Revised July 2014

Table of Contents

I Introduction

II Principles of Observing

III Observing Systems

IV Best Practices

V Player Misconduct System

Appendix 1 – Guide to Timekeeping

  • Resuming Stall Counts

Appendix 2 – Hand Signals

  • Active Calls
  • Inactive Calls
  • Misconduct Signals
  • Observer Crew Communication

Appendix 3 – Game Scorecard

I Introduction

The most important aspect which differentiates Ultimate from other organized sports is summarized in the following excerpt from the Introduction to the Official Rules of Ultimate, 11th Edition (the “Rules”):

Spirit of the Game: Ultimate relies upon a spirit of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, adherence to the agreed upon rules, or the basic joy of play. Protection of these vital elements serves to eliminate unsportsmanlike conduct from the Ultimate field. Such actions as taunting opposing players, dangerous aggression, belligerent intimidation, intentional infractions or other “win-at-all-costs” behavior are contrary to the spirit of the game and must be avoided by all players.

It is a tribute to those who play Ultimate that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the mutual obligation to adhere to these principles serves to maintain player compliance with the Rules, and to resolve disputes that do arise in contests at virtually all levels of competition. However, it is fairly well-established that some form of third party judging or appeal process is necessary in highly competitive situations where the stakes may be significant or where there is added value to faster-paced play, such as when spectators are present.

Observers have therefore proven useful in a number of capacities. In the heat of competition, the players involved in a play are not always certain about exactly what happened, nor do they always have a clear view of what occurred. Even though they may try their best to make the correct call, it can be difficult for them to know what actually transpired, especially when fatigued in the midst of hard-fought, competitive play. Because Observers are not playing, they are better situated to track and evaluate objective limits related to both time and space, such as time limits and line calls. Observers also can help facilitate and speed up the game by supplying an objective perspective to help resolve player disputes that otherwise can drag on and sour the game experience for both players and spectators.

This Manual describes how, as an Observer, you are to conduct yourself and be involved in the game, and outlines USA Ultimate-recommended principles and practices for observing. Its purpose is to help ensure consistency and quality in the way that games are observed, both of which are crucial to maximizing the benefit that the Observer program can provide to those who play Ultimate.

History of the USA Ultimate Observer Program

Observers initially were used sparingly, and their role first was envisioned as totally passive. The Observer program became somewhat more formalized after the UPA Club Nationals in 1987, when it became evident to many that Observers would have to be more active in certain capacities (despite protests from some that doing so was contrary to the Spirit of the Game). With the understanding that Observers’ roles would be better defined, an official Certified Observers Pool (COP) was established – the program was guided into existence by Robert “Nob” Rauch, and Mark Dixon was appointed the first head of the COP.

In ensuing years, the COP program was refined in response to changes in play and players’ expectations. Over time, Observers were requested more often at important tournaments, and Observer involvement became more active, though not nearly to the level of officials in most sports. USAU continues to examine the ramifications of more active Observers and the use of different rule sets for different levels of play (including the limited use of penalties). As a result of USAU having sanctioned the use of different rule sets for various experimental events, Observers’ roles have taken a variety of forms. This manual describes the current Observer system used in conjunction with the Official Rules of Ultimate, as well changes to the system when certain experimental rules or roles for the Observers are in effect.

In 2005, the UPA Observer Program took on its current structure. A standardized training document was produced in the form of the UPA Observer Manual (this document). A training clinic curriculum, based on the standards in the manual, was developed, implemented, and continues to be utilized at clinics around the country. Criteria for certification were developed, which included clinic attendance, testing, and on-field performance evaluation. Regional Observer Coordinator positions were created to facilitate scheduling of training clinics and use of Observers at USAU events. A standing Observer Committee, headed by a committee chair, was tasked with overseeing the development of the program.

The USA Ultimate Observer Committee determines official USAU guidelines for observing, including current standards for USAU competition, and training materials and methods. The committee consists of several active members (including a chairperson and a USAU staff liaison), plus USAU’s national division directors. The active members of the committee are responsible for updating and maintaining this manual and other official Observer training materials. They also meet periodically to discuss potential changes to Observer roles and practices, and implement any such changes by revising and refining those materials. The Observer Committee oversees, and assists in conducting Observer training clinics, including “experimental rules” tournaments, where proposed variations on Observer roles, protocol and interaction can be tested and evaluated by players and the committee.

Board Policies

The following USAU Policy on Observers and Referees was adopted by the Executive Committee of the UPA’s Board of Directors on August 8, 2003:

In line with its previous statements, USAU endorses the use of Observers in Ultimate but does not endorse the use of Referees.
The primary difference between Observers and Referees is that Observers shall not make active foul and violation calls of a subjective nature, while Referees are empowered to make any call authorized in the rules, bylaws, officiating guide, or any set of tournament ground rules. Observers are allowed to resolve disputes on foul and violation calls if requested to do so by the players or event organizers. It is permissible but not required for Observers to be allowed to make active calls on conduct issues and objective matters in the rules, including but not limited to time violations where the disc is not in play and boundary decisions.
Observers have the responsibility to uphold the Spirit of the Game to the players on the field. While Observers can provide a neutral perspective for dispute resolution or calls of an objective nature, the primary responsibility for the integrity of Ultimate and the Spirit of the Game remains with the players.

II Principles of Observing

The overriding principles of observing are outlined in the Observer Code of Conduct:

Observer Code of Conduct

Spirit of the Game

As an Observer, your fundamental role is to help players uphold the Spirit of the Game. You should assist players in creating an environment that fosters sportsmanship and respect among teammates and opponents, including striving to inform players when their actions during games are inconsistent with the concepts of fair play or mutual respect. Performing this function helps maintain integrity among players familiar with Ultimate and instill in new players the unique spirit with which Ultimate is played.

The Game Belongs to the Players

Managing and conducting the game is primarily the players’ responsibility, and the outcome of a game should be decided by their actions, not those of Observers. Your role is not to alter the outcome or dictate the course of a contest, but to assist players in following the rules and to help resolve disputes where necessary. Thus, except where Observers are empowered to decide a matter, all calls and play stoppages are initiated by the players. Likewise, if there is a reasonable chance that the players may be able to quickly resolve a dispute on their own, they should be afforded the opportunity to do so before you intervene.


Approach your role and conduct yourself with the utmost professionalism. This includes treating players, coaches and spectators with respect, being as prepared as possible –mentally, physically, and with the proper equipment – to perform their duties, and making every effort to position yourself properly and make the best judgments possible at all times. You should also make every attempt to improve your observing skills, both individually and in conjunction with fellow officials, in an effort to do the best job that you can for the players.

Observing Fundamentals


This manual assumes that you know the Rules, and any modifications in effect for the game or tournament being observed. It thus contains few references to, or repetitions of, specific Rules sections. The purpose of this manual is to serve as a guide beyond the Rules – a tool for implementing, not learning, them. It is imperative that you know the Rules well, and that each ruling be supported by the applicable Rule(s). Consulting a rulebook during a game is acceptable, if that is necessary in order to rule correctly. Making a ruling that is not in accordance with the Rules is one of the quickest ways to lose the respect that an Observer needs. Occasionally, complex game situations arise that test even the most experienced Observers, but a thorough understanding of the Rules and how to apply them allows you the best chance of properly resolving those situations.

Active or Inactive Calls

“Active” calls are those for which you are empowered to rule immediately, without player request or initiation. Line calls are active, including in/out-of-bounds, force-out fouls, in/out-of-the-endzone, and offsides. Time limits also are called and announced actively. Additionally, you may stop play if appropriate to handle conduct issues. All other calls, such as fouls and violations, are not active; i.e., you do not rule or offer an opinion unless requested or unless the players involved cannot quickly agree on the outcome. Note that you do not actively call up or down (whether the disc touched the ground before being caught), but be prepared to rule if a dispute arises, as with other inactive calls.

Rule immediately on each active call with a hand signal and simultaneously announce the ruling loudly enough so that impacted players are made aware (this may require yelling in certain situations). While it is the players’ responsibility to check the indication, you should do everything possible to minimize confusion and assist the players in knowing the call. After making certain rulings, other hand signals may be appropriate for spectators, sidelines and players not involved in or aware of the matter. Hand signals are described in Appendix 2 – Hand Signals.

As with any call, a ruling on an active call should be made by the Observer with the best view (typically, the one closest to the action), and it is important for Observers to communicate with each other and make every attempt to avoid issuing conflicting calls. If conflicting calls are made, play stops, and the Observer with the best view reigns. If views are roughly equal, resolve the situation as if it is a contested call with no Observers present. Active calls often involve a “play-on” situation, such as indicating that a player is in- or out-ofbounds, or that a catch was made on the playing field proper (not in the end zone). In such cases, if no other issue requires play to stop, play continues uninterrupted after the call.

