Understanding the Rules of Ultimate Frisbee

By Kyera Giannini , last updated December 16, 2011

Ultimate Frisbee, a favorite of college campuses, has simple rules and one goal: catch the Frisbee in your opponents’ end zone. Two teams battle it out on an open field in all sorts of weather, passing to one another and attempting interceptions. Use the guide below to brush up on your technical knowledge before joining a team or watching a game.

Setup and Scoring

Each team, with matching numbers of players, line up in their end zones at the start of the game. The defensive team “pulls” the Frisbee to the offensive, or throws it far down the field. A pull refers to any long distance throw and gives the defensive team a chance to force the offensive into bad field positions and provides time to sprint down the field. A player scores one point for his team when he catches a pass in the opponents’ end zone. A defensive player can score for his team if he intercepts a pass in the end zone, even if it is his/her own. Each team gets two timeouts each half, and half time occurs when a team scores half of the match score. For example, if the match is to 15, half time happens after a team scores eight. Players act as the referees, calling out of bound throws and fouls.

Game Play

Players may throw the disc in any direction and must come to a complete stop once they catch a pass. They can move their non-pivot foot only. Because players are often sprinting when they catch the Frisbee, they have a few steps to come to a stop and so may also throw the disc before they come to a stop. If you happen to catch the Frisbee by jumping from in-bounds after it has passed over the out of bounds line and then, without touching the ground, toss it back in, you have performed the “Greatest”. A thrower can catch his own pass only if another player has already touched it. Once you catch the disc, you have ten seconds to pass it. A player on the defending team called the “marker”, who happens to be standing within three meters of the catcher, counts out the seconds. If no one is standing within that area or no one counts, the catcher may keep the Frisbee for any amount of time. If the defensive team intercepts the disc, it immediately becomes the offensive. After a goal is scored the losing team walks to the opposite side to switch end zones. The scoring team resumes the game with a new pull. Teams may substitute players after a goal or when a player is injured.


Offense switches to defense when a number of events occur. If the disc falls to the ground, the catcher misses it, a defender deflects it in the air and it falls to the ground, or an interception all cause the Frisbee to switch hands. If a player throws it out of bounds it reverts to the opposite team. The offensive also loses it when a player does not pass it before the marker counts ten seconds, called a stall.

Stopping the Clock

Play stops during a match after physical contact between players, called a foul. Accidental contact does not constitute a foul. Blocking the movement of defenders, called picking, and traveling with the Frisbee also cause a halt of play. Play stops when a player gets injured, at which time the others kneel on the field in the same positions as when play ended until the player returns or a substitute arrives.

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