Dodgeball – “Time to Grab Life By the Ball”
When most people think of dodgeball their minds immediately flick to an American film from 2004. “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.” This was the infamous catchphrase of the Irish coach in a wheelchair, Patches O'Houlihan.
I should explain for the uninitiated that the main objective of the game is to eliminate the other team by hitting the opposition players mercilessly with balls. Equally effective is catching the balls that are being thrown to reinstate your team member.
In Great Britain, from 2005 on, groups such as the UK Dodgeball Association (UKDBA) have been set up to encourage the sport to develop domestically and to also perform on the international stage. The ultimate aim is for dodgeball to become an Olympic sport in the future.
I have had experience of two types of dodgeball in the UK. One type is what can be described as social dodgeball. The UKDBA runs the other more competitive one. I became a very keen dodgeball player while at university and recently decided to find out more about the background to its development in this country.
When interviewed Tom Hickson, the UK Dodgeball Association’s Vice-President explained, “The UK Dodgeball Association is recognised as the National Governing Body for dodgeball by the four Sports Councils of the United Kingdom”.
Mr Hickson went on to say, “Over the last few years the league system has developed in England, a divisional structure has been devised so that all clubs have greater opportunities to compete. As a result the current structure has Regional Division Two conferences across England, leading onto the National Dodgeball League Division One and finally onto the nation’s top flight league, the Dodgeball Premier League.”
The UKDBA has also set up competitions such as the Six Nations Dodgeball Tournament, which includes the home nations (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland), Ireland and France. There is also a European championship that includes the six nations and other countries such as Romania, Sweden and Italy. dodgeball is beginning to have an impact in Europe and the even stranger thing is the England Lions are dominating the field!
An area of dodgeball that has been expanding through the UKDBA is that of women's dodgeball. In the last few years exclusively female tournaments have been introduced and as of this year a women’s premier league has been created just as with the men’s game. It was remarkable to see first hand the dramatic growth of the women’s game at my university club - the Winchester Bullets. Initially we only had one female dodgeball player playing the sport. By my third year, we had enough female players for three teams to compete in tournaments.
In addition, the UKDBA dodgeball “activators” have been appointed within targeted localities to help develop dodgeball in schools and create new community clubs. Last year over 300 secondary schools were introduced to dodgeball and play on a regular basis.
Finally, the UKDBA is actively promoting dodgeball as an inclusive sport for all in a similar manner to wheelchair basketball with a view to it becoming a next generation Paralympic event as exciting as wheelchair rugby.
The main game differences between competitive and social dodgeball are that there are fewer balls, three instead of six in the competitive format and there are also only six rather than eight players on each team. As a result competitive dodgeball seems a more tactical affair with best of five three-minute games. To master this format requires good communication and picking the same target rather than throwing at two separate people. Other vital attributes include powerful throwing, catching skill and dodging.
As mentioned earlier, dodgeball can also be played as a fun social sport. Go Mammoth, a London sport organisation has set up a more relaxed league and the teams do not tend to take it as seriously.
They play best of three sets and use six balls. This makes the games shorter and more manic. In my view the six balls system is not such a good number to play with as three. I can understand copying the number from the movie however if there are three balls on each side it is not clear who is required to throw sometimes leading to an awkward stand off! There are eight players in each team and there is a requirement that at least three of the players must be girls.
According to Go Mammoth’s Dodgeball Manager, Ollie Gordon, “When Go Mammoth first introduced dodgeball; there were a fair few players who had never even heard of the sport. Since then, dodgeball has dramatically grown in popularity, especially within the corporate world with many companies enjoying playing their competitors in a social environment after work. This time two years ago we had one dodgeball league with about 50 players, and to date we now have ten leagues with around 1000 people playing each season which is continuing to rapidly grow.”
Personally I think both types of dodgeball have their positives and negatives and in the more competitive format some of the games can be slow burners as only three balls are being used.
Never however, have I played in a game that can turn around so quickly as in dodgeball. One catch can change the outcome of a match and once you build momentum you can even win with only 10 to 15 seconds left, grabbing victory literally at the last gasp!
Another thing I have noticed is that there do not appear to be as many London teams as those from outside the capital taking part in the competitive leagues. This is slowly beginning to change and teams from UCL and Imperial College now compete in the leagues. Could St.Mary’s be the next London based university to make their mark on the dodgeball scene?
Over the last two to three years dodgeball has most certainly grown as a sport in the UK. Mr Hickson, who is also in charge of the representation of the UK on an international scale, is responsible for leading on an 11-15 year strategy for the sport. He has commented, “This involves a plethora of milestones which include developing a World Cup, a World Rankings System, gaining SPORTACCORD Membership, being included within the World Games and having a minimum of 75 National Governing Bodies that are recognised by their National Olympic Committee as the recognised body for dodgeball.”
Mr Gordon in response to the idea of dodgeball becoming an Olympic sport said, “We feel that everyone should give dodgeball a go as it is so fun and suitable to all abilities. If dodgeball being an Olympic sport helps encourage this participation globally as well as in the UK, then that would be great.”
Hopefully the sport will continue to thrive and above all else the most important thing to remember if you are interested in playing the game is those vital five Ds of Dodgeball -