For calls that are not active, do not offer an opinion or make a call for the players. If your ruling is necessary, always clarify with the players what their call is before ruling. In addition, it is not appropriate to say, “no foul, but there was a travel” or the like. Except as discussed below in this manual regarding stalls, strip/foul calls, and dangerous plays, rule only on the call(s) actually made.

On-Field Authority

Depending on the personnel available, you may work a game alone or with other Observers or linespersons. The roles of the various officials are defined in this manual, in the descriptions of each observing system. Generally, the Observer closest to the play will make the ruling. If you cannot make the call, you can consult other Observers or linespersons. An official further from the play can indicate that he or she had a good view of what happened by putting one or both hands on top of his or her head. It is the responsibility of the closer official to look for this signal from the other Observer(s) and to indicate to them if conferring is necessary. Long, slow trips to consult with other officials should be kept to a minimum.

If you are an Observer who is not nearest the play and disagree with a ruling, do not indicate the disagreement verbally or otherwise. After the play, you can privately discuss the ruling with the official who made it. If you are an official who is not making a ruling, avoid giving any affirmative or negative signal (e.g., shaking or nodding your head), because such signals may appear to indicate agreement/disagreement with a player’s call or another official’s ruling. Have discussions with other officials about potential rulings away from the players, so that they cannot ascertain the decision in advance (and, thus, whether it would be advantageous to request Observer intervention). Additionally, if you are a spectator of a game you should guard your commentary about Observer rulings to other players.

It can be helpful to discuss “non-calls” with other officials during breaks in the action, such as how they saw a particular play, even if the players have agreed amongst themselves without Observer intervention. Such consultations can help hone skills and provide an opportunity to see how others view the same situation. Keep these discussions private, however. While there still may be differences in how two people view the same play, such discussions can lead to more consistency among Observers.

Observer-Player Interaction

Make rulings succinctly, without long discussions or explanations. Note that for certain calls, including travels and receiving fouls, it may be necessary for a player involved to clarify what action or part of the play is being called or contested, so that the opponent and you understand the situation. After determining the specific nature of the dispute, simply state the ruling, along with which team has possession of the disc and how play will resume, e.g. “No foul. Red’s disc here with the stall count at zero.” (One or more hand signals may also be appropriate at this stage – see Appendix 2). Statements such as “I did not see a travel” or “If your arm was here, then that would not have been a foul” tend to create confusion, and give the appearance that the Observer was not paying attention or is unsure of the ruling. However, a brief description of the specific action can reinforce your credibility (e.g., “no travel – the foot did not move until after the release”).

After an Observer rules, there is no further argument and play resumes according to the ruling after a check. By requesting your intervention, a player implicitly agrees that he or she will abide by your ruling, even if the player disagrees. Do not discuss what would have happened if such and such had occurred, or how you would have ruled on a situation where no ruling was issued. This keeps the game under the players’ control, helps avoid tipping your hand on future rulings, and averts discussion about calls that were not even at issue.

Do not get drawn into player arguments. Converting an argument from one between players to one between an Observer and a player is counterproductive to keeping the game moving. Serious verbal or physical abuse is a conduct issue. Do not engage in verbal or physical abuse, even in response to such behavior. Also, stay detached from the players and avoid conduct that may create the appearance that you are biased or otherwise interested in the outcome of a particular play or contest. While the occasional remark or brief conversation may help calm a tense dispute or otherwise facilitate relations with players on the field, avoid actions such as overtly cheering or applauding for a particular team, accepting gifts of food or drink from a team, or excessively conversing with members of one team or “hanging out” on their sideline during breaks.

When you make a ruling during a stoppage of play (i.e. not for an active call), play must restart with a check. Teams should be reminded of this at the pre-game meeting and during each ruling.

When to Intervene

As the name implies, Observers watch the game – closely. If players can quickly resolve contested calls on their own, you need not rule. However, when a call is made and contested, the nearest Observer should be ready to rule if the players cannot agree on an outcome relatively quickly (generally within ~20 seconds). If you as the closest Observer did not have a clear view, use this time to quickly confer with other crew members who may have had a better vantage point.

Either player involved in a dispute can request Observer intervention; agreement between the players is not required and team captains need not be involved or consulted. If one player requests your intervention and the other player still wants to discuss the matter, you may give them a short time to attempt to work it out themselves, if it appears that this may be fruitful. If such a discussion initially appears to have promise, but begins to drag on towards the recommended 20 second limit, inform the players that they need to decide quickly or you will rule. If both players come to you immediately without trying to work out a dispute themselves, you should ask them to at least make an attempt. Where it is obvious that the players will not agree, you can simply rule quickly.

In the unlikely event that one or both of the players involved in a play are unable to make or contest a call due to injury (such as a player receiving a concussion after a collision), the Observers should automatically step in and resolve any possible calls involved in the part play involving the injured players.

The “Do-Over”

Players may agree themselves to a “do-over.” Respect this decision regardless of what you would have ruled if consulted. When you are consulted, it is important that before ruling, you are confident (at least 90% certain) that you had the requisite perspective to rule properly. It is your job to ensure that at least one of the crew is in proper position to confidently rule on any particular play or situation. However, if no crew member is sufficiently confident on a ruling, it is preferable to return the disc to the thrower for a do-over than to make an educated (or uneducated) guess, which almost always adversely impacts players’ confidence that rulings are being made correctly. If you are consulted on a play that you did not have a proper view or perspective, before implementing a do-over, quickly check with other crew members who may have been better situated to make the ruling. If crew members are repeatedly out of position to properly see plays (whether due to lack of hustle or otherwise), confer and adjust your positions and movements to the extent possible. Players will lose confidence in and respect for a crew that consistently resorts to doovers in order to resolve contested situations.

Player Overrule

On occasion, a player who believes that an your ruling on an active call is incorrect may request that the ruling be reversed, but only to the detriment of his or her own team; for example, where you rule that a catch was made in-bounds, but another offensive player believes that it was out-of-bounds, resulting in a turnover. In such cases, provided that the person requesting the reversal was both a) a player on the field at the time of the call and b) a member of the team benefiting from the call, you have the discretion to reverse your ruling, taking into account the perspective and proximity of the player requesting the reversal and other factors that are relevant under the circumstances. This also applies to rulings involving the misconduct system where additional information from the players demonstrates a misconduct foul was incorrectly assessed. After a request for reversal, play restarts with a check.


Your job is not to render justice. Players sometimes will agree on the “wrong” solution (i.e., you may feel that the players’ decision – perhaps a do-over – is not supported by what actually occurred). In such cases, do not intervene or suggest an opinion. It is preferable that players settle matters amongst themselves rather than have a non-player make a ruling.

Do not attempt to equalize games or right past wrongs, but make each call based upon what you see and the applicable Rules., Do not take into account what may have happened on a previous play or the reputations of the players involved.

Consistency and Best Judgment

Observers should strive to be consistent in their rulings, both within a particular crew and between different crews at the same tournament. Two neutral parties can see the same play from the same perspective and still come to different conclusions about it. However, players rightfully expect some consistency. Given the same circumstances, rulings should be similar, both from the same Observer and from different Observers.

There is a tacit assumption that you will use your best judgment in making any call. It often is difficult to be absolutely sure that the call is correct, and there will be occasions where you make an incorrect ruling. There also are times when a proper ruling will not be popular – on most calls the best that you can hope for is that half of the players agree. Among the things that you can do are know the rules thoroughly, know and abide by the guidelines of this manual, expend the utmost effort to be in the best position to make calls, and be fair and respectful to all players and their coaches and fans. There will always be situations where you, much like the umpire or referee in any other sport, are questioned, sometimes rightfully and sometimes not.


Conduct yourself in a professional manner. This includes preparing adequately for the game. Arrive at your field 15 minutes before game time, start the meeting with the captains 10 minutes before game time (see pre-game meeting under Common Situations), and give a 3 minute warning to both teams before game time. Use pre-game time to tend to matters such as surveying the field for debris or obstacles, assuring that sidelines are free of spectators and equipment, and informing players of potential uniform or dangerous equipment issues. Because good observing requires constant running, pre-game warm-up stretching is recommended. Keep extra discs handy (if available), in case the game disc becomes damaged or lands far out-of-bounds.

