Ultimate Frisbee: Rules & History

Instructor: Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

Ultimate Frisbee is a fun, no-contact sport with simple rules even the youngest players can learn. This lesson will cover the history of the frisbee, the sport, and the rules of the game.

It All Started with a Pie

It's said that the Frisbee, as we now know it, started out as a humble pie tin. The Frisbie Pie Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut was much loved by the students at nearby colleges, including Yale. After a student was done with a pie, the metal tin the pie came in made a great projectile. Supposedly these students yelled 'Frisbie!' as they threw the tin back and forth.

In 1948, two entrepreneurs, Fred Morrison and Warren Franscioni, thought that a plastic version would be stronger and really go the distance. They took their design to Wham-O, of Hula Hoop fame. The first mass-produced version was called the Pluto Platter in 1955. A few years later, the Frisbie Pie Company went out of business and Wham-O changed the name to the Frisbee disc. Tossing around a Frisbee became a sport in its own right and by 1977 over 100 million units were sold.

Inventing the Ultimate Game

Ultimate Frisbee was the invention of Columbia High School student Joel Silver (who went on to produce several action movies). At a student council meeting, Silver jokingly suggested that the school form a committee to work on adding Frisbee to the school's curriculum. The council called his bluff. His friend Buzzy Hellring drew up the first couple editions of rules. Silver came up with - and copyrighted - the name Ultimate Frisbee.

The first game took place at the high school in 1968. It was the student council vs. the school newspaper staff (who won). The first game between two schools took place in 1970.

High school students took Ultimate Frisbee with them to college and formed collegiate leagues. The first intercollegiate game (between Rutgers and Princeton) took place in 1972. The first National Collegiate Championships took place in 1975. In just seven short years, the new sport was firmly established. Now, you can win a medal in Ultimate Frisbee at the World Games.

Ultimate Frisbee players
frisbee players

The Rules

The game is played without referees (except in some higher level formats). How does this work? Well, one of the main tenets of Ultimate is what they call the Spirit of the Game. This means that each player has an individual responsibility to play in a sportsmanlike manner, follow the rules and respect the other players. In this same spirit, there's no contact with other players - no tackles, slides, and so forth.

Ultimate has a simple goal: get your disc into the other team's end zone. The game is played on a field 110 meters (360 feet) long - the length of a football field. The end zones are made up of the 23 meters closest to each side.

Each team is made up of seven players of either sex. To begin the game, both teams line up in their end zone. One team throws the disc for the other team to catch - this is called the pull.

The thrower is the player who has the disc. There's no running with the disc; once you've caught it, you're rooted to your place. The thrower has ten seconds to pass the disc to a teammate. In this way, the disc is pushed toward the end zone. If no one on the thrower's team catches the disc, the disc is given to the other team.

The disc can fly out of the bounds of the field and back in, but it must be caught on the field - otherwise possession goes to the opposite team.

A player standing in front of (defending) the thrower is called a marker. A marker cannot hit the thrower or steal the disc. If a player catches a good pass in the other team's end zone, that team gets a point. The scoring team then pulls to the opposite team.

How to Win

There is some variation to the way the game can be won. You can have a point cap, or a time limit, and both of these often have a soft or hard version of both. Let's see some examples:

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