Human Targets: Yea or Nay

DODGE BALL IS WRONG AND SHOULD NOT BE PLAYED in PHYSICAL EDUCATION! Now that we all understand that let’s talk about using human targets in physical eduation. Should ALL human target activities be eliminated in physical education?  I am always questioning and refining my teaching practices. The subject of human targets is one that really needs to be talked about.

What is a human target? If we define a human as a person, and a target as “a person, object, or place selected as the aim of an attack”, we come to the conclusion that a human target is a person that is the aim of an attack.  This is important because now this includes tag games into the human target conversation.

There is a growing sentiment that human targets in physical education class are wrong and should be eliminated. The same people who believe this are ok with tag games though.  Let’s take a look and see if we can differentiate the two and find out why.  The human target games that are not tag usually involve throwing a projectile at another person.  This could be done by rolling it or using the overhand throw.  A tag game involves being hit or touched by a part of the body or an extension of the body (think pool noodle) by another person.

Both activities can hurt a student if the force is not controlled when the contact of the object or body part is made. Both games use human targets to aim or attack. What is the difference? The difference, in my opinion, is that tag is psychologically safer than throwing something at someone.  A student is much more apt to make a mistake in accuracy throwing something than tagging someone.  Tagging force is also much easier to judge for the offensive person than throwing force. There is a big difference between tagging games and human targets.

The next argument I heard against using human targets is when will you throw something at someone when we graduate from school? My counter to that argument is when are you going to sit on a scooter when we graduate school? Do we eliminate the use of scooters?  I don’t think the “will we use it later in life” argument is valid here. We will use tag in a baseball or softball game so there is a legitimate argument for it.

Another argument that I have heard is what is the grade level outcome that an activity using a human target would be tied to?  My answer to that would be you could tie it to: Throws underhand to a partner or target with reasonable accuracy. (S1.E13.3) Another outcome would be: Throws overarm to a partner or at a target with accuracy at a reasonable distance. (S1.E14.4b)  Both of those outcomes could be met using another game or activity though. So why do you need to use a human target if there are other more acceptable ways to accomplish those grade level outcomes?

To answer the above question let’s look at what dodging is.  Dodging is “avoiding (someone or something) by a sudden quick movement.”  No one can argue that dodging won’t help students become more physically literate.  This conversation revolves around dodging objects purposefully being propelled at a student.  One physical education teacher noticed that her students dodging ability dramatically decreased when she eliminated dodgeball.  This raises the question is there a need to work on dodging a moving object in open space? That is a valid question that needs to answered.

Let me reiterate DODGE BALL IS WRONG AND SHOULD NOT BE PLAYED IN PHYSICAL EDUCATION! My question to you is where is the research saying human targets are wrong? I have looked all over for studies on human targets and haven’t found any.  I have found why dodgeball is wrong and agree with them. Those talk about elimination or the damage a ball hitting you in the face or groin can cause.  Can this be extrapolated to include all human targets where the groin and face will not be hit? Where are the facts that tell me if I slide a bean bag on the ground or roll a ball at another person that it will psychologically harm them in the long run?  I want to use best practices in my class. We hear all about student voice and student choice in education.  The students love human target games.  I am fine telling them they are not allowed to do this in my class because it isn’t best practices.  My question to you is how do you prove that human targets are not utilizing best practices?

Q1: How do you refine your teaching practices? #slowchatpe

Q2: Who in your PLN’s word is gospel? #slowchatpe

Q3: What is something that your area says is wrong you disagree with? Y? #slowchatpe

Q4: Where do you go to find the newest research in ur field? #slowchatpe

Q5: What should become best practice in ur area that isn’t? #slowchatpe


6 thoughts on “Human Targets: Yea or Nay

  1. barrwi01

    Great post. Slightly off topic comment. I don’t think many PE teachers will argue about dodgeball not being played. It really should not be played. But should it be banned?
    The only reason I ask is because I have seen it used in a unique way. I had a colleague who used it as a Bullying lesson. He had the class play dodgeball to create some painful to watch situations and then used those painful experiences to create discussion. It was a very powerful lesson that involved significant learning.
    So I wondered how people felt about it being banned?
    Does it need to be banned for PE teachers to stop playing it?