It is of utmost importance to avoid interfering with players’ movements or the flight of the disc. You are an obstacle on the field, and if the disc hits you and is not caught by an offensive player, it is a turnover. Per the USAU Standing Rules Committee, you as an Observer, whether in or out of bounds, are treated as “air” (i.e. as if you were not there) in terms of your potential to impact the flight of the disc or player movement. Be cognizant of where players are and where they may be moving. This requires attention to the weather (especially wind) conditions and the style of defense being played (zone or man), and an awareness of the tendencies and skills of both throwers and receivers. Moving off of the playing field is often necessary to avoid interfering.

Know the game score, time limits, number of time-outs remaining for each team, and how any cap times may affect the game, and periodically remind teams about them (see Time Limits). Be well-groomed and appropriately attired for the particular event (see Equipment). Carry yourself (e.g. posture, activities) professionally while at the field. After games and during any rounds off, do not watch games in your Observer uniform. It is absolutely prohibited for you to officiate in any contest of which the outcome is the subject of any wager in which you have a direct or indirect interest.

III Observing Systems

Multiple observing systems have been developed and used over the years. For USAU events, the Two Observer System (TOS) is recommended. However, if sufficient personnel are available (especially for marquee contests), use the Four Observer System, as it provides maximum field coverage. For events where personnel are limited, the One Observer System may be used, with the assistance of a Linesperson if at all possible.

Two-Observer System

Each Observer has primary responsibility for one sideline and one goal line. One Observer also tracks time limits between points, after turnovers, and during time-outs, while the second Observer keeps track of the score and any warnings or penalties. Follow the guidelines set out in this section.

Note: the term “trail Observer” specifies the Observer who is generally behind the offense, and the term “downfield Observer” refers to the Observer closer to the end zone of attack.

As the disc advances, the trail Observer (O1 in Figure 1) follows behind the disc and is primarily responsible for thrower and marker fouls, travel calls, stall counts and receiver and defender interactions close to the thrower. The downfield Observer (O2 in Figure 1) stays roughly even with the deepest player near the end zone being attacked and has primary responsibility for downfield fouls between receivers and defenders, picks, and goal calls on deep receptions. When the offense nears the goal line for which the downfield Observeris responsible, he or she may move toward the back line, leaving the trail Observerto watch the front goal line. On a turnover, the Observers trade roles, with the new trail Observer setting up behind the new offense and giving the time warnings to put the disc in play.

Figure 1. A – Initial positions as offense begins to advance the disc. B – When the offense is close to the end zone of attack and O1 has made it to that end of the field; O1 still watches the thrower and marker, but also is in position to call in/out of the end zone. O2 is deeper in the end zone, able to watch the back line. C – Observers may swap ends to better cover the front goal line, depending on the location of the disc, as described in more detail below.

A positioning problem can arise if the disc is near the end zone being attacked, but on the sideline covered by the downfield Observer (O2 in Figure 1). With O2watching the back line, neither Observer is optimally positioned to call in/out of the end zone on a short pass to the front corner of the end zone. Nor is either Observer in the best position to watch thrower-marker interactions. In this situation, both Observers should be alert for any stoppage of play during which they quickly can trade responsibility for ends (not sides) of the field; thus, O2 now is responsible for the bottom end of the field in Figure 1C (and thus the goal line in this situation) and O1 becomes responsible for the top on the diagram end of the field (and thus the back line in this situation). Those positions may be maintained for the rest of the point, or the Observers can trade back, depending on how play continues (e.g., a turnover in the end zone may allow the Observers to reset to their original positions). This process is recommended for only experienced Observers who are comfortable working together.

The most difficult situation for two Observers to cover on the playing field proper is when the disc is near the downfield Observer’s sideline, and most or all of the players are between the disc and the end zone being attacked. In this case, the trail Observer may be unable to stay close enough to the thrower and marker to hear the stall count well closely watch their interaction, because s/he must also be able to get back and see the sideline on a long swing pass in that direction. And the downfield Observer cannot get too close to the disc without being out of position to see the action on a long pass downfield. While it is generally not recommended for the trail Observer to cross the long axis of the field to the far side, he may have to do just that under conditions described above, in order to suitably monitor the thrower and marker. This is acceptable, but the trail Observermust be prepared to move back quickly towards his or her sideline. In this and similar cases, each Observer must constantly be aware of the movements of players, the other Observer and the possible path of the disc, and be ready to sprint to new positions whenever necessary.

The following table summarizes Observer positioning in the TOS for various game situations.


Trail Observer (O1)

Downfield Observer (O2)

During Pull Watch for off-sides on receiving team. Watch for off-sides on pulling team.
After Pull Get in position behind the thrower, staying slightly toward your sideline. Note offense and defense (zone, man, etc.) as players set up. Jog toward midfield to watch catches near your sideline. Note offense and defense (zone, man, etc.) as players set up.
Short passes Shadow the disc, monitoring stall count and the thrower’s feet; avoid interfering with dump and swing passes. Run toward new receiver (to-be thrower) when disc is released. Be prepared to run deep on a huck, to be in position for watching your sideline in/near far end zone. Stay near your sideline, roughly even with the deepest receiver. Be prepared to run to the end zone on a long pass.
Long Pass Watch for stall, foul or travel calls and then run downfield. Stop and position just before disc is to be caught. Run toward the end zone. If the pass is near the far sideline, run across field for better view, avoiding receivers and defenders. Return to original side when O1 is close enough to see his/her sideline at/near end zone.
Turnover Move toward the disc, setting up roughly even with the deepest receiver. Be ready for quick huck; avoid players as they change direction. Check with O2 to see if there are any calls that would negate the turnover. Get in position behind the thrower, staying slightly toward your sideline. Check with O1 to see if there are any calls that would negate the turnover.
Sideline Trap
Stand behind thrower and out of the way of dumps. Depending on the wind strength and direction, best position may be behind the thrower, off the field. If force is toward your sideline, stay off the field, even with the deepest receiver. If force is other way, run to the middle of the field to watch for long hucks or punts down the line.
Flat Zone Stand further back from thrower and out of the lane for swing passes. Typically, fewer marking fouls occur in a flat zone. Stay parallel with the deepest receiver. If it is windy, cross-field hucks are less likely.
Trap Zone Several offensive players may crowd around the disc and marking can be very aggressive. Avoid interfering with dumps. Depending on the wind, best position may be behind the thrower, off the field. If force is toward your sideline, stay off the field, roughly even with the deepest receiver. If force is other way, run to the middle of the field to watch for long hucks or punts down the line.
Score Carefully watch thrower’s feet for travels, and listen for count and for foul calls both before and during the throw. If no outstanding calls, give “all clear” hand signal to partner. Resolve to “goal” signal if there are no downfield calls either. Upon completion, watch receiver’s feet to see if they are in the end zone and/or in-bounds. Indicate in/out of the end zone, and goal/no goal when appropriate. Check with O1 for “all clear” signal before resolving to “goal” signal.

Four-Observer System

The Four Observer System (FOS) is generally used in showcase games when sufficient personnel are available, as it offers better coverage of the field. As in the TOS, one Observer is the score keeper while another is the time keeper. All four Observers should be aware of the score, but only one keeps the official score sheet. There are three configurations used in the FOS: the pull, standard play, and end zone.

For the pull, the two Observers with the receiving team stand on the front goal line, about 5 yards laterally from the outer most player near their respective sidelines. One Observer gives verbal time warnings to the receiving team, but both Observers give or echo hand signals for time warnings. Once the receiving team has signaled readiness, both Observers signal readiness and simultaneously move about 10 yards deep in the end zone to watch for off-sides. The two Observers with the pulling team are at the front corners of the end zone watching for off-sides during the pull. One observer gives the verbal time warnings to the pulling team while both observers give or echo hand signals for time warnings.

After the pull, the Observers move into the standard configuration, shown in Figure 2A. This consists of two trail Observers (O1 and O4) and two downfield Observers (O2 and O3). Each observer is responsible for one “quadrant” of the field. When the disc is on O1's side of the field, O1 watches the thrower/marker interaction, while the other trail observer (O4) watches dump and swing cutters and their defenders. Each trail Observer also watches their respective sidelines. As the disc swings to O4's sideline, O1 becomes the trail Observer watching dump and swing cuts while O4 watches the thrower/marker interaction. The two downfield Observers watch the cutters/defenders near them as well as their respective sidelines, just as they would with the TOS. As with the TOS, if the disc is turned over, the trail and downfield Observers switch roles while maintaining their relative positions.

