Rock-It-Ball is the fastest growing sport on the planet according to Paul Kildreth, secretary of the International Rock-It-Ball Federation.

“A pinch of pelota, a little lacrosse, a dash of dodgeball and a whole lot of RockIt” – that’s the recipe for Rock-It-Ball, a unique new sport which is sweeping schools in the UK and attracting interest from abroad. So what’s the story so far?

Rules

Rock-It-Ball is designed to be versatile and flexible so there are several versions but when people talk of Rock-It-Ball they are generally referring to the ‘official’ version as used in Federation tournaments. Imagine two teams of five players in a sports hall. Each player is armed with a RockIt, which looks like a double-ended lacrosse stick. Players can go anywhere on court and be as near as they like to their opponents. To travel, players have to dribble by flicking the ball from one end of the RockIt to the other. The aim of the game is, as in any normal game, to score more points than the opponents. But there are no goals so how do you score points? Easy – by hitting your opponents with the ball (scores one point) or by catching the ball when an opponent tries to hit you (scores two points).

Whoa, I hear you say, hit your opponents with the ball? In our safety-conscious, compensation- crazed culture? Are you mad? Well, let’s put this issue to bed right now. All aspects of Rock-It-Ball have been designed with safety in mind:

  • The RockIt is designed to be very robust but also to be very safe. It is made of a material that crumples on impact and has rounded edges. It is also very light.
  • A number of different balls were trialed before the low-pressure, low-impact balls were selected. Soft foam balls are used for younger players.
  • The game start is designed to spread the play and minimize the chances of collision.
  • Sports safety goggles are available.
  • To date we are not aware of any Rock-It-Ball-attributable injuries.
  • One club currently reports three players out injured – from playing those dangerous sports, netball and rounders.

OK, that’s got the health and safety issues out of the way but there is one point I haven’t told you – with five players per side there are five balls in play which makes for a very fast game. Rock-It-Ball is perhaps unique in being a game with five balls and no breaks in play. Rock-It-Ball is designed to be simple and cheap. No special markings are needed nor special clothing. The rules are very easy and, although there are several skills to be developed, it is a game that players can get into immediately. It is amazing to see how quickly skill levels rise. It is also a mixed-sex game with males and females competing on an equal footing and it works equally well in a mixed-age scenario. In the World Cup, for instance, the youngest English player was 15 and the oldest 48, while the Scots were the only mixed team – and they won. Rock-It-Ball is not a derivative of any other sport but there are clearly elements of dodgeball, lacrosse and pelota. However, it is also clearly much greater than the sum of its parts.

Case study 1

A secondary school in the North East.  We are there to do a Rock-It-Ball introduction.  The first class is Year 9 girls.  One young lady has no PE kit and sits at the side.  “Aren’t you going to play?”, “Nah. Don’t do PE.  Haven’t done any PE since I came to this school”. “OK, you sit there and watch – but you’re going to miss out.”

We start the session.  Five minutes later she taps my colleague on the shoulder.  “Can I have a go?”,  “No – you haven’t got any PE kit”.  She storms out.  We look at each other. The teachers aren’t going to like that but five minutes later she’s back, fully kitted out having borrowed some from a friend.  The teachers’ faces were a picture. She did get involved and she was good!

Initiatives in school

Although Rock-It-Ball is spreading widely in a variety of fields, it is in schools that it is currently having the greatest impact. As well as being included in the Youth Sport Trust’s TOP activity pack, individual primary and secondary schools all over the country have been implementing Rock-It-Ball since its launch in February 2006. Things have moved on since then and now it is being adopted in some parts of the country on an area-wide basis with a view to setting up local school leagues. Some schools are using Rock-It-Ball as part of the curriculum, some use it as after-school clubs and some use it to support existing sports – and some use it to mix all three. We are even aware of some teachers who plan to use it as part of the GCSE curriculum. So why is Rock-It-Ball having such an impact in schools? Teachers using it maintain that Rock-It-Ball would be an ideal sport with which to implement the Sport Education curriculum model, predominantly because of the competitive team nature of the game but also because it lacks the dominant cultures of established sports such as football. There are key ways in which Rock-It-Ball can be used to teach pupils about personal and social responsibility, for instance. The game relies on pupils’ fair play to score and, although a system can be put in place to ‘spot’ when players do not act fairly, pupils are encouraged to take the responsibility for their own behavior. Rock-It-Ball is a game that demands honesty in sport. We have found that players generally do tend to be honest but there are measures you can take to tackle any problems. In an official game, for example, the umpire would have two assistants specifically looking for infringements. One of the great things about a new sport is that pupils are open to the game being modified. This allows teachers to modify the form the game takes to address the needs of the curriculum. For example, if they have a space for an invasion game, Rock-It-Ball rules can be adapted to fit that need. Equally, if they have already done two invasion games but no court games, then it is easy to introduce a central line to introduce pupils to the concepts and skills needed for court games. This adaptability means that they can use is the equipment with the same year group on multiple occasions to meet their educational needs. The game is great for teaching the need to move into space, dodging and other tactics that the pupils need for all games. More importantly, teachers are also reporting that Rock-It-Ball drives participation, attracting children and young people who do not normally get involved.

