Who says you can’t teach an old do…dger new


Posted on May 09, 2013 at 11:58 pm |

It was both intimidating and exhilarating to be a newbie in a dodgeball atmosphere again, learning the basics, taking it all in…and in the process fall in love with the game all over again. Remember that excitement when you make that first catch or hit someone out for the first time?

After playing dodgeball Hong Kong-style for a few weeks, I’m slowly adjusting to throwing a smaller ball, not stepping over the backline, and having balls handed to me in sequence from outside the court. Still, it wasn’t quite enough time yet to grasp all the strategies of the game and play like the top players (not that I do back in Vancouver anyway…*sigh*).

April is Hong Kong’s designated “Sports Month”, and this past Saturday the government sponsored the Hong Kong Dodgeball League to run an introduction session for the public. It ran from 10-4pm (I only lasted 4.5 hours) and unfortunately, not too many new members showed up…mostly just the regulars (i.e. experienced/top divisions players). However, it was good for me to see some of these dodgeballers in action and observe faster-paced games than I’ve played so far.


My girls team captain Joey was super nice and took the opportunity to walk me through some of the common game situations and how to handle them (“intensive training”, as some of her friends jokingly said). As a girl, because you can go up to 1/3 of the court to throw, it also puts you in a more vulnerable position and makes you a target in a co-ed game. Joey helped me practise blocking and catching at close distances, and taught me how to “sandwich” an opponent between you and your teammate when you have two against one (if your opponent’s the only one left on the other side and not targeting you, you get behind them so they’re stuck with balls both in front and back). Even though a lot of her advice I already knew, like absorbing the impact of the ball against your stomach or thighs, it was good to get a reminder and refresh my knowledge of dodgeball.

As mentioned before, the game runs at a completely different pace than ours because the referees call out when to throw. Since there is no 10-second countdown, when there is a lull on court the referees would call one side to throw based on:

  1. Which side has the most balls
  2. If both sides have the same number of balls, which side has more players
  3. If 1 and 2 are the same, then whoever did NOT make the last throw

Of course, the side being thrown at can still counter, but this (and the fact that there is no back wall so you lose any balls you throw) changes drastically how you attack. The teammates deliberate together or the team captain will call out how many players throw, who throws, and who holds. After throwing, you have to backpedal like a defective rollercoaster because the players opposite are only about six feet from you and, if they’re fast enough, can run behind you and trap you in the middle with no balls.

The Hong Kong league hires videographers so that every regular league game is recorded and uploaded on youtube for captains and players to review their games, and also to keep track of attendance. (Like VDL, a player must make a minimum of a certain number of games to make playoffs.) They also have someone logging all the kills, catches, and deaths of each player, resulting in cumulative stats that are shared with all the captains periodically (see below; click to enlarge):


*Player names removed by author to ensure privacy.

As such, there is a decisive system where all the league’s players get ranked based on the win percentages and value ratio calculated from their statistics.

It was refreshing being a new player among old-hands, as everyone was very friendly with advice and tips. I had to constantly re-evaluate my habits and auto-pilot actions, because some of them simply don’t work in this setting. Speed up or slow down? Do I hold on to the ball because I don’t need to reset it after 10 seconds? Do I stand farther up to protect my teammates? I’m the only one left and they’ve got all the balls…corner or middle? Why do I even bother sticking my leg out if the balls aren’t bouncing back? (And seeing myself in video afterwards, I realize I do this out of reflex and look completely ridiculous in this particular setting.)


Photo courtesy of Joey Yau

I’ve been lucky in my five VDL seasons to be on teams with some spectacular seasoned players who have taught me so much about dodgeball. No matter how much you play, dodgeball still offers plenty of surprises and the dynamics are constantly changing. Its variables are fluctuating all the time based on your team makeup, your opponents, luck, the gym, what you ate that evening…there is no one “textbook way” to play dodgeball, and isn’t that part of why it’s such an exciting sport? You never stop learning, and it’s important not to fall into the trap thinking you’re at a level where you can’t improve anymore.

So a huge kudos out there for all the seasoned players who are always ready to offer a word of advice or share their experiences, skills clinics instructors, and all the teammates I’ve had past (and hopefully future) for helping me improve. Whether you’re new at dodgeball or you’ve got ten seasons behind you, keep an open mind: you never know what you might learn about dodgeball, yourself, or life on that high-speed action-packed court.

Michelle Sz is not really an anybody in the dodgeball realm. She’s played all five or six of her VDL seasons in tier 1, and no tier 1 medal to show for any of them (but she’s still working hard on it!). The only thing you can credit her with is being the VDL Grammar Nazi, i.e. the ghostly Communications Manager/Lead Editor of the Marcom department who handles the copy, editing and writing a chunk of what you read that’s VDL-related. The other thing that is also true about Michelle is that she’s taken a gazillion dodgeball shots to the head/face, which may account for some of the eccentricity and randomness that appears between the lines on the VDL website.

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