Showing ‘Spirit’ On and Off the Ultimate Frisbee Field

If you like World Cup soccer, then you might want to learn more about another lesser-known sport -- Ultimate Frisbee. Sports is a big money maker around the world, and this game is quickly growing in popularity. In this audio podcast, KWHS talks with a high school Ultimate player about the appeal of the disc. Read More

by Diana Drake


Lady Aces champ, Rachel Winicov.
Lady Aces champ, Rachel Winicov.

Captivated by the World Cup these days? So are we — in fact, so are lots of devoted soccer fans. Motivated by a sports-obsessed culture, Knowledge@Wharton High School decided to explore a lesser-known sport that shares some characteristics of soccer and is growing in popularity — Ultimate Frisbee. This month, The Christian Science Monitor featured an article about the sport, saying it “combines the passing and running of soccer, the strategy of football and the agility of basketball.” Since 2008, the article notes, player participation on USA Ultimate- affiliated teams among 13-to-18-year-olds has more than doubled.

Rachel Winicov is one of those players. The 15-year-old, a rising junior at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pa. (who also spent some time as a KWHS intern this summer), competes on the Lady Aces, an Ultimate Frisbee team that won the 2013 and 2014 Pennsylvania High School Ultimate State Championships. Winicov sat down with KWHS to talk about her passion for the disc and why her coaches always say that the best Ultimate players are not the fastest or strongest on the field.

Knowledge@Wharton High School: Today, I am speaking with Rachel Winicov, a junior at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pa. Rachel is sharing the highlights of her recent state victory on the Ultimate Frisbee field. Rachel, thanks for speaking to Knowledge@Wharton High School.

Rachel Winicov: Thank you for having me.

KWHS: What is Ultimate Frisbee?

Winicov: Ultimate Frisbee is a game with rules much similar to football but with a pace similar to soccer or basketball. The objective of Ultimate Frisbee is to throw the Frisbee — also called the “disc” — to a teammate in the end zone.

KWHS: How did you get interested in this unique sport?

Winicov: I was attracted to Ultimate because instead of having referees at games, Ultimate players govern themselves with this idea called “the spirit of the game.” The spirit of the game means that players are expected to respect themselves, their teammates and their opponents and make calls on themselves. For example, I was playing a game and I caught the disc out of bounds, in which case you’re supposed to turn the disc over and lose possession. Except in this instance, no one had seen that I was out of bounds. So, theoretically I could keep playing like nothing had happened. But with this idea of the spirit of the game in my head, I decided to turn the disc over and get on defense.

KWHS: It sounds like you have to be a trustworthy player, but what are some of the other qualities that make a good Ultimate Frisbee player? And what has helped you to be successful in the game?

Winicov: Our coaches always tell us that the best Ultimate players aren’t the fastest or the strongest on the field. The best players are often the ones on the sidelines cheering for their teammates when they make a good catch or picking them up after they miss an important throw. I think these qualities have made me successful in Ultimate — the compassion and the caring about spirit in the game.

KWHS: How does work on the field translate to life outside of Frisbee? Do the skills you learn from Frisbee help you in other aspects of your life?

Winicov: I think everything that I learn in Frisbee helps me outside of Frisbee. Our coaches teach us to be caring to others and put others’ feelings before the result of the game. For example, I was running for a student government position this past spring and a girl approached me. She said, ‘Hey, Rachel, I really want to run against you but I don’t want to hurt your feelings. Would you mind?’ Of course, in my head I was thinking, ‘No, don’t run against me. I want to win.’ But I was encouraged by the spirit of the game to say, ‘No, of course you should run. I think you would be a really good leader if you beat me.’ So, sure Frisbee helps me outside of the field.

KWHS: It sounds like [it’s helping you to develop] leadership skills. I’m going to throw in another [related] question. What about thinking about how it translates to business? We [featured] an article on Knowledge@Wharton High School where we compared being a chess player to being in the business world and learning to be strategic — your move, my move, negotiating. What are some things from Frisbee that you might see could help you as a business leader, as well?

Winicov: Business is [not just about] money, of course. Business is about interacting with other people. [tweetthis alt=”” hashtag=”” url=””]Frisbee teaches you not to be so self-centered in your way of trying to win. Winning happens by cooperating with a team of people and even your opponent sometimes.[/tweetthis] I think that really could translate to the business world.

KWHS: What is your favorite memory from Ultimate Frisbee?

Winicov: One time I was playing a scrimmage for the Junior Varsity team that had no importance on our standings in the tournament. One of the newer players came up to me and said, ‘Rachel, I’m really nervous. What if I mess up?’ JV games are heavily controlled by the better players, who sometimes play for Varsity. But today at that game, I decided to focus on making sure everybody got the disc and everybody got equal opportunity. And the game, while we were successful, was more important because we had a good time. The girl who was initially nervous came up to me afterwards and said, ‘Wow, Rachel, that was so much fun. I wish we could do that again.’

KWHS: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about playing Ultimate Frisbee?

Winicov: I’d tell them to go after it. Everyone should play Ultimate Frisbee because it’s so welcoming. [tweetthis alt=”” hashtag=”” url=””]When I started playing, I couldn’t even throw a disc properly or make any catches.[/tweetthis] Everyone’s just so welcoming and [encouraging] to [anyone who wants to play]. Nobody really knows how to play Ultimate Frisbee when they start, and that’s what makes it such a unique sport.

