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Start the ball rolling

Paul Newman watches a high-energy game using three types of ball and played by mixed teams

It's a blazingly hot midsummer's day in the Mendips and a troupe of supportive parents bellow encouragement from the sidelines as their children hare energetically after a mini-basketball. The pace is fast and furious and when the ball goes loose the game descends into a chaotic free-for-all. This, it transpires, is merely the warm-up.

Triball is a blend of football, basketball, rugby, handball and Frisbee, and is quickly becoming popular with schools in the West Country. Called Triball because of the three types of ball used - one for each third of the game - it can be played with footballs, basketballs, rugby balls, cricket balls and even Frisbees.

Triball's inventor, Andy Fenton, is the director of Sportzcoach, an organisation that provides sports training for schools. He created the game in response to requests from Sport England for innovative ways to get people playing sport. He describes it as "very active, fast moving and high scoring". His goal is for Triball to become an Olympic sport at the 2012 Games in London.

Today is a special occasion. The next chapter in one of Triball's first inter-school rivalries will unfold as Camerton Primary hosts local rival Freshford and attempts to make amends for being soundly beaten in their last encounter.

There's a real sense of anticipation as the teams prepare to take the field. The children are pumped up by the opportunity for some fun in the sun at the end of a long year and headteacher Charlotte Watson energetically marshals her charges from the touchline.

Triball is a nine-a-side game where tactical awareness and skill must be combined to accumulate points. Players are not allowed to move with the ball, and they pass by kicking or throwing it to a team mate. There are football-style goals at both ends of the pitch and three points are awarded for throwing the ball into the goal. Catching the ball cleanly while standing in one of the triangles in each corner of the pitch or in the final third of the pitch present further scoring opportunities.

After Andy gets the game underway, it quickly becomes clear that the children have a fine grasp of the rules, especially the Camerton team, who race into a 12-4 lead at the end of the first third. It's also clear that Triball is popular with boys and girls, because both teams are mixed. "We often find that girls have better hand-eye co-ordination than boys at primary age so there's no reason why girls can't excel," says Charlotte Watson. A string of fine saves from Camerton goalkeeper Kirsty reinforces her point and keeps Camerton in the hunt during a tricky patch in the middle of the game.

Schools like Triball because Sportzcoach provides all the equipment and it's cheaper than hiring a specialist teacher. The fitness value speaks for itself. "The kids are really active, that's the really good thing about it," says Charlotte Watson. "It's not one of those games like rounders, where you have loads of people stood around waiting. All the kids are moving and that helps them to keep fit."

Although there are intervals after each third and substitutions to give players a break, Triball is intense. The pace tells on Camerton during the second third and the team loses its shape, allowing Freshford to edge back into the contest. At the interval Camerton holds a slender 15-13 lead.

"It's a good game", enthuses Paddy, Camerton's 11-year-old captain, as he catches his breath. "I like football and there's football in there. And there are bits of basketball, too." Does he find the responsibility of captaining tough? "It's hard when the team don't listen when you're trying to get them to play 3-3-3," he reflects before dashing back into the fray to rally his troops.

In the end, Camerton runs away with the match. Kirsty's goalmouth heroics and a sequence of ruthlessly converted attacks take the wind out of Freshford's fightback and honour is restored with a comprehensive 45-23 victory.

The Freshford team looks dejected, but there's no room for gloating in Triball and Andy makes the teams line up to shake hands. There's also a presentation ceremony, where the Sportzcoach crew sums up the scores, makes Man of the Match and Champagne Moment nominations and generally ensures that as many children as possible receive praise for their efforts.

Triball may be fast and furious, but it's hugely popular with children and fosters valuable team-building skills. It also promotes sportsmanship and the notion that there's no disgrace in defeat when you do your best. All the evidence suggests that three balls are indeed better than one.

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