Dodgeball has gone inclusive.
The playground game (yes, the same one parents and researchers occasionally demonize as gym-class-sanctioned bullying) is a sport in transition.
In fact, organizers say, as live sports resume at the community, recreational and club levels, it might be just what is needed to bring people back together, particularly those who have missed gym time, lost touch with their fitness tribe and are looking for a way to reconnect with sports – without feeling self-conscious after spending time away from organized sports.
And dodgeball, they say, fits the bill. After all, it’s familiar to almost everyone, the rules are simple, no special equipment is needed and unless you’re planning to compete at an elite level (more on that later), you don’t need much training to participate.
According to Duane Wysynski, president of the World Dodgeball Federation (WDBF), the sport is showing unprecedented growth now, and is poised for even more success in the future.
“Current expansion is driven by the accessibility and affordability of the sport, and how easily it can be introduced to youth and schools, especially in areas with significant economic barriers, Wysynski told Sports Pro Media. “Socially, dodgeball is one of the few international sports that features mixed competition, in addition to men’s and women’s divisions.”
In 2019, Jake Mason of USA Dodgeball told SDM that success starts by welcoming players at the recreational level.
“Participation is growing because there are a lot of opportunities to play recreationally and that can lead people into competitive play. We now have a National Collegiate Dodgeball Association as well. There are more dodgeball leagues on the west coast, but others are picking up.”
And yes, there is a Team USA in dodgeball (and teams for other nations as well). Sports Pro Media notes, “The very first World Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, set the tone for a series that would see the event taken to cities such as Hong Kong, Melbourne, Toronto and Los Angeles before a pause in 2020 for what would have been the eighth installment in Glasgow. The Dodgeball World Championships will be back in 2022 with a European host, and an expanded format that will feature two-dozen competing nations. Since its inception, the WDBF has grown from fewer than ten countries in 2017 to more than 60 today.”
It is also making inroads into the international multi-sport scene. This summer, dodgeball debuts at both the TAFISA (The Association For International Sport for All) World Games and in the International Workers and Amateurs in Sports Confederation (CSIT) World Sport Games. It will also be included for the first time at the Gay Games in Hong Kong in 2022.
In addition, dodgeball has made tremendous strides to create a welcoming culture for all players. Sports Pro Media noted that dodgeball has been adapted for athletes with disabilities, including those in wheelchairs and those with other physical or developmental challenges.
Oh, and there’s a beach version of the game as well.
And, as it turns out, there’s much to learn from it. USA TODAY profiled the sport, debunking the concept that it was a form of targeting others, and reframing it as a teaching tool in the school of life.
Of course, says Jake Mason, the movie with Vince Vaughan and Ben Stiller did not help the image of the sport.
“Oh, it hindered it. Everyone loves a silly movie, but dodgeball is a legitimate sport. And the movie was playing on the brutality for laughs so of course, you had people thinking the sport is all about people getting hit in the head or the face or below the belt and being knocked out. In reality, you can get in trouble at the elite level for what’s called ‘headhunting.’ On the world stage, head shots are allowed but we are also using a foam ball. The movie made it look like it was always this excessive, brutal combat.”
Which, he says, could not be further from the truth, since at the elite level, the sport uses strategy, as well as accuracy and dexterity.
And, he adds, it’s friendly.
“Most often, people get involved through adult rec sports leagues. They’re looking for something fun to do, and dodgeball is active and social. They remember the basic rules from when they were in school, so it’s easy for them to play. Then they catch the bug and eventually, they wind up playing at the higher levels.”