When the disc gets close to the end zone (typically just past the attacking brick mark), all Observers move into the end zone configuration, as shown in Figure 2B. This consists of a single trail Observer behind the disc while the rest of the crew covers the end zone front and rear lines and the sidelines. The trail Observer on the side of the field with the disc as it passes the attacking brick mark becomes the lone trail Observer (O1 in this example). This Observer moves with the disc, watching the thrower/marker interaction. She or he has no primary sideline or end zone line responsibility, and so can move freely from sideline to sideline. The other trail observer (O4) is no longer watching the thrower and marker and moves to the front cone on his or her sideline. Once O4 reaches the front cone, O2 moves to the back line while O3 stays at the front cone on the other side. This provides good coverage of the front goal line without sacrificing coverage of the back line. The end zone configuration is maintained until a point is scored, the disc is turned, or the disc is moved backwards well behind the attacking brick mark.

Figure 2. A – Standard positions in the Four Observer System. B – End zone positioning: O1 watches the thrower and marker, while O4 moves up to watch the front goal line with O3. This allows O2 to drop back and cover the back goal line while still watching the players moving/cutting in the end zone.

Keep in mind that with two Observers on each sideline and front line of the end zone, it is possible to signal two opposite outcomes for sideline receptions. In general, the closer observer is the first to signal while the farther Observer echoes the call, unless the far Observer has a better view of the play. Once a reception is made in the end zone, the Observers covering the end zone signals “in the end zone,” and the standard procedure is used to determine and signal if a goal is to be awarded (see Appendix 2 – Hand Signals). All four Observers echo any hand signals regarding the goal or calls disallowing the goal.


Although the number of experienced Observers for a particular game or even a tournament may be limited, there may be experienced players who are willing to assist in the role of a “Linesperson.” Using Linespeople can greatly enhance field coverage, especially in situations where you are working under the One Observer System, although Linespeople also can be of assistance in the TOS. Additionally, allowing someone to act as a Linesperson helps introduce him or her to the Observer system. Positioning for a Linesperson working with a single Observer is described above in the One-Observer System. Where Linespeople are used along with more than one Observer, inform each Linesperson as to how he or she should position him or herself.

Active Calls

In any situation, the primary function of a Linesperson is to make active calls on boundaries – i.e., whether a team is off-sides on the pull, and whether a catch is made in or out of bounds or in or out of the end zone. A Linesperson signals verbally and with his or her hands, just as an Observer does. A Linesperson also can relay time limit countdowns to the team at his or her end of the field, such as “10 seconds to pull,” and watch the flight of the disc on pulls and other throws in his or her area, to determine where the disc should be put into play if a question arises.

Inactive Calls

The significant difference between a Linesperson and an Observer is that Observers handles all interactions with players for resolving contested fouls, violations and other matters, and makes any requested rulings. In these situations, a Linesperson does not make a call or engage the players. If you feel that you had a good view of a particular play or otherwise may be able to assist with a ruling, signal to the Observer(s) by placing one or both hand(s) on top of your head. If an Observer was away from the play or thinks that the Linesperson had a better perspective, the observer will ask the Linesperson for his or her opinion. In any event, you as the Linesperson do not indicate (verbally or by gesturing) an opinion on a contested call, or whether you support or disagree with a call, before being consulted by an Observer. If a foul or violation occurs near you, it is good practice to always try to decide what the call would be, in case your opinion is needed on a contested call.

One-Observer System

The One Observer System generally is used only where qualified personnel are insufficient to assign two Observers to a particular game. While you should be familiar with this system, it is greatly preferable to recruit someone else (possibly an experienced player) to assist as a Linesperson. Without a Linesperson, it is impossible for you to adequately monitor all of the action all the time, even in situations where players are very compressed. In most situations, you will have to forego closely monitoring certain interactions (such as thrower and marker), in order to be in position for more critical matters, such as ruling on potential scoring plays.

Positioning With a Linesperson

Where the Observer is assisted by a Linesperson, positioning generally is the same as with the TOS, with the Linesperson starting each point in the position of O2 (at the pulling team’s end of the field). When the disc is turned over, both you and the Linesperson should take advantage of any stoppage or delay in play (or other appropriate situation) where you both can switch ends of the field, so that you can re-position behind the thrower and marker, while the Linesperson becomes responsible for monitoring the downfield goal line and sideline.

Positioning Without a Linesperson

If no Linesperson is available to assist you, positioning is more difficult. At the start of each point, be at the goal line for the pulling team, watching for off-sides and also listening for the type of defense that is going to be played and in which direction the defense intends to “force” the offense’s throws. Run downfield after the disc is released, watching to see where the disc lands or flies. As the disc is put into play by the offense, your optimal position is on the field, approximately 5–10 yards behind the thrower, but at an angle so you can see the space between the thrower and the marker. As long as you are reasonably close, standing in other positions (downfield, off to one side, etc.) can work as well, but behind the thrower generally works best. If a long throw goes up, first watch for travel or foul calls and then run downfield to get a better view of any potential receiving fouls. Even if the thrower is called for traveling, downfield events can impact possession.

While you generally stand behind the thrower, you are also responsible for line calls as much as possible. In order to be in position to make these calls, “cheat” toward one side of the field and position yourself behind the thrower, while staying slightly closer to one line. On turnovers, you often need to move around behind the new offensive team, while preparing to sprint to be in position to rule on long throws made in transition.

Obviously, there are certain situations where as a single Observer working without a Linesperson you simply cannot be in position to help the players with a particular ruling. It is helpful to explain to each coach or captain before the game that you are working the game alone, and that while you will do your best to see as much of the action as possible, where you have to make a choice, you will focus on the deep action, so as to be in position to rule on long passes and scoring plays, and that you will not always be able to assist in resolving disputed travel, stall and other thrower-marker interactions.

Instructional Observers

A new category of Observer, the Instructional Observer, has recently been developed by USA Ultimate to provide players a wider range of options for third-party officials to facilitate game play in various environments. These game officials serve in a distinct (and somewhat reduced) role, compared with standard Observers, and focus primarily on providing instructional information about the game, helping players learn to self-officiate, and monitoring logistical and other factors necessary to facilitate game play.

USA Ultimate recognizes the high value of newer players gaining a solid understanding of the rules of Ultimate and becoming comfortable with the process of dispute resolution in a self-officiated game. In some environments, such as a youth tournament or a learning league, too much active Observer intervention to resolve contested calls could easily interfere with this important process. Yet, some of the other objective functions of Observers, such as announcing time warnings and keeping track of the score, are a benefit to players at any level of competition, without taking away their control of the game.

The following list of Instructional Observer responsibilities provides more detail about how these duties are performed and which duties of a standard Observer should be avoided.

Follow Observer Code of Conduct

Spirit of the Game - Teaching “Spirit of the Game” is probably the most important thing you can help do in this role. It is worth emphasizing from the “Code of Conduct” the note about instilling basic concepts about spirit for new players. “Personal responsibility,” “mutual respect,” “adherence to the rules,” and “joy of play” are all key phrases that can be taught through the process of learning to compete in a self-officiated environment. Remember to remind players about one or more of these important factors during the game when the opportunity arises between points or during a call. Do this by noting and praising positive behavior as well as by constructively noting unacceptable behavior, and helping facilitate conflict resolution.

The Game Belongs to the Players – For this role, it is important to note that you are not empowered to make any calls during the course of normal play. Self-officiating is a skill that is learned by doing, although newer players may need some reminders about the specific processes or pointers about how to conduct themselves within those processes. For all calls, there is a process for getting the game started again. Help the players go through this process without doing it for them. If behavior becomes an issue, address as needed.

Professionalism – There is nothing much to add here except to note that often the you are used in an environment where the players are younger and interactions may be required with parents or school administrators. It is important to instill confidence in all of these different groups, to interact appropriately with each, and to realize that many of their initial impressions about the sport will be based on their experience with the game you are facilitating.

Teach the Rules

Provide information to participants about how to play the game, including reference to specific rules, rules interpretations, guidance on the process for players to handle contested calls or other disputes, and general guidance about the role of personal responsibility and Spirit of the Game in Ultimate. In order to teach the rules, you must know the rules. Always have a rule book handy for your own reference as well as to use as a teaching tool so that participants (players, coaches, parents) know where and how to find rules information on their own.

Be clear before the game about whether you or players should be able to stop the game for rules questions, or whether they will be handled during normal stoppages or between points. When a rules question arises, either on its own or in conjunction with a call, be sure everyone involved understands the question at hand. If it is appropriate to the setting, potentially make the discussion larger so that others can learn from the situation as well. If the question is about a call, be sure that you do not state your opinion about what happened. Rather, explain the relevant rule and ask the participants to talk about what happened in the context of that information. For example, on a disputed line call where a player’s foot landed on the line: was he or she in or out? That is the players’ decision. Explain that the rule says the line is out and that the first point of contact after gaining possession is what dictates where a player landed. Perhaps explain about how straddling the line is viewed in the rules. Then ask the players what they saw. If they agree on what they saw, but just did not know the rule, they should be able to get started again from there. If they disagree on what they saw, help explain how to handle a contested call in that situation.

