At last there's a fast-moving game that's fun for all, says Ben Nicholas
Eyes flicker from side to side as the ball travels back and forth. It could be centre court at Wimbledon, except this tennis ball is bright orange and we're in the school hall. Pop. Pop. Pop. With the ball thudding into what at first glance look like double-headed poop-a-scoopers, the assembled Year 5s are drifting off into the sort of hypnotic daze often associated with repetitive action and certain outcomes.
Then, "Whoah! Did you see that!" All of a sudden the ball is launched by one catcher at a zillion miles an hour, slamming into the foot of the other - but he doesn't retaliate. "That, Rock-it-eers," he says, "is how you score a point. Now it's your go."
A few moments later, the children from Knavesmire Primary School in York are on the move. Throwing and catching in pairs is not easy when using unfamiliar equipment, but the struggles - Jand giggles - are worth- while because in a few minutes they are playing an exciting new game - Rock-it-Ball. Devised by three Yorkshire businessmen as a fast-moving combat sport, Rock-it-Ball is serious fun, as the children soon discover.
Two teams of six charge around the hall lining up shots, while at the same time evading the balls being hurled at them; the remainder of the class cheer from the sidelines, eagerly awaiting their own turn to play.
"There are four balls in play at any one time so you really do need eyes in the back of your head," says Rock-it-Ball marketing manager Paul Law, a former teacher who is delivering the session along with his colleague, Paul Hildreth, the technical manager.
Rock-it-Ball resembles a cross between lacrosse and dodgeball. It echoes playground games, but also includes elements of learning associated with any invasion game.
"Usually you get in trouble for throwing a ball at someone but, in Rock-it-Ball, you're allowed," grins one pupil. "Organised play fighting - how cool is that," laughs another. "It's great for letting off steam."
As the tournament continues, teams and individuals try desperately to out-score and out-hit each other. With a ball travelling towards him at speed, one child leaps off the ground and catches it in mid flow - an extension of the skills learned earlier where balls were caught at the end of their intended flight. Applause comes from one of the coaches - the boy has worked this out for himself and with public recognition now feels particularly pleased with himself.
On the other side of the hall a girl confidently intercepts a pass meant for an opponent. One of the less sporty members of the class who generally struggles with anything requiring hand-eye co-ordination, she is fully involved in this game. It later transpires that using the stick - called a "Rock-it" - has taken away her fear of being hit by the ball.
"This game appeals to all types," enthuses teacher Hannah Muschik. "See the boy over there waving his arms about, encouraging and organising his team? I've never seen him so animated. Normally he doesn't even bring his kit!"
Hannah, who is also PE co-ordinator at Knavesmire Primary, thinks that a game like Rock-it-Ball would be ideal for a multi-sport invasion games programme. She says it could be used to start a unit of work or, after focusing on more traditional invasion games, to end it with something more novel.
"The children themselves have come up with their own ideas as to how the game can be adapted and extended," she adds. "It's a very flexible sport.
You could have different points for different parts of the body, different numbers on a team to challenge the more able, or even have four teams on at once."
At Kings Manor School in Middlesbrough, Rock-it-Ball is used as a way of helping pupils enjoy one of the drier but nonetheless important areas of PE. "Rock-it-Ball is fast and furious from start to finish and while playing it students are involved all the time and get a fun work-out," says John Cook, who as head of PE uses the game to deliver the health-related-fitness (HRF)component of his curriculum.
"It's a straightforward enough game for students to access without having to develop skills beforehand," adds director of sport Andy West. "So staff can focus teaching interventions around HRF objectives."
Kings Manor students wear pedometers or heart-rate monitors while playing and can record increases and compare outputs with more sedentary activity or with their heart rate when at rest. Contrasts can also be made between the vigorous exertions required when playing Rock-it-Ball and activities like cycling or distance running, where a more persistent form of endurance is required.
"Before, we would use bleep tests or the Cooper 12-minute test to assess fitness levels," says John Cook. "Playing Rock-it-Ball allows us to do this and for the students it isn't a test."
At Knavesmire and Kings Manor, children are taking to the game in a big way. Year 5s are badgering Hannah Muschik about getting the two Pauls in again and sessions for other year groups are being set up. At Kings Manor, the game is taking off as a recreational activity and helping engage a wider number of pupils - many of whom are not interested in traditional sports - into the physical activity programme.