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Dodge City

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Howdy all – your friendly neighborhood (to)p here. I’ve been working very hard with my friend Bryan to create another great Activity Curriculum (AC) for the staff of iD Tech. One of my main tasks has been to read through all of my game descriptions, correct little errors and delete redundancy. As I go through this exercise, I am reminded why the AC exists.

I’ve been teaching and creating games for 20 years. Yes – 2 decades. My father once brought me with him while he was running games for a group of young Cub Scouts. Something came up, and although I was 11, I was left to finish the day as more and more Cub Scouts arrived. That was the beginning of a lifelong pursuit to bring safe fun to large groups through new and unique experiences.

Since then, I worked with a bunch of classmates to create something called PacManhattan, where we made a live-action version of Pac Man around Washington Square Park; I’ve had games at many game festivals across the United States; I won an award for Field Tower Defense; and I’m even about to launch my own Kickstarter campaign for a game I test with the iD audience (more on that another time).

Something that always comes up in my travels, regardless of what wacky or new ideas I bring to people is Dodgeball – one of the most beloved and despised games in American culture – the constant bane of Physical Education teachers throughout the land.

But why?

Let’s review the negative sides of Dodgeball so that we can create games that maintain the fun part, but eliminate the crummy part.

1. Dodgeball is inherently violent.

Sorry. It’s true. The goal of the game is to hit someone with a ball. There really is no getting around that!

Think about it this way: Most able-bodied players can dodge a ball that is lobbed toward them. This means that to be successful, the thrower needs to use a high-velocity throw. Unfortunately, the faster that we (as in all humans, including professional athletes) try to throw an object, the less control we have over our aim. The result is a safety compromise that isn’t really made in other outdoor (or indoor) activities. Getting hit in the face by a rubber playground ball is unlikely to cause major damage, but can do enough in minor injuries for parents to take notice. I’ve suffered a few red patches myself from over-aggressive players.

2. Many variations of Dodgeball put players out.

I hate games where players have to sit – unless only for a little bit. Players that are not particularly skilled in Dodgeball can spend the majority of multiple rounds on the sidelines, which is no good. Sitting on the sidelines is rarely fun for anyone – even with the promise of getting back into the game.

3. There is little skill variance in Dodgeball.

Many games allow players with different abilities to contribute almost equally. Think about the difference between fielding and kicking in kickball – slow players, fast players, big players, little players – all can find a way to be part of the team (when including the strategic bunt, of course).

Dodgeball uses three basic skills: throwing, catching and dodging. The players that are good at all three can dominate over and over again. Players without the ability to dodge and catch are sitting ducks – which leads to…

4. Unskilled or fearful players are punished in Dodgeball.

Younger people have a tendency to gang up on others – particularly those that appear weaker for one reason or another. My goal is to ensure (to the best of my ability) the safety (emotionally and physically) of all of the participants – and therefore I avoid presenting situations that single anyone out for any extended amount of time. A player that is simply afraid of the ball is unlikely to overcome the fear while being bombarded – literally.

Beyond that, the variance in ages at iD Tech and most places I work with present a potentially dangerous scenario on the Dodgeballc ourt. Is this game teen-only? So 17-year-olds are playing 13-year-olds? That is a major gap in athletic ability and a definite potential for excessive risk!

5. Young people have a hard time separating tactical decisions and bullying – especially when getting hit by an object.

Many arguments against Dodgeball seem silly to adults. This is because adults think very differently than young people – even teens. You can argue that every one of the participants *really* wants to play and understands the risk involved. You can even have each players sign an agreement stating their pure excitement and love for Dodgeball…

But then the game happens and a player gets pegged… and laughed at. The moment fades quickly to everyone else, but that participant remembers. Parents don’t like to feel like their child is being picked on – and unfortunately, Dodgeball lends itself to creating these memories again and again… So much so that the overwhelmingly predominant cliche associated with the game is about how badly unfit players feel about playing. That says a LOT!

So now that I’ve tried to thoroughly ruin your fun, there is a solution that try to solve most of these problems: Consider the ball.

Rubber playground balls do not cut it in Dodgeball anymore – in fact, few balls do. That’s why we encourage the use of Trash Balls or super-soft athletic balls < note that the description says “Sting free.”

I want to create situations that are fun for everyone. Playing versions of Dodgeball that take into account the factors above do not ruin the experience. Sure, the players may not be able to knock one another down, but why is that necessary?

What are your safe Dodgeball variations?

  • Matt Allen

    Hey Pete,

    After reading through your post I can see where your concerns are. I have a slight suggestion on a variation that can help kids stay in the game.

    The suggestion is cliche but it helps kids not feel left out.
    The variation would be ZombieBall

    ZombieBall would have all the basics of dodge ball but when a player is hit from the opposing team, instead of sitting out, they join that team.

    This can lead to an awesome advantage for the kid who may not be as athletic. They will be able to switch teams to be on the winning team. In the end the team with the most kids would be up against those who able to “survive” the longest.

    Essentially this allows kids to not feel bad if they are out. But also allows them to try hard every time so that they can seek to be the last man standing against all the other kids.

    ` Matt Allen (Chalk -OSU iD Tech Camp)

  • Matt Allen

    Hey Pete,

    After reading through your post I can see where your concerns are. I have a slight suggestion on a variation that can help kids stay in the game.

    The suggestion is cliche but it helps kids not feel left out.
    The variation would be ZombieBall

    ZombieBall would have all the basics of dodge ball but when a player is hit from the opposing team, instead of sitting out, they join that team.

    This can lead to an awesome advantage for the kid who may not be as athletic. They will be able to switch teams to be on the winning team. In the end the team with the most kids would be up against those who able to “survive” the longest.

    Essentially this allows kids to not feel bad if they are out. But also allows them to try hard every time so that they can seek to be the last man standing against all the other kids.

    ` Matt Allen (Chalk -OSU iD Tech Camp)