You’ve Fallen, but you CAN Get Up!

Posted by: on Jan 2, 2017 | 2 Comments

I have certain beliefs about athletes. Some of these I have about humans as a whole as well. One of these is that, in general, we don’t take pleasure in each other’s physical pain. As athletes, we try to win. Sometimes that involves hoping that our opponents will fail. That’s sports. Very few of us, in very few situations, wish that our opponents get hurt (to some degree combat sports excluded). Defeating a physically capable opponent usually gives us more pleasure than defeating one who is incapacitated by injury.

For ultimate players, this is written into the rules. “Highly competitive play is encouraged, but should never sacrifice the mutual respect between players, adherence to the agreed-upon rules of the game, or the basic joy of play.” (WFDF Rules of Ultimate 2017, 1.4) It can be said that injuries compromise the pursuit of “the basic joy of play,” and therefore if you needed a rule that told you not to wish injury upon your opponents, you might find it there. Nonetheless, the idea that we care about our opponents health does not differentiate us substantially from other sports.

Furthermore, ultimate, like other sports, has a procedure for dealing with on-field injuries. Some sports will let play continue until there is a stoppage of play (football/soccer, American football). Other sports may stop play immediately in the case of major injuries, like Australian Football, where refs can stop play at the instant they suspect a head or neck injury.

In ultimate, we have the “injury stoppage.” (19.1) When an injury occurs, the injured player, or a member of the injured player’s team, can call a stoppage to deal with the injury. (19.1.1) Play will stop immediately. Sometimes, the injured player needs immediate attention to minimize the chance of more serious complications or that player has become a danger to other players by rolling around on the ground or taking up some other perilous position. Thus play stops.

In practice, the difficulty with the immediate injury stoppage is that there isn’t time for a preliminary assessment of the injury to determine if play needs to be stopped. In other sports, if a player goes down to the ground, they will often stand right back up again. If they stay on the ground, they are determined to be “injured” and the appropriate injury protocols are initiated. In practice, at least in Asian ultimate, this means that if a player falls down unintentionally (i.e. not laying out or sliding to make a play on the disc), an injury timeout is called. Just in case. Whereas in most sports, players will get up immediately, if they can, to get back in the play, ultimate players in Asia who fall down, often realize that an injury timeout will be called (passive voice used intentionally) and therefore take their time getting to their feet.

The “player fell down” injury stoppage is usually called outside our sports rules, and is bad for ultimate.

In Asia, the one who usually calls the injury timeout, not following WFDF rules, is the person covering, or being covered by, the fallen player. The rules state that it must be the injured player or their teammate who calls for play to stop. When a player falls down though, this is rarely the case. As it is not in the rules, there are three “spirit-related” reasons why the opponent stops play in these cases. The thinking behind these three reasons, though, are detrimental to our sport.

  1. “Taking advantage of fallen players is unspirited!” Instead of cutting and getting wide open while my opponent struggles to get to their feet, I’ll stop play and help them up, and then try to beat them in a fair fight! This follows what I was saying earlier about athletes wanting to defeat able-bodied athletes more than injured ones. What is missed in this logic is that running and not falling is part of being an an ultimate player and an athlete in general. Trainers like Melissa Witmer and Tim Morrill spend time teaching ultimate players how to run, because this is a major part of the sport, as is falling and getting back on your feet again. Taking advantage of a fallen player  is like taking advantage of a slow or unintelligent opponent. If you often fall when you run, buy new cleats or learn to run better.
  2. “Being nice is nice!” If someone falls down in the street, we’ll help them up. And ultimate players are great people, so we should help people up on the field too! With this we return to the above point. Ultimate players are athletes. We need to respect our opponents enough to expect them to be able to stand up on their own (unless they really are seriously injured). This includes the female players. I mention this because in Asia it seems that play is more likely to stop if a female player falls down. Expect female players to stand up after falling as well. If a player is really injured, then they can make it clear they need help by calling for an injury stoppage or by staying on the ground. Otherwise it should be our expectation that a fallen player will get up again on their own and be able to continue play.
  3. “Maybe they really are injured?” In general, when a player falls down on an ultimate field, they end up with a bit of a scraped knee and a bruised ego. Nothing that would stop a player from continuing to play. This should become our assumption. By always assuming that a player who falls down is injured badly, we are belittling our abilities to play through minimal amounts of pain. Respect your opponent’s resilience. If they are hurt, let them be the one to say that they cannot continue through their words or actions. We’ll know soon enough if they’re able to continue. If you reasonably believe the player may be seriously hurt and need immediate medical attention, stop play immediately and call for the medic as loud as you can. Otherwise, let the other player decide. The injury call is left up to them in the rules for a reason.

