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Embracing the CHANGE in Roundnet: Addressing Grey Areas


Change in Roundnet Spikeball by tom witt

“The only constant in life is change.” –Heraclitus

Taking the gray area out of roundnet, particularly the rules, is one crucial way I think that the sport can help to be “validated” as ‘legitimate’ in the minds of those outside of the roundnet community.

In my opinion, that “legitimacy” will lead to more participants, spectators, publicity, growth and money for the sport.

“That looks intense! Is it alright when the ball bounces all weird like that off the net? And who’s on whose team? When it hits the rim, is that good?” I have heard this a lot over the last 7 or so years when talking to people who are outside of the roundnet community about roundnet.

With gray areas and change, sometimes also comes controversy and push back.

I think that having open discussions, being transparent and forward with aspects of roundnet that aren’t perfect, and putting out LOTS of content to help educate players, old and new, about what they may see in a roundnet game, is crucial to the development of roundnet.

These discussions and changes will not only benefit those currently participating in the roundnet community, but also lower the barrier to entry for those new players.

Here’s Yer Change

Change…. A curse word in some circles, is necessary and inevitable in sport

In my opinion and observation, attitudes of people outside the roundnet community over the years towards roundnet tournaments and roundnet players have changed, for the better, mostly.

In the early days of roundnet I used to hear more of, “Oh I didn’t know there were tournaments, that’s intense.” People did not really know that roundnet was a sport people played competitively, maybe they saw it on Shark Tank, let alone being aware that there are national championships. Usually people would sheepishly smile in intrigue, but kind of did not really believe roundnet competitive tournaments and players were a thing, or just thought it was a very random, small niche that not many in which people participated (which is somewhat true).

As time has gone on I’ve personally noticed more people outside of the community reacting to roundnet tournaments and roundnet tournament players with more knowledge of roundnet tournaments and their existence.

Even though most people know a little bit more about roundnet than they did in 2011, they have no clue about a lot of basic game play rules, or especially the subjective rules. I regularly observe and talk to people who display a lack of understanding of what is going on in the game. This ranges from something as simple who is on whose team, if a rim is good or no good, what a pocket is, why a certain rule is in place or how to regulate that rule, how to score a point.

I’m not a huge proponent of rule change being the only way to make the sport better (see my other article on “Change and Progress in Roundnet: Players Have a CHOICE” on RoundnetWorld.com).

In my opinion, one way to take out some of the gray area in roundnet would be addressing rules we can test out, collect data on, and then implement change upon if needed.

We’ve Got Spirit, Yes We Do! We’ve Got Spirit, How ‘bout You?!

I think that one of the things that makes roundnet (shout out to Ultimate Disc) great is that the sport is for the most part self-officiated and has a “Spirit of the Game” attitude.

Sourced from Official Rules- Spikeball Roundnet Association, “7.1.2. Participants must play with integrity. The responsibility of fair play is first and foremost on the players. If a participant knows that they committed any sort of violation, it is their obligation to call it.”

This aspect of roundnet really brings an added positive element to roundnet that a lot of people don’t like about some sports like basketball, where there is often bickering and sometimes lying about rules in hopes of gaining an advantage over the competition.

One fault (HA!) I see with the legitimacy of the sport of roundnet is that people outside of the community don’t know the rules, especially the weird rules and rulings that honestly take a lot of integrity, being open to discussion and change to enforce.

As time goes on, and as the community grows larger there will be a smaller number of experienced players around to explain the subjectivity and nuance of the rules to newer participants. And this may lead to bending of the rules and a change in ‘culture’ which would not benefit anyone in the roundnet community.

“If you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’” has NO place in roundnet. Roundnet community members, for the most part, feel compelled to uphold the integrity of the rules and are proud that the community is honest and have integrity when it comes to rule enforcement.

Though, one reason this “spirit of the game” is necessary in most cases is there aren’t many officials, or observers, at every tournament. Though the numbers of certified roundnet observers are growing. The progress of self-officiation, conversation and INTEGRITY in roundnet is crucial for growth and success.

This integrity driven self-officiation can only work so well for so long, considering human nature and the addition of more people outside of the “core” roundnet community.

As roundnet grows, as competition gets stiffer, and the community gets larger and less “buddy, buddy” it is inevitable that there will be more people bending the rules to gain an advantage, higher placings and more prize money.

It’s human nature, and we shouldn’t punish human nature, we should see how to make it best fit into our sport.

Hinder, Hinder Chicken Dinner

Hinders are another gray area in roundnet that are hard to enforce at times. I think hinders are a good rule to leave up to the players to enforce, while continuing to discuss the nuance of the rules and changing how we interpret them.

Just like Ultimate Disc, the ‘Spirit of the Game’ is something that sets our sport apart from other sports where arguing and turmoil over the officials creates a lot of the hype and conversation around the sport. Any publicity is good publicity? Maybe we want that? Maybe we don’t?

