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Dodgeball in PE

For & Against

Some time ago, I thought I was going to get fired at an elementary school where I had just begun teaching PE. It was because I wasn't including dodgeball in the teaching and learning of PE. The most vocal/loudest and, for the most part, most physically competent students were not pleased about the new teacher showing up and scrapping (what appeared to be) a common game played in previous years. These particular students were upset. Their parents were upset. Adventure challenges/team building/cooperative activities that I was introducing to begin the year to establish class routines and create a positive community was not working for some of these students. Dodgeball needed to happen!

In the end, I wasn't fired. I didn't budge on my avoidance to have students play human target games. It was a difficult year especially for the most senior grade at the elementary school. Changing the dodgeball culture is and was hard.

The students (and families) that I didn't hear about regarding the dodgeball omission, were the ones who did not want anything to do with dodgeball. Not to ignore those more confident and competent movers, but the students who did not enjoy dodgeball were the ones who needed more opportunities to move (yikes - an elimination dodgeball game where they don't move because they are out early?). My mission is, and was, to make PE enjoyable for all - especially for those students who clearly had negative experiences in the past who were not on the path to develop the motivation, confidence, and competence to participate in physical activity for their lifetime.

Fast forward quite a few years later and... you guessed it. Dodgeball is a thing. Perhaps even the thing. I am currently substitute teaching. Dodgeball is mentioned frequently in the plans when I cover PE. Maybe I shouldn't, but I do stray away from these plans and introduce things that might be new to students. Again... it is hard. Those vocal, physically competent students want to throw a dodgeball as hard as they can at someone or some people in the gymnasium. I get pushback. Again. It is hard.

Today's blog is about dodgeball. For many, dodgeball is one activity or game that is remembered from their own physical education experience (Barney & Pleban, 2010). Currently, there are PE teachers that include dodgeball in their programme. Some don't. The purpose of this blog is to provide research on the arguments for and against playing dodgeball in PE class.

For your information, I pulled information from many articles but mostly from this amazing article:

Butler, J., Burns, D. P., & Robson, C. (2021). Dodgeball: Inadvertently teaching oppression in physical and health education. European Physical Education Review, 27(1), 27-40.

Arguments For Dodgeball

Dodgeball is still valued, and included in PE programming, for some PE teachers (Butler et al., 2021). Malpass (2012), found that 77% of middle and high school PE teachers and athletic directors (n=128; in Colorado, USA) had students playing dodgeball with 56% of students given the option to do a different activity if they did not want to participate in dodgeball.

People who support the inclusion of dodgeball in PE teaching use these arguments (Butler et al., 2021):

1) Dodgeball is highly motivating for students.

2) Dodgeball provides students an opportunity to practice and refine skills such as throwing, dodging, and catching (Chilton, in Goodwin, 2001) and develop problem solving, cooperation, and strategizing skills in tense game situations (McEachern, 2001).

3) Dodgeball provides excitement, is an outlet for aggression, gets students moving, and prepares students for tough competition they will face in the real world (Fagogenis, 2010).

Arguments Against Dodgeball

Dodgeball is banned in school districts in multiple States around the USA (Butler et al., 2021).

Researchers and professionals who are opposed to having their students play dodgeball in PE lessons might use these arguments:

1) Dodgeball uses humans as the target. Many believe that throwing objects at others is unacceptable in PE classes (Kraft, in Goodwin, 2001). According to Robson et al. (2019), if using the human body as a target is not acceptable in professional sports then certainly it should not be promoted in PE class.

2) Dodgeball fails to model being caring. Caring relationships are more likely to be ruined when students learn to operate in an aggressive context such as dodgeball. The message being sent to students is that it is acceptable to hurt members of the other team. This message is different from what is communicated to students in most other games - values such as fair play, safety, respect for others, and teamwork, are emphasized (Butler et al., 2021).

3) The voice heard is not done via a democratic process and the strongest/most vocal students (unfairly) represent the whole class. Fisette (2014) found that PE teachers of male varsity athletes and high-skilled players were often given the voice to choose activities (e.g. dodgeball) in PE. The loudest and most assertive males can verbally overpower their peers and select a game of their choosing such as dodgeball (Millington & Wilson, 2010). When students' voices are not heard or considered and they must comply to the will of the strongest in the class then they learn powerlessness and decrease their ability to self-advocate (Butler et al., 2021). Those who speak up against the loudest voice(s) can be subjected to verbal and non-verbal ridicule (Butler et al., 2021).

4) Violence gains legitimacy when tolerated and unchallenged (Young, 1990). Dodgeball exposes marginalized students (e.g. girls, LGBTQ2S+, less physically competent, etc.) to the possibility of violence & public humiliation (Butler et al., 2021). The game's goal is to eliminate other players and the impact of elimination may be negative on students' self-esteem and belonging (Kraft, in Goodwin, 2001). This can be problematic especially for girls since participation in sport for girls is on the decline (Mitchell et al., 2013; Walseth et al., 2017). This aligns with Fisette (2014) who found that teachers and male students, specifically the athletes, held power in PE, which create a community that marginalized the girls.

5) Students can achieve a wide range of learning outcomes (including dodging, throwing, catching, problem solving, cooperation, etc.) in other forms of movement (Butler et al., 2021). All of the skills mentioned in the sentence previous, can be learned and developed in a variety of activities that do not include human target games such as dodgeball.

6) Bullying and antisocial behaviours are reported during dodgeball activities (O'Connor & Graber, 2014). O'Connor & Graber (2014) observed students yelling, crying, and laughing at others who were hit in the face and suggested that particular students were targeted during games of dodgeball. When more physically competent students use their strength to target classmates, they fail to nurture new or develop more caring relationships with their peers (Butler et al., 2021). When bullying, marginalization, and harassment takes place, students are less likely to engage in recommended levels of physical activity (O’Connor & Graber, 2014). Faking an illness or injury, skipping class, and/or limiting participation (on the fringe of activity), may come from these negative experiences (Tischler & McCaughtry (2011).

Final Questions to Ponder

Does including dodgeball in a PE program contribute and align with creating a school community where all students are equally valued, heard, and respected?

As educators, are we caring for all students by acting in all of their best interests by including dodgeball in "teaching and learning"?

Can we have students achieve learning outcomes of the PE program more effectively through the vast range of alternative movement experiences without including dodgeball?

Does your school's mission, vision, and values align with the inclusion of dodgeball in your school?

For students who are excited and motivated about participating in dodgeball, how might we have students engage in dodgeball during their school experience?

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Thanks for reading!

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