This does bring us to an ambiguity in the rules though. In the WFDF rules they have definitions for “defensive player” and “goal line,” but not for “injury.” Neither in the rules, nor the official interpretations. The WFDF rules guru, Rueben, suggested that the dictionary definition should suffice. Even looking through medical definitions, I come up with “harm or hurt; usually applied to damage inflicted on the body by an external force.” ( Not that helpful, in my opinion, to narrow down what should or shouldn’t be called an “injury” for injury stoppage calls. Thus it is up to the potentially injured player whether they are “injured.” Whether they can play through their bruised elbow, or broken collar bone, or need to stop play is their call. Once again, not up to any players on the other team.

There is one objective case that Rueben mentioned that must stop play. Blood. A bloody injury requires a player to leave the field. This is pretty objective and therefore should be called by anyone who notices.

“But it was my fault they fell!”

“19.1.3. If the injury was not caused by an opponent, the player must choose either to be substituted, or to charge their own team with a Time-Out.

19.1.4. If the injury was caused by an opponent, the player may choose to stay or to be substituted.”

If you caused their fall, but did not foul them (this may or may not be possible, but about this section [this version new in the 2017 edition of the rules], Reuben said they were leaving the door open for possibilities), it is still not your place to stop play for your opponent’s injury. Your causation will affect whether they are allowed to stay on the field though.

You can call a foul on yourself though. That you can do. Then play will stop and your opponent will have the option of remaining in the game or substituting.

So, how can we, as players, better follow the rules and better respect each other as athletes when dealing with falls:

A player covering, or covered by, a player that falls should:

  1. Stop playing if you think your opponent is seriously injured and needs medical attention. Call for the medic.
  2. Stop playing if you see blood. The bloodied player needs to be substituted.
  3. Continue playing if no injury stoppage was called for by the injured player or their teammates.
  4. Call a foul on him/herself if s/he committed one.

A player that falls should:

  1. Stand up as soon as possible and continue playing.
  2. Call a foul on the opponent if there was one committed.
  3. Call an injury if s/he cannot continue playing immediately.
  4. Stay on the ground if unable to verbalize the call for a stoppage. Realize that if you stay down, this is understood as you making an injury call and the same protocols apply.
  5. If the injury was not caused by an opponent, and/or there is blood, leave the field as soon as reasonably possible.
  6. If the injury was caused by an opponent, decide within a short period whether or not s/he can continue playing. Then either leave the field or retake her/his position on the field ready to play.

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments below…


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  1. Wolfgang Maehr
    January 2, 2017

    The only thing I would add is that “helping players off the field” is the second part to the rant.

    For one, if the player can get off the field themselves, they should do so (with support, if necessary). In this case everybody appreciates a swift continuation of play rather than a number of people flooding the field. Get one person from the sideline to stay with the injured player and get on with the game. Far too many times these things take forever especially towards the end of games.

    If the player cannot get off the field themselves, trained medics (some tournaments’ medics are pretty dubious to me) should do the transport because of health & safety and insurance concerns.

    • Jared
      January 2, 2017

      Good one, Wolf.

      And interesting point about the length of injury stoppages at the end of games. A related point to your comment, but perhaps not to the article would be…

      Learn how not to cramp.

      Melissa Witmer has been passing through the region and has noted how much cramping there is here in the article she wrote for Skyd ( It’s so true. Especially at the end of games like you said.

      She does mention that the big lunch we eat here could be an issue so perhaps a look back at Aaron’s “anti-lunch” thoughts ( is warranted…


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