This self-officiating emphasizes sportspersonship, honesty and integrity. This is great for our sport, especially when coaching youth athletes in the “bigger picture” of athletics.

Though, in my opinion there needs to be more conversation, videos and explanation put out by the Spikeball Roundnet Association (SRA) to address these “gray area” “judgement” rules. Some catalysts in the community, such as the Dantowitz’s (Dantowi), are currently doing this by compiling videos of hinders, creating conversation, and changing from there!

For the sake of players that are spending money trying to get to the top, and for the new player who doesn’t have years of tournament experience to base their judgment calls off of, this is an important aspect to be forward and transparent about; “We don’t know how exactly to fix this, but we are trying.”

One area that has been in hot contention recently is the hinder that sometimes stems from an errant pass flying into a defender, when it was intended to be passed to a different part of the net, and then causes players to collide, etc.

Official Spikeball Roundnet Association rules state, “6.1.2. Unavoidable Hinder - If the defender has no time to avoid the hinder when playing in a legitimate defensive position and the offensive player has a strong play on the ball, the point is replayed. The hindered team can choose to serve or receive while keeping the established serving rotation. Any faults will be reset.”  

The discussion usually goes along the lines of; the offensive player has the right of way, but it was also a bad pass that led to the hinder and the defender was actually in a good position. What to do?

Another suggestion I’ve heard people bring up is not allowing defenders to be over the net during defense, and only allowed to play up close defense outside of the rim of the set. This also makes a new gray area of having to call people on another imaginary line in the game, which I don’t think leads to the needed progress of the sport.

The SRA does have a rule in place that partially addresses this matter:

6.1.1. Avoidable Hinder - If the hinder is avoidable and the offensive player has a strong play on the ball, the point is awarded to the offensive team. Example - Defensive team throws arm in front of shot over the net, preventing offensive player from swinging. Example - the hitter is contacted by a defensive player during the act of swinging in close proximity to the net.” Again, integrity and discussion is crucial to the success of these rules and the growth of roundnet.

With the 360 degree nature of roundnet it will be nearly impossible to take away all gray areas regarding hinders but being transparent and creating discussion around this topic is moving in the right direction.

Service With a Smile

Currently the service line is at 6 feet away from the net. To have a legal serve the servers feet must be behind the 6 foot line and the ball must also be struck behind the 6 foot line. If there is no official observer present, generally this rule is to be looked at by the non-returning partner of the serve-receive team to determine if there was a fault or not.

The foot line is easy enough to regulate by watching, and then focusing back on playing. But trying to officiate where the server’s hand strikes the ball AND then also being ready to play the point is nearly impossible to regulate and tough to call split second, especially for a current participant in that game.

I suggest we move the serve line back and allow a lean in. New rule modifications are currently being tested by the Spikeball Roundnet Association (SRA) to move the service line back to 7 feet, but allow a ‘lean’ over the line to strike the ball. The server’s feet would still have to stay behind the line, but the ball can be struck where ever, to a certain extent.\

An example from another sport would be the 3 point shot in basketball. It would be nearly impossible in real-time to rule if an NBA 3 point shooter’s hand was over the 3 point arc when they released the ball, or if a tennis server hit the ball in front of the line, etc.

A couple of negatives brought up by roundnet community members are this change may allow taller players an advantage if they can figure out a way to lean incredibly inside the line and still maintain an athletic posture and hit the ball. Though, I don’t really believe this will be much of a problem.

With the addition of clarifications to the ‘lean in’ rule such as the server not being able to touch the ground inside the service line with your feet or any part of the body until the ball leaves the net, would be a good addition to add to this rule in my opinion.

Another negative to this rule that has been brought up by community members is that serve receive is already too easy at times, and this would lead to less rallies. I personally do not think this is going to be a problem. Serve difficulty is progressing every day, and it is serve receive that needs to continue to catch up, in my opinion.

I also think that this serve line rule change gives us as players an athletic and mechanical advantage. Like striking the tennis overhead volley, or overhead hit in volleyball, players are instructed to strike the ball in front of their body, which is more biomechanically advantageous than striking the ball behind your body.

I see lots of skilled roundnet players toeing the service line and then hitting their sidearm or cut serve style serve where the ball is contacted between the front and back hip, ‘inside the body’, not extended in front.

In my opinion, if players are able to get extended and contact the ball in front of their body more, this may lead a more athletic motion, and more “athletic” serves in my opinion. I could be incorrect with this, only experimentation will tell.

No matter what rule changes are made, modifications are necessary in any sport for newer, younger, and less skilled participants. Just like strategies most coaches/teachers practice currently in other sports, they can still start off their newer participants closer to the net, with modified rules, and then progress them up to the regular rules.

I think it is very important to create rules that are easily enforceable, and repeatable from the championship level down to a middle school Physical Education class.

Hot Pockets

Another gray area I see in roundnet is “pockets” on serve being so arbitrary and opinion based. Everyone seems to have a slightly different idea of what a true pocket is, and in my experience when hosting new players they don’t even know what a pocket on a serve looks like or how it is ruled, that sometimes it’s legal and sometimes it’s not.

