A Commentary on Dodgeball and Its Importance to Child Development

“Speaking of child abuse, next stop grade school! Where he won’t be allowed to play tag because it encourages victimization. And he won’t be able to play dodgeball because it’s exclusionary and promotes aggression. Standing around is still okay. Standing around is still permitted but it won’t be for long because sooner or later some kid is gonna be standing around and his foot will fall asleep and his parents will sue the school and it will be goodbye [expletive] standing around!”- George Carlin

This past week, I was conducting a Civil War camp for students at a nearby school, the grade-levels ranging from entering fifth grade to entering high school. We took a lightning-tour through all the causes of war, and every major battle, person, and event that I could cram into the fifteen hours we spent together in those five days. Aside from me speaking to them using PowerPoints and showing battle scenes and clips from various movies, we had to pass the time in some other way, one which would be both educational and fun. The only thing that came to mind was dodgeball, a childhood favorite of…well…everyone. It also served as a way to reenact some of the battles we learned about. For Manassas, we split into two groups, North and South of course, and had to just march toward one another, firing off the dodgeballs. They had to stay shoulder to shoulder for two volleys before they were allowed to run around in the general insanity that would ensue in playing such a fun sport. For Fredericksburg, we set up a barricade using a giant gym mat, which one side, playing as the Confederates, had to hide behind while the Union attacked it. On the last day, we explored the trench warfare that developed in Petersburg, by giving barricades to both sides. There was one difference with our game, which we called “War Ball”, and that was if you got hit, you had to lay down like you were killed in battle. There were no sidelines and no catching the ball to make the thrower out. If you were hit anywhere, that was it, though sometimes we made an exception if someone got hit in the arm—they had to play the rest of the match with it behind their back as if it was amputated in a field hospital. Everyone had a blast, including myself, which makes the taboo surrounding this recreational activity all the more ridiculous.

What is the stigma, you are wondering? Well, as society descends deeper and deeper into hell, via the proverbial handbasket, games that people have played for decades, namely ones that promote being aggressive [and having loads of fun] are appearing under the microscope, with the big-Whigs in charge deciding whether or not these activities are “appropriate” (there’s a school-related word for you). The sport of dodgeball has been banned in public schools in New Jersey, one of the main reasons being the severe bullying laws we have in this state. If you follow their logic, apparently if a child is being bullied, and said child is in the midst of a dodgeball game, that would automatically mean that everyone on the court would be aiming at him or her, thus increasing bullying, and changing the aura around the sport from being one of mindless fun and physical activity to one of anger and premeditated violence. Typical New Jersey. Typical ultra liberal politicians and lawmakers, and overreacting parents.

If I remember correctly, I played dodgeball, or various forms of it, in gym class and recess until I was in sixth grade. Once I moved to middle school, not only did recess end forever, but so did the sport that everyone could not get enough of. After a two-year hiatus in the middle school, it briefly returned to high school, as a softened, capture-the-flag-esque game called “Rocket Ball”, because that was the name for all our school sports teams: the “Rockets”. (Apparently, there was a loophole around the ban, and that was to call the game a different name. The brilliant minds at work must think that somehow, if you can change the name, you change the outcome.) We used foam balls that barely flew, and had to capture a cone or something incredibly lame like that. Call it whatever you want, whether you consider it a sport, game, or activity, but it was ruined. The easiest thing in the world, both in setting up and playing, was tarnished, and would never recover.

Now, you may be wondering why I would devote an entire article to dodgeball, because it could not possibly be that important. Well, after what I witnessed this past week, I would say that the activity, or lack thereof, is very important to the development of a child. We played a game of it every single day for the week, and it never got old. On the contrary, they could not get enough. The barricades, rule changes, and obstacles only enhanced it, and it was very pleasing to see these kids actually huddle up and create strategies, especially during our trench warfare day, while under no direction from me at all—I enlisted as a private, and followed orders from the “General” in charge during that particular game. It gave them a chance to get creative (surprising me with how elaborate they could get with a simple battle plan), learn, and more importantly, burn off some energy and just be a kid.

