Let’s just be clear: I never set out to be a sport inventor. It wasn’t something I grew up imagining (or maybe I did and I just don’t remember) and I never had any real intentions to do it when it happened. It was just a confluence of things that forced my hand.
When you’ve build a tennis program at a camp with a bevy of other activities that has kids saying “I’ll pass on being in the cool lake, to sweat and play tennis” then you’re doing something right. That’s the situation I found myself in, in my reprise role as Tennis Director two years after my first stint.
But as I said, it rained too much. As a result, I had scheduled activity periods in the morning with entire cabins of kids who were sent to me, but who couldn’t play tennis because of the weather or the court conditions after the rain. I had to get creative.
So after we got tired of playing makeshift tennis inside the gym, we started to make up games with a racquet and a tennis ball that incorporated other sports, but universally used a 1) tennis ball and 2) a racquet. There was Tasketball and Tolleyball and the best game of all time, Tennis Dodgeball which isn’t really for public consumption, but still the most fun I’ve ever had.
But none of those games received the good housekeeping seal of universal approval of kids from 7-17. The sport that title was reserved for was known as Toccer (or Tennis Polo for those who’ve discovered it in recent years…)
Make no mistake, just because kids liked it doesn’t mean anyone else did at first. I never intended for the sport to be something we’d take from camp and try to make a real sport. It was just a rainy camp diversion. But when the sun camp out, the kids kept wanting to play toccer. From fellow counselors to senior staff who ran the camp, people were a bit skeptical about this new game. It’s a testament to their trust of me, the safety of the kids (we only had one injury and it was when a kid wasn’t paying attention and it was minor..) and the fact that they were clearly having a blast.
I had the hardest time explaining it to adults at first. But then, as time went on, I started to understand how this game translated and why the kids loved it so much.
It was probably around that time, that whether I liked it or not, I became a sport inventor.
The kids insisted I write rules and take the sport from beyond the camp walls. I sat down with them to work on the first set of rules, bought toccer.com before that summer was over and decided to go from there. I felt, if nothing else, I owed it to them and that it was a testament to how much fun that summer was.
I’ve spent the past few years research pretty much every sport you can think of around the world, their histories and how they’ve evolved. What I’ve came to realize pretty quickly is that most of the major sports around the world have been around a really long time and that there haven’t been many attempts in earnest to try to do anything about that.
Why? Too many people were focused on trying to patent their sports, to try to make profit from their ‘inventions’ that they didn’t spend very much time actually getting the game out there, letting people play it and enjoy it. For me, that has always been the only goal. Save for Ultimate Frisbee, there isn’t a new from scratch sport that’s been evolved from nothing in the past thirty years or so that isn’t based heavily off another sport (Arena Football) and I think this has a big impact on what kids see and choose to do with their time.
Why do so many kids choose to play video games? Or take up alternative sports?
Because it’s a field that hasn’t been mined or dominated.
Because they can be the ‘best in the world’ (see Seth Godin’s “The Dip” for the definition of this)
Because there are no pre-existing people out there who are so entrenched that they feel they have nothing new to contribute, even if they do.
The reason Toccer took camp by storm had a lot to do with my enthusiasm and willingness to indulge my inner kid to even invent a sport, much less defend it fervently. When people were naysayers about the game, I’d usually issue a challenge. “Play it one time. If you hate it, you never have to play again.” Anyone who took the challenge — whether they were an 10-year Japanese kid who spoke no English or a 24-year old counselor who was too cool for school — always came back with a completely different view of the game than when they started.
But that’s not why the kids loved it.
The kids loved it because it allowed them to be free to be who they were. They weren’t struggling to try to mimic the “Michael Jordan of Toccer” since there wasn’t one. They didn’t have constraints on their imagination and even kids who settled in the midfield or on defense, could find ways to use their talents and skills to contribute to the bottom line.
I was amazed at how quickly they picked up the rules, how immersed they became and how empowering it felt to be part of something that clearly more people ought to do.