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Tchoukball

Invented by a Swiss doctor wishing to create an injury-free sport, Tchoukball has enjoyed exponential rise in participation numbers. Andrew St Ledger looks at how the sport is growing in the UK

Published in Sports Management 2014 issue 2
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The sport can be played indoors and outdoors and by players of all abilities
The sport can be played indoors and outdoors and by players of all abilities

The sport of tchoukball was developed in the 1960s by Hermann Brandt, a Swiss doctor and biologist looking for a solution to sporting injuries. Dr Brandt believed that all of sport’s best characteristics – speed, skill, and competition – could be achieved without the need for physical contact between players. Of course, there are many great non-contact sports, but what Brandt wanted to create was a fiercely competitive and high-speed sport played in a gentlemanly manner. Therefore, alongside the fast and furious action, there sits a fair play charter that is enshrined in the rules of the game. It ensures respect for opponents and banishes bad sportsmanship and is practised by players throughout the world.

Growing player base
Today, tchoukball is played in more than 40 nations around the world. In the UK, the sport's governing body, Tchoukball UK, has overseen a rapid expansion in participation, from 600 regular players in 2007 to the current figure of more than 10,000.

That has, in part, been achieved thanks to National Lottery and private sector funding secured to develop the sport. A lottery-funded programme in 2009 helped to introduce tchoukball to some 40 schools in one year. Since then, financial backing from retail giant Matalan, through the Matalan Sporting Promise (MSP) programme, has seen hundreds of new young people take part in tchoukball. The programme, which is now entering its second phase, gave schools the choice of non-traditional sports to introduce to their children. Tchoukball is proving a popular addition to the school day.

How to play
The rules of tchoukball seem confusing at first but are in fact very simple to learn. Two teams of seven compete to score the most points in a 45 minute game. Players score by rebounding the ball off a one metre square rebound net. The ball must touch the floor, outside the 3 metre D in front of the rebound net, for a point to be scored. With no players allowed inside the D, the opponents have to catch the ball as it rebounds and before the floor contact is made. Tchoukball is unique because both teams can score at either end of the pitch, meaning a team formation includes attackers and defenders at both ends of the playing area. There is no contact or interception allowed in tchoukball. This can be confusing, or even off-putting, for some but with each player only allowed the ball for three seconds and each team only allowed three passes before an attempt to score must be made, possession changes hands at least every nine seconds.

Facilities needs
Whilst tchoukball has some specialist equipment, regular sports halls – where around 90 per cent of the organised games are played – are perfect for a game. A typical hall (the size of three or four badminton courts) is ideal for a tchoukball match or training session – while a larger facility with eight to twelve badminton courts provides for a whole day’s competition. The size of a court can be varied depending on the age of the players or the space available.

Few sports halls have the correct permanent line markings at present but this is not a barrier to hosting tchoukball. Basketball courts usually offer suitable back and side line dimensions and Tchoukball UK recommends laying down temporary Ds using either removable tape or soft plastic cones. Tchoukball UK has years of experience of this and can provide advice on request.

Tchoukball’s unique selling point is that it’s a ‘leveller’ – new to everyone and designed in such a way that people of all abilities can compete. It’s one sport where people of all ages, genders and sporting backgrounds can play together, at the same time. Proof of this is in the steady pace in which it is becoming an accepted part of the national school curriculum. This appears to coincide with the general move towards skill orientation and away from more aggressive games. Tchoukball is compatible with the demands of key stages 2, 3 and 4 and is a real alternative to traditional sports.

Beach tchoukball is also taking off, both internationally and in the UK. Several continental beach competitions now take place each year – most notably in Switzerland’s capital Geneva and Rimini in Italy. In September, tchoukballers descend on Bournemouth for an annual 5-a-side festival. And this month, the first UK beach championships is taking place at Arena Sports Kettering, home of beach volleyball.

