Focus on Rules #1 – Dangerous Play

What makes ultimate such a great sport in my opinion is that it is intense, but without the aggression common in many contact sports. As a non-contact sport, it makes playing mixed possible, and is almost the first thing I tell people about when I get the familiar puzzled look when describing our beloved sport.


So back to basics, rule 1.1 – non-contact sport. In every part of the game, all players should always be aiming to avoid any contact with each other. Importantly this is restated in the first rule in section 17 – Fouls.
Dangerous play (17.1) is considered:
“reckless disregard for the safety of fellow players regardless of whether or when contact occurs … and is treated as a foul. This rule is not superseded by any other rule.

I want to talk specifically about this rule in regard to situations where you are thinking of making a bid even though your opponent player has a better position on the disc than you. I see this as an important rule because of three reasons:
1. There is potential to injure yourself and/or the other player *
2. Bad spirit – even if the other player doesn’t call a foul, the rest of his team with a better view will mark down your spirit (eg. see Cananda vs Japan at Worlds 2012).
3. The rules are written so that even if you get the disc, you don’t gain the advantage if you initiated contact.


This last point provides a clear message to uphold the non-contact element of the sport. The rules state that when contact is initiated by either the defensive (17.2) or offensive (17.7) player, the opponent player will be be favoured in the ruling.


17.2 – states that a defensive receiving foul occurs when a defender initiates contact with a receiver before, or during, an attempt to catch the disc.
17.7 – states that an offensive receiving foul occurs when a receiver initiates contact with a defensive player before, or during, an attempt to catch the disc.


Even if you get the disc (on O or D), if you initiated any contact then your opponent can call a foul and you hand over the advantage. So the rules are clear, only make a play if you are confident there will be no contact.


Obviously, as with any rule, there is a grey area about how much contact is considered enough for a foul to be called, so I welcome your comments to this post. Here are some examples where I believe the players make good & bad decisions regarding this rule:


Here is an example of defensive players taking the wise decision not to bid knowing that it would result in contact:


Good example an offensive player making a bid on a disc despite not having position, and importantly not making contact. (sorry Nick, it’s the best example I could find)


This is an example of a bad defensive play where contact results in a foul call


Unfortunately I believe there is a worrying trend and expectation on D players to make a bid all discs to put pressure on the catch. This is a risky strategy, you may get a number of Ds, but are they worth it when that time comes when you do injure yourself or worse the opponent? I would urge precaution over glory.


There is a lot of technique and strategy to getting yourself in the right position to enable you to make a play without contact. Advanced positioning is something we don’t often get a chance to teach/drill at SB. If there is enough interest I will attempt to run a drill on this later in the summer.


So, to conlcude – only make a play on a disc when you can be sure there is no chance of initiating contact (before or after getting the disc) with the other player. Admit you have been boxed out and get the force on quickly if the disc is still in play, or if they scored, congratulate them on a good play (and get yourself along to more SB fitness training 🙂


* I have seen broken bones protruding through skin because of dangerous plays. The player realised pretty quickly that making that D was not worth it.
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7 Responses to Focus on Rules #1 – Dangerous Play

  1. Sandy says:

    What about when two players are coming from different directions and will arrive at the same time? I have pulled out of numerous situations like that, but it’s pretty frustrating when the player on the other side gets the disc as a result and you look bad. Do the rules give priority in such a situation to the player on O? I think they don’t, but a lot of people behave as if they do.

    • Yeah, good point and this does happen. What about this counter?
      I would argue that it is reasonably rare that you would both be aiming to catch the disc at exactly the same point in the disc’s flight path, so maybe use your height to go earlier for the disc and avoid the contact?
      Saying that, there are going to be times when you do have to pull out. In those few times you’d gain my respect rather than looking bad.

      It would be interesting if there was a ‘let’ type call similar to squash where you don’t go for the disc because doing so would result in contact. Useful?

