Tuesday Tips: Dealing With Angry Or Physical Players, Presented By Spin Ultimate

The calmest person usually wins -- or at least comes off best.

Drag’n Thrust’s Jay Drescher, known for being a fiery and physically aggressive player, had a contentious matchup with Mixtape’s Khalif El-Salaam at this past year’s US Open. Photo: Burt Granofsky — UltiPhotos.com

This article is presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Spin Ultimate!

Despite its counterculture beginning, ultimate has become extremely competitive at the highest levels. As a result, it isn’t surprising that at times, tempers can flare, games can get heated, and players can become angry, physical, or even combative.

Whether it is an opposing player who is angry or a member of your own team, keeping a cooler head in intense situations is essential. Damaging the team’s chance to win in the short term and the team’s reputation in the long run because you lose control of your head is not only detrimental to your squad, but degrades the game as well. In a sport that relies on mutual respect, it is critical to stay in control of your emotions.

Yet, dealing calmly with an combative player is easier said than done. A fine balance is required: one that promotes sportsmanship and conflict resolution, but that also keeps you and your team competitive.

To help break down the best methods for dealing with an upset or overly physical player, it’ll help to narrow in on three specific (and unfortunately common) situations.

  • When you are playing against a combative player on the field, especially when you are dealing with extreme physicality or emotion
  • When a face-to-face encounter with an opposing player arises, whether through a disputed call, a sideline comment, or post-game anger
  • When an angry player is on your own team and creates a conflict

In each of these situations, there are steps you can take to navigate the problem and learn to find the right balance between standing your ground and resolving the problem. With effort and a little luck, you’ll be able to ease the tension and diffuse the situation.

Playing Against A Combative Player

We all know the various types of aggressive players you might encounter on an ultimate field: the overly physical marker, the downfield player who pushes or uses their hands a lot, knock-down defenders, or simply emotional players who feel their team is getting the worst of the game or the rules and is trying to take back an advantage.

The difficult aspect of on-the-field situations is that it requires the most concentration. Too much passivity can lead to being walked over or railroaded. Too strong a stance or pushback can lead to losing your cool or devolving into a ticky-tack battle that ruins any game plan or momentum.

Strive to play within the rules, but feel the pace of the game and know where to find your own advantages. Sometimes it is better to let calls go in favor of flow of play. Other times, you need to make sure that an opponent knows they are out of line.

Here are some tips:

  • NEVER retaliate.
    • Think about any sport (NBA, NFL, whatever) — the person who makes the first physical or anger-fueled infraction sometimes gets reprimanded. The person who responds always gets caught and punished. Not to mention the fact that you sink to their level. Rise above instead.
  • Make a decision early.
    • Letting a certain style of play go on for a quarter or half the game will basically passively condone that style. If you’re gonna make a stand, make it the first or second time something happens.
  • Hold your own.
    • Don’t be cowed by a player who is upset. Emotion, even extreme emotion, does not give any player the right to break or bend the rules. Be clear and confident in your decision; don’t be afraid to match up against that player and hang tough when the play gets physical or angry.
  • Be fair to the rules.
    • Sometimes you’ll end up playing in a physical matchup; that doesn’t give you license to break the rules yourself. Be conscious of the times that you play at or cross the line as well. Do your best to stay as close as you can to the good side of the force (pun intended).
  • If contact occurs, seek outside help.
    • Talk to your teammates on the sidelines after the point, or even during a point if you can. Seek out honest perspectives and opinions on both your style of play and an opponent’s.
  • If things get too hot (especially on your end), walk away.
    • It’s perfectly acceptable to be the bigger person and steer clear from a specific matchup, especially if you feel it’s impacting your emotions or level of play. Talk to a teammate, explain the situation, and ask a neutral party to perhaps step in and guard that player. If you’re on offense, and you can’t avoid the opponent, take deep breaths, focus on your team’s strategy, and keep your cool. Take a walk during breaks to help stay calm.

Face-To-Face Encounters With An Angry Player

Sometimes direct verbal confrontation with another player is sometimes inevitable. Most often, this will come in the form of an on-field dispute over a call. Occasionally, conversations will bubble upon, or carry over to, the sidelines or post-game.

These can be some of the most intense situations you encounter because it requires direct engagement that can sometimes lead to conflict. Many players feel uncomfortable in these tense moments and as a result will sometimes back down or be taken advantage of by another, more ardent player. On the other end of the spectrum, there is an even greater danger of you losing your cool yourself and being the one who ends up acting the jerk (oftentimes to later regret).

