Dodgeball nightmares …

Ever notice that syndrome when there’s a mention of something long forgotten, and you go “huh,” and then over the next couple of weeks, more and more articles spring up on the very same topic, just like dandelions on your lawn?

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That’s how I feel about a recent spate of articles talking about dodgeball. I hated that game with the passion of a thousand burning suns, and here I am almost 50 years later, still shuddering at the memory.

Still, when Michelle Obama headlines a celebrity game, maybe you have to rethink your elementary and junior high horrors.

Or not. It seems dodgeball is one of those love ’em or hate ’em games (although I’m still not going to join ’em!).

Let’s look at the anti-dodgeball camp first. New research recently presented at one of the largest academic gatherings held annually addressed dodgeball as sanctioned bullying in secondary school. In an Ottawa Citizen story, lead author Joy Butler, professor of curriculum and pedagogy at the University of British Columbia said in her abstract:

“Despite the fact that many physical educators understand their vital role in helping students develop robust, equal, productive relationships and critical awareness, their practices on the ground do not always reflect this agenda. We suggest that this tension becomes sharply visible in the common practice of allowing students to play dodgeball.”

Or as co author Claire Robson told Global News: “Dodgeball is the only sport where the human body is used as a target.” On purpose, I might add, given that in some highly competitive sports contact can be accidental or even accidentally on purpose. (Am I bitter? Yes. The fact that I know rain is coming from a twitch in my right knee is thanks to a rather unpleasant collision playing basketball in the ninth grade, but I digress.)

Dodgeball, the authors of the study say, functions as tool of oppression sanctioned by gym teachers who ought to know better. Butler is blunt. She calls the game “legalized bullying.”

Not so, cry the members of the pro-dodgeball camp. The head of Dodgeball Canada went into damage control after the research made headlines. Duane Wysynski told CBC’s As It Happens that dodgeball is really about collaboration: “What we try to do with dodgeball is, especially for youth, we focus on the aspects of teamwork, strategy, of fellowship within the game, of communication on the court. And winning becomes kind of secondary at that age.”

I’m thinking that the adult dodgeplayer Wysynski wants to believe that because that’s his experience with adult teams. I’m not sure youngsters would agree entirely with that premise given that some of the youth the academic team spoke to were frank about the dynamics they saw at play. Perhaps Michelle Obama will rehabilitate the game for adults, the way ultimate frisbee is universally enjoyed as a competitive and challenging sport.

I’m not entirely convinced that dodgeball isn’t still a twisted version of musical chairs with painful shins as your reward for a hasty and painful exit. What say you, faithful readers? Is this game an exercise in strategic collaboration or is it the ninth circle of hell?

MarthaFitat55 is a dodgeball survivor who prefers instead to apply her collaborative strategies in the gym to dead lifts and squats.

3 thoughts on “Dodgeball nightmares …

  1. Put me firmly in the “if there were never anymore dodgeball, the world would be a better place” camp! It seems designed to pick on bigger, slower kids who already know through the social hierarchies that they are less-than their peers. I am going to assume DW was slender and athletic in his youth. And no, there’s no teamwork or strategizing, it’s every kid for themselves picking off whomever they can as fast as they can.

  2. Ninth circle of hell. We had a sadistic gym teacher whose only lessons plans seemed to include humiliating the scrawny uncoordinated kids or the heavy kids. Dodgeball was high on his list of preferred activities. He seemed to take a particular delight when the gigantic football players ganged up on some hapless kid. I figured out that if I took a hit early, I could go sit by the wall and read.

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