“If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!”
We should probably get a few quotes out of our system before we begin, as the first thing that comes to mind if you were under 35 years old around 2004, is the film ‘Dodgeball’ starring Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller.
This article is not about that film, but nevertheless, we will do our best to “Dodge, Dip, Duck, Dive and Dodge” our way through it.
Dodgeball is a team game popular all over the world, but it’s not exactly the national sport of any particular country, probably best described as niche everywhere it is played.
That said, according to the World Dodgeball Association there are around 68 million people who play the sport worldwide, and around 90 countries working across the sport’s two governing bodies.
It’s easy to see why people like it, since it involves lobbing things at other people as hard as you can and trying to hit them. To be honest we don’t understand why it’s not bigger in the UK since us brits seriously enjoy being mean to the people we like the most.
Anyway, here is everything you need to know about the sport of Dodgeball.
How to Play Dodgeball: The Rules
So, the basics of the game are very easy to grasp, but be aware that from country to country – and even region region – the rules can vary quite a lot.
We have gone with what consider to be the most common rules, and they will give you a very good grounding of Dodgeball, but it might not always work exactly like this.
That said, this next sentence is universally true: two teams of six face off and throw balls at each other, with the objective of hitting the opposition players to get them ‘out’, but without being hit themselves.
The creates an exciting environment where players must be on the offensive and the defensive at the same time. On top of this, while there are still large numbers of players on the court, attacks could come from many different directions, so it can be pretty chaotic.
Once one team has no players left, the game is over, and the other team have won.
It is played in matches and sets, with matches usually lasting 40 minutes split into two 20-minute halves. Within each half, as many sets as possible and each set may also have a time limit.
At the end of the match, the team which won the most sets wins the match.
It’s a mixed gender sport, so males and females play on the same team (although there are gender specific competitions as well), and while teams can be as large as 15, only 6 are allowed to compete in any one game.
Physical contact between opposing players is never allowed in dodgeball.
That’s the overview, so now let’s get into some more detail.
A dodgeball court is usually around 50ft – 60ft long and 25ft – 30ft wide.
There is a centre line in the middle where the balls are placed at the beginning of each set, and this also serves as a boundary that neither team can cross.
There is a 10ft ‘Neutral Zone’ in the middle of the court, 5ft wide on either side of the central line and with an attack line at either end. This comes into play during ball activation which we will cover shortly.
Then there is the ‘End Line’ which is essentially just the rear perimeter at each end of the court. This is where players start each set from.
The area outside of the court is known as the ‘outbox’ and this is where non-live team members stand, along with any player who is hit by a ball and therefore out.
Dodgeball operates a hard boundary policy, which means that if any part of a player’s body touches the ground outside of the court boundary, that player is out.
For this reason, members of the dodgeball team who are not playing in that particular set become ‘retrievers’, and can help their team by collecting balls that have been thrown by the opposition and handing them back to their teammates who are in play.
The Opening Rush
Depending on the format being played, there will be 6 or 5 balls on the centre line.
Players from each team must rush to collect the balls on their right (you can’t just go for any ball you like) and then pass them or carry them back over the ‘activation line’, which is just the same as getting them out of the neutral zone.
If it’s a 5-ball game then the two balls on either side of the court can only be picked up by one particular team, but the one in the middle can be fought for.
A maximum of 3 players per team can rush for the balls, the rest must wait behind to either receive a ball or collect one that has been thrown and missed.
Once the balls are ‘activated’ or ‘live’, they can be thrown at opposition players and the set has properly begun.
Once the balls are live the game enters a free flow phase in which players can throw the balls at each other to try and get opposing team members out.
Once a ball has been thrown and rolled out of play, the retrievers – non-playing team mates – can collect them and get them back in play by passing the balls back to in-play players.
In this way, the game flows without needing to be stopped every ten seconds.
A player is out if a ball hits any part of their body, or if they cross a boundary they should not have crossed, but there are 3 ways to avoid being knocked out by a thrown ball:
- Dodge it
- Block it
- Catch it
Dodging the ball needs no explanation, you just move out of the way if your reflexes are good enough, but the other two options need further investigation.
Blocking a ball can only be done with a ball that you yourself are holding, so if you don’t have a ball in your hands, you can’t block. Holding the ball with both hands, you must use it sort of like a shield, and this will prevent you getting knocked out. You can also block on somebody else’s behalf, however, if you block a ball and it hits one of your own team without first hitting the floor then that player is out, so you have to be careful.
Catching a ball that hasn’t yet hit the floor, even if you catch it after it hits you (or a teammate) and bounces into the air, is one of the best things you can do in dodgeball. This is because not only do you save yourself, but you knock the player out who threw the ball, and bring one of your knocked out team mates back into the game.
If a ball hits an out player or the ground (or any surface) before it hits a live player, it does not count as an out. This would be considered a ‘dead ball’.
The game goes on until a time limit is reached or until one team is eliminated, at which point the game resets, the coach can switch out players if they want to, and the teams go again.
These will vary depending on the rules of where you play, but generally, expect a set to last around 3-4 minutes.
If both teams still have live players left after this time period, the team with the most players on the court will be declared the winner of that set, but if both teams have the same number of players, the game could enter sudden death – so the next team to lose a player loses the set.
The way this is handled varies a lot though.
Other time limits include how long a player can hold on to a ball for without throwing it.
Again, the time limits on this vary widely, with some organisations giving as little as 5 seconds to throw a ball and others as long as 15 seconds, but there will almost always be some sort of limit here to stop people stalling and keep the game moving.
