Learning Environments

The Fall of Dodgeball: Why Schools are Removing Competitive Elimination Games from Their PE Curriculum

January 22, 2016 Updated January 21, 2016

The incorporation of elimination games is slowly receding from physical education programs across the nation, but why? It seems there are plenty of arguments against such games and how they are affecting our youth. Although many parents recall playing dodgeball in their younger years and remember it as a harmless and appropriate sport for K-12 students, many other parents and educators disagree. Administrators have been discussing the contention over dodgeball for several years, and it seems that in today’s world where school bullying is getting mainstream attention, there is no longer a place for such elimination games in the nation’s current curriculums.


Bullying has been a hot topic in recent years, as the incidence of bullying and cyberbullying and the resultant student anguish has received national news attention. A closer eye has been taken to the issue of student-on-student harassment. Human target games can encourage students to participate in hostile targeting and can mask bullying under the guise of team sports. Games such as dodgeball can inadvertently promote violence, and it can be hard for authority figures to distinguish what’s a hostile attack from what’s innocent play.

Many educators find games such as dodgeball to be contrary to the values they teach, promoting the exact behavior they spend much of the rest of the time rallying against.

Individual Capacity

Each student is different, and that means that their physical fitness, strength, and personality are all individualistic. In games like dodgeball, students who fall on the lower side of the physical fitness or extroversion scale become easy targets, typically enduring consistent early elimination from such games. This can weigh heavily on young psyches as some students may be routinely excluded from full participation.

An even playing field is a crucial means by which to help every student develop skills and receive exposure to the same amount of education as every other student, whether it be physical or mental. Elimination games can quickly segregate players and create a disparity in opportunity. More current games are focused more centrally on options that offer every player a turn. Removing the process of elimination from games keeps all children engaged for the length of the activity.

Quality of Activities

Although some games like dodgeball are old classics, a growing concern lies within the educational aspect of such exercises. Meeting the needs of all children, spurring them to take a vested interest in physical activity, teaching them to work together, and also challenging their brains are all integral parts of a well-rounded physical education program. As the health of the nation becomes a growing concern, teaching children how to become active and participate in sports is part of constructing a framework that can lead them to a lifetime of health and wellness.

Educating children on the importance of physical activity and promoting a healthy lifestyle is a must-have for today’s curriculum, and reducing the barrier to entry for children is paramount to leaning on classic activities of days past. Creating a well-rounded physical education program means building a program that meets all students where they are, and builds upon their individual foundations.  

Activities that students are exposed to should also be those that can be carried throughout their lives. With more adult leagues cropping up all the time, getting kids an early start in participatory team-centric games can help them both physically and socially long into their adulthood. This starts by ensuring that physical education in the curriculum is a positive experience that encourages growth.

Next Steps

With the elimination of games such as dodgeball from the PE curriculum, the next question becomes what to replace them with.

  • Skill Building

Physical education is not just about getting heart rates up. It’s also about teaching life skills and helping each student find their inner strength. Physical education is moving towards activities that encourage critical thinking, creativity, leadership, self-motivation, conflict resolution, goal setting, self-awareness, cooperation and team building activities, and respect for oneself and for others. Exercises that incorporate these skills can help set up today’s youth to excel both on and off the gym floor.  

  • All-Inclusive Games

Many games, even those that are American standards such as baseball and football, limit the level of participation by each student simply based on each student’s position on the field. That doesn’t mean that all such games should be eliminated, but merely that adjustments may be called for to ensure every student has an opportunity to experience the full spectrum of the sport. Rotating rosters, changing up players, and putting each student in every position can help even the playing field and help each student get time in the spotlight. Other games such as soccer can be pared down to just a few players per team to give each player more time with the ball.  

  • Reward-based Activities

In order to infuse an individual’s life with activities, physical exercise must become a reward. This means repositioning PE as a system where every included activity is a positive experience. Physical education must no longer be seen as a lackluster activity that can be pushed off, waived, or used as nap time for students who would rather spend time on the bench.

Games such as dodgeball and other elimination or human target games have lost their audience in recent years as physical education curriculum has become infused with a greater focus on getting kids moving, and removing any opportunity for bullying or singling out students. PE teachers across the nation are finding new, better ways to engage their students in team building activities that ignite their passion for physical fitness and help them find their own personal best. In a time where our country is suffering from a concerning health epidemic that is affecting our children, making sure the students are having fun, being challenged, and finding enjoyment in positive competition is the next step towards creating a sustainable physical fitness foundation for today’s youth.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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Filed Under

  • Learning Environments
  • Bullying Prevention
  • Physical Education
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary
  • 6-8 Middle School

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