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Dodge ball is dead and with it went an incredibly effective means of teaching kids what made this country the greatest thing that ever happened to mankind. You don’t have to sit back and accept it as fait accompli. In fact, every time you train at Athletes Unleashed you are doing something to reverse the trend.

Some of you remember it. The shock. The sting. The startlingly violent impact of the ball smashing into your face. The disappointment weighing heavily on your soul as the fantastical thoughts of heroically fending off the entire opposing team crumbled under the impact of rubber against flesh. In a flash of pain and disbelief the excruciatingly detailed saga of you, the lone dodge-baller, catching opposing players’ speeding projectiles and freeing imprisoned teammates, evaporated. As you begrudgingly took the walk of shame to the sidelines, you’d count the number of, “losers”, already sitting out.

“At least I wasn’t the first one out”.

Despite your best efforts the thought brought no comfort, no succor.

Redemption could only be earned by boldly stepping back into the fray to face what other, lesser schoolmates feared: the dodge ball.

The dodge ball; feared by many, loved by the few that had mastered its use, and respected by all. I remember skillfully delivering well-aimed deathblows and growing at least an inch in height every time I watched my defeated opponent slump lifelessly, pitifully to he floor. Who doesn’t remember their chest swelling with pride after catching an opponent’s pathetic toss? Who can’t still hear their name being chanted from the sea of sidelined teammates who were desperately hoping for a second chance at glory? The power you felt as you scanned the diaspora of slower, weaker players looking to you for salvation and a shot at redemption. Dodge ball made us better human beings. It made us giants. It taught us life lessons.

Life lesson #1) Crying doesn’t help, sucking it up does. It only took observing, one time, some poor bastard crying in front of the entire gym class to come to the realization that as badly as the dodge ball stings, its not even close to the sting you’d feel having everyone snicker at your tears. The ability to, “suck it up”, and suffer well brings respect. Respect brings opportunity.

Life lesson #2) There are going to be a lot of people in this world that are better at stuff than you. It didn’t take any of us long to realize that we weren’t the world’s greatest dodge ball player. Every toss that got picked off and each abrupt impact to the face brought with it enough humility to remind us of that fact. We learned that we had better stay on our toes, work hard, and figure out a way to compensate for our weaknesses.

Life lesson #3) Value your friends. Time stood still on the sideline; the wasteland where the slow and the dead waited yearningly for rescue. We all remember sitting helplessly, watching as other, lesser players were brought back into the game by a well-timed catch from a pal. Desolation and despair filled the heart until at last a friend, with laser like focus, plucked off some un-expecting player’s throw. Everything stopped in that instant. The universe stood still. Silence hung in the air. You dared not breath. Suddenly it happened. They pointed at you approvingly, and breathed life back into your soul with a single, affirming nod of the head.

Life lesson #4) Effort matters. You may not have been the best, but one thing was certain, if you hustled, dove after tosses with reckless abandon, and charged the starting line with kamikaze-like determination then you were going to get picked for the team. No one wanted to be the, “left over”. There was only one way to ensure you weren’t going to get picked last. That was by working your tail off every game.

Life lesson #5) Play by the rules, but don’t expect everyone else to do the same. It was always the same kids that were ignoring rules. That is, the ones that were, “unaware”, that the ball grazed their sleeve as it whistled past, or somehow always failed to notice that the ball they were trying to catch bounced off the floor a split second before they scooped it up. Character matters. Reputation matters. They both open and close doors long before they are approached. People remember.

Life lesson #6) It’s better to be a generalist rather than a specialist. It seems like each team had one or two of them. You know the ones: the boy or girl with a cannon for an arm but who couldn’t catch a ball if it was handed to them, or the kids whose feet moved so quickly that they were a blur, but couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn when making a throw. We all learned quickly it was better to be pretty good at a lot of things rather than great at just one.

Life lesson #7) Life is easier when you are strong. Kevin. I think Kevin started shaving in second grade. I remember him standing at least 3 feet taller than the rest of us. He was strong. Kevin did what ever the hell he wanted. Life was easier for Kevin. I don’t think any of us forgot that lesson. Being strong is good. Being stronger is better.

