dangerously aggressive manner.
12.5.1. However when the disc is in the air a player may not move in a manner solely to prevent an opponent from taking an unoccupied path to make a play on the disc.

So once the disc is in the air, you can move wherever you want (in a safe way) as long as you are making a genuine attempt to get to the disc. If that blocks someone else’s route to the frisbee (without initiating contact or making it inevitable) that’s fine.

If you’re cutting to get into position, before the frisbee is thrown, 17.4 is more relevant:

17.4. Blocking Fouls:

17.4.1. A Blocking Foul occurs when a player takes a position that an opponent moving in a legal manner will be unable to avoid, taking into account the opponents expected position based on their established speed and direction, and non-minor contact results. This is to be treated as either a receiving foul or an indirect foul, whichever is applicable.

The key words here are “unable to avoid” and “established speed and direction“. So a defender can move in a way that blocks off where they think the attacker might want to go, as long as it’s not in a way that makes a collision inevitable (or even highly likely).

These two diagrams illustrate a foul by the defender and by the attacker. In both the defender aims to block off the same space, but in the first she steps into the established line of the attacker (in such a way that the attacker does not have time to avoid the collision); in the second they are running parallel and the attacker changes line. This is the attacker’s fault as she tried to cross the defender’s established line.

What is a catch?

This seeems like it should be an easy question, but as with all things in a sport where we are all referees, we need a clear, definitive, answer. The question comes from a situation we had in Blantyre a couple of weeks ago:

Ian caught the disk, while his foot was in the endzone, but his momentum was carrying him out of the field and he immediately threw the disc back into the endzone, where no one else caught it.

There was some discussion about whether this was actually a ‘catch’ and therefore a goal. We all agreed that if Ian had held on to the disc it would have been a goal as his initial point of contact with the ground was in the endzone. However, as he only held the disc momentarily, and then threw it – ultimately to the ground – was this not a drop? At the time we agreed to give it as a goal and I said I’d look it up.

Of course, to know if we made the right call on the field, we have to consult the WFDF rules. The key section is the definitions at the end:

Catch: A non-spinning disc trapped between at least two body parts.
If a player initially catches a pass and then, prior to establishing possession, they do not maintain the catch (‘maintain the catch’ means to continue to have a non-spinning disc trapped between at least two body parts), that initial catch is deemed to have ended

WFDF Rules of Ultimate 2021-2024, Definitions, p. 15.

But this requires a further definition! Had Ian ‘established possesion’?

Possession of the disc: A player establishes possession of a pass when:

– they catch a pass and then they maintain that catch for more than one noticeable instant, and

– they maintain the catch throughout all ground contact related to the catch, or until they throw the disc

WFDF Rules of Ultimate 2021-2024, Definitions, p. 16.

We can see from the last words quoted that we made the right decision, and Ian did the right thing in making a throw to establish clear possession.

Establishing possession with your foot

In looking this up I also found out the answer to a question Michael asked yesterday:

If someone kicks or traps a rolling disc from the pull (or at any other point in play), have they established possession? Do they have to pick up the disc?

The answer is ‘no’ the definition is clear that “picking up the disc” establishes possession, so kicking or standing on it does not count.

WFDF announces a new set of Rules of Ultimate and Appendix for 2021-2024

The World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF), following a review by the Rules Sub-Committee, has announced an updated set of the Rules of Ultimate and Championship Appendix for 2021-2024. The WFDF Board of Directors have approved these changes and the new rules come into effect on 1 January 2021.

The WFDF Ultimate Rules Sub-Committee has introduced a number of changes aimed at producing better flow of play, fairer outcomes, and a closer alignment with the USA Ultimate rule set, with the additional goal of enabling self-officiating to work as effectively as possible.

“Self-officiation is an integral part of Ultimate, so having a clear and concise set of Rules is critical,” said Rueben Berg, chair of the WFDF Rules Sub-Committee. “This update to the Rules of Ultimate provides greater clarity around some key aspects of the game, as well as including some changes to ensure fairer outcomes, that will hopefully assist in the self-officiation process.”

Rueben continued, “I encourage all players to learn and understand the changes we have introduced. We have a wealth of resources available on to assist players with rules knowledge.”

WFDF would like to thank the efforts of those across the globe who have helped contribute to putting this latest update together.

Please find the 2021 versions of the rules, the track changes versions and a summary of changes here:

WFDF Rules of Ultimate 2021-2024

WFDF Rules of Ultimate 2021-2024 – Track changes

WFDF Rules of Ultimate 2021-2024 – Appendix v1

WFDF Rules of Ultimate 2021-2024 – Appendix v1 Track changes

Summary of changes

Additional resources are available here:

Original press release

What is a pick?