Remember that the rules are more than just about throwing and catching, fouls and goals. They talk about expectations for behavior, dispute resolution procedures, equipment, and even the culture of the Ultimate community. These are all areas where you should be prepared and willing to help teach about Ultimate.

Track Time Limits

Track and announce time between points, for timeouts, after a turnover, half-time as needed or instructed by event organizer. Communicate game start times and caps as instructed by event organizer. The extent to which you track limits is dictated by the needs of the event. Time penalties can be enforced if that is part of the competition rules for the event or game. Otherwise, announcing time limits should be enough to help keep the game moving, while also teaching players and coaches about that aspect of the game.

Monitor Conduct Issues

Enforce sanctions as necessary. Track and report violations and incidents. You should be empowered to use the Misconduct Foul System as described in this manual. Keep in mind that your role is to facilitate play, so use either informal or formal warnings to the extent necessary to teach appropriate behavior while being empowered to handle offensive, dangerous, or other inappropriate behavior with sanctions if necessary. Remember that the conduct system can be applied to coaches or spectators as well as players, and that may very well be where it becomes more necessary. But coaches and parents may also simply need to be informed about expectations for behavior. Be sure to note and report any incidents to the event organizer or league official.

Track Game Score and Timeouts

This is self-explanatory. Periodically remind the teams of both the score and their timeout situation during the game. Be sure that you report the final score and any other game or logistical issues to the appropriate event organizer or league official.

Pre-game Meeting

Follow the instructions provided in the Best Practices chapter of this manual, excepting the parts about making active calls and rulings on disputed player calls. Be sure to reiterate the role of facilitating play and providing instruction on rules or other aspects of the game. Remind the teams that they should feel empowered to play without looking to you, but that you are there as a resource if needed. Explain the basics of the game (start, end, half-time, timeouts, etc.) and ask if they have questions.


You can use any of the three Observer systems described in the USAU Observer Manual. Since you are not making rulings on calls or active line calls, the One Observer System is typically sufficient for following game play and providing information or guidance as needed. The Two Observer System could also be used in order to provide better field coverage.

IV Best Practices

Observer Duties

This section contains lists providing a brief synopsis of Observer duties.

Tournament Head Observer

  • Select and recruit the Observer crew for a given tournament.
  • Ensure that the crew is clear on all of the competition specifics, including any rule or Observer system changes.
  • Work with the Competition Director and Tournament Director to schedule Observers on games.
  • Work with the Competition Director and other Observers to address any officiating issues which arise during the event (including player misconduct), and communicate any necessary information to the crew.
  • Assess the performance of the crew during the event, including fielding specific feedback from teams.
  • Report all data back to HQ in a timely manner.

Standard Observers

  • Follow Observer Code of Conduct.
  • Hold the pre-game meeting.
  • Track and announce time between points, for timeouts, after a turnover and half-time. Enforce time limits as described in this manual. Communicate game start times and caps as instructed by event organizer.
  • Make active line calls for in and out of bounds, goals, off-sides.
  • Make rulings on contested calls (fouls, violations, other disputes) if requested by players or needed to keep game moving.
  • Monitor conduct. Enforce sanctions as necessary. Track and report violations and incidents.
  • Keep track of score and timeouts.
  • Give hand signals where appropriate to communicate calls to players, coaches and spectators.

Instructional Observers

  • Follow Observer Code of Conduct.
  • Hold the pre-game meeting.
  • Track and announce time between points, for timeouts, after a turnover, half-time as needed or instructed by event organizer. Communicate game start times and caps as instructed by event organizer.
  • Monitor conduct issues. Enforce sanctions as necessary. Track and report violations and incidents.
  • Keep track of score and timeouts.
  • Teach the rules. Provide information to participants about how to play the game, including reference to specific rules, rules interpretations, guidance on the process for players to handle contested calls or other disputes, and general guidance about the role of personal responsibility and Spirit of the Game in Ultimate.

Experimental Events

Occasionally some tournaments experiment with changes to specific rules or Observer duties. Observers working these events should familiarize themselves with the changes and any resultant consequences these may have for normal Observer mechanics. Typical examples of these changes include making some calls active (e.g. travel, up/down, counting the stall), changes in how player misconduct is handled, and changes to rules not related to officiating (e.g. field size, player substitutions).


While your foremost responsibility is to do the job to the best of your ability, it is important (especially in higher profile events) for the image of Observers in general as well as for the sport that you are properly equipped and maintain a professional appearance. At a minimum, at least one Observer working each game should wear a wristwatch with a stopwatch function and carry a pen or pencil, score card and a copy of the Rules. Additionally, follow these guidelines for their attire during games:



Shoes You must wear cleats. Black or black-based is recommended (required for showcase events).
Jersey You must wear the official short or long-sleeved jersey of the Observer Program.
Shorts/Pants You must wear the official shorts of the Observer Program. Black, cold-weather pants are permitted if necessary due to weather, as determined by the Head Observer.
Socks Black socks are recommended (and required for showcase events).
Headwear If headgear is worn, you must wear the official baseball cap of the Observer Program. Black, cold-weather headwear is permitted if necessary due to weather, as determined by the Head Observer.
Base Layers and Gloves If base layers or gloves are worn, black is recommended (and is required for showcase events).
Sunglasses Sunglasses are not permitted except for medical reasons (e.g., prescription) or where approved by event Head Observer due to extreme sunlight interference or other appropriate circumstance.
Rain Gear Rain gear is permitted if necessary due to weather, matching colors recommended.
Other Items Other items such as headbands, wristbands or other decorative items are not permitted.

Common Situations

Below are points to keep in mind about situations commonly requiring attention and often a ruling. It is important to use your experience as a player to anticipate what may be coming next on the field. For example, if the mark is broken and a receiver is going deep, the Observer responsible for that goal line should be running deep as well. If patterns develop (such as a certain handler throwing deep or cross-field to the same receiver over and over), be prepared for the situation to recur.

Always be cognizant of staying out of the way of the players to the greatest extent possible. If play is close to a sideline, do not occupy a position that would interfere with the disc going down the line, or if a team is threatening to score and play is on the same side of the field as the Observer watching the goal line, do not kneel at or near the cone, where you may be in the way of the players trying to make the play and unable to move out of their way quickly.


With a crew of two or more, off-sides is easily monitored. The Observer with the receiving team stands 5–10 yards behind the goal line and ~5 yards laterally from the closest player towards the sideline, so that you can simultaneously watch the pull and players’ movements. The Observer with the pulling team stands at the front cone of the end zone. Until the disc is released, no pulling team player’s foot may cross the vertical plane of the goal line, and each receiving team player must be in contact with the goal line. Call off-sides for every violation, but it is important to be consistent. Pro-actively give informal verbal warnings to help prevent multiple violations and keep the game moving. As soon as the pull is released, look at the other Observer to see if there is an off-sides call, and inform the players. If off-sides is called, both Observers signal with raised crossed arms (see Appendix 2 – Hand Signals) and loudly echo the call, so that play stops quickly. It is helpful to mentally note the offside player(s) number(s) to announce when asked. Remember teams cannot decline an off-sides penalty. If the off-sides call only results in a warning for one of the teams, the Observer tracking time limits resets the clock and gives the receiving team 20 seconds to signal readiness again, with the pulling team getting an additional 20 seconds to match up and pull. If the off-sides call results in a field position penalty, the Observer with the receiving team informs that team where the disc will be put into play (either in the middle of their own end zone or at the mid-field mark) and then gives that team 30 seconds to set up, with the defensive team getting an additional 20 seconds to match up and check the disc in.

Sideline Catches

Position yourself so you can clearly see the line and the receiver’s hands and feet at the same time; if not, first confirm the catch, then immediately look to the feet. Continue to watch carefully for any bobbling which might occur during ground contact related to the catch. If the disc flies close to a boundary line, be sure to watch the take-off foot of any player attempting a “greatest,” and watch closely to see which foot (or other body part) makes the first ground contact and when that occurs, relative to the throw. A force-out foul is an active call when the disc is caught out-of-bounds and you believe it would have been in-bounds except for a force-out foul. When this occurs, play stops and resumes with a check. Note that an in or out call is separate from, and unrelated to, an up or down call. When up or down is not an active Observer call, it is the players’ responsibility to call up or down, and up or down is not considered when making an in or out call.

