Ultimate Frisbee Rules

Ultimate Frisbee Rules are played differently for ultimate Frisbee pick-up games depending on where and who the ultimate players are. But for many ultimate Frisbee tournaments and ultimate Frisbee leagues, the ultimate Frisbee rules below are followed.


To begin play the ultimate players from each team line up on their end zones, and the defense team pulls (throws) the disc to the other team as a "kick-off". Pulls are long throws, and they are thrown in efforts of giving the offensive team poor field position and a chance for the defense to get down the field soon enough to stop advances.

The pull is often started by a member of the defending team raising one arm with the disc to show that they are ready to pull the disc and begin play. The team that pulls to start the game is usually decided in a manner similar to a coin toss. Instead of using a coin often an ultimate Frisbee disc is used. What you use is not actually part of the ultimate Frisbee rules.

Movement of the Ultimate Disc

The disc may be moved in any direction by completing a pass to a teammate. After catching a pass, a player is required to come to a stop as quickly as possible, and then can only move their non-pivot foot. A common misconception in the ultimate frisbee rules is that a player must setup a pivot foot before they can throw the disc. In fact, the player can throw the disc before stopping within the first couple of steps after they gain possession of the disc. It is this fact that makes the "Greatest" rule possible. A "Greatest" occurs when a player jumps from within bounds to catch a disc that has passed out-of-bounds, this is also known as an "ultimate play". The player must then throw the disc back in-bounds before his feet or any other part of his body touches the ground. The thrower may only catch their own throw if another player touches it in the air.

Upon receiving the disc, a player has ten seconds to pass it. This period is known as the "stall", and each second is counted out (a stall count) by a defender (the marker), who must be standing within three meters of the thrower. The ultimate frisbee rules state that a player may keep the disc for longer than ten seconds if no marker is within three meters, or if the marker is not counting the stall; if there is a change of marker, the new marker must restart the stall from zero.


A point is scored when a player catches a pass in the end zone his team is attacking. In older versions of the ultimate frisbee rules, only offensive players could score. However, current UPA and WFDF ultimate frisbee rules allow a defensive team to score by intercepting a pass in the end zone they are defending. This play is referred to as a Callahan goal or simply a Callahan. It is named after well-known ultimate player Henry Callahan.

After a point is scored, the teams exchange ends. The team who just scored remains in that end zone, and the opposing team takes the opposite end zone. This can be commonly referred to in the phrase: "Losers walk." Play is re-initiated with a pull by the scoring team.

Change of Possession

An incomplete pass results in a change of possession. When this happens the defense immediately becomes the offense and gains possession of the disc where it comes to a stop on the field of play, or where it first traveled out of bounds. The ultimate frisbee rule here is that play does not stop because of a turnover.

Reasons for turnovers:

•Throw-away — the thrower misses his target and the disc falls to the ground.
•Drop — the receiver is not able to catch the disc.
•Block — a defender deflects the disc in mid flight, causing it to hit the ground.
•Interception — a defender catches a disc thrown by the offense.
•Out of bounds — the disc lands out of bounds, hits an object out of bounds or is caught by a player who lands out of bounds or leaps from outside the playing field.
•Stall — a player on offense does not release the disc before the defender has counted out ten seconds.

Stoppage of Play

According to the ultimate frisbeee rules, play may stop for the following reasons:

A foul is the result of contact between players, although incidental contact (not affecting the play) does not constitute a foul. When a foul disrupts possession, the play resumes as if the possession were retained. If the player committing the foul disagrees with (contests) the foul call, the disc is returned to the last thrower.

A violation occurs when a player violates the rules but does not initiate physical contact. Common violations include traveling with the disc, double teaming, and picking (moving in a manner so as to obstruct the movement of any player on the defensive team).

Time outs and half-time
By Eleventh Edition rules, each team is allowed two time outs per half. The halftime break occurs when one team reaches the half-way marker in the score. Since most games are played to odd numbers, the number for half-time is rounded up. For instance, if the game is to 13, half comes when one team scores 7. A break may also occur if an injury occurs.

Play stops whenever a player is injured—this is considered an injury time-out. During the duration, it is customary for players on the field to kneel or sit to ensure that they stay in their original positions. The injured person must then leave the field, and a substitute may come in. If an injured player is substituted for, the opposing team may also substitute a player.

While Ultimate may be played in a myriad of weather conditions including heavy rain and deep snow, nearby lightning should result in stoppage of play with players seeking shelter. Many times, precipitation will result in a hiatus in order to protect the playing field.

Teams are allowed to substitute players after a point is scored or for injured player after an injury time out. In the case of an injury substitution, the opposing team is allowed to make a substitution for a non-injured player.

Players are responsible for foul and line calls. Players resolve their own disputes. This creates a spirit of honesty and respect on the playing field. It is the duty of the player who committed the foul to speak up and admit his infraction. Occasionally, official observers are used to aid players in refereeing, known as observers.