At our game on Sunday we had a number of questions about picks. It’s always a somewhat confusing and even controversial rule. I wasn’t 100% sure about how to answer some of the questions, so I found this:

Really simple explanation

The rules as written

18.3. “Pick” Violations:

18.3.1. If a defensive player is guarding one offensive player and they are prevented from moving towards/with that player by another player, that defensive player may call “Pick”. However it is not a pick if both the player being guarded and the obstructing player are making a play on the disc. Prior to making the “Pick” call, the defender may delay the call up to two (2) seconds to determine if the obstruction will affect the play.

18.3.2. If play has stopped, the obstructed player may move to the agreed position they would have otherwise occupied if the obstruction had not occurred, unless specified otherwise.

18.3.3. All players should take reasonable efforts to avoid the occurrence of picks. During any stoppage opposing players may agree to slightly adjust their locations to avoid potential picks.

A detailed explanation from WFDF

The Pull

In Blantyre, we’ve had a few discussion recently about what happens when the disc goes out on the pull (the first throw used to start and restart the game) and/or lands in the end zone.

I think the rules for this have been updated over the years, and may be/have been different in the USA and the rest of the world. We’re using the most recent WFDF rules (2021).

The rules about the pull in detail are here:

But essentially:

  • If it stops or is caught in the field of play (including the end zone) play it from there.
  • If it lands in play but rolls out, play it from where it rolled out (or the closest point not in the end zone).
  • If it goes straight out, either play from where it crossed the line, or the brick mark (centre of the field about 18m from the goal line). If you want to play from the brick mark you should raise your arm overhead and say, “brick” (the rule changed from clapping about 10 years ago).

For a great pictorial explanation, grab this PDF or have a look at the slideshow below (‘OB’= ‘out of bounds’):

Delay of play

Two related rules issues came up last Sunday, both about how quickly play needs to restart; so I had a look at the rule book to give some definitive answers.

How quickly do you have to pick the disc up after a turnover or pull?

Essentially the answer is: as quickly as possible.

The aim being to keep the game moving at pace.

Attacking players need to (at least) walk to the disc and when there pick it up and play. If they don’t the defending team can call ‘Delay of play’ and if the attackers don’t stop delaying the defenders can start the stall count.

  • 8.5. After a turnover, and after the pull, the team that has gained possession of the disc must continue play without delay.
    • 8.5.1. An offensive player must move at walking pace or faster to directly retrieve the disc and establish a pivot.
    • 8.5.2. In addition to 8.5.1, after a turnover the offence must put the disc into play within the following time limits, if the disc did not become out-of-bounds, and the discs location is:
      • in the central zone – within ten (10) seconds of the disc coming to rest.
      • in an end zone – within twenty (20) seconds of the disc coming to rest.
    • 8.5.3. If the offence breaches 8.5 the defence may give a verbal warning (“Delay of Game”) or may call a “Violation”.
    • 8.5.4. If an offensive player is within three (3) metres of the pivot point and, after the verbal warning, the offence continues to breach 8.5 the marker may commence the stall count.
Taken from: WFDF – Rules of Ultimate

USA Ultimate’s current rule is essentially the same – see XIX.B.

What happens if the pull is delayed after a ready signal?

The rules we use (WFDF) do not really specify, but, again, the idea here is to get play restarted as quickly as possible:

7.1.1. Teams must prepare for the pull without unreasonable delay.

WFDF – Rules of Ultimate

The USA Ultimate Rules go into some detail about how much time can be taken and penalties for going beyond this, but as we use the WFDF rules, I won’t go into those – if you want to, look at VIII.C.

One thing that we might note is the order suggested by the WFDF rules:

  1. Receiving team signals that they are ready.
  2. Receiving team stays still, each player with a foot on the goal line – so pulling (defending) team can pick who to mark.
  3. Pulling team signals readiness – pulling team all need to be in their endzone.
  4. Once the pull is thrown all players may leave their endzones.

Checking in

On Sunday, we had a discussion about when to wait for a check (the defending player tapping the disc to say her team is ready) and when to just play on.

As we weren’t all 100% sure of the rules I looked them up. WFDF (World Flying Disc Federation) says:

10.1 Whenever play stops during a point for a time-out, foul, violation, contested turnover, specified turnover, contested goal, technical stoppage, injury stoppage, or discussion, play must restart as quickly as possible with a check. The check may only be delayed for the discussion of a call.

The explanation on that page makes it clear that, “a check is not required after the pull or after a turnover, even when the thrower must walk to the location of the correct pivot point.”

So, if you’re bringing the disc back into play (e.g. from the sideline or back line) you should wait for the check, but from normal turnovers, just play.