Call it vanity, but I still consider myself athletic as I approach 30 years old. I played a little high school football in my glory days, and though some of my vigor faded away (alongside my knees), the lure of competition never diminished. One up-and-coming game eluded me, though.
I’d heard about one of the world’s fastest-growing sports numerous times. Spikeball — the company name that is synonymous with another titling, “Roundnet” — always looked fun, but hand-eye coordination, fast-twitch muscles, and athletic prowess seemed like a prerequisite to play. (I mean, when I saw videos like this, my back already started hurting.)
This pattern repeated itself all summer long, with play moving from grassy fields to a backyard barbecue, even making a stop on the rocky sands of Presque Isle Beach. I was hooked, and most importantly of all, every single one of my friends were able to play.
It’s no surprise why Spikeball Inc. CEO Chris Ruder’s enterprise is taking over the globe: This game is for everyone.
What Is Spikeball?
Spikeball’s invention is widely credited to Jeff Knurek, a cartoonist and toy developer who first created the game in 1989. His original concept didn’t take hold and ultimately fizzled before Chris Ruder later launched Spikeball Inc. in 2008 with his company branding leading the charge.
“I launched Spikeball Inc in 2008 with no real clue about starting a business, let alone launching a new sport… Our first ‘warehouse’ was my basement and could fit about 72 sets in my beat up, 1998 Outback (may it rest in peace). 5 years later, in 2013, we hit $1 million in annual revenue with zero full-time employees.”
— Chris Ruder, via Spikeball.com
In a nutshell: Spikeball is volleyball and four square rolled into one, action-packed game.
The object of the game is to “spike” the ball onto the net with a single bounce, sending it off over to an opposing player. Two teams of two players face off, though 1-on-1 play is also feasible.
Play starts with teams on opposite sides of the net. Both the serving team and receiving team must be six-feet behind the net at the service line to begin, though the “designated receiver” of the serve may start wherever they deem fit. After the server’s hand contacts the first serve, just remember your high school gym class’ volleyball-style rules — You’re allowed three hits maximum per team before the ball must be bounced onto the net for the other team to receive. Rally scoring takes effect, meaning that whether your team serves or receives, whichever team wins the rally wins the point.
Pretty simple, right?
When I played, it took a few times to get used to the trajectory of the ball. But once you see a few bounces off the net come your way as the defensive team, it becomes instinctual to throw a hand out there, knock the easy-to-track yellow ball high into the air, setting your teammate up for a spike.
A few specifics are needed to understand the nuances behind the game, but quite frankly, the rules are really easy to understand:
• Game play ends at 11, 15, or 21 points — Win by two can be in effect, though not necessary.
• Receiving team sets their position first; The server’s feet should be at 180 degrees to the designated receiver. On change of possession, teams switch sides.
• Server must toss the ball about four inches high before serving. Every server is allowed two “faults” before a point is given to the other team.
• Players may only use one hand to contact the ball; Two hands (even in traditional “volleyball” style) is considered an infraction.
• ANY part of the body may used to continue the rally, but only one touch is allowed. Consecutive touches by a member of the receiving team is a loss of a point.
• Points are awarded when the ball isn’t returned, the ball bounces and falls back onto the net, the ball hits directly on the rim, or the ball clearly rolls across the net without bouncing.
• If the ball contacts the net, rolls onto the rim, then off, it’s considered “roll up” and is legal to play;.Similar hits into that “pocket” cause strange bounces, but are legal. (This is different from the direct rim hit mentioned above.)
• Interfering with other players is also illegal. If a defensive player attempts to intentionally block the opposing team from playing the ball, “hinder” may be called, and the point is replayed.
Dozens of different modifications to the game, many of which include scoring changes and abrupt, challenging changes to play, have been developed by players over the years — A few of my favorites from the full list include: “Tweenerville,” “Star Spangled Manners,” “Arnold Spikezenegger,” and my personal favorite, “Use Your Noggin’.”
Official Spikeball 3 Ball Set
There are several different variations of Spikeball sets available. For us, we played with this Standard 3-Ball Set. (There’s a “Pro Kit” that’s utilized for hardcore players and tournament settings, as well as a Spikebrite add-on that allows players to play in the dark.)
We found our game set at Walmart for a really reasonable price, which included the Spikeball net, rim, and foldable legs, three official balls, an official rule book, and drawstring bag emblazoned with the Spikeball Inc. logo for easy storage.
We toted that thing all over Western Pennsylvania, never once having an issue or seeing wear-and-tear.
Users gave Spikeball an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars, with an impeccable 100-percent recommendation rate on Walmart.com alone.
Spikeball on Shark Tank
Spikeball’s popularity exploded in 2015 when Chris Ruder took his creation to NBC’s famous Shark Tank, looking for investors.
Ultimately, “shark” Daymond John and Chris agreed on a $500,000 deal for 20 percent of the company. Though the deal was never finalized, that exposure, as well as a clever game pitting the Spikeball crew against Daymond John and Mr. Wonderful, cemented the family-fun game firmly in the minds of interested players.
The rest, as they say, is history.
What the Spikeball Team Calls “Our Values”
Ruder and company seem incredibly tight-knit. (Spikeball’s website estimates 40 full-time employees positioned all over the United States, with headquarters residing in Chicago.)
The company details 10 core values that illuminate why this game, and the global community of sportsmanship it is building, is taking hold with players of all ages and skill levels.
1) Have fun.
2) Trust. Give it until you shouldn’t.
3) Be optimistic.
4) Go big. Failure is part of success.
5) Listen. Improve. Always be learning.
6) Be proactive. Embrace change and status the challenge quo when necessary.
7) Surprise and delight.
8) Be intentionally inclusive.
9) Own it.
10) Don’t be a jerk. See above.
Spikeball is easier to set up than volleyball and more fun than four square, so it’s obvious why tournaments are popping up all over the country — Anyone can host!
From Winter Haven, Florida, to Monroe, Washington, Spikeball’s official 2021 season schedule culminates with the National Championship in early October in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.
This game isn’t relegated to the growing number of college and adult intramural sports leagues, though. Despite postponement in 2020, Belgium is set to host the 2021 Spikeball Roundnet World Championships.
In closing, an open invitation: I need a partner who’s ready to take a run at a national title. At the very least, maybe just someone looking for a great game with fun people and isn’t shy about the cold beers that’ll follow playing the fastest growing game on the planet.
This article was originally published May 28, 2021. It was updated to reflect that Roundnet was created as an alternative title to Spikeball, which was originally named as such by Jeff Knurek.