When you do have these conversations, especially over disputed calls, there are a few pieces of advice to keep in mind:

  • Have a non-verbal system set up.
    • Having a system with your teammates from the sidelines is a great idea for any team. Make it non-verbal so they aren’t seen as intruding, but clear enough so you can get outside advice from your teammates. Simple idea: hands on head for if you’ve gone too far or are in the wrong, arms crossed if you need to hold the position you’ve taken.
  • Stick to the point.
    • Be succinct. Avoid personal stuff, don’t rehash old battles, and skip the exaggerated reenactments. State your claim, back it up with evidence (ideally a rule), and explain your thoughts clearly and quickly.
  • Actively listen.
    • Don’t ignore what the opponent says just to wait for your turn to speak. Show them you’re willing to listen and understand; it’ll ease their tension.
  • Remain dispassionate if you can.
    • This isn’t the time to let emotions cloud your judgment. Understandably, competitive players want to win and will have strong feelings about a discussion. However, those same feelings are what will often encourage a player to argue a position that is advantageous to them, even if it isn’t right. Take a deep breath and try to look at the situation as objectively as possible. Don’t shout. Breathe and speak.
  • When needed, appeal to others.
    • If you feel you’re too biased, ask a teammate for what they saw. Sometimes this will mean finding out you’re in the wrong. Show the opponent you are acting rationally. Likewise, encourage the opponent to do the same.
  • Know when to send it back.
    • Sometimes, there won’t be a happy solution. If an opponent is adamant and angry, they’ll be no changing his or her mind. State your case, disagree, and know when to let the battle go if contested. It can be frustrating, especially for players that continually abuse the rules without check, but fighting without an endgame in sight won’t help. Appeal to observers or opposing teammates at a later point; for now, use the emotion to fuel you to play hard (yet fairly).

Dealing With A Teammate Going Over The Line

Mending a spat between players on your own unit is tough, whether in practice or mid-game. Changing one of your teammate’s behavior patterns when you know he or she is wrong is even harder. The most difficult challenge of all is when you yourself have a conflict with a teammate that needs to be resolved.

When it comes to your own team, you have to tread extra carefully. Remember:

  • Everyone is human.
    • People make mistakes and emotions can get the best of even the coolest character. Don’t be quick to judge or condemn.
  • Practice empathy.
    • Try to imagine what the situation is like from the other person’s point of view. This will go a long way to putting you in the right mindset.
  • Actively seek out their point of view.
    • Do more than just be ready to listen to their opinions. Specifically go out and ask for them outside of game time, and give that person a set time to speak and express thoughts uninterrupted.
  • Explain perceptions.
    • Many problems arise because of what people think others think of them. It can be confusing for everyone. Oftentimes, perceptions of behavior of the self and of others don’t align. Explain what others are seeing or feeling dispassionately.
  • Find common ground.
    • If a compromise is available, take it. Rarely will a player fully admit to wrong-doing or a complete behavior change. Expect and encourage moderate steps towards change. Even securing a grudging promise to do something different is a victory.
  • Be willing to make changes yourself (or encourage changes in others).
    • Sometimes you’ll be called on to give a little as well, or to work towards a change for another teammate.
  • Make clear you are there to support the teammate.
    • Dealing with anger and supporting a friend aren’t mutually exclusive. Show the person you are there for him or her, whether it is to vent, share, or question. Stay positive with reinforcement and encouragement. In fact, after the conversation, go out of your way to seem overly supportive, especially if positive things come out of it.

***

Dealing with anger can be tough, but the physical or heated player will only get the advantage if you let them. If you can stay calm, if you can hold to your own beliefs and plan, then in the long run, no one will be able to affect you or disintegrate the game.

Find the right balance of mental fortitude and flexibility, practice it constantly, and you’ll find success.

  1. Alex Rummelhart

    Alex "UBER" Rummelhart is an Ultiworld reporter. He majored in English at the University of Iowa, where he played and captained IHUC. He lives and teaches in Chicago, Illinois, and has played for Haymaker, Chicago Club, and Machine. He currently plays for Chicago Wildfire. Alex loves writing of all types, especially telling interesting and engaging stories. He is the author of the novel The Ultimate Outsider, one of the first fictional works ever written about ultimate.

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