What makes a sport a sport?
An exact definition is not obvious, but it is something that people just know intuitively.
Football? Sport. Rugby? Sport. Throwing a ball of paper into a bin? Not a sport.
For the team at GB Roundnet, though, this distinction is an issue which he must deal with as a job.
Jack Collard is the Chair of the group that is focused on formalising the game of roundnet and getting it recognised as a sport.
What is roundnet?
“It’s a sport played by four people, 2v2 across a round circular net that is elevated around 15 centimetres off the floor”, Collard explains.
“It’s a lot like volleyball, but instead of hitting a ball over a net you hit it onto a net.”
If this sounds familiar, its because roundnet has a big, popular, American cousin: Spikeball.
Spikeball is merely the brand version of roundnet but it has caused issues for Collard and his team.
“Spikeball have been crucial in the development of the sport, but it has been quite difficult to break away from the brand name” Collard says.
“But the sport needs to move away from being known only by the Spikeball brand if it is to grow on its own terms” Collard says.
Collard works for the Cardiff council as a planner as well as developing roundnet. He has a busy schedule, but this does not seem to deter him.
“It’s amazing to be developing what could be recognised as a sport in Great Britain.
“I love the sport and I love playing it, and it’s great to be working with a group of people who are all focused on helping the sport to grow here” Collard says.
What most people would not be aware of is that there are strict requirements in place ensuring that not just any game can be recognised as a sport.
“I thought you could go to someone and say that we have a net and a ball and that would be it, we would be a sport, but it’s a lot more rigid and rightly so” Collard says.
There are many requirements a group must meet but Collard says GB Roundnet can only currently meet some of them.
They have to prove they are unique, a member of international bodies and that there has been a significant uptake of the sport in recent years – they can do all of these.
But the largest requirement is that any game must show that they have at least 1500 paying members across Britain.
“This is the one we are currently stuck on. We currently have 110 members, but we know there is room for growth as there are hundreds of people playing across the country.” Collard says.
He explains how at the nationals last year of the 70 players who turned up, many were not members.
“We know the player base is there but turning them into members is the challenging part” he says.
Roundnet in schools
The biggest area for potential growth, though, will not come from getting people to pay but rather by getting roundnet played at schools instead.
“Students playing at schools automatically count as members. So we are now really pushing to get roundnet in the school curriculum.
“A class of 30 playing the sport would count as 30 members, it could be massive” Collard says.
He sees no reason why they cannot emulate sports like Ultimate Frisbee and Dodgeball, both of which have boomed in popularity following their involvement at schools.
“We modelled our basis for growth on these sports. You can play them anywhere without needs for masses of equipment.
“You also don’t need to be Mo Farah to take part, if you want to be involved and play to a decent level you don’t need a huge amount of fitness” Collard says.
This point is echoed by Ed Dunkley, who is head of partnerships at GB Roundnet and has been there for two and a half years.
“A big part of roundnet’s appeal is the fact that the barriers to entry in terms of equipment, and particularly skill, are quite low.
“It’s not an elitist sport and not one that even the pros have been playing since they were children.
“This makes it an excellent school and university sport as almost anyone can get playing and start seeing improvements quickly” he says.
Couple this with the fact that it can be played by men and women simultaneously and there is plenty of reason to believe its popularity could take off.
Becky Smith, who is director of grassroots at GB Roundnet sees different benefits from the sport.
“From the perspective of an educator, the sport offers so much in the way of opportunity for young people. Fundamental movement skills, coordination and practice opportunities due to it being a 2v2 game.
“It has huge potential for children to engage in sport, have fun and develop skill. the game is hugely adaptable so can fit the needs of all abilities, it’s great for teachers to use in PE and in breaks” she says.
Roundnet in the future
Collard certainly believes so, and he has lofty ambitions for the roundnet in the next five years.
“If we can get recognised as a sport the next stage would be competing at World Championships” Collard says.
Thanks to Spikeball, roundnet is a massive sport in America, and take-up of the sport has also been huge in Germany and Ireland.
“If we could be getting into the late stages of those competitions it would be amazing.”
Dunkley agrees, saying: “Whilst I don’t think roundnet will lose its status as a fun sport, I can see the elite side of the sport really growing in the coming years.”
He also is hoping that it will just become part of the mainstream of sports in this country.
“I remember a few years ago when we’d play in the park we’d get people coming up to us and ask “what’s this?”. Now people seem to be aware of the sport. Soon I think it’ll just become part of the landscape” he says.
Smith also has lofty ambitions for the future.
“With the growth we are seeing in school through our work with teachers around the country, as well as the first ever Gb team being selected, the exposure of the sport is expanding in a big way.”
“I think the sport will grow even more massively in the coming years” she says.