Some additional rules have been introduced in the United States and Canada which can optionally overlay the standard rules and allow for referees called observers. An observer can only resolve a dispute if the players involved ask for his judgment. Although in some cases, observers have the power to make calls without being asked: such as line calls (to determine out of bounds or goals) and off-sides calls (players crossing their end zone line before the pull is released). Misconduct fouls can also be given by an observer for violations such as aggressive taunting, fighting, cheating, etc., and are reminiscent of the Yellow/Red card system in football; however, misconduct fouls are rare, and their ramifications not well defined. Observers are also charged with enforcing time limits for the game itself and many parts within the game, such as the amount of time defense has to set up after a time out or the time allowed between pulls, are honored.

The introduction of observers is, in part, an attempt by the UPA to allow games to run more smoothly and become more spectator-friendly. Because of the nature of play and the unique nature of self-refereeing, ultimate games are often subject to regular and long stoppages of play. This effort and the intensity that has arisen in the highest levels of competition have led many members of the ultimate community to lament the loss of the Spirit of the Game.

Ultimate Frisbee Strategy: Offense

Teams employ many different offensive strategies with different goals. Most basic strategies are an attempt to create open lanes on the field for the exchange of the disc between the thrower and the receiver. Organized teams assign positions to the players based on their specific strengths. Designated throwers are called handlers and designated receivers are called cutters. The amount of autonomy or overlap between these positions depends on the make-up of the team.

One of the most common offensive strategies is the vertical stack. In this strategy, the offense lines up in a straight line along the length of the field. From this position, players in the stack make cuts (sudden sprints out of the stack) towards or away from the handler in an attempt to get open and receive the disc. The stack generally lines up in the middle of the field, thereby opening up two lanes along the sidelines for cuts, although a captain may occasionally call for the stack to line up closer to one sideline, leaving open just one larger cutting lane on the other side.

Another popular offensive ultimate frisbsee strategy is the horizontal stack. In the most popular form of this offense, three handlers line up across the width of the field with four cutters upfield, also lined up across the field. It is the handler's job to throw the disc upfield to the cutters. If no upfield options are available, the handlers swing the disc side to side in an attempt to reset the stall count while also getting the defense out of position.

Many advanced teams develop specific offenses that are variations on the basics in order to take advantage of the strengths of specific players. Frequently, these offenses are meant to isolate a few key players in one-on-one situations, allowing them more freedom of movement and the ability to make most of the plays, while the others play a supporting role.

Players making cuts have two major options in how they cut. They may cut in towards the disc and attempt to find an open avenue between defenders for a short pass, or they may cut away from the disc towards the deep field. The deep field is usually sparsely defended but requires the handler to throw a huck (a long downfield throw).

A variation on the horizontal stack offense is called a feature. In this offensive ultimate frisbee strategy three of the cutters line up deeper than usual (roughly 5 yards farther downfield) while the remaining cutter lines up closer to the handlers. This closest cutter is known as the "feature." The idea behind this strategy is that it opens up space for the feature to cut, and at the same time it allows handlers to focus all of their attention on only one cutter. This maximizes the ability for give-and-go strategies between the feature and the handlers. It is also an excellent strategy if one cutter is superior to other cutters, or if he is guarded by someone slower than him. While the main focus is on the handlers and the feature, the remaining three cutters can be used if the feature cannot get open, if there is an open deep look, or for a continuation throw from the feature itself. Typically, however, these three remaining cutters do all they can to get out of the feature's way.

Ultimate Frisbe Strategy: Defense

The force
One of the most basic defensive principles is the force. In this ultimate frisbee strategy, the marker effectively cuts off the handler's access to half of the field, by aggressively blocking only one side of the handler and leaving the other side open. The unguarded side is called the force side because the thrower is generally forced to throw to that side of the field. The guarded side is called the break-force side because the thrower would have to "break" the force in order to throw to that side.

This is done because, assuming evenly matched players, the advantage is almost always with the handler and against the marker. It is relatively easy for the handler to fake out or outmaneuver a marker who is trying to block the whole field. On the other hand, it is generally possible to effectively block half of the field.

The marker calls out the force side ("force home" or "force away") before starting the stall count in order to alert the other defenders which side of the field is open to the handler. The team can choose the force side ahead of time, or change it on the fly from throw to throw. Aside from forcing home or away, other forces are "force sideline" (force towards the closest sideline), "force center" (force towards the center of the field), and "force up" (force towards either sideline but prevent a throw straight up the field). Another common tactic is to "force forehand" (force the thrower to use their forehand throw) since most players, especially at lower levels of play, have a stronger backhand throw. "Force flick" refers to the forehand; "force back" refers to the backhand.

