A few months ago I watched the Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn movie Dodgeball. I still remember the five rules of Dodge Ball described in the movie: dodge, duck, dive, dip, and dodge. Dodge ball is a game in which you have to keep moving to tire the other team members out, and to reduce your risk of being picked off. Then you can pick off your opponents one by one with choice shots aimed at sensitive body parts, with the intent of killing, or at least crippling the vermin. That can be said of many sports, too. You have to keep moving, or you die, like what used to be said of sharks in the water. (It was later discovered that sharks do, indeed, stop swimming and‘rest’ periodically.) Playing sports is like being a predator shark, preying on the weak, destroying them and devouring them, erasing them from the face of the earth or, if not that, rendering their existence irrelevant and meaningless. Better still if the prey thinks the same of themselves. You can destroy them by sowing the cancerous seed of destructive self esteem.
Recently I was asked to take an afternoon of P.E. lessons. The regular teacher was ill and my afternoon schedule was unexpectedly open. No problem: indoor soccer, basketball, dodge ball, stretching and running around. I can handle those. It came down to about an hour of indoor soccer (during which time a ball smashed into my right ring finger. For a week afterwards I couldn’t stretch it out straight without suffering terrible pain.), and an hour of almost non-stop dodge ball.
First we played the kind of dodge ball I played when I was a kid: one victim, or two, in the middle of a circle of shooters. Whoever hits the victim takes his place, and the victim steps into the circle to become a shooter. Enlarging or shrinking the circle, or adding a second ball can alter the pace, exertion and excitement of it. It is eminently simple. The rules are almost too simple to describe. But I was put off by my students’ repeated pleas to play a different kind of dodge ball: two competing teams occupying facing lines. There were many rules and - as children are wont to do - more and more rules were proposed as the game went on. I was further put off that, as the teacher present, the students asked my permission to make new rules, or asked me to declare rulings for such-and-such situations as they arose in the game: the offside rule; the ball-bounced-out-of-the-hands rule; the rear-shooter-from-behind rule; the rule for getting disqualified team members back on the court; the hit-in-the-faced rule, etc.
Rules!? What rules? I thought. You throw the ball. If you get hit, you’re out. Last man standing wins. Game over. The recipe of simplicity. What other rules? But it seems impossible for children to accept simplicity. In imitation of what they perceive as adult behavior they favor making more rules. The more complex, the better. Is that how they see the world they live in, dominated by adults? A world of complex, inscrutable rules, the ability to make new rules, and the ability to force compliance. Of course, the rules they suggest are always selfish ones that they think are in their favor. But then they over indulge in this arena and end up making fantastically complex rules with zero utility that interfere with the function of the game. Then they cry (literally), “It’s not fair. It’s boring. I don’t want to play because they’re too strong.” It’s hopeless.
One thing I just don’t get is that whenever the Grade 3 girls (9-year-olds) got their hands on the ball they would immediately stop in their tracks and start talking to their girlfriends about where to throw it, or who to throw it at. They were having conferences in the middle of what is supposed to be a fast-paced, hit-and-run game!! I was crying to them exactly what I wrote above,
“Don’t stop! Keep the ball moving! You’re letting the other team rest! Keep them moving to tire them out! What are you doing?! Throw the ball! Throw the ball!!”
Then, when they eventually did throw the ball they did so from the apparent safety of the rear of their zone, rather than run right up to the center line, from which point they stood a better chance of hitting somebody. I think they refused to approach the center line because they saw that as a danger zone, too close to the opposing team. The same thing kept happening again, and again, and again. Whenever they got their hands on the ball the girls would stop to chat with each other. Sometimes they threw it to other girls on their team instead of at the roaming targets on the other side of the line. Is this a demonstration of the feminine disposition to linguistic social bonding?
The boys, on the other hand, treated the ball like a hot potato searing the skin off their palms. They wasted no time whatsoever hurling the ball across the court towards the opposite team. Even though their aim was often abysmal, they made contact more often than not and drove their opponents from the court mostly by endurance, persistence, and sheer guts.