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What's Your Roofball?

What is Roofball? Roofball is a game that my brother and I made up in the Summer of 2005. We were in our backyard peppering when all of the sudden one of us (probably me) shanked the ball onto the roof of the garage. The ball rolled up the steep roof, and then reversed course and started it’s way back down. My brother Brian didn’t skip a beat, he passed the ball back to me as it cascaded over the rain gutter and we continued to pepper as if we had meant to do it.


Entertained by this, we then started to purposefully play the ball onto the roof in new and creative ways. Being the competitive siblings that we were, we tried to figure out how we could make this into a game where there was a winner and a loser. To start we created boundaries and rudimentary rules. We used a crack in the patio as our service line and the left and right sides of the roof as our sidelines.

The game was essentially a cooperative pepper where we would pass and set to each other, and the third contact had to be played onto the roof. You would score points if you got the ball to fall on the ground inside the boundary lines or if the opposing player would make an error (like hitting the ball to hard so that the ball would roll up one side of the roof, and down the other into our neighbors yard; sorry Kathy!). The first week we tested the game for hours each day, adding and adapting rules until we could both agree on a “fair” field of play.

We loved roofball. We played daily best-of-seven series, we adapted new and different strategies, we invited our friends to play with us. We loved this game so much that we would play until we ran out of daylight. Our parents took notice and installed a flood light in our backyard that kept the entire roofball court illuminated even after the sun went down (again, sorry Kathy).

We had to perform every volleyball skill (except spiking) during roofball: pass, set, serve, tip, and play defense. We got so good at this game, that rallies would last several minutes. It seemed like the only time we would stop playing was when we got into a yelling match about who won the last point or when it was dinner time. All of those hours of roofball play translated into some amazing results on the volleyball court. Both my brother and I could see the advances in our game almost immediately. We were more aware of the court, our setting went from a liability to an asset, and our defense was fun to watch. At the time we didn't realize it, but we were not just playing a game, we were practicing our sport for hours on end.

Why was this the case? I would argue that roofball is a stellar example of “random practice”. Random practice is when motor learners work on a number of different skills in combination with each other, randomly working trials and patterns of one and then the next and the next, with each trial interleaved on the previous one. The random element means the learner is forced to be on his toes, not falling into a repetitive routine. All of this practice was just disguised by the competitive aspect of our made-up game.

Random practice produces creativity amongst athletes and helps them become more imaginative in their approach to competitions. As coaches, the challenge is encouraging our athletes to carry this random practice outside the training block of our teams and into their lives outside the gym.

What's your roofball? Don't have one? Get creative and make your own!


Brian (left) and myself playing in Manhattan Beach July, 2010


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