Dodgeball is a game many American and Canadian youth are exposed to at an early age, often during elementary school during gym class. Students are divided into roughly equal-sized teams and compete to remove players of the opposing team by hitting them with a ball. The goal of this game is two-fold—to hit the other team's players and to dodge the balls that are thrown at you. Players may return to play if a teammate catches a ball. Often this type of game continues for extended periods of time given the flow of players in and out of play. Numerous versions of this game exist dictating the number of balls in play, various additional physical skills such as shooting the ball through a basketball hoop, and whether players out of play just sit on the sidelines or are engaged in other activities.
This game has been a mainstay of elementary physical education, and to lesser degree middle and high school, over the course of the last century, given the simple rules and low cost of sports equipment. Many children thrill in playing this game that in some manners feels like a free-for-all, a game with few rules and much running and dodging. However, many adults reflect upon the Dodgeball play of their youth with disdain, recalling the sting of the ball and the boredom accompanying sitting on the sidelines while out of play. Despite the positive and negative recollections of Dodgeball it remains an iconic game of American childhood play. Indeed, the traditions of this game have entered into the media, with episodes of Freaks and Geeks (1999) and South Park (1998) addressing the violent nature of this game. The iconic status of this game was additionally demonstrated by the 2004 film Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. This comedy demonstrated both the violent aspects and the positive team-centered aspects of this game.
In recent years this game has become subject to significant critique and debate in the health education field. Some physical education teachers argue that the game teaches valuable fleeing and dodging skills, while encouraging running and other athletic engagement. Yet, the least-athletic students, who may benefit most from more activity, are often the first students knocked out of play. Indeed, a fundamental critique of Dodgeball is the elimination nature of this game. The targeting of the least-athletic and least-skilled players first puts these players out of play early. This perpetuates a system of social stratification and stigmatization of the less skilled while simultaneously limiting their engagement in physical activity.
Another critique is that children should never be made into targets, particularly among their peers. Such targeting may encourage and engage students in bullying. Indeed, some students, especially the more skilled athletes or dominant boys, may delight in “pegging” a fellow classmate. If a student is “beaned,” they may be teased and stigmatized, especially if one cries because of the physical pain of a particularly hard throw. However, others embrace this game as one of the few “reality” games left that gives students a peek at the adult world of competition. As more and more children are engaged in athletic games where everyone is a winner, it can be important to also note the competitive nature of the social world.
Play and Sports Education, Play as Competition, Sociology of, Team Play