Other feedback from teachers is that Rock-It-Ball is that the sport has the following qualities:

  • Flexible and versatile – it can be used for a whole range of variations and in all sorts of scenarios. 
  • Inclusive – because the player doesn’t have to bend to pick up a ball, the game can be played by wheelchair users. The ‘flagship’ form also means that pupils who wouldn’t normally get involved find that they have to.
  • Fast – Rock-It-Ball provides an exhausting workout but is versatile enough to be played at different paces in different formats and so can be included in any sort of fitness regime.
  • Popular – we find that in schools the game is often driven by the enthusiasm of the pupils themselves.
  • Structured – it allows the development of structured exercises for skill development and is excellent for hand-eye coordination, agility and spatial development, front/back and lateral movement.
  • Encouraging – Rock-It-ball gives a real feeling of achievement. Although it is not something that is picked up immediately, i.e. it has to be worked at, it is something in which players can develop skills. The skills can be built up in a very structured way allowing users of all abilities to feel a degree of success. 
  • Suitable for all ages – Rock-It-Ball is played by children aged four to adults of 84. Some schools have used it for an end-of-year sports festival mixing ages across Years 7 to 10.

The IRIBF, along with the England Rock-It-Ball Association (ERIBA) and the Scotland Rock-It-Ball Association (SRIBA) are seeking to help support schools through a number of initiatives:

  • The IRIBF is currently putting the finishing touches to a sports awards scheme for primary schools.
  • SRIBA are about to launch a ‘schools association’.
  • The IRIBF will soon be announcing the first two schools that have successfully applied to become ‘Rock-It-Ball Academies’.
  • ERIBA will soon be announcing a Northern Region High Schools Tournament and all of the above bodies are willing to advise on the establishment of local school leagues.
  • ERIBA are running a national program for the Senior and Youth England squads and have just appointed Paul Reed from Hartlepool as youth team coach.

Case study 2

A small primary school in West Yorkshire. A tiny school hall surrounded by classrooms with internal windows looking into the hall. We are watching a number of children playing Rock-It-Ball at an after-school club.

Gradually we find we are becoming surrounded by parents who have come to collect their children.  Suddenly we hear one mum exclaim about her son who has ADHD: ”Good heavens. I don’t believe it. Look. He’s sitting listening!”

Are there any clubs based around schools? We are now seeing the establishment of some independent clubs, which will be the founders of the National League in the New Year. Some of these are based in schools although they are not school clubs. The National Lottery, through the Awards for All program, have been very supportive of the Rock-It-Ball clubs because of their role in increasing sporting participation. Most of the clubs (apart from after-school clubs) are in the North but interest is spreading rapidly and advice is available from the IRIBF, ERIBA and SRIBA.

Case study 3

The prison door slams behind us and the hairs rise on the back of the neck – even though we know we’ll be leaving in about an hour.  As we walk to the gym we talk to Lee, the PTI. “But Lee, these guys are going to try and kill each other!”, “Yes, exactly,” says Lee,” we play five-a-side and they try and kill each other – we get broken arms, broken legs and broken noses. We figure that with Rock-It-Ball they can’t do much damage”. We reach the gym and wait. Fourteen tough-looking guys are brought in and we explain what Rock-It-Ball is all about. We give them a few minutes to practice and then start playing three-minute round robins (well we don’t want them standing watching for too long.  We want them involved). David plays in the first game – he’s as broad across the shoulders as he is tall and he’s cock o’ the midden because he’s so big but after three minutes David is flat on his back: “I’m ******* knackered!” Forty-five minutes later David is no longer cock ‘o the midden (he’s just a big target), the guys are wheeled back out and we are allowed to leave.

Two days later one of the officers knocks on my colleague’s door and tells him: “We’ve never known those lads as quiet as that afternoon and evening.”

What about coaching opportunities?

The IRIBF Level 1 Coaching courses are already being run around the country by School Sports Partnerships and also by development groups. The IRIBF is currently in the process of putting together a full coaching and umpiring syllabus.

I’ve never seen another game like it. Rock-It-Ball has the simplicity of dodgeball with the sportiness and team play of lacrosse with the personal target setting and individual goals of squash. I’ve been coaching sport for over 10 years and working in sports development for five of those and I feel that Rock-It-Ball is like every sport rolled into one. You’ve got the fundamental skills that apply across the board: agility, balance, coordination, spatial awareness and the most important thing that seems to be lacking from many team games – sportsmanship. I know of nothing else that can deliver all of this in such a well balanced way, while being so simple and effective … It is the most open, accessible, simple, good honest tool for teaching the fundamentals of any sport. And more fun than a whole bag of balloons.

Ian Crosby. CEO England Rock-It-Ball Association

What developments are there and how can I get involved?