If you are screened from making an active line call, do not give a verbal or hand signal. If there is no argument among the players, play continues normally. If there is any disagreement about whether the receiver was in or out, such as the receiver’s defender stopping and looking back at you, play stops and the situation is treated like a contested up or down call, with the disc being returned to the previous thrower. In these cases inform players that the disc is going back because you did not have a clear view of the play.


Scoring calls are of the utmost importance and this should be stressed to other officials. The official responsible for the end zone being attacked needs to stay far enough downfield to be in position for any play at the goal line or back line. When a catch is made near the goal line but in the playing field proper, verbally call “Not in!” to indicate that play should continue. No hand signal accompanies this call. When a catch is made in the end zone, verbally call “In!” and signal only that the receiver is in the end zone (see Appendix 2 – Hand Signals). However, before signaling “in the end zone” continue to watch the entire catch, including any subsequent related actions such as bobbling or spiking. Do not signal a goal until it is clear that no call negates the score. Note that when a player is ruled in the end zone (with no outstanding calls), the point is over, even if that player does not realize and throws a subsequent incompletion. In these cases, you are considered to have “best perspective.” Remember, an in or out call is separate from and unrelated to an up or down call. Since up or down is not an active Observer call, it is the players’ responsibility to make that call, and up or down should not be considered when making an in or out call.

Thrower and Marker Fouls

Marking fouls often are disputed, particularly when the count gets high and there is more frenzied action by both players. If the marker is jumping back and forth to deny all throws, resultant contact typically will be a foul on the marker, as is contact resulting from both the marker and the thrower vying for the same unoccupied position. However, if the marker establishes a legal position, it is a foul on the thrower to pivot into the marker’s body. If there is contact between the thrower and a marker’s extended arms or legs, this also is typically a foul on the marker and is considered a foul on the thrower only if the marker’s extremities were both in legal marking position and completely stationary. For any throw resulting in contact, consider:

  • Was the marker in a legal position to begin with?
  • Was the contact with the marker’s body, or the marker’s arms or legs?
  • If the contact was with the marker’s body, was the marker moving over to prevent the throw, or did the marker already occupy that position before the contact?

Guidance from the USAU Standing Rules Committee is useful in interpreting how to handle some tricky situations, including where the thrower aggressively makes contact with the marker.

1) Any contact with an illegally positioned marker is almost always a foul on the marker.

2) In the case of normal, legitimate, ultimate-related movements of the thrower (pivoting, faking, throwing, etc.), any contact that occurs in the space illegally occupied by the marker is considered “due to the marker setting up an illegal position.”

3) For any contact not addressed by 2) above, if the thrower is the primary cause of the contact, it will not be considered “due to the marker setting up an illegal position.”

Keep in mind that, in games without an Observer, a thrower might call foul and throw the disc downfield anyway, thinking that even if the pass is intercepted or incomplete, the disc will come back to the thrower, whether or not the marker contests the call. With an Observer, if the call is contested and you rule no foul, it is a turnover with play resuming where the disc landed or was intercepted. Consider mentioning this to captains during the pre-game talk.


Watch the thrower’s feet and the disc carefully until the disc is released. After the throw, immediately scan downfield, so that if a travel is called, players can be directed back to the positions that they occupied at the time of the call. Pay special attention to defenders who are well away from the receivers who they are supposed to be covering, in case players ask for assistance in re-positioning. Several situations may prompt travel calls, including:

  • Incorrect pivot location – Know the spot where the disc should be put into play and see whether the thrower’s pivot is correctly positioned when releasing the disc.
  • Absence of ground touch – A player in possession of a live disc (e.g., walking an out-of-bounds pull to the sideline or brick mark) must touch the disc to the ground to put the disc into play.
  • Throwing while running – Count ground contacts as soon as a catch is made (if a player is contacting the ground when catching, the next ground contact as the first one), and be careful to see whether the player accelerates or changes direction. If the disc is released before the third ground contact, and there is no acceleration or direction change, it is not a travel.
  • Pivot moves during throw – Be in position to see the thrower’s feet and the disc, and note whether the pivot leaves its spot before the disc is released. Note that some players have a very quick throwing motion and first step.
  • Throw during a marking foul – Per the USAU Standing Rules Committee’s interpretation of the 11th Edition Rules, a thrower may legitimately be called for a travel even if the player moves his or her pivot foot as a result of being fouled by the marker. This may be addressed in future revisions of the Rules.

Fast Count and Contested Stalls

Listen carefully to the stall count (and monitor with hand counts if necessary) to determine whether the count speed is legal, and listen for acceleration at the end. Although as a general matter, you rule only on the call that is made, in a case where a stall is contested, rule to ensure the correct outcome, whatever the reason for the contest. That is, a stall can be overturned for either the count being too fast or the throw being released before the first utterance of “ten,” regardless of the specific call made by the thrower. Also, a thrower may call fast count for any individual instances of fast counting, even if the marker’s count is consistent, but fast – failure to call prior fast count infractions does not preclude the thrower from calling subsequent fast count infractions. For example, if a marker’s count is fast at 1–2, and is still fast at 7–8, the thrower may call a fast count based on the latter, but may not wait until later in the count to call it on the former.

Receiving and Defending Hucks

Multiple players may simultaneously be vying for the disc on certain (typically deeper) throws, and when players are chasing a floating disc, one or more of them may trip and multiple fouls may be called. It is especially important for the downfield Observer to determine the likely path of the disc, get to the intended area as quickly as possible, and watch approaching receivers and defenders for early interference fouls, such as trips, tackles or blocking out with the elbows. Especially relevant are whether (1) one player is pushing another with his or her hands, (2) there is an obvious sweep across a player’s hands, (3) one player tackles another, or (4) one player uses another to assist in a leap. Unless this sort of activity is taking place, do not rule “boxing out” or similar incidental contact as a foul. Keep in mind that, when adjacent players simultaneously vie for the same position, the contact generally is considered incidental.

If a ruling is requested and no official has a good view of this type of play (such as due to a several players going up at once) or if there are offsetting fouls, the disc is returned to the thrower. On throws into the end zone, get as close to the play as possible without interfering with the players, and always be prepared for the disc to be tipped in another direction until possession is firmly established. Contact initiated by a defender after he or she touches the disc is not a receiving foul. However, if the end result is dangerous play (e.g., offensive player is hit hard or tackled), or the contact prevented the receiver from making a subsequent play on the disc, a general foul or a blocking foul can result. The general foul after the outcome of the play has been determined would not affect possession, but would result in a stoppage of play and player resetting their positions. Remember that, even if the thrower travels, downfield events can impact possession.

Strip Fouls

To establish possession, a player must have both sustained contact with and control of a non-spinning disc. If the disc is still spinning, even slightly, or if the receiver does not have sustained contact or control, and the defender knocks it away, it is not a strip. A strip is a type of foul under the Rules, and a player calling “strip” is implying that he or she established possession of the disc and that contact with the disc caused possession to be lost. However, if you see the player establish possession and the contact causes possession to be lost, uphold a strip or foul call, whether the contact occurred with the disc or with the player. If a strip call is contested, play stops and restarts with a check after the ruling. If you uphold the call and the strip or foul occurred in the end zone, it is a goal. Note that in cases where possession is not yet established, then even if the receiver has been fouled, if he or she calls only “strip” (not foul), he or she should not be awarded the disc, even if you feel that the player was fouled on the catch attempt.

Dangerous Plays

Players have the right to call “dangerous play” when an opponent makes or tries to make a play which could potentially cause serious injury (e.g. a late diving bid by a defensive player who crashes heavily into another player). As with other calls, the “dangerous play” call can be contested, and you may be asked to rule in these types of situations. If you agree with the infracted player that the play was dangerous, uphold the call – the play is then resolved as if the player had called a foul. However, you can also deem a play “dangerous” regardless of the specific call or language that a player uses to stop play. In either case (dangerous play called by a player or by you), the offending player should at a minimum be penalized with a Team Misconduct Foul (see Section V) or possibly a Personal Misconduct Foul or Ejection, depending on egregious nature or severity of the infraction, and the potential for injury.

Disc Up or Down

While this is not an active call, it often is the subject of dispute and you may be asked for a ruling. Making this call accurately nearly always requires you to be very close to the disc. If you are uncertain, send the disc back to the thrower. If you makes an up or down call after a dispute or request, play restarts with a check. Remember, an in or out call is separate from and unrelated to an up or down call. If up or down is not an active call, it is the players’ responsibility to call up or down and up or down should not be considered when making an in or out call.


