Spikeball for Everyone?

I’m not sure I really want to write this post. Part of me says, “c’mon, get over yourself.” While another part is saying, “it’s bothering you, get it off your chest, move on.”
Here’s the deal. I like fun, I like movement and games, I like people from lots of different backgrounds – put all those together and I consider myself extremely fortunate to be working as physical education specialist in an international school – all the bases are covered.

Recently, I learned about a new product which looks and sounds particularly interesting for middle and high school students. One of my PE tweeps showed some of the positive student feedback she got after introducing the game. Cool! So I found the company’s twitter profile which led me to their website which told and showed me all I needed to know about the game, the product and options for purchase. For further orientation, I clicked on a couple of their videos to see the game in action.

This is where my internal conflict kicks in. The videos that I watched featured young fit males and one or two young women in the 18-24 age range I’m guessing, all white. Several clips show players on a beach but there are clips of people playing in other spaces, too. Everyone in the videos is white. Everyone is the videos seems especially physically adept and coordinated, to the degree that I wondered, would this make any sense for less athletic school populations?

I was reminded of an article touting the benefits of an anti-obesity program entitled “Operation Pull Your Weight” where I couldn’t help but notice that the promotional video included no one who could be considered obese. Product marketing I suppose often produces such messaging mismatches: saying one thing, yet showing something else. In the case of Spikeball I pick up the message “This game is for everyone” and we’ll only show it being played by white guys.

My point here is not complain or point fingers of accusation. I am simply noticing and observing. The target demographic of this game appears evident and as such, their current marketing materials absolutely reflect that. As someone who does not fit that particular demographic, yet finds an interest in the product and the novelty it may offer students, I note a peculiar reaction. Not seeing people like myself or my students or my colleagues represented among the product’s demonstrations, I take away the feeling that this game is not really intended for us (people of color, people over 40, less coordinated players). We do not belong to the intended audience, so no great loss to the company if we don’t purchase or promote this particular game (That’s my gut take-away).

At the same time, I see a familiar trend. This is a new product, aiming to build its user community quickly. The founders appear to be young white dudes who are crazy enthusiastic about their product and the sport and they seem poised to appeal first and foremost to folks of similar backgrounds: white, college educated, athletically inclined and socially active (because you do need friends in order to play). Neither their strategy nor their visible reach so far should come as a surprise. They seem to be fully on course for doing what they’ve come to do: popularize a trendy new sport and sell the inventory.

If we’re simply talking markets here, catering to the caucasian college crowd may be all this company needs to claim success. Good luck to them. What strikes me is how the experience simply reinforces my sense that this is the norm. White people play certain games and enjoy certain forms of entertainment with other white people, while Blacks do their own thing and Latinos do theirs. And so the marketing of everything from beverages to TV shows to popular games reflects this “differentiated” or “targeted” approach.

To be fair, while writing this, my PE buddy encouraged me to seek out some of the instructional videos on the company’s YouTube channel. I found some and while still very vanilla, I at least could see kids playing and the game introduced in a more approachable fashion for beginners. Here’s a sample clip created by high school students: http://youtu.be/ZEZG-xvWN8I and here’s a group of junior high kids playing.

In many ways, it would be so easy to just skip over this episode. And that’s exactly the point: for most of us this is normal. We don’t find it odd that there are no people of color and few women or girls to be seen playing this game in the company’s videos. But this time, I just needed to say something.

I bet I’ll like Spikeball just fine if I ever get a chance to play with students or my sons. It looks like fun and like something you can easily find new ways to challenge yourself over time. Maybe the sport and the Spikeball community will grow its diversity over time. Even though this may present a challenge.

2 thoughts on “Spikeball for Everyone?

  1. vincent klug says:

    Thank you for this article. I was thinking the same things. I searched the internet for about 20 minutes and could only find super athletic people playing Spikeball. Anyways, You write well.
    You seem very honest and authentic.

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