Things are moving so fast that there are new developments on an almost daily basis and there are many opportunities for people to get involved. The first regional associations are in the process of being formed, development groups are popping up all over the country to help further develop the sport and clubs are being set up by people keen to play. The IRIBF, ERIBA and SRIBA are there to help, support and advise and recommend that anyone wishing to get involved should get in touch to have a chat about it and how to apply for grant funding. These are exciting times and there is so much happening that I won’t say “watch this space” – jump into it.

Timeline

2005

  • Rock-It-Ball developed. This process includes initial design and redesign of equipment, materials testing, testing and selection of sports balls and sports goggles. Game rules devised, refined, field tested, refined. Practice fixtures and small tournaments as part of testing procedure.

February 2006

  • Rock-It-Ball launched officially at Youth Sport Trust’s Sports Colleges Conference in Telford. Overwhelming response.
  • Rock-It-Ball asked to be part of YST’s TOP activity program.
  • Schools from all over the country start to implement Rock-It-Ball on an individual basis.
  • First interest expressed from abroad.

March 2006

  • Rock-It-Ball used by charity for the disabled and starts moving into prisons.

April 2006

  • Now starting to be used for holiday sports camps, gifted and talented, INSET run for LEAs.

May 2006

  • Media personality Keith Chegwin gets involved.
  • Excellent feedback coming in from schools.

June 2006

  • First steps towards a partnership with major northern sporting university.

August 2006

  • Rock-It-Ball now being included in sports supplier catalogues.

September 2006

  • Work starts on sport education resource pack for teachers.
  • Interest starting from some universities.

November 2006

  • Rock-It-Ball now starting to be implemented in some regions on an ‘area-wide’ basis rather than in individual schools.
  • YST School Sports Partnership Conference – even more enthusiastic response than February as word has spread.

December 2006

  • Rock-It-Ball now in over 1,200 schools.
  • Big inroads into Scotland.
  • Launch of Sport Ed Resource Pack for Teachers.
  • International Rock-It-Ball Federation founded.

January 2007

  • Rock-It-Ball part of Sainsbury’s Active Kids program.
  • Carnegie National Championships – this event was a great success. Seven teams took part including two university teams, a team of teachers from West Yorkshire, a team of teachers from Scotland, an Air Cadet team and a team from a school in the North East and a factory team. The event was filmed by a Japanese TV news channel.  Overall winners were Loughborough University.
  • Rock-It-Ball UK Association founded. This organization is intended to be the administrative body for the UK and will act as the national governing body (NGB) for the home nations until those nations have their own NGBs.
  • First player (Tom Hildreth, 16) selected to the England International squad.

February 2007

  • Sports Colleges Conference. Progress has been so spectacular over the last 12 months that there is real excitement about the new sport.
  • Sport becoming well established in Scotland.
  • Scotland Rock-It-Ball Association established.
  • Rock-It-Ball appears on Wikipedia.
  • First club (Tees Valley Spartans) in preparation.

March 2007

  • Tom Hildreth filmed for TV.
  • Rock-It-Ball shown on Japanese TV news item.
  • First England training session.

April 2007

  • Rock-It-Ball appearing in discussion forums on the internet.

June 2007

  • Inaugural World Cup – an unbelievable day. Event contested by England, India, Pakistan, Scotland and compered brilliantly by Keith Chegwin, who exclaimed after the India-Pakistan match: “I’ve never seen anything so exciting”. England fielded widest age range with players ranging from 15 to 48. Scotland fielded the only mixed team and won. Congratulations to Scotland.

July 2007

  • Easingwold Rock-It-Ball club (Easi-Rockits) given lottery grant.
  • India Rock-It-Ball Association established.

August 2007

  • Tees Valley Spartans awarded lottery grant.
  • First Development Group awarded lottery grant and established.

September 2007

  • Halifax Strikers awarded lottery funding.
  • Easi-RockIts up and running.
  • England Rock-It-Ball Association established.

October 2007

  • First woman (Alex Chambers) selected for senior England squad.
  • Easi-RockIts obtain sponsorship.
  • BBC film England practice session.
  • More development groups in progress.
  • First regional associations in preparation.
  • Paul Reed appointed England youth team coach.

In progress

  • Rock-It-Ball continues to spread through schools and partnerships, universities and colleges and interest continues to come in from other countries.
  • Trip to USA to lay foundations of Transatlantic Trophy.
  • Halifax Strikers launch event.
  • Youth World Cup being planned for 2008.
  • More development groups in preparation.
  • Hungarian Delegation planning a visit.
  • South Africa almost ready to go.
  • Northern High School Tournament in preparation.
  • Teesside Schools Tournament planned for December 2007.
  • Next National Championships being planned.
  • National league planned to start in March 2008.
  • Collegiate league almost ready to go.

And there’s more but that is surely enough for now and gives a flavor of just how fast the sport has grown in only 20 months.

Contacts

… or find it on Facebook

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