As many of you know I taught Physical Education for a few years. For the record, I was never a certified PE teacher. I ended up there because I’d been an Athletic Director for 9-years and switched over to PE due to problems with a new boss, but that’s a blog for another day (and what a blog it will be). I’m actually certified to teach grades 1-8 and had a minor in History. Anyway, my few years in the gym were interesting ones to put it mildly.
I was constantly getting these ridiculous emails from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. They had all these strongly worded recommendations (backed by studies!) that stated I should avoid “games of competition.” Wait. What? See, they didn’t want any winners and losers, and by not wanting winners and losers I mean not wanting losers. You know, because if you lose a game of Chinese Freeze Tag your feelings might get hurt, your self-esteem will plummet and you’ll end up living in a cardboard box on the mean streets of Humboldt, Ohio. And as you know, in real life there’s no competition so why learn to deal with it when you’re young? That doesn’t make any sense, except in the sense that it makes absolutely perfect sense. With this in mind I get a visit from my principal one day. I don’t think her heart was really in it but she felt required to tell me that the game of dodgeball was being phased out in schools across the country and I should probably think about doing the same. The fun-haters at the forefront of the anti-dodgeball movement would like you to believe that it puts too much pressure on the psyche of our youth, that it somehow damages a student’s self-esteem to engage in such a “violent” sport, that getting knocked out in a game is harmful to a child’s well-being and, indeed, their fragile egos.
To this I say poppycock, balderdash, and whatever other cool name for bullshit I can think of. Do you really think kids want to engage in non-competitive activities like dancing, aerobics, and Tae Bo? Boy, that sounds fun, no? Woohoo! We’re gonna learn the salsa today kids!
Kids hate that crap. On the other hand, any sport that involves throwing stuff at each other is a big hit. Pun intended. That’s why dodgeball is so beloved and why we used to play it so often. And by the way, none of this “no head shots” malarkey. In our world not only were head shots allowed, they were encouraged.
Kids love games where there’s an element of danger involved. That’s why we climbed trees when we were little, right? Because the danger of falling made it fun? And why did we ride our bikes down big hills? Because it was scary!
And so, I have a little secret for all the psycho-babbling eggheads who want to destroy the single greatest game ever invented. Life is competitive. It’s sometimes hard. You get hit. You get back up. You figure out how to stay alive and advance. Sometimes you have to be aggressive and have a killer instinct to be successful.
Just like in dodgeball.
Things got so bad a few years ago that I had to change the name of the game we played in my classes. Since we were strongly recommended not to play dodgeball, we played a game called Avoid the Sphere. The rules were, uh, strikingly similar to dodgeball . . . O.K., they were exactly the same. Anyway, technically it wasn’t dodgeball. Actual conversation between our principal and one of my 3rd graders:
Principal: “What did you guys play in gym today? Was that dodgeball?”
Jackson: “No, maam. We don’t play dodgeball. We played Avoid the Sphere.”
As in life, dodgeball players fall into several distinct groups. As you read these, try and picture people you know in life and what group they’d fit into. Here they are:
- The Attackers are the aggressive go-getters, the players who are always on the move. They’re hard to hit, hate to lose, and are always on the offensive. I love The Attackers. Think they’ll be successful? You betcha.
- The Slackers are the ones who drift to the back, don’t really try to get out of the way, basically just hope they get put out early so they can go stand on the sidelines and watch the game, and life, pass them by. The Slackers ask to go to the bathroom a lot.
- These are the guys who like to sneak around the side and nail you in the back. They’ll lay low, creep slowly up without drawing attention to themselves, and before you know it you’re drilled right in back of the head. Know anybody like that in your life? That’s what I thought. This technique usually works early on in the game but as the numbers dwindle the laws of nature take over and one of The Attackers takes them out in a violent manner. That’s always satisfying to watch.
- Ah, The Plotters. Always scheming and planning, always looking to make alliances, only to turn on their friends in the end for their own advancement in the game. As The O’Jays said it best, they’ll smile in your face, but all the time they want to take your place. Once again, The Plotters are a reflection of the real world.
- The Invisibles are exactly what you think they are. I’ve seen a player run right by an Invisible and go after someone else without evening noticing. Invisibles remind me of an animal that stands still to avoid being eaten. Once they move or start running they’re dead meat. Just as in your life or workplace, you have to watch out for The Invisibles.
- And finally, The Cheaters. The Cheaters will flat out ignore getting hit if you’re not watching. They’ll swear on their mother’s life that a ball that blasted them in the temple missed them completely. Cheaters will do anything to win and would rather climb a tree and lie than stay on the ground and tell the truth. Cheaters can ruin it for everybody, tearing the very fabric of the world’s greatest game.
I’m retired now, but I’m keeping dodgeball alive by once again running our school-wide tourney in early May. The tournament is complete with painted faces, team t-shirts, an announcer who does introductions, the works. We have team names like the Head Shots and The Knockouts. The gym gets so loud you can’t hear a blistering shot to the earhole. The kids, teachers (and yes, the principal) love it. We’re fighting the good fight. Dodgeball may be dying in schools across America but we’re keeping it alive here in southern Ohio.
You know, to eliminate Dodgeball would be a disaster for school kids everywhere. Hell, it should be an Olympic sport. Dodgeball teaches life lessons every single day you play it.
So here’s to Dodgeball, Avoid the Sphere, or whatever you want to call it.
It’s a microcosm of life.
Originally published on September 17th, 2012.