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Receiving Fouls – The Principle of Verticality

Lots of players don’t realize that they are entitled to the vertical space above them when the disc is in the air. And for those who do know about the principle of verticality, many aren’t always clear on how to know if a foul has been committed.

First, it’s important to understand what the principle of verticality is and then it’s important to understand how to interpret the rule in order to determine if a foul has been committed.

According to the USA Ultimate 11th Edition Rules,

b. Receiving Fouls:

3. The Principle of Verticality: All players have the right to enter the air space immediately above their torso to make a play on a thrown disc. If non-incidental contact occurs in the airspace immediately above a player before the outcome of the play is determined (e.g., before possession is gained or an incomplete pass is effected), it is a foul on the player entering the vertical space of the other player.

The explanation should be straight forward but essentially if you are going after a disc then you have the right to the space directly above your head. If the opposing player jumps for the disc and comes into the space above your head and hits you, thereby affecting your ability to catch the disc, then you can call a foul.

However, in a situation like in this video: (at 0:47), the guy who Beau leapt over didn’t even start t0 jump by the time Beau caught the disc. Obviously having someone jump over a player is very rare but I wanted to use this video to illustrate a point. If you are clearly skied by someone and they are catching the disc just as you start to jump, although they might be in your vertical space, that space is no longer yours since the contact won’t be incidental – had you jumped at the same time they did, then sure you can call the foul, but to call a foul when you are clearly just out jumped isn’t a valid or fair foul call.

Since calling a foul is all about perspective, there are several situations for every play. What’s important is to develop the ability to realize what situation you are involved in and to make the appropriate call. The same is true if someone else calls a foul on you although you clearly out jumped them – have a discussion with them about what happened. Just because someone calls a foul doesn’t mean they’re right and it doesn’t mean their call will stand.

I’d love to hear your experiences with the Principle of Verticality. Have you witnessed a play where someone was simply out jumped but they still called a foul? What happened in the ensuing discussion?

2 thoughts on “Receiving Fouls – The Principle of Verticality”

  1. Rob,

    Every call in ultimate must be supported by the rules. Otherwise it is not a valid call. In the case you described above, I would agree that a foul call is not warrented. But to support that assertion, I explain that to call a foul implies that the contact is non-incidental (ie, the contact affected the outcome of the play). BUT, the outcome of the play was decided well before the contact; Beau determined the outcome by jumping early and high. Thus, the player has no foul call.

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