Love at first spike: how a simple net game helped me find normalcy during uncertain times


Rafe Epstein

Spikeball provided me and my friends with a safe and fun outlet for our love of sports.

By Rafe Epstein

Few things are more thrilling than those decisive moments when the margin between winning and losing becomes razor thin. It’s an undeniably exhilarating experience. I encountered such a situation earlier this summer. The score was tied 10–10, and either team’s next shot could be the game’s last. I found my opportunity to win when a set from my teammate came my way; I slammed the ball into the net to deliver a powerful spike and watched the ball zip over the heads of my opponents then land on the grass with a thud. A feeling of triumph and joy overwhelmed me. Victory!

These types of moments were a common occurrence throughout my summer. And it wasn’t from basketball, soccer or any other common sport. This thrill came from Spikeball.

After months of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, Maryland finally entered a phased reopening in May. As people began to creep back out of their homes, Whitman students began having socially-distanced outdoor meet-ups with their friends, many of whom they hadn’t seen in person for over two months.

After being cooped up in my house since March, hanging out with friends once again became my favorite pastime. For the first few weeks, my friends and I would bring our own lawn chairs and participate in mundane conversation. We’d sit in a field, listen to music or maybe even have a car circle — parking six feet apart from one another in an empty parking lot, then sitting in the trunks of our cars and talking.

Though it was refreshing to see faces outside of our families, we were itching to actually do something. We wanted to play sports. 

The pandemic cut our spring athletics seasons short. Regardless of which courses in school we were taking or what extracurriculars we signed up for, sports had always brought my friends and I all together. Whether it was playing competitive three-on-three basketball, football in the snow, ping-pong or Super Smash Bros tournaments, sports had always been a staple in our friendship. 

We brainstormed ideas for socially distanced sports, but struggled to find a safe, competitive outlet. We tried basketball, football, soccer and even tennis, but none of these options allowed us to effectively socially distance while, at the same time, enjoying the game. Activities were either too complicated to stay safely apart while playing or didn’t work in a group setting. Then, one day we found the answer: Spikeball.

The “sport” is hard to describe. We play two versus two — four players total — and gather around a small, circular net. Once in position, we play by smacking a yellow, rubbery ball against a net. The objective in Spikeball is to work with your teammate to keep the ball from hitting the ground. A team wins a point when the opposing team fails to return a hit, or if the opposing team’s shot double bounces on the net. We play to 11 points, so the games only last a few action-packed minutes.

Ever since one of my friends bought a net early on in the summer, we’ve played Spikeball religiously. From tournaments with handmade brackets to casual pickup games, we couldn’t get enough. We even found a way to play in the dark, making our own rules to adapt to an evening setting.

I never thought I’d love Spikeball the way I do today. Ironically, I used to loathe playing it with my family when I was younger. But given the unusual circumstances, I was able to redirect my passion for athletics towards a simple net game.

The absence of varsity and club athletics left me without opportunities to compete in a team setting, and Spikeball has helped me fill this void amidst a pandemic. While I’m accustomed to more physically demanding activities, I’m glad I have the opportunity to be active at all.

Although I love the game itself and I love spending time with my friends, I’ve realized these are not the main reasons why I enjoy Spikeball so much. Rather, the sport has let me rediscover a luxury the pandemic has taken from all of us: normalcy in our daily lives.

We have all been going through unprecedented changes. Many of our small pleasures have been stripped from us. And before quarantine, nobody realized just how much we relied on them.

We all must find ways to adapt to our ever-changing world. Part of that is trying to preserve some regularity in our lives; it is more important now than ever to find new, positive outlets and ways to enjoy ourselves. 

So my advice while staying isolated: find your Spikeball. Whether it’s chess, watching movies outdoors, video games, arts and crafts, fashion design or anything that brings you joy right now — do it. 

Allocate time for simple pleasures, for the things that make our lives feel a little more normal. It might just make all this unfamiliarity a little less confusing.