I have never enjoyed balls being thrown at my face as much as when I played in a semi-professional dodgeball league. I only say “semi-professional” because that’s what some of those players considered the league to be. So many balls. So little faces. And these players were just damn good.

Dodgeball

I’ve been smacked in the face so hard that I lost all feeling on that side. Yup, cheeks, nose and half my lip, pretty much a dormant pile of organic gooeyness completely outside of my control. Yet, when it was my turn to play again, I was eager to take another ball to the other eye.

Head shots are against the rules, but they still happen. Intentional head shots were grounds for disqualification – but hey, who’s counting?

The game of dodgeball

The game is simple, but the rules can vary from place to place.

Each team has eight or nine players, but only six of them play at once. The game begins with six or seven balls placed on the center line between the two team’s six players, who are all lined up in a row against the back wall (diagram below). When the whistle blows, the game begins and both teams scramble towards the center line to retrieve as many balls as they can. This is called “the rush”.

These are 8.3″ gator skin balls. Those with larger hands have a huge advantage.

All balls must be brought back behind an “attack line” before they can be thrown at the opposing team’s players. This helps prevent the game from ending very shortly after it begins.

Here is a diagram of a typical dodgeball court:

Dodgeball Court

Players are out if they get hit with a ball and fail to catch it. If a player catches a thrown ball, the player who threw the ball is out. Additionally, the team that caught the ball can rotate players from the ‘Out Player Line Up’ area back into the game, but the total number of players on the court cannot exceed six for a team. The game ends once a team has no more players left on the court.

Dodgeball is more than just throwing balls. It’s about painfully-effective coordination.

I remember several times being the last player remaining for my team. The opposing team might have their entire team left, but usually three or four by the end. Good teams will coordinate their attack on the solitary player left, throwing simultaneously and from different directions.

As the only player left, it is damn near impossible to stop two or three balls from barreling towards you from the left, right and center. If you’re lucky enough to have a ball, you can attempt to block the thrown balls by crouching low enough, sticking the ball out in front of you and hoping for the best.

But you need to have a firm grip on your ball (grip your ball tightly!). You are out of the game if you lose control of the ball that you are holding.

For many who grace a dodgeball court around the country, they take this game very seriously. Many play on travel teams and jet-set around the world in dodgeball tournaments. You will probably never see dodgeball on ESPN, but it’s a real sport, and dodgeball players are as serious about dodgeball as we are about early retirement.

And to each their own. Serious dodgeball players around the country are slamming gator skin balls into their opponents while I am writing early retirement blog posts that apparently now contain childish “ball jokes”.

We all have our strengths.

Moral of the story: Do what you’re good at, even if it’s against the norm. Who cares if dodgeball isn’t a major sport. Big deal if early retirement isn’t in vogue. So what if you’re the kind of guy who cries with each viewing of Old Yeller or has a thing for Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich-style.

Do what makes you happy, whatever that may be…even if that includes running for your life from gator-skinned balls that hurt like a bitch when they hit you in the face. It’s what you do. Be proud of it.

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