KWHS: [Do many high schools] have teams?

Winicov: No, not every high school has a team, but it’s growing. There is a lot of inter-school competition now.

KWHS: How do you think sports like Frisbee can create a positive social impact? Can Frisbee help communities? I guess it brings you together, but what are some of the other ways?

Winicov: It can have a tangible effect on communities. For example, Philadelphia’s professional Frisbee team, the Philadelphia Spinners, hosts charitable clinics where they teach middle school and high school students to play Ultimate and encourage them to get active and lead healthy lifestyles. I think that’s having a good social impact. Also, teams have food drives and such where they can donate to charities.

KWHS: As Ultimate continues to grow, what do you think the future looks like for the sport?

Winicov: I think the future is pretty bright for Ultimate Frisbee. [tweetthis alt=”” hashtag=”” url=””]I don’t know exactly where it’s going, but it’s getting bigger every day. I know I’ll be waiting with a disc wherever it takes me.[/tweetthis]

KWHS: Thank you very much for joining us today.

Winicov: Thank you for having me.



Why do you think our culture is obsessed with sports?

What is “the spirit of the game” in Ultimate Frisbee?

Research some of the KWHS articles in the Related Links section that connect sports to social impact. Given some of the unique aspects of Ultimate, can you think of other ways it might have a positive social impact around the world?

Related Links

One comment on “Showing ‘Spirit’ On and Off the Ultimate Frisbee Field

  1. What are values and what shapes a person’s values?

    Values help make everyday decisions or decide people’s actions. The answer is different for every person because a person values can be shaped from family, friends, and even sports.

    Values can be even used in sports and part of what defines sports is sportsmanship. The player’s decision to play fairly or dirty is based on their values. Some of Rachel Winicov’s values were shaped through sports, more specifically, Ultimate Frisbee. Instead of having a referee in Ultimate Frisbee, players coordinate their game with the idea of “the spirit of the game” which requires players to make calls themselves. This would call up a player’s values to help them decide whether or not they should be honest when making calls. Also Rachel’s Ultimate Frisbee coaches have helped teach important values to Rachel about caring for others and putting others before herself. This has helped Rachel make positive and selfless choices even outside of Ultimate Frisbee and I feel these are very valuable values to have no matter what career you plan on doing because kindness and selflessness will allow you to interact positively with others. Those two values are important if you want to be successful in life because you will set a positive mood and relationship with everyone you interact with.

    In my perspective, I think that all sports have the ability to shape a player’s values, but coaches play an important role too. When I was 8 years old, I played soccer and after every soccer game our coach would make us shake hands with the opposing team. I started to wonder after a game why we would shake hands with the other team and say “good game” to every player even though we beat the team by 5 goals. As I grew older though, I began to realize that sports games aren’t just about winning or losing, it’s about respect and integrity. Just a simple handshake and “good game” will forever change and help out my life because has taught me to respect others no matter who they are. Therefore, I believe that you should always treat others with respect because they will respect you back, you can create friendships, and you have nothing to lose if you do show them respect. Also, I believe that if the coaches teach their players good sportsmanship and fair play, then the players will use respect and have integrity on and off the field; however, if the coaches teach their players to play dirty, unfairly, and to not respect the opponents, then the players will be in a mindset of cheating and disrespect on and off the field.

    My parents always encouraged my to be honest in my work and for me to do the best of my ability. They said, “No matter your grade, we will always be proud that you tried your best”. These values of honesty and trying my best has stuck with me and has helped me through freshman year. Before going into high school, seniors and juniors in high school told me that freshman year is a very hard year and that you probably won’t be able to get any As. I didn’t let that discourage me so during my freshman year, I tried my best in all my classes, did all my homework and studied for tests, and got help from teachers. The work paid off because I ended the year with all As, and because I stuck with my values of honesty and working hard, I felt very accomplished because I did what most people told me I wouldn’t be able to do. This has helped me I believe that I can do anything I could dream of if I put my mind to it, and I believe it will help me when I pursue a career in the business world.

    Warren Buffett, a successful businessman, once said, “Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” What would a responsible sports coach and Warren Buffett have in common? Most people wouldn’t think that a responsible sports coach and Warren Buffett would share anything in common; however, they both actually do because they both believe that integrity is an important value that people should have. I also feel that integrity would be an important value to learn in life and would help me in the business world because honesty and hardwork is the key for success. There are no shortcuts in life and if you don’t have integrity, you can cheat yourself, but you can’t cheat others and it will eventually bite back. One time in my English class, a student tried to cheat on a scantron test by looking at another student’s paper, but the teacher caught him and he got a 0 on the test so he didn’t gain anything by cheating and instead lost something. Having values of dishonesty will cause problems for you or can even ruin your potential of being successful if you aren’t taught positive values.

    To sum up, your values can be shaped by your family or any other people you know, and Rachel Winicov’s wonderful story shows that even sports and coaches can shape your values. The influence of values leave a lasting impact on your life and it is your decision if you want to optimize your positive values to set you up for success.

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