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The Spirit of the Game | September, 2013

Our family added a new sport last night: Ultimate.

What is “Ultimate” you ask? It’s like football except the teams toss a flying disc instead of a ball.

This in addition to our already jam-packed closetful of soccer, basketball, football and baseball gear, plus athletic shoes, martial arts weapons, skateboards and an archery bow, which looks a lot like a skirt hanger but I assure you is far more deadly.

FYI: If you need any soccer cleats between the sizes of 1 and 8, we’ve got six pairs stored in the oven.

At least Ultimate only requires a flying disc and a water bottle.

Why we’d add another sport is a good question. In our family, as in yours, each kid is different. One likes the respect of martial arts and the glorious pageantry of swordsmanship. One likes the havoc of a pack of semi-wild, super-sweaty bodies tumbling after a ball. (Did I give birth to a Labrador retriever?)

Athletics aren’t exactly the oldest child’s passion. As a new high school student, he’s spent his free time on French film and hair tints. So when he mentioned Ultimate Frisbee, his dad and I cheered. Sure, we’re a sporty family, but also:

You can’t get injured in Ultimate!

The parent meeting confirmed our theory, at first. It was filled with kids in hipster glasses, holding musical instruments on their laps. Our son’s people!

The head coach wore John Lennon spectacles and a shirt on which the Statue of Liberty held aloft a flying disc instead of a torch. “It’s all about the spirit of the game,” he said gently. Behind him, other coaches nodded and smiled and patted his shoulder.

(Contrast this with the sixth-grade football coach, our good friend Bo, who shouted, “YOU WILL KNOCK PEOPLE DOWN!”)

“We rely on individual sportsmanship. We don’t sacrifice mutual respect, especially for the other team,” he said.

The head coach spoke again. “That’s why Ultimate has no referees.”

... Wha …?

“The kids self-referee their matches. They work together to come to consensus.”

Kids have come to blows at our house over who has to take out the recycling.

I raised my hand. “What if they can’t come to a consensus?”

The coaches blinked. The head coach said, “They will learn. It’s the spirit of the game.”

You can’t protect your kids from conflict, I know. You can only hope that when they get confronted with it, they somehow believe in the goodness, the spirit, of other people and themselves.

As much as I do not believe these kids can self-referee, I want to believe they can even more. And I want my kids to believe they can do it too.

So despite our skepticism over the lack of referees, we signed all of the parental consent forms, the ones about conduct, about practice and, of course, about bodily injury.

All total, there were 10 forms to sign. Just as many as for football.

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