We live in a world where no one can be a loser anymore. In sports, everyone gets a trophy or a medal, and we, as a society, cannot tolerate someone’s feelings being hurt. Somehow, though people have been losing games of all types for thousands of years, we have to put an end to that, and give ourselves assurance that every child is special and every child, in the eyes of their parents, is God’s gift to the world and can do no wrong. We have seen it with youth sports, how parents get into full-blown arguments with each other in the stands, often leading to violence, or attacking the coaches because their child was not placed in a certain position in the batting order, or given a lot of ice time in a hockey game. We have even gone to take it a step further, by overreacting as much as we possibly can, and even inventing stigmas of our own, dodgeball being one of them. We have also over-complicated everything. No longer can we make assertions based on our own, personal observations and intuition, but we rely much on “experts” such as doctors, child psychiatrists, and therapists who will tell you about the horrors and psychological effects that a child’s mind is experiencing because he got hit with a ball or lost a game. (Of course they will! Because they need people lined up outside their offices to make a buck!)

The only time I remember people crying when we played is if someone accidentally got hit dead in the face with a ball and did not have a chance to brace themselves. There was never a march to the nurse’s office, or any outrage from parents or students. Heck, if our parents were watching and someone got hurt, rather than sympathy tears and coddling, it was more like, “Ah, you’re fine! Get back out there!” Needless to say, no one died. But now, my goodness, the sport of dodgeball encourages victimization and promotes aggression, which will obviously lead to mental anguish, pain, suffering, and torture. How long before recess is banned all together, because little kids may fall and get hurt on the playground, and bigger kids may jam their fingers shooting basketballs?

The situation is not dire like those in power and those with agendas would make it seem. When we played this week, we did not even have dodgeballs—we used soccer balls and volleyballs, which as you can imagine, sting a little bit more than a plush-foam or light rubber ball. Kids were running all over the place, these balls flying through the air left and right, and do you want to know what happened? Everyone had fun. Nobody got hurt and nobody cried, not even in this extreme version (especially when one “army” was down to one last “soldier”, and the other side intentionally had to target that person to win the “battle”). Out of five days of playing, for an average of about an hour each day, only two kids got hit in the head, which were both by accident (I should know, since one of my lobs as an artillery shot landed right on the top of this kid’s head—no harm done). At the end of each day, they could not wait to come back to the school again for more. Why can’t this be the portrait of dodgeball and games like it? I guess laughter, smiles, and strategy needs to move over and make way for a dramatic shot of a kid lying on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance.

Does anyone wonder that maybe the leading cause of why children today have so many issues with concentration and behavior disorders that lead to bent up rage is because they move from class to class to class without having a chance for a release? We seem to forget that children have stress, maybe not in copious amounts like if they were on their own in the real world, but they have their own kind nonetheless. When have all these school shootings and comparable altercations taken place? In the time frame of when these ridiculous suggestions and overreactions became commonplace. That is no coincidence. Maybe if a kid had the chance to peg a rubber ball at someone and release his anger that way, he would not feel the urge to try to find the gun his dad has “hidden” up in the closet, to bring in and shoot his classmates with. As I said earlier, sixth grade was the last time I had recess. In middle and high school, lunch time was a little bit longer than 20 minutes, and gym classes were a joke. Only 45 minutes to begin with, the first and last ten minutes were wasted changing in the locker room, then when we finally sat down on the floor to get started, we had to waste even more time stretching. I never understood why these coaches and teachers were so fascinated with warming up, because how can anyone pull a muscle just standing around doing nothing, which is what most of the kids ended up doing anyway?

Recess has gone from a break where kids can run around and be wacky to a break where they just sit around and talk because all the fun activities have been banned. Gym class, forever a farce, has become even more pointless. Forget about obesity as a reason for increasing gym classes and physical activity; I would bet you all the money I have that by extending recess into middle and high school, and increasing the length of gym classes, to allow for the playing of real sports, you would see better academic performance in the classroom and fewer trips to the disciplinarian’s office. It started with dodgeball, and before long, as George Carlin joked about, it may lead to a ban on “standing around”. It’s all relative, especially in New Jersey, where one bad thing happening to one single person can result in law changes that affect everyone else in the state.