Life lesson #8) Don’t smack talk. It has such a unique sound, the impact of the rubber ball hitting someone flush in the face. Its hollow, almost tinny ringing a distinctly gratifying sound made only sweeter when it emanated from the face of a kid who had spent the morning talking about how many balls they were going to catch and how many kids they were going to take out. We learned early on the bigger the mouth the bigger the target. Keep your mouth shut, your eyes open, and let your actions do your talking.

Life lesson #9) Take a bullet for someone, even those you don’t know well. I remember diving to catch a ball and fumbling it before I ever hit the ground. I rose with the bitterness of failure in my mouth and the realization that I was now the walking dead. I was condemned to the sidelines and at the mercy of one of my teammates’ ability to make a catch. Then the kid that I didn’t even know that well and who would have been hit by the ball that I tried to catch said, “Thanks man.” A few minutes later he caught a ball and cast a life saving nod my way. It was a eureka moment. Everyone learned the value of taking one for the team, a friend, or even someone you don’t know that just needs a little help.

Life lesson #10) Better to die a hero than to live a coward. I loathed this kid; we all did. The, “survivor.” The kid who mastered the art of dodging and ducking, slinking like a snake in the back of the pack allowing other, better teammates to take hit after hit for them, all the while themselves doing nothing. Sure they made it to the end, but not of their own accord. They made it to the end on the coattails of the heroes of the game. Kids who were willing to leave their skin in burnt, red streaks on the hard wood floors so they could walk out with their pride in tact, if not all their skin. We all tried to out work each other. Burn marks and bruises were badges of honor. We learned the value of hard work and of not being afraid to go for it. We got comfortable being uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, our kids are not able to share in these experiences. Somehow, somewhere, someone decided dodge ball was too violent, too risky, and too individualistic. How is this even possible? Is this not America? Is this not the home of the brave, the land of the free? Are we not he winner of back-to-back world war championships? How the hell did we get to a point where getting blasted in the face with a rubber ball was life threatening and permanently damaging to a one’s self-image? The question is a rhetorical one, but it points accurately to the current state of things. The fact is your kids will never have the opportunity to experience the character-building version of dodge ball that we did.

In my kids’ elementary school they play dodge ball in name only. It’s disturbing how pathetically watered down it is. They don’t use rubber balls and they can’t throw them. They can only role along the ground fuzzy, fluffy, cloth balls. It’s sickening. Worse yet, if someone scoops up a fluff ball (it’s painful to even type the words “fluff ball”) all the players on the sideline, rather than just one, are let back in lest a child is forced to make a choice. How the hell are we going to create the next, “Greatest Generation”, if we don’t give kids the chance to make hard choices, deal with the consequences, and get a few bruises, both physical and emotional?

We will do it by getting them to do what you do: LIFTING WEIGHTS.

I put weightlifting (power and Olympic) on par with western style combatives (boxing and grappling) when it comes to effectiveness in developing both physical and mental toughness.

Introduce your young children to weightlifting. It will make them better human beings because the bar never yields. It will not be their friend. It will cut them no huss and grant them no special priviledge.

The bar is unmoved by their tears. In its emotionless state it only beckons them forward, tauntingly offering itself up to be moved, if they dare.

The bar is the great equalizer and offers no place to hide. It highlights, precisely, those that are strong and those that are not, while granting a chance for the weak to gain strength.

The bar provides suffering that is wonderfully fertile ground for a young friendship to grow.

The bar rewards hard work and sincere effort with gains and the promise of heavier weights.

The bar punishes with injury and abysmal failure kids that cheat and take shortcuts.

The bar provides the generalist the ability to further hone skillsets that were once in only the arena of the specialist.

The bar makes kids stronger. Their life will be easier when they are stronger.

The bar makes champions of the kids that work and fools of the ones that only run their mouths.

The bar equips kids mentally and physically with the strength to help those in need. There is naught more empowering than the confidence a child gains from being able to throw around a heavily laden bar.

The bar makes giants of them. It takes guts to endeavor to hoist a heavy bar overhead. It’s a certain kind of young athlete that is willing to fight gravity and pull their body weight off the ground, or place the crushingly heavy weight across their shoulders and squat down and back up with it. Fortune favors the bold and so, too, does the bar.

Our kids may not have the chance to feel the life-changing sting of a well-aimed dodge ball, but they do have the opportunity to get under the bar. Give them that chance. Get them under a barbell and watch them become the next, “Greatest Generation”. They will be better, harder working, more capable people for it and our nation will remain on the path to greatness.


Semper Fi,

Coach Robby

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