For a pick call to be legitimate, the defender must be within three meters (approximately 10 feet) of the person he or she is covering. If necessary, consult another Observer who may have been in better position to rule on the call. Because picks often happen away from the disc and the primary cutters, you may not see the play, and in these cases, it is perfectly acceptable to so indicate and defer to the standard rules for continuing play after a pick call. Remember that a picked defender may recover only the relative position lost due to the pick. Even if a pick did occur (and is upheld), you may still rule that the disc stays with the receiver, if you feel that the picked defender could not have made a play on the disc absent the pick.

Player Positioning After a Call

When play stops due to a call, be prepared to help players set up in the appropriate positions before resuming play. If the thrower acknowledges the call and no throw is made, players return the positions they occupied at the time of the call. If a throw was made and the result of the play stands, players return to the positions they occupied when play stopped (generally, when the pass was caught). However, if a throw was made and the disc is returned to the thrower, players return to the positions they occupied the time of the throw or the time of the call, whichever was earlier.

Time Limits

Track time limits, including game start-times, time between pulls, half-times, time-outs, and resuming play after turnovers. See Appendix 1 – Guide to Timekeeping for time limits and when to give warnings, and Appendix 2 – Hand Signals for the appropriate hand signals. Make sure that players understand the hand signals. Once a time limit expires, indicate the potential for continuing play with an appropriate announcement.

On turnovers, you as the soon to be trailing Observer (who will be behind the disc) call out the warnings and then “in play” at the appropriate time. The marker in position may then initiate a stall count, regardless of whether a thrower is in possession or has established a pivot. Be sure to have a spare disc available in case the offense requests one due to the original disc being difficult to retrieve. To end time-outs, call out the appropriate warnings for the offense to set up, and then announce “offense freeze.” Then call out the appropriate warnings to check the disc into play, and if the disc is not checked into play within the allotted time, announce “offense start when ready.”

Only 90 seconds may elapse between a score and the subsequent pull. The receiving team has up to 70 seconds from the preceding score to assume stationary positions and signal readiness (typically, a raised hand). The pulling team has up to 90 seconds from the preceding score to pull. However, if the receiving team has not assumed stationary positions and signaled readiness within the allotted 70 seconds, the pulling team is permitted at least 20 seconds after the receiving team does so, regardless of the 90-second maximum. Face the team whose limits are expiring and announce each warning while giving the appropriate hand signal (to aid players who cannot hear and the Observer at the far end of the field). When the receiving team has signaled readiness, face the pulling team with one arm extended straight up, fingers extended parallel to each other, palm facing forward (see Appendix 2 – Hand Signals). All substitutions must be made before the receiving team signals readiness. Treat the game start-time and the end of half-time as described above for pulls, but give the teams more advance warning, as described in Appendix 1 – Guide to Timekeeping, so that players are not caught by surprise.

If players on the receiving team do not assume legal positions on the goal line and signal readiness within 70 seconds, a time violation warning is given. If the pulling team is not in the act of pulling after 90 seconds, a time violation warning is given. Each team receives one warning per game for violating the time limits for pulls. If a warning is given, make the appropriate hand signal (see Appendix 2 – Hand Signals) and verbally announce it to the team. Restart the clock as soon as the violation is noted on the score sheet. Then the receiving team has no more than 20 seconds to signal readiness, with the pulling team getting an additional 20 seconds to match up and pull. In practice, teams can usually begin play much more quickly after a time violation warning than these limits allow. After a team has received its warning, any further time violation results in assessment of a team time-out (with the resulting time extensions). If a team has no time-outs remaining, the following penalties apply:

  • If they are receiving, they begin with the disc at the midpoint of the end zone they are defending, after players set up and a check is performed.
  • If they are pulling, the receiving team begins with the disc at mid-field, after players set up and a check is performed.


Track the time-outs taken by each team on the score sheet. When a team takes a time-out, inform the team how many time-outs that they have remaining. It is also helpful to inform the teams of this periodically in any event (such as when the end of a half or game is near). If a team with possession of the disc has no timeouts remaining and calls a time-out during play (live disc), plat stops and it is a turnover. There is no effect on possession (the time-out simply is not acknowledged or granted) if the time-out is called during a stoppage in play (dead disc). To take a time-out during play, the handler must form a T with the disc and should audibly announce "time out". If the player calls a time-out such that the disc is not currently where it is to be put into play, the disc should be placed at the location where it is to be put into play.

Outcomes of Rulings

If you uphold a call that is contested (e.g., agree with the thrower that he or she was fouled on the throw), the outcome of the play is the same as if the call had not been contested. If you uphold the contest (overrule the call), the outcome is that same as if the call was retracted. If there are multiple calls, you (and any other observers) must determine exactly what each call was and in what order they were made, generally working backward (from last call to first) to determine the appropriate outcome. After any ruling, players return to the locations that they would occupy under the Rules in the absence of Observers, depending on the ruling (i.e., whether the call was upheld or considered not to have been made), and play restarts with a check.

Observer Stoppages

You have the authority to stop active play in certain situations, in order to deal with significant conduct issues or safety issues, and to extend stoppages of play or time limits between points to handle disputes or other administrative matters. If you stop active play, the situation is treated as if an injury time-out had been called (for the purpose of continuation).

Lightning Delays

When a lightning delay is announced, the disc is immediately ruled dead at the first utterance of the announcement, whether it be verbal or 3 (or more) horn blasts. If announced during a pass, the disc is returned to the thrower regardless of the outcome of the pass. Place the disc on the ground, make a mental note of its placement, and seek shelter. When Tournament Staff announce that it is safe for games to continue, play will resume as if offense had called a time-out, except the stall will come in at the count reached +1 or 6 if over 5. In addition, Observers and captains can discuss enforcing their own lightning delay prior to an official signal. If, prior to an official signal from the Tournament Staff, an Observer notices lightning or notices an indication of lightning (like a facility monitoring system siren), the Observer should stop play immediately, and play stops and restarts according to the above procedure.

Pre-game Discussion with Teams

Arrive at the field early enough to talk with the captains or coaches of both teams (preferably together) without interrupting the teams’ own pre-game talks or warm-ups. Introduce yourself and the crew, and ask if the teams have played with Observers before. Where teams have had experience playing with Observers, it likely is sufficient simply to explain that you will be following the typical protocol on active and inactive calls, that penalties can be assessed for repeated off-sides or time-limit violations, that the misconduct system is in effect, and explain any significant differences that may be in effect for the particular game or tournament.

Where one or both teams have not played with Observes before, the Observer meeting with the captain(s)/coach(es) should at least cover the following points:

  • The Observers’ primary purpose – to assist players in upholding Spirit of the Game by keeping the game moving and intervening where requested or necessary to avoid protracted disputes.
  • Introduce the crew, and what their roles and responsibilities are (Observer, Linesperson, etc.).
  • Competition Rules – point totals, caps, and timeouts.
  • Time limits – You actively track and announce them to the players.
  • Active calls – for time limits and boundary calls (and others where applicable for the specific game or tournament), you make the call and play generally continues.
  • In the end zone – Two hands pointed toward the ground in the end zone indicates only that the play occurred in the end zone. It does not imply an up or down or goal call.
  • Inactive calls – for other calls, it is up to the players; if no call is made, or if one is made, but they agree themselves on a particular outcome (right or wrong), the players’ decision stands.
  • Do-overs – there may be instances where no official is in position to confidently rule; in these cases the disc will get sent back to the thrower, just as players would do absent Observers.
  • Rulings are final – players need not agree to request Observer intervention; if one player requests, then you make a ruling and the ruling is final.
  • Misconduct – explain that if players engage in actions that warrant it, misconduct fouls are assessed, and that repeated instances will result in penalties.
  • Remind teams to maintain clear sidelines.
  • Ask if they have questions and respond as appropriate.

V Player Misconduct System

The conduct system described here is for use at all USAU Series events. You are empowered to sanction teams or individual players who commit deliberate or dangerous infractions, demonstrate patterns of repeated violations, or otherwise show disregard for the Spirit of the Game.

The highest USAU Authority in attendance controls the implementation of the conduct system at USAU tournaments – and is, in descending order: Executive Director, Championship Director, National Director for the relevant division, USAU Event Coordinator, Tournament Director. Tournament directors at other events also may utilize the system, if a majority of team spokespersons approve it before play begins.

This conduct system does not supersede or restrict the function or use of the Tournament Rules Group (TRG) or the USAU Conduct Committee. Both of these avenues are always available for resolving conduct disputes, including the specific cases addressed by the procedures described below. The TRG remains the official mechanism for processing complaints filed with USAU while a tournament is in progress.