What’s sad is the fact that as I sit here typing, telling you how awesome my experiences were this past week, some parent in the Land of Oz is probably on the phone with a lawyer right now because her child became emotionally distraught and demoralized after being singled out, targeted, and victimized in a game of kindergarten freeze-tag. That scenario is more fact than fantasy, I assure you, and we have only done it to ourselves. These ridiculous notions did not fall out of the sky, they were our own inventions, placed here to keep people under our control, starting at the youngest ages possible, resulting in the stripping of children’s individuality and turning them into an army of drones who only want to sit in front of a television screen and burn brain cells playing video games. Thinking and emotional release is not allowed, and with that, neither is fun. If children want to play war, they don’t go the dodgeball or manhunt route (after dark, that was always an incredibly fun game, wandering around your friend’s neighborhood and hiding), they pop in Call of Duty and blast people to pieces with machine guns, rocket launchers, and grenades. (Hmm…what’s that thing about video games causing violence?) And you can just forget about paintball being a viable option—goodness gracious! Kids might die doing that!

The only way we can change this is by speaking up, and letting those in charge know that we will not tolerate these laws that govern every inch of our lives. I was not joking around earlier when I said that dodgeball has been banned in New Jersey. It’s actually not the only state with such a statute on the books. Imagine that. We have become used to needing permits and permission to do everything in our lives, because the clueless population needs to be governed, but it is actually illegal for children to go to opposite sides of a gym and throw balls at each other in a competitive atmosphere under the supervision of an adult, at least in public schools. With all the problems we have today, and all the laws we actually do need but don’t have, somehow, a law on fun does not seem to be so important. Just how did that legislative meeting go that day? Debating gun control? No. Discussions on important social issues? No. Debating legalizing marijuana? No. Debating universal healthcare and states’ rights? No. Hey, who wants to ban dodgeball? Bingo! Let’s do it! Seems to me like it’s the politicians who need to get their priorities in order, not children who want to have fun in recess. Parents, take note too, for you are just as guilty. Stop sapping the childhood from your children with a stranglehold and let kids be kids—they’ll be adults soon enough.

This is the second in an ongoing and random collection of commentaries on child behavior, based on my own personal observations as a teacher and coach. No degree in psychology needed; just common sense. Please check out the first writing, The X-Box Syndrome: A Non-Professional Commentary on Child Behavior and Concentration.

5 thoughts on “A Commentary on Dodgeball and Its Importance to Child Development

  1. When I was in 1st grade, I suffered a head injury from dodgeball. This has resulted in two brain surgeries, seizures, and many other side effects.

    With that out of the way, let me state categorically that I believe my accident was just that: an accident. It could have happened to anyone. I also believe that dodgeball is a right of passage for children. Some will get hurt, just like in football or baseball, but the majority don’t.

    1. I’m very sorry that happened to you, and I thank you very much for sharing. I appreciate the fact that you consider it an accident. Accidents always happen, and kids will always get hurt, but not more in dodgeball than in other school-legal sports.

      Hell, in my junior year of HS, I was playing a meaningless game of basketball in gym, jumped up for a rebound, and fell down awkwardly on my ankle. I heard the pop as I came down and thought it was broken. Luckily, it was just a bad sprain. I could have been angry and blamed the sport and tried to get it stopped in school like other overreacting people do, but I was angrier at myself for 1) trying so hard in a game that meant nothing and 2) being stupid enough to get caught up in the moment and not have proper footing on the way down.

      1. Well shit happens in life. I could be bitter about it, or I could just go on. I choose the latter. When a friend of mine from high school tried to get it banned from gym, I stepped up and said my peace. Guess what? We kept dodgeball.

  2. Chuck

    Did you imply that lunch period at your elementary school was only 20 minutes long? Presumably that includes eating and then either exercising the calories off outside or killing time indoors in the library or a commons area. That’s how it worked when I was in grade school, but my lunch period was over twice as long as 20 minutes.

    I would suppose that such a short lunch period and probably a lack of exercise are bigger problems facing kids today than their dodgeball abilities (or lack thereof).

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