Experts say dodgeball is ‘legalized bullying’ — is the game really the problem?

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Should dodgeball be banned from schools?
WATCH: Should dodgeball be banned from schools? – Jun 5, 2019

We either grow up loving it or despising it, but some experts suggest dodgeball should not have a place in the educational system.

Presenting their findings at the the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Vancouver earlier this week, researchers said dodgeball was a form of bullying. They argued the game creates a culture that allows some students to target others.

Speaking with Global News, study co-author Claire Robson of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, said while the debate of keeping dodgeball out of schools has been happening for years, it’s more important now than ever to talk about it.

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“[We] believe dodgeball is part of our culture,” she said. “It’s OK to try to target weaker students or different students.”
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In the unpublished research co-authored by Joy Butler at the University of British Columbia and David Burns at Kwantlen Polytechnic University also in B.C., researchers found in some cases, marginalized students were being picked last or were targets during the game.

In some focus groups, the team found white students were putting girls and Chinese students into one team so they could essentially win, creating an Alpha team.

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When Butler talked to students chosen last, some of the issues that were raised involved being bullied.

“Dodgeball is the only sport where the human body is used as a target,” Robson continued.  “So it’s important to know that we are not anti-competition.”

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And with the recent media coverage around this topic, many people are falling either extremely pro-dodgeball or completely against it, she said. Some teachers encourage the game in schools because it’s “fun,” while others call out how stressful it can be for some children.

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Is dodgeball itself the issue?

Some schools in the U.S. have banned dodgeball, Robson added, but research indicated Canadian schools have not done the same.

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Parenting and lifestyle expert Maureen Dennis of Toronto told Global News all games and sports have winners and losers, but it also doesn’t mean all sports and games have incidents of bullying — including dodgeball.

“Learning how to be a gracious winner or loser is a very important lesson in life,” she said. “Not everyone can win at everything. Not being good at something is OK. Not enjoying a game is OK. Being proud of being good at something is OK. Enjoying winning is also OK.”

She added it is concerning to “bubble wrap” our kids from an opportunity to lose, fail, get hurt or compete.

“We aren’t encouraging bullying, that is not the same thing as competing or playing a game, bullying is defined as seek to harm, intimidate, or coerce someone perceived as vulnerable,” she said.  “Dodgeball doesn’t seek to harm, intimidate or coerce other students. Everyone has the same chance to play the game.”

Early childhood consultant Julie Romanowski of Miss Behaviour in Vancouver, added dodgeball is aggressive (like other sports), and it should neither be banned nor mandatory for children at school.

“I don’t think it should be banned but definitely other [students should have] options,” she said. “There are many alternatives to keeping fit and learning new games other than the aggressive ones.”
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She added children should be exposed to a variety of sports that include interaction and no interaction, giving them a choice to seek what is best for them.

“Interacting with other children is good for child development however, you can ‘interact’ with someone and even have physical touch and not be ‘aggressive’ such as touch-football, the game tag, skipping or group gymnastics and cheerleading.”

Teaching children competition

John Cairney, professor and director of Graduate Studies at the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at the University of Toronto added while banning dodgeball is not the answer, having alternatives could be a good starting point.

“There are many alternatives to the game that are preferable — more inclusive with greater opportunities for participation and design,” he told Global News. “The kinds of concerns individuals are expressing about banning the game have to do with more generalized concerns about how children are treated in our schools.”

He added some comments suggest dodgeball makes children tough and banning it or removing it from the school system is an attack on competition. While the researchers argued they are not anti-competition, Robson added others believe the backlash stems from a backlash of liberal ethics generally.

READ MORE: Reality check — bullying rates in Canada

“The reality is, children can learn a lot about themselves and others, experience the thrill of adventurous play, experience team work, individual achievement in competitive structures through a number of different game-based activities and learning opportunities beyond dodgeball,” Cairney said.

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And in the bigger picture, let’s not forget about bullying, something that can happen in dodgeball or any other sport or setting.

“We need to consider how sport and physical education must be structured to work to prevent bullying,” he said. “For too long I think, we have ignored the problem and allowed certain contexts, like sport, to be a place were bullying is tolerated and even seen as part of the culture.”

He said physical education has evolved tremendously in the last few decades. “Where gymnastics, sports like football and basketball, dominated the landscape, today there is way more attention to a broader range of activities [like] circus arts, fitness, dance, games of a wide variety and more traditional sports.”

He added: “Let’s help children and youth find what’s right for them so that they stay active and engaged.”

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