Dodgeball – threat or opportunity?

I was skimming through my Scoopit feed on Physical Education  when I happened upon an article about Dodgeball. I didn’t Scoopit, but instead tweeted the link, but with an invitation for #pegeeks to comment.

My first thought after reading the article was that banning a game outright seemed to be pretty harsh. I thought the article relied on some knowledgeable PE elders viewing the game through a deficit lens for it’s stance. The effects and “hidden curriculum” of the game were seen as inequitable and unfair, reinforcing power inequities in the PE class. Fair enough, I thought, if you settled for the original version of the game. It was definitely a threat in that case.

I don’t know – maybe it’s the way I think but some threats have the potential to become opportunities.

I know we regularly play a game similar to Dodgeball – but different because we (and by we, I mean my students and I) de-constructed the game and reconstructed it into something that kids were happy to play in mixed gender classes.

We started with a game called “Binball”, and I guess it featured the same inequities as Dodgeball. The aim of the game was to either eliminate the other team by hitting them with the ball, or by hitting a target (usually a bin). We always used soft practice volleyballs in our game, so that wasn’t seen as worth changing.

If you fumbled a ball and it hit the ground, you were out too. Once you were out, you were out. We experienced what I guess the PE elders in the article saw – strong, agile kids winning the game, less able kids eliminated early. The kids didn’t like it, the staff didn’t like it. We didn’t ban it. We changed it.

Firstly, the kids wanted rules to change. They came up with the “strike zones” – where the ball, if it hit you, would get you out. They decided below the waist was out, above the waist but below the shoulder was not out, above the shoulder got the thrower thrown out of the game. They also didn’t like kids getting out early and being out for the duration. So they decided that if someone on your team could hit the basketball backboard at the other end of the court, then anyone that was out was returned to the game. “Fumbles” were still given out, unless someone on your team caught the fumble. They didn’t like people guarding the bins, so blocking in front of the bin was outlawed.

These rule changes made the games more even, produced much longer games with recycled players getting chances to return to the game, and produced exciting 1 v 1 finishes, often between students that were not regarded as “stars”. We saw the advent of tactics, students assuming specific roles at particular points of the game and they recognised the importance of team play and communication rather than individual prowess.

One of the strongest reasons we persisted with the game was that the students wanted to play it, but play it so everyone had a chance. This student led intent made it easy to reinvent the game. I’m happy we had the chance to re-imagine the game and allow the kids to reshape the threat into an opportunity.

We don’t play Binball all the time – usually it’s saved for wet weather when we only have indoor courts available. But the kids still ask for it.

As with so many things in our teaching careers, do you see opportunity where others see a threat? I’d like to think my students do too, now.

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2 thoughts on “Dodgeball – threat or opportunity?”

  1. I’m glad that you wrote this and replied to the post on twitter (which led me to follow this link). We play a version of dodgeball where if students are hit (below the waist, with a soft ball) they go to ‘dodgeball jail’, a bench on their opponents side of the court. Their team can ‘free’ them by throwing a ball to them – if they catch it they rejoin the game. This extends the game and means that it only ends once the entire team is in jail. Students love it and I think it prevent a lot of the issues associated with traditional dodgeball. It becomes more tactical and getting people out is not the only focus as you also have to free your teammates in order to be successful.


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