When the marker calls out the force side, the team can then rely on the marker to block off half the field and position themselves to aggressively cover just the open/force side. If they are playing one-to-one defense, they should position themselves on the force side of their marks, since that is the side that they are most likely to cut to.

The opposite of the "force" is the "straight-up" mark (also called the "no-huck" mark). In this defense, the player marking the handler positions himself directly between the handler and the end zone and actively tries to block both forehands and backhands. Although the handler can make throws to either side, this is the best defense against long throws ("hucks") to the center of the field.

One-on-one defense
The simplest and often most effective defensive ultimate frisbee strategy is the one-on-one defense (also known as "man-on-man" or simply "man"), where each defender guards a specific offensive player, called their "mark". The one-on-one defense emphasizes speed, stamina, and individual positioning and reading of the field. Often players will mark the same person throughout the game, giving them an opportunity to pick up on their opponent's strengths and weaknesses as they play. One-on-one defense can also play a part role in other more complex zone defense strategies.

Zone defense
With a zone defense strategy, the defenders cover an area rather than a specific person. The area they cover moves with the disc as it progresses down the field. Zone defense is frequently used when the other team is substantially more athletic (faster) making one-on-one difficult to keep up with, because it requires less speed and stamina. It is also useful in a long tournament to avoid tiring out the team, or when it is very windy and long passes are more difficult.

A zone defense usually has two components. The first is a group of players close to the handlers who attempt to contain the disc and prevent forward movement, called the "wedge", "cup", "wall", or "clam" (depending on the specific play). These close defenders always position themselves relative to the disc, meaning that they have to move quickly as it passes from handler to handler.

The wedge is a configuration of two close defenders. One of them marks the handler with a force, and the other stands away and to the force side of the handler, blocking any throw or cut on that side. The wedge allows more defenders to play up the field but does little to prevent cross-field passes.

The cup involves three players, arranged in a semi-circular cup-shaped formation, one in the middle and back, the other two on the sides and forward. One of the side players marks the handler with a force, while the other two guard the open side. Therefore the handler will normally have to throw into the cup, allowing the defenders to more easily make blocks. With a cup, usually the center cup blocks the up-field lane to cutters, while the side cup blocks the cross-field swing pass to other handlers. The center cup usually also has the responsibility to call out which of the two sides should mark the thrower, usually the defender closest to the sideline of the field.

The wall involves four players in the close defense. One players is the marker, also called the "rabbit" or "chaser" because they often have to run quickly between multiple handlers spread out across the field. The other three defenders form a horizontal "wall" or line across the field in front of the handler to stop throws to cuts and prevent forward progress. The players in the second group of a zone defense, called "mids" and "deeps", position themselves further out to stop throws that escape the cup and fly upfield. Because a zone defense focuses defenders on stopping short passes, it leaves a large portion of the field to be covered by the remaining mid and deep players. Assuming that there are seven players on the field, and that a cup is in effect, this leaves four players to cover the rest of the field. In fact, usually only one deep player is used to cover hucks (the "deep-deep"), with two others defending the sidelines and possibly a single "mid-mid".

Alternately, the mids and deeps can play a one-to-one defense on the players who are outside of the cup or cutting deep, although frequent switching might be necessary.

Junk defense
An ultimate frisbee junk defense is a defense using elements of both zone and man defenses; the most famous is known as the "clam" or "chrome wall". In clam defenses, defenders cover cutting lanes rather than zones of the field or individual players. The clam can be used by several players on a team while the rest are running a man defense. This defensive strategy is often referred to as "bait and switch". In this case, when the two players the defenders are covering are standing close to each other in the stack, one defender will move over to shade them deep, and the other will move slightly more towards the thrower. When one of the receivers makes a deep cut, the first defender picks them up, and if one makes an in-cut, the second defender covers them. The defenders communicate and switch their marks if their respective charges change their cuts from in to deep, or vice versa. The clam can also be used by the entire team, with different defenders covering in cuts, deep cuts, break side cuts, and dump cuts.

Spirit of the Game

Ultimate is known for its "Spirit of the Game", often abbreviated SOTG. Ultimate's self-officiated nature demands a strong spirit of sportsmanship and respect. The following description is from the official ultimate frisbee rules established by the Ultimate Players Association:

Ultimate has traditionally relied upon a spirit of sportsmanship which places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of the bond of mutual respect between players, adherence to the agreed upon ultimate frisbee rules of the game, or the basic joy of play. Protection of these vital elements serves to eliminate adverse conduct from the Ultimate field. Such actions as taunting of opposing players, dangerous aggression, intentional fouling, or other 'win-at-all-costs' behavior are contrary to the spirit of the game and must be avoided by all players.

The ultimate frisbee rules are listed for the aid of ultimate frisbee players around the world. The Ultimate Frisbee Rules above were attained from Wikipedia.org.

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