“Throw Rules” volleyball: Modifying sports for the uninitiated

“Throw Rules Volleyball”

Rules are for losers, so make up your own

When the University of Regina’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program had a record 150 students in this summer’s program, my job as a cultural assistant (CA) involved a lot of improvisation. CAs, of which there were more this year than ever – many of them newly hired to accommodate our numbers – are meant to accompany ESL students to extra activities outside of their English classes that will introduce them to life in Regina and Canadian culture. With bigger groups (and they’re still growing, with the program this fall having around 300 students), CAs need to put their heads together more often to come up with engaging activities around the university. It very often circles around to a way people have been socializing in groups for thousands of years: sports.

There’s just one problem with all of the sports nights, gym times, and sports tournaments, we had with these students, though: not everybody in the program is great at sports, including me. There are some students from the participating countries – Mexico, Japan, Korea, and China – who are superstars in soccer, basketball or volleyball because of their club activities back home, but we also have no shortage of artists and musicians who spend very little time in gyms.

Frankly, I’m always happy to work with fellow non-athletes. I think it makes recreational sports the best they can be. In a room full of sporty people (and many of the CAs I work with are athletes too) it can be easy for people to totally forget to see whether you’re having any fun. Now listen, team games are great, but let’s admit that when a group of people who are really good at something get together, the people who aren’t so good at that thing become non-participants quickly. I have more than enough experience with coming to a “sports night” and spending about 3 hours standing totally still. If you’re doing competitive sports, this is necessary to get the best players, but when you’re playing sports for recreation, the worst thing you could do is discourage everybody from participating equally.

But we were lucky enough to avoid this problem, namely during gym nights where we put up the nets to play a game of volleyball with the students in the gym. Our first few tries at this didn’t go so well – admittedly, I cannot hit a volleyball and several other students were in more or less the same boat. Getting that volley down is not only difficult, but terrifying. Volleyballs are heavy, hurtling towards you at maximum speed, and you’re supposed to just let your forearms take the brunt of that damage? We can’t all be that brave. Eventually after a series of games (if you can call them that) which basically ended after someone served, we realized we had to change our strategy.

The solution became an all-new version of volleyball that we experienced as not only easier, but more engaging and exciting for the group as a whole. We call it “Throw Rules.”

Throw Rules is simple to play. It’s just like regular volleyball, but instead of the traditional volley, players just throw and catch the volleyball. One side can only throw it three times before having to throw it to the other side, in order to keep things interesting. Basically, nobody has to hit the ball, and since throwing and catching was something everybody at the gym nights could do, it became an activity that was more open to engagement.

Talking to another CA at these gym nights, Bri Bailey, we agreed that changing the game to suit the group’s needs was overall a good idea. Bri noted that there was one downside: if you happened to already be really good at volleyball, you might find the game boring or unchallenging. But this is definitely a small price to pay in order to let people in who otherwise wouldn’t be able to play or have any fun at all. Apart from those who really craved a challenge, Bri noted that students enjoyed the new edition of the game and things got a lot more exciting (for both students and CAs) when it became more open to everyone. Games got a lot longer, there was a lot more laughter, and the prospect of playing volleyball to pass the time got a lot less intimidating.

“[Altering the game] helps newer players get accustomed to passing to their teammates,” said Bri. As time went on those who were able to hit the ball did, and it became a mixture of volleys and catching or throwing. The game was a lot looser and didn’t have a whole lot of rules or competition – but because that wasn’t really the point of what we were doing, none of us seemed to mind very much, and we played volleyball (or whatever you’d call it) well into the night.

This was one of the only genuinely fun experiences I’ve had playing a sport, as someone who shies away from athletics. I felt less afraid that I was going to be “not good enough,” less intimidated by the motor skills I needed to have to participate, and as a result I felt like I was really part of the team instead of just a bystander. I think that athletes should look at this case of relaxed fun when doing sporty activities with their less sporty friends. People can’t enjoy something unless they feel like it’s available to them, so if you feel like some of your friends are too down on sports, think about whether you’re meeting them halfway. If you’re willing to make some changes to what might seem like sacred rules, you might end up having a better time.

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