      • Mags says:

        Slightly long but this is the official take on this. Worth noting in relation to the “extras” comment at the end the interpretation on dangerous play (I’ve pasted it there) which I don’t think is used that often…
        Moving towards a single point simultaneously
        Two opposing players are moving towards the same point in order to make a play on
        the disc. They are both aware of each other and are aware that minor body contact
        may occur. Minor body contact does occur.
        Even though contact has occurred, this is not necessarily a foul.
        In circumstances where one player clearly initiates contact with another, the person
        who initiates the contact is the person who caused the foul (ie one player is stationary and another runs into them, or one player clearly has a right to a space and an opponent changes direction and impedes that space in an unavoidable way). However there are times when both players have a right to a space and neither
        player can be deemed to have initiated contact. In these circumstances, if minor body
        contact occurs (ie players bump shoulders or hips) this is not necessarily deemed a
        foul, as both players were responsible for initiating the contact and both players were aware that contact may occur.
        Scenario 1:
        Both players initiate contact and only minor body contact occurs.
        The result of the play should stand.
        Scenario 2:
        Both players initiate contact but the body contact is not minor (ie causes a
        to fall over, or is potentially dangerous).
        This is a foul by both players and it to be treated as an Offsetting Foul (17.10.2).
        The disc shall be returned to the thrower.
        Scenario 3:
        Both players initiate body contact and only minor body contact occurs.
        However one player hits the arms of the other as they make a play for the disc
        Even though both players initiated body contact, the player who initiated contact
        with the arms has caused a foul as this directly affects the outcome of the play
        These scenarios should only be taken into account when both players have initiated
        contact simultaneously. If one player clearly initiated the contact, that player has
        caused the foul. If one player is not aware that contact is going to occur, the player who is aware that contact will occur should avoid the contact and call a Dangerous Play foul if appropriate.
        Players involved in these incidents should be mindful that they often do not have the
        best perspective on who initiated the contact and should ask nearby players for their perspective.

        17.3 Dangerous play (17.1)
        Dangerous Play fouls can be called before an event to avoid a potential collision
        e.g. a defender runs/layouts in a way that an accident would occur if the offence were to
        continue. When this occurs it is correct to not make a play on the disc & to call a ‘dangerous play’ foul. Players calling a Dangerous Play foul before a potential incident need to have reasonable grounds for doing so. They should actually be able to see the on coming player and have some reason to believe that player will not avoid contact–this could include a previous history of that player to not avoid contact.

      • Thanks Mags, that Dangerous Play call is the let call and I had no idea that existed.

  2. blackrat47 says:

    That Canada/Japan game is infamous as being the epitamy of bad spirit.

    A note on the what I consider to be the differences between a foul and dangerous play: Dangerous play doesn’t necessarily have to involve contact (faking a throw directly into a mark’s face to make them flinch away would count as dangerous, I believe; as would stepping out in front of someone such that they could only avoid contact by doing something dangerous), and fouls are specifically when contact is initiated with a legitimately positioned player. So technically, if the force is straddling or in contact with you, it wouldn’t be a foul to push them away (they’re illegally positioned), but it is dangerous play (and you definitely shouldn’t do it aggressively). Similarly, if the force is already in contact with you

    You’ll also notice that the rules are very, very bendy in terms of what can be called as a foul. Two- or more- people jump for a party disc that’s floating above them, and it’s very, very likely that they’ll touch each other: this could be called as a foul by either player. There’s a big element of judgement in it- if you firmly believe that the contact prevented you from having a fair bid on the disc, then call it; if you hadn’t even planned on jumping and you’ve got some GB behemoth 4ft up and with the disc in their hand already, it’s bad spirit not to let go. Note, however, that these decisions don’t need to be made on the spur of the moment: if you’re at all unsure, call the foul, have a think, discuss it with your opponent if you want, and then decide whether to decline or uphold it. This is one of the toughest situations in the sport, in terms of spirit: at UKU regionals ’12 this situation saw an opposing player shout ‘Oh, come on!’ and walk right off the pitch, where the player who called the foul was probably going to decline it anyway (and indeed did), but needed a moment to make sure. If you’re the call-ee, stay level-headed, wait for the call-er to start talking, then give your thoughts in a calm and collected manner (take a moment for yourself if you need to- when these plays happen people tend to be riled up).