    1. slowchatpe Post author

      Not off topic at all. I do think it should be banned. There has to be other ways to show his POV. Psychology doesn’t allow research that will hurt subjects in order to prove hypothesis.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. andy vasily (@andyvasily)

    Thanks for this post Justin. There seems to be a lot of ‘should we or shouldn’t we’ questions in regards to teaching practice floating around out there. Do I agree that dodgeball shouldn’t be played in PE? Yes. I’ve seen and heard of some brutal versions of it being played. However, an inexperienced teacher who chooses to allow dodgeball to be played does not imply that they are heartless, cruel, clueless professionals that should be ridiculed and put down. Instead, they should be made to realize that these types of games can lead to serious disengagement in PE and are potentially harmful as well. They should be taught different ways to meet learning objectives. I’m one of those PE teachers who allowed dodgeball to be played earlier in my career. Did it mean that I didn’t care about my students? Absolutely not. I have grown. learned and developed a ton since then.

    It is easy to judge and presume bad intentions at times, we are ALL guilty of it. Even though I do not allow dodgeball to be played in PE, are their versions or modifications that are non-threatening and enjoyable out there? Let me give you an example. I was once consulting for a school and observing their teachers in action.

    One teacher was playing a game that was very similar to dodgeball in the sense that students were throwing balls at one another. The difference was that this teacher called it the ‘Watch out for the falling coconut’ game. She was trying to teach her students a touch pass by having to lob it in and over the opposing team. There were loads of different sized balls out, loads of them. The students were picking them up and lobbing them in. Opposing team could catch and throw back. If they dropped it, they had to do 10 jumping jacks to join back in. If the ball hit them, they had to do 10 jumping jacks. They kids were engaged, active, laughing, and enjoying the game.

    Were humans targets, YES. It was extremely clear to see that the teacher had a culture and environment of respect going on. Not one student abused the rules, got angry or hurt. They were working on multiple skills.

    We sometimes assume bad intentions, but I’ve learned to hold back judgement and look more at observing for how caring and respectful an environment and culture there is in the program or classes. The teacher and school are obvious architects of these environments.

    Should dodgeball be banned. Ugly, malicious, brutal versions absolutely. However are there versions of these games that would work and meet learning intentions. I’m not sure of the answer, but when I look at the case of the one teacher I observed, there was nothing wrong with this game. No violence intended, no bullying, no disrespect.

    I get the point of this blog post Justin and commend you on bringing up the topic. I just want to remind teachers that we must reserve the urge to judge and look more at environment, culture and levels of genuine respect being displayed in the PE programs in our schools.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: The PE Playbook – April 15 Edition | drowningintheshallow

  4. darrellhaines2014

    I feel like most of the questions in this article have been answered well. This question from paragraph seven wasn’t touched on

    ” is there a need to work on dodging a moving object in open space?”

    I think that definitely this is a life skill. Walking around a mall, walking through the city where there are lots of other people moving around and other vehicles that you need to be able to avoid are examples of this. But there are plenty of ways to teach this other than target games.

    Also, the last question:

    “My question to you is how do you prove that human targets are not utilizing best practices?”

    I think that to answer this question We need to delve into activity/practice time. Repetitions of skills being taught. Is the game giving students enough practice time to become proficient at something or to improve their abilities. That for me is the biggest reason (among many) I don’t use dodgeball. From what I’ve seen too many students do nothing or get one throw. And that doesn’t meet my requirements for the practice of a skill. We all know that it takes lots and lots of repetitions to become good at something.

    Tag games on the other hand have a lot of activity time, and especially with small games there is a lot of dodging practice. (as a somewhat unrelated but important note Tag games also help get students Heart Rates up quickly adding value to those type of games)

    I’m not sure that you can prove that human target games are not utilizing best practices especially with the definition being used. I think the definition would need to be more narrow in scope to make any definite judgement.



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