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How Spikeball Works

A cross between volleyball and four square, spikeball is popping up on college campuses and in recreational leagues all over the U.S. See more sports pictures.
Spikeball, Inc.

This is not your grandmother's lawn game. From what I can tell, it's not even your out-of-shape cousin's lawn game. And actually it doesn't require a lawn.

The endorphin rush that is Spikeball is tough to classify, but its creators call it a cross between volleyball and four square. Basically, shrink a volleyball net, make it a circle, flip it on its side, and use it as the base for the most vigorous, two-on-two four-square game of your life.

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It all looks a little awkward at first glance, what with that low-lying, hula-hoop-sized net at the center of an otherwise airborne game, but since its relaunch in 2009, Spikeball has become full-on rage [source: Ruder]. The game was on store shelves briefly in the early '90s, which is when Spikeball president and co-founder Chris Ruder started playing it. Over the years, observers asked Ruder and his friends so often what they were playing and where it was sold, they decided to put it back out there [source: Nagurski].

Now, Spikeball nets dot campus quads, parks and beaches all over the United States and beyond. In fact, the company briefly ran out of inventory in July 2013. Chris attributes the current success to the power of the Internet. Plus, he says, players average 28 new friends per five minutes of play and an attractiveness increase of 48 percent during the game.

Chris is a kidder.

But he has a point. By all accounts, Spikeball is a remarkably welcoming sport. When I contacted Tommy Adesso at the Spikeball Denver league for a quote, he invited me to play with them at the park the next day. And as far as attractiveness goes, I wouldn't be surprised if at least a few of the hard bodies leaping and spiking got that way by playing Spikeball. Leisure game this is not.

But it does share some traits with leisure games like ladder ball and bean bag toss. It's portable. You don't need a ton of space. Setup is easy. Trash talk is required. It works on pretty much any surface. And it'd be rare to find a Spikeball net without a 12-pack of beer close by. Though in Spikeball, you probably won't be holding one while you play.

A spikeball net and ball.
A spikeball net and ball.
Spikeball, Inc.

To play Spikeball, you need three things: four people, a Spikeball net and Spikeball ball, which is surprisingly small – perhaps half the size of a volleyball.

The net set-up is roughly the diameter of a hula hoop and sits at about ankle height. Assembly is quick [source: Spikeball]:

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1. Remove net, rim pieces (5), clips (20) and rim feet (5) from box.

2. Snap rim pieces together to form a circle.

3. Use clips to attach the net to the interior of the rim.

4. Attach the feet to the underside of the rim.

At this point, you might want to stretch out, because things are about to get active.

Gameplay really is reminiscent of volleyball and four square. Two teams of two stand facing each other around the net. One player on the serving team starts the round by bouncing the ball off the net toward the other team. The receiving team has to return the ball, again by bouncing it off the net, but this time the ball doesn't have to bounce toward the opposing team. It can bounce anywhere, and the returning team can run (and dive and leap) wherever needed to gain control of the ball, ultimately spiking it back onto the net.

As in volleyball, each team has up to three hits to return the ball. You don't have to use all three; a team member can spike it back right off the bounce. But usually, three hits are a good way to go. Player 1, who gets to the ball first, hits it up in the air for Player 2, who hits it up in the air toward Player 1, who is now in position to spike, and Player 1 spikes it downward into the net. If all goes according to plan, the other team picks up the ball work from there [source: Spikeball].

But not every hit goes according to plan, which brings us to the rules of Spikeball. There are, as you might have guessed, only a few.

Spikeball rules are pretty intuitive. Volley for first serve (hit the ball back and forth until one team drops it), alternate serving between team members, and don't use legs or feet to hit the ball [source: Spikeball]. Unless you want to. "Body shot" allowances tend to vary widely between leagues [source: Adesso, Ruder].

To claim victory, a Spikeball team needs 21 points and to be ahead by at least two. So if one team reaches 21 and the other has 20, the game continues until the two-point separation is met.

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To win a point, you have to be serving. It's called side-out scoring. If the receiving team fails to return the ball properly, the round is over and the serving team earns a point. If the serving team fails, the round is over and the receiving team earns the serve.

Finally, the "proper hit": The only hit that counts is the one that bounces off the net and only the net. If the ball bounces off the ground before touching the net, the round is over. If the ball touches the rim, the round is over. If the ball hits the net but doesn't bounce clear of the rim, the round is over.

If the ball hits a "pocket," the space between the net and the rim where the clips join the two, the round is a do-over.

Beyond that, it's all fun and games – or almost all. In the words of Skyler Boles of the Chico Spikeball league in California (whom Chris Ruder considers probably the best player in the U.S.), it's also the ultimate test of "hand-eye coordination, touch, finesse, deception, strategy, [and] mental toughness."

So, what's up next for the fledgling sport that has spawned leagues all over the U.S., national tournaments, and what appears to be a full-fledged counterculture in just a few years?

"A Spikeball thong," Ruder kids.

But seriously, "Community building. Trying to introduce as many players to each other as possible. That's my favorite part of the business ... There seems to be a strange, yet awesome, inherent trust and friendship among Spikeballers."

Maybe it's the endorphins.

Author's Note: How Spikeball Works

This article was one of the most enjoyable ones I've written in a long time. I wrote to two different Spikeball sources and received responses from three, all in a matter of hours. I'm usually happy if I get any response at all. It was odd and uplifting, which I suppose could describe the sport of Spikeball. I didn't play the game with Spikeball Denver, fearing I'd embarrass myself, but who knows. Maybe next week.

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Sources

  • Adesso, Tommy, Denver Spikeball League. E-mail interview. Aug. 1. 2013
  • Amazon. "Spikeball." (July 23, 2013) http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_sq_top?ie=UTF8&index=blended&keywords=spikeball&pf_rd_p=1535523722&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=B002V7A7MQ&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=0792492BK979TVKYSJ5Y
  • Boles, Skylar, Chico Spikeball League (Calif.). E-mail interview. Aug. 1, 2013
  • Nagurski, Mark. "An Interview with SpikeBall Co-founder Chris Ruder." Iddictive.com. (Aug. 1, 2013). http://www.iddictive.com/2010/03/08/an-interview-with-spikeball-co-founder-chris-ruder/
  • Osborn, Zach T. "Bad Trend Alert: Spikeball." The Harvard Crimson. Oct. 18, 2012. (July 23, 2013) http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2012/10/18/spikeball-bad-trend/
  • Ruder, Chris, president, Spikeball, Inc. E-mail interview. July 23, 2013.
  • Spikeball. "ESPN Spikeball 101" (video). (July 23, 2013) http://www.spikeball.com/spikeball-rules/#modal[videos]/1/
  • Spikeball. "Spikeball Rules." (July 23, 2013) http://www.spikeball.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/spikeball-instructions.pdf
  • Sumitra. "Spikeball: Volleyball's Brilliant Distance Cousin." Feb. 13, 2012. (July 23, 2013) http://www.odditycentral.com/pics/spikeball-volleyballs-brilliant-distant-cousin.html

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