I have seen a lot of frustration from newer players in pickup and tournaments when ruling on pocket serves. Sometimes the way “their friends at home” play is far different from the rules, but because they are the best players in their group they feel like they are right. It also leads to confusion by newer players who have no clue how to rule on what a pocket is, or that a “front pocket” AKA “near net” is what you want to hit in most cases.

Audibly calling a fault on a serve is one area that needs additional clarification and purposeful implementation by the influential players in the roundnet community. The rule states “fault” is the correct word to use, but not all people use this word in this situation.

The rule regarding this matter states: “4.5.2. If the server commits a Service Fault (see 4.6) the serving team has one more attempt to hit a legal serve. 4.5.2.1. If the server commits a service fault, either player on the receiving team has until the ball is hit for a second time or there is a change of possession to call “fault.” The server is then allocated a second serve. If a second “fault” is called, the receiving team is awarded a point.
4.5.2.2. The receiving team may choose to play through a fault. Exception 4.6.10 – 4.6.14. Unless a call is made by a player or observer, the play is live. The receiving team is not required to say anything if they choose to play through a fault.”

Some people say “fault” but a lot say no or rim, or pocket, or roll up, sometimes those mean they aren’t playing it, sometimes it signifies nothing, some people don’t say anything and catch the ball and throw it back to the server… you get it.

It’s a gray area that newer players experience a lot of confusion and frustration around, and a simple miscommunication can cause a high level player a chance at a crucial point in a match.

I suggest that the SRA makes more of an effort to produce content around this the official word, “fault”, to use when signifying you are NOT playing a service fault. The defense should still always be ready to play a point, but less gray area is very needed in this area of roundnet.

I see no way to fully remedy the fact that pockets on serves are a VERY gray area. Others in the roundnet community and I have suggested testing the idea of playing with a larger ball, or a larger net so that there are less violent pockets, or two people able to return the serve and play all pockets, which might make even the pocketed serves able to be played, as opposed to playing with a smaller ball/net/1 returner. That is a lot of change and may take the element of cool, hard serves out of the game.

These are things that need to be talked about and tested by the community and SRA to either warrant a change, or validate what we are doing currently as the best practice.

Transparency and Open Dialogue

I think that one huge way to help with these gray areas is to be transparent about it, put out LOTS of content talking about it, and be purposeful with how the community treats these aspects of the sport.

Putting out videos of what pockets are and are not, what hinders are/are not, having discussions, testing modifications, not trying to hide the gray areas, and being open about this not being the greatest rule BUT with the help and cooperation of the players we can make it the best we can.

The roundnet community and SRA are actively taking steps to improve the sport, and that needs to continue.

Education in regards to these situations will create less confusion and lower the barrier to entry for new participants.

My Final Take

Influence in the world of roundnet is very interesting to me. The majority of public discussion around roundnet takes place on the SRA Facebook page. It's quite interesting observing those who are opposed to change, and those who embrace it, and their individual backgrounds, who they are as people, etc.

If someone who is more “popular” or “respected” in the roundnet community their post gets read more and their opinion gets taken more seriously than someone who isn't as 'popular'. These individuals may be conservative minded or more change minded, and this will have a huge impact on the progression of roundnet. Just like with a sports announcer being biased one way or the other, one who is “old school” or “new age”, etc. who is "at the forefront" of the discussion really dictates how the rules change, or don't change. Humans! Woo!

With gray areas and change, comes controversy and push back.

I think that having open discussions, being transparent and forward with aspects of roundnet that aren’t perfect, testing things to validate current practices or a need for change, and putting out LOTS of content to help educate players old and new about what they may see in a roundnet game, is crucial to the development of roundnet.

These discussions and changes will not only benefit those currently participating in the roundnet community, but also lower the barrier to entry for those new players.

Change is the only constant, let’s embrace it

Spike On!

Tom Witt

2 comments

  • Cristobal Schweitzer

    Hello Tom, loved your take on how the sport should grow and that grey areas should be eliminated, I came to this post in order to tell you about the idea we generated in chile but had not the level to test if it would work at the highest of level, so first of all most rules ive seen being proposed looking to end with the “serveball” idea start on a base of nerfing servers where i believe we should be nerfing serve recievers.
    """Another negative to this rule that has been brought up by community members is that serve receive is already too easy at times, and this would lead to less rallies. I personally do not think this is going to be a problem. Serve difficulty is progressing every day, and it is serve receive that needs to continue to catch up, in my opinion.""""
    So we thought severs should not be punished for being to good, So what about a new line (halfway between set and serve line for example) where the recieveing team is not allowed to spike standing inside. (leaning aloud) and only be effective on the first return of the serve, would definitley give not so good servers a chance to defend that first ball and get the rally fully going . Well i texted you directly but will leave here anyway

  • Adrien

    What a great article ! I totally agree with you asking for a more opened discussion. I’ll share this to my little french Roundnet community

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