Getting to know - Simon Tapping
You’ve seen the sweat and post-workout squints on Instagram. You’ve witnessed his jammy catches and powerful throws in that iconic purple jersey. Now meet Simon Tapping – Phantoms coach, captain, founder; England hopeful; lockdown hero and all round great guy – as he sits down with us for an interview.
Where it began...
Like many of us, Simon got his dodgeball start at university. “I had just started back in my 4th year in 2015 and wanted to try a new sport that was a bit less hardcore than some of the mainstream sports, so I went down to the Seahawks’ “Give it a Go” session.” He grew up playing cricket so had some transferrable skills from that – catching, throwing – which made dodgeball an easy sport to get stuck into. Plus, as he admits, “if you’ve ever met me before, you’ll know I’m a very competitive person”, which is really the most important skill for any dodgeballer.
Fast forward a year and he set up Derby Phantoms with Jennifer Allam in the spring of 2016, which Simon cites as both his “biggest achievement and happiest memory”. Since then, the purple Derby Phantoms have been a common and constant sight at dodgeball leagues. Their Women’s Firsts are Super League contenders, placing 6th in the 2019-2020 season, and their Mixed squad placed similarly in the Mixed Super League. Meanwhile, their Men’s Firsts were fighting their way to a promotion out of League 1 last season when disaster struck: COVID, the premature end of the season, and all hopes dashed as the Phantom men placed 3rd, just shy of their goal.
Motivation during lockdown
Instead of getting down about the missed promotion, Simon saw an opportunity in lockdown. “I felt one of my biggest weaknesses as a player was my fitness level, and since we couldn’t play dodgeball, lockdown was the time to address it,” he explains. Not knowing how long the situation would last, he started with some basic High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) exercises from YouTube, gradually increasing his workouts as he felt his strength increase. “Then when the gyms opened for a short period last year, I signed up and started lifting weights. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing at first, but with some guidance from friends and those within the dodgeball community I started to learn.”
After running the #phantasticfitness competition via the Phantoms, alongside Jennifer Allam, he started looking for other ways to keep motivated without the social contact of team sports. “At points during lockdown, I was struggling for motivation, so I figured why not see if anyone else wants to join in with my HIIT sessions. Thankfully, there were a few members of the dodgeball community who wanted to join.” He started running weekly drop in HIIT sessions, open for anyone, not just Phantoms, which he posts weekly updates of on Instagram, and which you can get involved with by messaging him on Instagram.
“I know exercising and improving my diet helped me mentally and I wanted to try and help others as well. Doing the group sessions were great motivation for several reasons. I felt I had some accountability to run the sessions for those that had shown interest. It was nice to see and talk to (albeit over zoom) others from the dodgeball community and get some social interaction during lockdown.” The sessions now attract a good mix of newcomers as well as the week-in-week out regulars, with Immy Sharp in particular having never missed a session.
And it hasn’t just been others (especially Immy) reaping the benefits. As Simon says, “it was great to have others to push myself against on my fitness journey. Where I might be doing a 40 seconds on, 20 seconds rest, someone else could be trying to do 50-10 , so I can use them as motivation to keep going!”
As for diet, Simon suggests simply being more aware of your intake. “A big part of fitness is the diet. It might seem a bit overkill but for the last year I have been logging everything I eat Monday – Saturday on MyFitnessPal. Jen and I will also weigh out any food we are cooking and work out how many calories are in it.” It’s not always about making large changes: cutting down on certain key groups (eg: chocolate, unhealthy snacks) and switching out other ingredients can make a world of difference: “I substituted high calorie items in a lot of my meals for low calorie alternatives. For example, prawns instead of chicken, cauliflower rice instead of rice.”
And perhaps most vitally, remember to treat yourself to a cheat day: for Simon Tapping, that’s a classic Sunday treat, usually a Chinese.
So what’s next for the phantom? Well, as always, helping the Phantoms win League 1 and earning promotion into the Super League would be a great start, but then there’s a more personal goal: international dodgeball. “Playing for England is the biggest goal in my dodgeball career. Not everyone gets the opportunity to do it and I am grateful for having the chance to trial. I have only been to two England trials so far (would have been three if not for Covid) and I will be going back to the next one.” For him, England is all about team spirit, the support that each player can give to the next, and that’s reflected in his attitude to trials: “Even though on the day you are trialling against everyone else there, you want to cheer them on and for them to do as well as they can. I think trials will benefit anyone who goes.”
As with everything else – COVID, lockdown, training – it all comes back to motivation with Simon. “Not being selected is hard to explain. On one hand I was devastated as I had been thinking about what it would be like to play for England and at the highest level of the game. But you must appreciate that it is difficult to get selected, it takes a lot of hard work, dedication and not everyone can make the cut. I have been trying to use the feelings of disappointment to motivate myself to work harder and improve on my weakness to give me a better chance next time. You can learn a lot from failure.”
Keeping his head up, eyes ahead, Simon is confident he’s set himself up as best he can not just for England trials but the upcoming season. “The last year has been extremely tough for everyone and it has been weird not being able to play dodgeball. There are so many things I am looking forward to with the return of dodgeball! I cannot wait to see all my friends from the community and catch up with them. I have missed the competitiveness of sport, so it is going to be great to get back on the court at a competition.”
Couldn’t have put it better ourselves. See you on the court soon, Simon.
For more advice on getting fit and ready for the return of dodgeball, see our Return to Throwing plan with Alex Harrison, and check out our shop for training equipment, such as dodgeballs, agility ladders, and kneepads.