Cloth Dodgeball vs Foam Dodgeball: The Showdown
This is the final showdown: which is better, foam or cloth dodgeball?
You probably read the title, sighed, and clicked anyway. We’ve all been there. We’ve heard the arguments. We know which form is the best – it’s the one you already play – and every other form is boring/slow/dangerous/overcomplex/just plain bad. Oh, and sorry to any rubber players… maybe we can discuss that another time?
But we’re here today to break it down properly. Scientifically, even.
The start of a new era?
The integration of the European Dodgeball Federation (read: cloth) and World Dodgeball Federation (read: foam) spawned a new, hybrid competition, whereby individual cloth and foam competitions were run in parallel at the same event. This format was first tested successfully at the Atlantic Cup in 2019 with Team USA taking the crown. And following this, Team GB then participated at the World Championships in Mexico (foam only), stating the EDBF’s intent to harmonize the sport globally. Subsequently, the format was also going to be played at the World Championships in Glasgow in 2020. Certainly a big step forward for the sport.
So, for better, for worse, both forms are here to stay, at least for now. Foam has become more present in the British dodgeball scene these last few years. Before COVID, a foam open was successfully held at St. George’s Park, and several clubs had begun running dedicated foam sessions, as demand was increasing. And now, we’ve seen two highly competitive foam-only competitions since dodgeball returned in 2021.
What’s the difference then?
On a literal level, one is played with a foam ball – a squishy, sponge-like ball, 7 inch diameter, most popular in North America and Oceania. And the other with a cloth ball – a tougher ball with a rubber bladder and cushioning cloth exterior, also 7 inch in the adult game, and typically played across Europe.
Foam dodgeballs can be more unpredictable as players can manipulate the trajectory of the ball, adding spin and exploiting its aerodynamics. However, once mastered, it can be fascinating to watch and play with numerous throwing styles. And we haven’t even mentioned the catches!
A cloth dodgeball weighs around 100g more, and is more predictable as it holds its shape during flight. This combination often means players can be more accurate and powerful, meaning gameplay is much faster, and team play is very important.
But when we talk about cloth vs foam, we’re not really talking about the balls themselves; rather the pros and cons of the rulesets. A full breakdown of the differences of each can be found in the table below.
Generally, cloth is a faster ruleset. It encourages riskier plays, such as sacrificing yourself by jumping out of court to make a catch, or making sequential player trades. The balls can travel faster, but the game is faster too: 3-minute frames over half an hour means that teams will strive for a large lead and every set offers a close-fought final 10 seconds. The bound time-limit means you’re more willing to make riskier moves.
Conversely, foam has no set timings, which means sets can be very slow, where teams grind out an entire 20 minute half. This is because sets have no time limit. And a 1v6 is not an impossible scenario in foam like it is in cloth. A couple of catches and you’re back up, and there’s time enough to bring back the set. This means it can be slow, however, played in a certain style, it can be fast paced, like in Team GB’s high-scoring win over Norway in the 2019 World Champs.
When asking the North Americans, the main problem seems to be one of accessibility. The rules as they stand for the WDA are too ‘complex’ (standing at 22 pages). People with smaller hands and poorer grip strength will struggle with cloth balls – in my coaching experience, it takes around three months for smaller handed players to develop the right grip to throw the ball, not lob. This can be off-putting to new players who can simply pick up a foam ball instead.
Turn to the Brits, and the issue around foam is one of speed and energy. The lack of frames in foam dodgeball is the biggest issue here. It leads to more tactful game-management, or time-wasting, – which, yes, happens in cloth too, but is limited to 3 minutes per set in cloth. Wasting the clock for most of a 20-minute half can be dull to watch. However, sometimes you may need to look at the bigger picture, and understand what the player is trying to achieve. Which asks the question of viewability, i.e. would Sky Sports want to broadcast dodgeball?
So which version is better then?
After much scientific investigation, it seems that there are good arguments on both sides, but the biggest issue is that we’re creatures of habit. Experienced players don’t want to be bad at something again. And that’s what playing a new form of dodgeball means: you have to start back at the basics. But the fact is, on either side of the argument, the same points are being made in reverse, over and over: cloth said foam is harder for women; foam said cloth was. Both think the other could never match their native form in speed, in complexity, in simplicity, in energy. The real comfort, the lesson we should come away from, is this: both forms, when you’re used to them, are great sports, with passionate players and engaged audiences.
Realistically, we can’t afford to be a divided flock. When we see dodgeball at the Olympics, it will most likely be a single form of dodgeball. But looking at the above, with the benefits both forms bring, there’s a strong chance we won’t see foam or cloth in their current iterations. Instead, we might expect to see an evolution: a form that takes the best elements of both.
Our advice is take any opportunity you get to experience the different forms that are on offer. Don’t dislike it because you’re not a pro straight away, note the differences and just enjoy this fantastic sport no matter how it is played. And continue to build this wonderful community that keeps growing!