From a painting by Jerrod Philipps

"Footbag" is a cooperative kicking sport (with roots in ancient China, Thailand, Native America, et al.) which was reinvented in the 70's by two athlete dudes from Oregon, John Stalberger and Mike Marshall. Patented, sold and popularized under the (then Wham-O) trade name of "Hacky Sack", the sport of footbag continued to slowly grow in popularity through the 80's and now in the 90's, is recognizable throughout most of North America. Millions of people, young and old, athletes and "couch potatoes", have now kicked it around at least once and many thousands have been fully smitten.

Footbag not only unites the individuals within the kicking circle, but also symbolically links all the races and nations within the universal impulse to kick a ball. Kicking around a small, round object (a rock, an animal bladder, a sock, a rotten orange...) must surely be one of the oldest forms of human sport. It seems that practically every culture, from ancient history to modern times, has adapted some kind of home-grown variation on the foot-ball theme (takraw, shuttlecock, kemari, etc.). Of course, modern day soccer is widely recognized as the planet's single most popular sport.

But footbag is not just another sport. Commonly played on street corners, plazas and campuses around the country, footbag finds its unique impetus not from the quest to "win", but from the sheer joy of dancing together in a circle and working toward a common goal. When everyone touches it before it falls, the entire group wins. In this simple way, footbag compels groups of disparate individuals to set aside their separate, ego-driven minds and behave, for a moment, with a cooperative worldview. This is what makes footbag so special.

It hasn't been an easy road. While footbag has earned wider popularity, the game still faces significant prejudice and marginalization. Footbaggers are still pigeonholed as "Deadheads", "druggies" or miscreants. Among secondary school teachers and administrators, footbag has been viewed as a symbol of juvenile delinquency. Schoolyard power struggles, prohibitions and confiscations are still commonplace... (extremely ironic considering the game holds such potential for addressing alienation, belonging and relationship issues among youth!)

Today, we kickers prize footbag as a highly athletic and cooperative dance form and a complete aerobic workout, comparable to a martial art. Since the early 80's a small but growing group of sack enthusiasts have also developed a lively society of competitive footbag. Footbag Worldwide runs a non-profit internet service for competitive footbaggers including on-line discussions, player lists, clubs and a footbag events calendar. The World Footbag Association (WFA), located in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, has been actively promoting competitive footbag for 15 years through a circuit of tournaments around the US and Canada. Competitive footbag consists of "footbag net", "freestyle", "footbag golf" and "consecutives" (speed and endurance) events. Although I've long championed the cooperative paradigm of footbag, I'm also proud to participate in competitive footbag whenever possible. If you haven't witnessed professional footbag play, check it out! The high level of athleticism and skill as well as the constant improvement among the top players makes this a special treat! But be sure not to fall into mere spectator-hood with a self defeating "Oh I'm just not good at that" mindset. Grab yourself a bag, a friend and join or start a circle. It could change your life!


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