The venue, which will also host the indoor national finals the day before the beach event, offers excellent facilities in a central location for all of Tchoukball UK’s regions. With a large sports hall, it means the national finals can be played on one large ‘show court’ with warm up space for athletes. With grandstand seating for up to 200 spectators, it promises to be one of the best domestic competition weekends the sport has ever hosted.

Tchoukball can also be played on grass pitches, making for fun family or school activities when the weather is good.

Competitive edge
Tchoukball’s competition structure has developed steadily over the last 10 years. From relatively modest beginnings, the sport’s domestic competition structure has grown and now includes national championships, regional competitions, a university and colleges cup and a schools and further education competition.

On the international stage, competition has never been so fierce. Tchoukball is now played all over the world – with world championships and youth championships every four years. Taiwan still dominates international contests – not surprising as it’s one of the country’s most popular sports. But new talents from Austria, Italy and Singapore are now challenging the traditionally-strong squads from Switzerland, Canada and the UK.

Tchoukball UK regularly sends men’s, women’s, and now U16, squads to international competitions.

Tchoukball UK and the future
Little of the sport's domestic development in the last decade could have been achieved without the drive of the sport’s governing body – Tchoukball UK.

Now at the end of its first year as a Community Interest Company, Tchoukball UK has a business plan focused on increasing participation, giving schools the tools to develop themselves, encouraging the creation of local clubs and working closely with partners to steer tchoukball towards official sports council recognition. Each year its tutors deliver nearly 30 level one coaching courses which means there are now more than 1,000 qualified tchoukball coaches.

Providing high quality competition experiences for participants has been an increasing priority. Now, a regular ‘army’ of volunteers and backroom staff, led by Tchoukball UK’s head of competitions, ensure events run smoothly and that all athletes need to worry about is their own performances. Key partners, including Matalan, the Youth Sport Trust, Sport and Recreation Alliance and Sport Structures are all playing vital roles in pushing tchoukball forward to better things.

Offering tchoukball as part of a programme of activities available to the community is easy to do. Tchoukball UK can support the provision of taster sessions and the creation of new clubs. It can also facilitate the purchase of the necessary equipment, for as little as £239 for a starter pack, through its official equipment supplier Tchoukball Promotion.

This is a truly exciting time to be getting involved with tchoukball. It is increasingly being recognised as a sustainable alternative to traditional sports – capable of attracting both participants who love sport and those that are new to it.

With so much that has been achieved in recent years, it’s hard to predict just what can be attained in the next decade. But one thing is clear – the sport of tchoukball is here to stay.

Facilities requirements:

INDOOR: Sports hall (3-4 badminton courts are fine) with two 3-metre Ds at either end (with 1 metre behind the backline to stand the rebound net).

OUTDOOR: grass playing field or sand pitch, but the pitch marked out as 21 metres by 11 metres (approximately the size of a beach volleyball court).

Rules in brief

- Score by rebounding the ball off the angled rebound net
- When the ball hits the floor a point is scored
- Defenders try to catch the ball between net and floor
- Both teams can score at either end of the pitch
- No contact or interception
- Players have a maximum of three seconds with the ball, and the team three passes, before attacking

Equipment you’ll need

2 rebound nets and a tchoukball. Starter packs cost as little as £239 + P&P. All available from Tchoukball UK’s official equipment supplier Tchoukball Promotion (www.tchouk.com). It is also recommend players wear protective foam knee pads – widely available.

Going alternative in Pendle

Pendle Leisure Trust (PLT) in the UK has embraced tchoukball in a big way, making it a key part of its Saturday morning activities and holiday clubs. Following a request from the trust’s CEO to find new and exciting sports for customers to try, the sports development team set about researching activities – and found tchoukball. Eighteen months on, tchoukball is now a popular activity for the 15-25 young people that go to West Craven Sports Centre (one of the Trust’s three facilities) every week. The development team also takes the sport out into the community.

PLT's Samantha Lamb said: “Our members love tchoukball because it’s so different. It’s also brought in more revenue to the centre.”

Andrew St Ledger, communications director, Tchoukball @TchoukballUK

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