    Furthermore, I think it’s specified in one of the official interpretations that ‘making a play on the disc’ is not an excuse for initiating contact or playing dangerously. Even if it was a legitimate play where they had a good chance of getting the disc (and even if that was the only play that could be made to get the disc in that instance), it is still a foul if they initiate contact. It’s entirely legitimate to maintain your personal space in such a way that they can’t make a safe play on the disc (boxing out) so long as in doing so, you are not playing dangerously or initiating contact- so you can maintain your good position, but you can’t aggressively take the position by stepping out in front of someone on the run or actively keep someone out of a space.

    Finally, fouls aren’t always a case of who came off worse- I know of 12-stone mixed players basically flattening an opponent steps out in such a way that contact is unavoidable. It feels a bit silly to stand over someone and call a foul, but it is what it is.

    Something I’d be interested to hear opinions on is how much you should tailor bids to an opposing player. Contact will happen in the sport, and many of the best plays come out of bidding for contested discs: the sport would be a lot less exciting and fun if this wasn’t the case. But playing mixed, I sometimes find myself on a pitch with opposition players who are literally half my weight, and of course bids can be dangerous to them which are not dangerous to some other players. Not that one would bid with reckless abandon against bigger players, because let’s face it, everyone’s got ankles, but the fact remains that bids against Nimble or Elliott which might not make them think twice, could be very intimidating and possibly dangerous against, say, Beth or Fran. Clearly, in this situation you should be cautious as to who you’re bidding against. The problem is more subtle when playing open. I’ve worked hard on my S&C and have gained a lot of confidence and some weight doing so. Should I have to hold back when bidding against someone who hasn’t? The beanpole body type is pretty common in ultimate. Obviously, you shouldn’t bid in such a way that might injure an opponent, whoever they are, but if that party disc is up there for the taking, should a player have to stay on the floor in case there’s contact in the air and the smaller guy comes off worse? It rankles if this is the case, and if the difference is purely one of training, or of height (which is selected for in a squad anyway).


    • mike says:

      i’ve always found that the vibe of the game differs significantly depending on the level. which is also related to the skills/fitness of the participants. i think an interesting proxy for this is the amount of chesting up or aggressive marking you get when you’re playing O. for example, is my defender putting his sack on my hip? when he cuts, is he putting an arm out into my chest so he can push me backwards and make space to cut? these are obviously situations which are fouls – but then again, really competitive games have that sort of line-riding behaviour (often from both sides) so people are tolerant of it.

      so yeah, a layout-from-behind would be a total no-go when you’re playing college league (because, for example, your offender isn’t going to run through the disc – (s)he’s gonna slow up and then clap catch it, so if you don’t make THE perfect bid, you’re gonna end up totally wiping them out) may be okay if you’re playing open tour (cos your offender’s gonna sprint through the disc full speed – so even if you get nowhere near the disc, you’ll similarly be nowhere near him).

      that said, it is still completely YOUR responsibility to ensure your bid is safe. the point is that what may or may not be safe will vary depending on your setting and the oppo.

      but bids-at-speed are a different case to party discs, i feel. especially if it’s one of those discs where it’s up in the air for ages, you’ve got 2-3-4+ people under it stationary, and you’ve got someone blasting in at speed from halfway down the pitch to try and get their big leap in.

      if you can see what’s happening (people standing under a hanging disc), you basically have no excuse for making a dangerous/foul play for the disc. the people are there, standing still. c’mon. (contrast with the layout example above.) if you can’t make a safe bid – if you’re gonna end up bulldozing someone – you shouldn’t be making it.

      (that brings to mind a game from mixed tour a few years ago against a brighton team. we had exactly the situation above – we had a scrum of people beneath a hanging disc, and one of the brighton guys made a ridiculous bid at speed over the scrum. he got the disc, but he also *hugely* fouled megan, who ended up with a big cut on her head. then when we said to him after “that was dangerous play, bro”, he replied “no, i got the disc, so it was fine”. which pretty much goes to show that some people are just pricks.)

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