Moose Bites Other Programming

Does Your Camp Allow Dodgeball?


I was talking with a friend of mine who I used to work with at camp many years ago. He is currently the director of a private day camp. We got on the subject of dodgeball and he says to me, “The owners no longer allow the campers to play dodgeball.”

WHAT!?!

When I worked for a YMCA camp in the early 2000s, we held a dodgeball event that we titled “DeathBall”. This event consisted of two games, male counselors vs. male high school campers and female counselors vs. female high school campers. We played on the camp tennis court and used those red rubber balls that you play four square with. One of the red balls was pretty small and you could throw that thing hard – it was dubbed “the death ball”. This ball was banned during all normal dodgeball games.

The camp directors would bring out the popcorn machine and the DJ sound system, and all the campers would gather outside the fenced-in tennis court. Music would be pumping, campers screaming and red rubber balls flying. It was epic.

When I would talk with staff that I worked with there, we always talked about that event. It was very fun and memorable.

That kind of thing wouldn’t fly these days. At my camp we still play dodgeball (probably too much), but we play with small soft Gator balls. So far, it hasn’t been “outlawed”.

I realize camp has to change with the times, and in this safety conscious, sue happy era, old school games and activities are being pushed out of camp (and schools).

Fortunately, campers can, and do, have just as much fun playing safe games and engaging in safe activities, as they do playing rough games and engaging in questionable activities.

Does your camp allow dodgeball?

Emotional Safety vs. Physical Safety

My personal feeling is that we should be focusing on emotional safety much more than physical safety.

It’s easy to stop playing dodgeball or put a helmet on a camper before they climb a boulder (that any seven year old could safely climb). It’s not so easy to keep all your campers emotionally safe, in fact it’s down right difficult. Also, emotional safety isn’t taken into account when purchasing camp insurance. Maybe that’s why we focus so much of our time and energy into physical safety.

My scars and broken bones have all healed from my antics and shenanigans as a kid. Some of my emotional scars haven’t.

Do I have the answers on how to keep all campers safe emotionally? Heck no.

Do you?

How does your camp address this issue?

Have a different opinion?

12 Comments

  • Yes, we need to focus on emotional safety.
    Yes, scars and broken bones will heal (eventually).
    Yes, times have changed and there is a much greater focus on physical safety. (Have your program director chat with your insurance rep and sit in on a rate quote next time they visit!!)

    But my real (serious) question is – can anyone recommend a specific dodgeball that isn’t super expensive. Size, material, etc, etc.

    • Nice, Dean. 🙂
      As for dodgeballs we use the 6″ Gator dodgeballs from S&S. You can get a set of 6 for around $60-$70, and S&S is always doing some sort of promotion or sale. We have all ages, from kindergarten to 8th grade, use these balls for a few different games, both indoors and out.

  • My first summer as a camp director I was too cheap, and too stubborn, to buy the gator balls because the red rubber 4-square balls were only $3 a piece and more fun. We stopped after a kid broke his finger trying to catch one. Spent a few hundred dollars in medical bills for that one.

    But, I’ve heard some legitimate arguments against Dodgeball because of emotional reasons. Sure, the athletic and popular kids love it, but the skinny kid who has a weak throw is teased. For kids who are emotional immature, we like to play Star Wars dodgeball. One camper on each side has a foam noodle “lightsaber.” The goal is to get him or her out. Everyone else plays normal dodgeball, but when they get hit they sit down. The Jedi then has to strategically get people back in by tapping them with the noodle without getting hit. Kids can feel good about getting hit because it’s like the secret service taking a bullet for the President. The the Jedi returns the favor by tapping them back in.

    • Mike, those red rubber balls are what we played Dodgeball with in elementary school when I was a kid. Good Times. In fact, I remember that we played with one team being inside of a big circle and the other team was outside the circle. The object was to be the last kid in the circle. Crazy.

      As for the skinny kid with the weak throw, I have also heard that argument about Dodgeball not being a safe activity emotionally, but do we stop playing Capture the Flag because some kids can run faster? Do we stop Archery because some kids can aim better? There will always be some kids that are better than others. We don’t stop singing camp songs or performing camp skits because some campers are cannot sing well or cannot act. That “emotionally safe” argument can be applied to every activity at camp. Even in arts and crafts I have seen campers upset because they couldn’t paint as well as the others or couldn’t understand how to start a lanyard. I mean they would have full on tantrums. I’m not about to cancel arts and crafts, swimming, sports, games, or campfires because a camper might get upset. Camp is the perfect place for kids to learn what their strengths and limitations are and how to deal with and accept them. Camp staff should be ready to help campers with their feelings, whatever they may be, and to show them how to handle different emotions. Staff should also be ready to help campers understand why bullying and making fun of others is wrong and won’t be tolerated at camp. Whoa, I got a little worked up there. Sorry about that. I could go on and on about this issue but I will spare everyone.

      Back to Dodgeball. Recently I watched a game of Dodgeball being played by 1st and 2nd graders. One team seemed to have a few boys that could throw the balls with great accuracy. On the other team, however, there was a girl who couldn’t throw the ball to save her life, but she could dodge a ball like no other kid I have seen. These boys just could not get her. I was a lot of fun to watch.

      Dodgeball variations are great. Jedi and Medic are virtually the same variation. I love the noodle idea. We have never done that. I’ll be adding that this year though. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas, Mike.

  • We play dodge ball around a circle almost every day after school. The 6 to 10 year olds made up their own version called “popcorn”. (4-8 players)In this version almost all the children are in the middle with two children throwing a soft 8″ ball. If they hit someone in the middle, they switch places. Their main rule is “no touch backs”!

    • We allow counselors to have cell phones. Many of them use it as their clock. We do not get much reception where our camp is located so it isn’t a big concern, but other camps I’ve worked at make it clear that staff are to keep ringers off and not text or call anyone unless they are on break or it’s an emergency. Campers are not to have cell phones at all. Parents are told this. If a camper is caught with a cell phone the staff will hold onto it until the end of camp. Campers should not have any electronic devices. Things like that go missing or get broken too easily.

  • Yes, we allow Dodgeball. I’m working on a “Big Book of Dodgeball” games that I’ve played/led in my 5+ years of youth recreation. I don’t understand why Dodgeball shouldn’t be allowed (maybe the rubber ones yeah) but not the soft gator-skin ones. Its a gym/ play area, you may get hurt. Even if everyone follows all the rules and procedures, it can still happen.

  • We allow dodgeball… unfortunately it’s the game where kids cheat the most tho. We always use gator balls. If a kid is hit in the face, the kid who throws it is out. I work for middle school camps. I compiled a book of camp games a couple years ago and had a whole section of dodgeball games. Willing to share it if anyone wants. But also, to compile the list, I just searched online for dodgeball games.

  • We play dodgeball at the camp I work for every week on Wednesday night. We make a whole evening out of it and each unit is split into boys and girls(except for the oldest campers). We jave a cook-out and play dodgeball before the special Vespers ceremony. If you make it about more than hitting eachother with balls it can be great. We use the red playground balls and don’t usually have any issues. Only thing is Staff cannot play the campers. Once you pass the age of 16 you can only play in staff vs. staff games. In my opinion they are way more fun anyway.
    p.s. I love this site!! It is great for those of us “obsessed” with camp! The articles and resources help prepare for the summer ahead!

    • Thanks for the comment, Morgan. I agree with you. It’s all about how the games is run by the staff.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe ToMy Email List

Please fill in the form to subscribe to my email list, and I'll email you the 10 Very Cool Low Cost and Easy Summer Camp Program Ideas PDF.

You're almost done. Please check your email.