Dodgeball, a sport synonymous with thrill, speed, and strategy, has captured the imagination of both the young and the young at heart. Its fast-paced and exciting gameplay makes it a popular choice in schools, fitness clubs, and professional sports leagues. But where did it all start? Let’s delve into the fascinating history of dodgeball.

Ancient beginnings

Believe it or not, the origins of the sport date back more than 2000 years to ancient Africa. However, the ancient form of the game was considerably different – and decidedly more dangerous – than the dodgeball we know today. Tribesmen would throw large rocks at each other, dodging the flying projectiles to avoid injury. The game was used as a method of toughening warriors for battles.

From deadly game to playground fun

The game evolved significantly when it was taken to Europe by Dr. James H. Carlisle, an African explorer. Recognising the potential of the game as a fitness exercise, he modified it to use leather balls instead of rocks. This new, safer version of the game quickly gained popularity in England.

The first recorded instance of dodgeball being played in a physical education setting was in St. Mary’s College, Norfolk, in 1884. With its simple rules and the ability to accommodate a large number of players, dodgeball became a staple in physical education classes around the world.

Group playing Dodgeball

Journey across the pond

Dodgeball made its way to the United States in the early 20th century. It quickly became popular in the American physical education system, and rules were standardised for consistency across different schools and regions.

The US version of the sport introduced the concept of a “jail” or “out-zone,” where players hit by the ball would wait until they could be brought back into the game by a teammate’s catch.

Professional dodgeball leagues

In the 21st century, the sport began to shed its image as just a playground game. Professional leagues started forming, bringing structure, official rules, and a new level of competitiveness to the sport. In 2004, the National Dodgeball League was established in the United States, marking a significant milestone in the sport’s development.

The formation of professional leagues brought about the need for standardised rules. In the United States, the National Amateur Dodgeball Association (NADA) was formed to create and oversee these rules.

Women playing Pro Dodgeball

Dodgeball goes international

Dodgeball’s appeal is not confined to the United States or Europe. Today, the game is played around the world, with international tournaments bringing teams together from different countries.

The World Dodgeball Association, founded in 2013, represents dodgeball organisations from over 60 countries. They host the Dodgeball World Cup, where teams compete for the title of world champion.

Today it is a sport for all

Dodgeball has evolved from its ancient, dangerous roots to a sport that encourages fitness, agility, strategy, and teamwork. While it’s often associated with school gym classes, dodgeball is also a competitive sport with professional leagues and international championships.

Regardless of whether it’s played professionally or casually, the sport continues to engage participants with its dynamic gameplay. Its simplicity and inclusivity make it a game that anyone can play, fostering a sense of community and camaraderie among its players.

Its increase in popularity in the last decade or so could actually be due to a film that adopted the name of the sport as its title. Staring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story hit cinemas in 2004, and became a huge hit. The comedy focuses on the story of a bunch of misfit losers who, in an attempt to save their gym from being swallowed up by a corporate chain, enter a tournament to win the cash to keep their gym alive. One of its most famous quotes are about the five rules of the sport, which it says are “dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge”.

Celebration scene from Dodgeball A True Underdog Story

Dodging into the future

As dodgeball continues to grow in popularity, it will undoubtedly evolve and develop in new ways. One thing, however, will remain constant: the spirit of fun, teamwork, and strategy that lies at the heart of the game. As we dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge again, we become part of the ongoing story of this exciting and engaging sport.

Want more history lessons on different sports from around the world? Check out our sports section for a whole host of them.