The ref can call ‘Hot Ball’ when this happens, and the offending player must roll the ball towards the opposition, effectively giving them the ball, but the opposing side can call it out as well to make the ref aware.
This is a loose rule, in place more to stop repeat offenders than to be clamped down on.
History of Dodgeball
It may surprise and delight you to know that dodgeball is thought to have originated in Africa around 1800, where it was ‘played’ by warriors from separate tribes who used to hurl rocks at each other as a form of training and/or combat.
The objective was to batter your opponent to death, basically.
Once someone was hit and went down, the opposing team would do their best to finish the poor sod off, while his team mates would rally around him and try to defend him and save his life, while avoiding being hit themselves.
A British missionary called Dr James Carlisle saw this brutal game in action, studied the rules, then when he went back to England he thought it would be an ideal activity to teach to… school children!
What a time that must have been to be alive.
He was good enough to switch out the heavy rocks, although the replacement was a hard leather ball so it must have stung like buggery when it hit you, but nevertheless, he went about reinventing the game for a British audience.
He ended up teaching at St Mary’s college in Norfolk, and the game became a hit there and word spread so it picked up in popularity, but the rules were quite different from what they are today.
Then in 1884, St Mary’s ended up welcoming students and professors from Yale, a top US college, and introduced the game to them.
Among them, was a chap called Philip Ferguson, who was really rather taken with dodgeball and decided to carry on playing it when he got back to the states.
It wasn’t until 1905 that he came up with his own set of rules for the game, but these quickly became the official rules of dodgeball, and the sport spread across schools in America and became very popular, eventually even making its way back to England.
The UK took on the official rules too, and that is how we came to play dodgeball in the way we do today.
That said, St Mary’s college in Norfolk struggled to move with the time, still playing by the original rules and even playing Yale once every 4 years in honour of the way the game started.
Dodgeball in the Modern Day
Dodgeball may be popular, but no one who plays earns a living from it. There are cash prizes from some competitions, but it’s very much a hobby with benefits rather than a way to earn.
In the UK, dodgeball is played in schools and universities, as well as the various different regional leagues run via British Dodgeball, the governing body of the sport in this country.
There is also a national team who compete in the WDBF World Championship against other countries.
The WDBF stands for the World Dodgeball Federation, and they formed in 2011 before running the first World Championships in 2012. Just six nations took part in that first year, but by 2021 the number of WDBF members had grown to over 80.
Here are the winners of the men’s and women’s competitions up to 2022:
|Year||Host Nation||Men’s Winner||Women’s Winner|
|2012||Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)||Hong Kong||Canada|
|2013||Queenstown (New Zealand)||Canada||Canada|
|2014||Hong Kong||Canada||United States|
|2015||Las Vegas (United States)||United States||United States|
|2018||Los Angeles (United States)||Malaysia||United States|
|2019||Cancun (Mexico)||United States||United States|
|2020-2021||Cancelled due to COVID-19||Cancelled due to COVID-19||Cancelled due to COVID-19|
The above is for the foam game.
The Championships now run men’s, women’s, and mixed events, as well events for foam and cloth ball disciplines since 2022.
These two disciplines, cloth and foam, refer to more than just the material the balls are made of. They are two different versions of the game with different rules.
We won’t go into all of it but essentially cloth balls travel faster and the sets also have time limits, which encourages riskier moves and also results in faster gameplay; foam balls don’t fly through the air as quickly and a set can go on for a whole half, so it’s much more tactical, more like a game of chess.
The type that is played would come down to your geographical location much of the time in the past, although plenty of countries now practice both. In America, the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, and Asia, they tend to use rubber coated foam balls, whereas in Europe (and some parts of Asia and Africa) they use harder fabric coated balls with an inflatable bladder.
These second sort are the ones that make the satisfying and mildly comical ‘pang’ noise when they hit someone, so they are our favourite.
Dodgeball the Movie
We started this article with a few daft quotes from Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, but actually, the impact it had on the sport was very positive.
Despite it being a comedy, sending the sport up in many ways, it made dodgeball look really fun (which it is!) and raised awareness all over the world.
It grossed $168.4 million worldwide and that was back in 2004, so a heck of a lot of people saw it – it was so popular that people still talk about it and quote it today.
It’s fair to assume then, that Dodgeball the movie encouraged a lot of people to actually try the sport for real.
The sport of dodgeball is still growing, both in the number of people who play it and those who watch and follow it, and the dodgeball movie can certainly take some credit for that.
If you’ve never seen it you should, it still holds up, and you will also start to understand what people are referring to when they say things like “That’s a bold move, Cotton.”, “No one makes me bleed my own blood!”, and “Fu%&ing Chuck Norris…”.
It also ends with a very successful, if highly unrealistic bet coming off, which leads us neatly onto our next and last section.
Betting on Dodgeball
Dodgeball the movie has a very happy ending, when Peter LaFleur, owner of debt-ridden gym Average Joe’s, bets on his own dodgeball team to win the tournament, and makes $5 million from it.
Would this be possible in real life?
Sadly, probably not.
As it stands, betting odds on professional dodgeball tournaments aren’t widely available, certainly not in the UK anyway.
That could change though as the betting industry expands into more niche sports, and especially if the sport of dodgeball keeps growing like it has been.
There have even been a few left field ways to bet on it creep into the gambling industry already.
One rather fun way of betting on dodgeball became available in 2023 via the NFL’s Pro Bowl.
They introduced dodgeball as one of the skill games the players would take part in, and DraftKings offered odds on the outcomes of these matches.
They were pretty basic money line markets, but still, odds were available on dodgeball, possibly for the first time ever.