For the purposes of this system, “player” means any person on the roster of a team competing in a particular tournament, as well as coaches, managers, trainers and others considered as partisans for the team, including significant others, parents and fans.

Components of the Misconduct System

Technical Foul

A Technical Foul can be assessed against a team for minor conduct violations that do not affect the competitiveness of the game. The first two Technical Fouls issued to a team are noted as warnings on the score sheet, but with no associated penalty. A third or subsequent Technical Fouls for a team in a single game results in a Misconduct Penalty against that team. There is no limit to the number of Technical Fouls or Misconduct Penalties a team can accrue during a game. Technical Fouls do not carry over beyond the game in which they are issued.

Team Misconduct Foul (Blue Card)

A Team Misconduct Foul (TMF) can be assessed against a team for unsportsmanlike conduct by one or more of its players. The TMF can be assessed regardless of whether the infracted team makes any call. The first two TMFs issued to a team are noted as warnings on the score sheet, but with no associated penalty. A third or subsequent TMF for a team in a single game results in a Misconduct Penalty against that team. There is no limit to the number of TMFs or Misconduct Penalties a team can accrue during a game. TMFs do not carry over beyond the game in which they are issued.

Personal Misconduct Foul (Yellow Card)

A Personal Misconduct Foul (PMF) can be assessed against a specific player for particularly egregious conduct or a pattern of such behavior. A PMF is a formal warning for unacceptable behavior and puts the player on notice that any further such actions will result in ejection from the game. A player who receives a second PMF during a single game is ejected for the remainder of that game. If this occurs in the second half of the game, the ejection remains in effect for the first half of the team’s next game. A player who receives three PMFs during a tournament is suspended for the remainder of the tournament. Assessment of a PMF is non-reviewable for the duration of the game, although it may be appealed to the TRG after the game. One TMF is automatically assessed against a team whenever one of its players receives a PMF.

Ejection (Red Card)

A player may be ejected from a game for particularly egregious conduct or a pattern of such behavior. Any player who intentionally strikes an opposing player, or a coach, spectator, Observer or Linesperson, shall be immediately ejected from the game. Any player who strikes in retaliation also shall be ejected. No formal or informal warning is necessary before you eject a player, and an ejection need not be preceded by a TMF or PMF.

If an ejection occurs during the second half of the game, the ejection remains in effect for the first half of the player’s team’s next game. If a player receives more than one ejection in a tournament, that player is suspended for the rest of the tournament, and a formal complaint may be filed with USAU. An ejection is non-reviewable for the duration of the game, although it may be appealed to the TRG after the game.

One TMF is automatically assessed against a team whenever one of its players is ejected.

Game Forfeiture

If five PMFs are assessed against players on a single team during a game, that team forfeits the game. For this purpose, an ejection is equivalent to two PMFs. For example, if three or more players on a single team are ejected, that team forfeits the game. If the situation arises where both teams would be required to forfeit the game due to multiple player ejections, the Competition Director shall convene the TRG and determine the appropriate outcome based on competition considerations.

Behavior Warranting Sanctions

Poor Sportsmanship

When a team demonstrates a pattern of poor sportsmanship or disregard for the Rules, by committing intentional, repeated or flagrant infractions, issue a TMF. If such a pattern is demonstrated by a single player, issue a PMF to that player.

Behavior warranting such sanctions includes deliberate fouling, dangerous play, taunting, fighting, swearing directed at an Observer or opponent, repeated marking fouls, deliberate fast counting or double-teaming, making unwarranted calls or contests, or other blatant disregard of the rules. Any flagrant foul does not require a pattern to result in a TMF or PMF. Likewise, a single particularly violent “harmful endangerment” infraction can be grounds for a PMF or an ejection, at the discretion of the Observer or Linesperson who witnesses the incident. Finally, a single particularly egregious demonstration of disregard for the rules (such as an intentional infraction or clearly unfounded call) can be grounds for a TMF.


Intentionally striking another player with a part of the body, a disc or anything else, or any clear attempt to do so, warrants an ejection. This includes, but is not limited to: punching or kicking, or attempting to punch or kick, someone; spiking, or attempting to spike, a disc on someone; and spitting on someone, or spitting at someone but missing. If a player spikes the disc without intending to hit another player, and it does hit an opposing player, you may assess a TMF or PMF.


If special language rules are in effect for a tournament, loud swearing warrants a technical foul. At your discretion, TMF or PMF may be assessed for swearing if directed at an opposing player or coach, or any spectator, Observer or linesperson.

Deliberate Fouling

A TMF or PMF may be assessed for a particularly hard, dangerous or deliberate foul, at your discretion.


A TMF or PMF may be assessed for unwarranted aggressive (e.g. shoving) or dangerous (e.g. tripping) behavior, at your discretion.


Repeated or prolonged taunting, or any verbal abuse of players, fans or USAU officials, warrants a TMF or PMF, depending on the severity of the offense. In determining which sanction is appropriate, consider whether there appears to be an attempt to intimidate or otherwise gain an advantage over the opponent by such actions, and also the intensity level of the game. Walking away from an incident while jawing or mocking is different than aggressively moving toward the other team’s sideline or being in an opponent’s face. The former is a case of disrespect, and should be discouraged, possibly with a TMF; the latter is verbal assault and may warrant harsher sanctions. There is a difference between saying that a call is (expletive deleted) and that the player or official making the call is (expletive deleted), the latter being more likely to warrant a PMF than a TMF.

Sideline Encroachment

If, after being warned, players on a team continue to crowd the sideline, you may issue a Technical Foul. If the player’s encroachment interferes with play or an observer’s ability to make a call, a TMF should be issued.

Any other behavior described by Article X of the USAU Bylaws may warrant a TMF at your discretion. Finally, any behavior that would warrant the issuance of a TMF, but which occurs in a game without Observers, can result in sanctions upon a complaint filed to the TRG.


Any Observer may assess a Technical Foul, TMF, PMF or ejection. The infraction must have been witnessed by at least one official. For PMFs and ejections, stop play as soon as possible; for the purpose of continuation the situation should be treated like an injury called at the time of the infraction. Technical fouls and TMFs should be assessed at the next stoppage of play after the infraction. During the stoppage, signal the infraction (hand signal or card as appropriate) inform the player(s) and both team captains of the sanction, and record it on the score sheet, and assess any penalties at that point.

Personal Misconduct Fouls and Ejections

Notify the Tournament Head Observer and Competition Director of any PMFs or ejections immediately after the game in which they occur. Game Observers should be informed every time a previously sanctioned player (PMF or ejection) is on the roster of a participating team.

An ejected player must immediately leave the general area where their game is being played, as directed by the Competition Director, TD, or Head Observer. In practice this means the player must remove him or herself at least 100 yards from the specific field and refrain from interacting with any players, coaches, fans, or officials involved in that game. Failure to do so results in a forfeit for that player’s team. If a player plays in a game from which he or she has been ejected, that player is suspended for the entire tournament, and the player’s team forfeits that game and may face harsher sanctions depending on the event. A team whose player is ejected may substitute another player, and the opposing team also may exchange a player if they wish. All players must remain in the positions they occupied when play stopped (no set-up), unless the ejection also triggers a Team Misconduct Penalty, as described in the following sections.

Team Misconduct Penalty Against the Offense

The disc is moved to the reverse brick mark, away from the end zone of attack. The offense is given 30 seconds to set up anywhere on the playing field. After all offensive players have assumed stationary positions, the defense has an additional 20 seconds to match up and check the disc in with a new stall count. Give appropriate time warnings to both teams. If the defense prefers, they can elect to leave the disc where it was when play stopped – in this case no set-up is allowed, and the stall count resumes as if an offensive violation had been called, once teams are ready.

Team Misconduct Penalty Against the Defense

The disc is moved to the brick mark closest the end zone of attack. The offense is given 30 seconds to set up anywhere on the playing field. After all offensive players have assumed stationary positions, the defense has an additional 20 seconds to match up and check the disc in with a new stall count. Give appropriate time warnings to both teams. Two other options are available to the offense:

Leave the disc where it was when play stopped, no player set-up, new stall count.

Center the disc on the long axis of the field, normal player set-up, new stall count.

Team Misconduct Penalty Assessed Between Points

There is no pull. If the penalty is against the receiving team, the disc is put into play at the brick mark in the end zone they are defending. If the penalty is against the pulling team, the receiving team puts the disc into play at the brick mark closest to the end zone they are attacking. Each team may substitute players as usual, and normal time limits apply.

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