Freestyle Footbag, Hacky Sack, Kicking

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Guest Article 3: JUST KICKIN' IT!! by Todd F. Reinhard
Guest Article 4: KICK RETURNS by Todd F. Reinhard

All right, so you've been working out hard-REAL hard!! You've been driving it and grinding it for weeks, but now all you want to do is just lay back and KICK it for a while! The same ol' same ol' is burdening your soul, and you simply need to get away from the tedium of the treadmills, stairmasters, row machines, stationary bikes, and elliptical machines. But what to do?? You don't want to lose the endurance you've worked so hard to obtain from these long and grueling cardio routines-- but alas!-- the thought of having to continue ON with these monotonous linear activities is starting to crush your spirit! Fear not!! The time has come to USE the endurance you have acquired to develop functional and dynamic athletic skills-skills such as agility, balance, timing, speed, precise motor control, and overall body coordination. So you feel like just kickin' it for a while do you? Well, that's just what we're going to do. It's time to talk FOOTBAG!!

That's right alternative sports fans, the spotlight cross-training topic for the month is the hippy-dippy, campus-friendly, peace-loving footbag-- or "hacky sack", as it is commonly called by its many obsessive practitioners. The footbag was first introduced in 1972 when John Stalberger, an ardent and robust athlete from Oregon City, Oregon, met Mike Marshall. Stalberger was recovering from a knee injury that he had suffered and was looking for a therapeutic way to increase the flexibility around the joints. He saw Marshall kicking around a bean-filled sack and, since he was always up for a challenge, wanted to give it a try for himself. Together, Marshall and Stalberger began to kick the sack back and forth, and "Hack-the-Sack" was first conceived. The two entrepreneurs proceeded to design and trademark the "Hacky Sack", and desired to spread the contagion of their game to the masses. Unfortunately, at the young age of 28, Mike Marshall suffered a fatal heart attack in 1975, thus leaving the resolute Stalberger to carry on the mission alone. And so he did. He sold the rights of the "Hacky Sack" to Kransco (Wham-O) and founded the National Hacky Sack Association (NHSA).

Today the game of footbag (note that "footbag" is the game as named by Stalberger and Marshall, whereas the "Hacky Sack" is the bean bag that is used in the game) is governed by the International Footbag Committee (IFC) and exists in two dominant forms. The first form is Footbag Net, a high-flying, fast-paced, highly competitive net game that is modeled around the basic premises of tennis and volleyball. The other form, the most popular form to be sure, is called Freestyle Footbag. Freestyle Footbag is a game that can be practiced alone or in a group of two or more players. It is an artistic game that can take on the guise and acrobatic subtleties of dance or gymnastics at advanced levels.

Footbag Net is played in a manner similar to volleyball. As the name implies, there is a net, set to a standard height of five feet, over which players must kick the bag in hopes of scoring points. The court is 20' x 44' and is divided into 4 equally spaced quadrants. Comparable to volleyball, each side has a limit of three alternating kicks before the bag must cross the net. The bag used must meet the requirements of being between one and 2.5 inches in diameter and must weigh between 20 and 70 grams. A kick that aggressively drives the bag over the net and toward the ground is called a "spike". A "dig", on the other hand (or foot as the case may be), is the defensive counter to the spike; the digging player rushes forward to meet the bag and prevent it from making contact with the ground. All contact with the soaring object must be made beneath the knees! Footbag Net is also scored in a way similar to volleyball. In particular, only the serving team can score. If the NON-serving team forces a miss, that team then obtains the serving status. A game is usually played to either 11 or 15 total points, and the victor must win by two. A match generally consists of three games, and the spoils go to the winner of two. Footbag Net tournaments are currently held all over the world and are sanctioned by the International Footbag Committee. This is a remarkably athletic game that incorporates skills that are often only honed and demonstrated by the greatest players in other more mainstream sports.

As previously asserted, the most popular form of footbag is simply termed "Freestyle". Freestyle footbag can be either competitive or noncompetitive in nature, since it is much more of an "individualistic" form of the sport. Competitive freestyle footbag involves both single routines and partner routines. Similar to other expressive sports such as diving, skating, and gymnastics, freestyle footbag routines are subjectively judged by a panel along several dimensions. The routines are choreographed to music selected by the practitioners, and artistic synchronization to the music is a critical standard upon which the athletes are judged. Other dimensions that are assessed include level of difficulty, variety, execution, originality, and creativity. In order to ensure high- quality competition and overall enjoyment, the IFC has established 9 major divisions in which qualifying freestylers can enroll: Open, Women's, Novice, Intermediate, Under 12, Junior, Master, Grand Master, and Sr. Grand Master.

Although the competitive games of footbag have attracted countless sportsmen and women from around the world, it is in fact the NON-competitive and "friendly" freestyle game that draws the largest following. This is the game in which the players form a circle (or a triangle) and pass the sack from person to person with a common goal-KEEP THE SACK IN THE AIR! In this game all parts of the body are allowed with the exception of the hands and arms. If each player touches the sack before it hits the ground, a "hac" is joyfully celebrated. This is a game in which the teamsters compete not with each other, but with the law of gravity. And a spectator new to the sport who has the opportunity to watch an assemblage of advanced players will often SWEAR that the law holds no sway! For he or she may be witnessing series of smooth, controlled, dynamic "spins", "fliers", "delays", "stalls", "blind moves", "flying clippers", and many other feats of dexterity that are commonly incorporated in this inspiring game of comradery, harmony, and cooperation.

Much more can certainly be said and told about the ever-growing sensation of footbag games and spin-offs thereof. This article, however, is intended only to touch the surface and to introduce the reader to an alternative sport and cross-training rut-kicker. The internet is rife with footbag "how-to" tips, books, videos, and photographs…but in truth, all of the "how-to" comes down to "just-do". In other words, the best advice that can be given to an aspiring hacker (or "shredder") is to keep the eye on the sack and KICK IT! The novice can begin with a balloon for very slow "action" if he or she desires, but the key principles upon which to learn are to drop sack, focus, kick, and practice, practice, practice! The basic toe, inside, outside, and back kicks, as well as the knee/thigh juggle, will come quite naturally. At this stage of the game, too much analysis will only lead to paralysis. Once the basics are sufficiently mastered, the sky is the limit! The athlete can now begin to focus more intensely upon different aspects of the discipline-aspects such as balance, touch, distance, control, and tempo The shredder begins to realize that the feet and legs can indeed be controlled in a manner similar to a second pair of arms and hands-an exciting and powerful discovery to most! At this point, basic tricks and "adds"-stunts that take the basics to even higher skill levels-can be practiced and refined to the point of rhythmic artistry. The learning process involved is very similar to that of riding a bicycle-with the exception that one doesn't usually need to suffer the chagrin and agony of the initial scrapes and bruises! That only comes later-at the advanced diehard stages…when gravity simply can NOT win!! That's called FULL SHRED!!

Welcome back all! Last month I brought to the forefront the sport, pastime, and cross-training alternative of footbag. Well, this month, due to my love of the game, I'm stickin' to kickin'! But don't say I didn't warn you-I told you that once you're hooked, this habit is definitely hard to…well, you know!!

In first developing footbag skills, I advise using either a balloon or a larger sized bag (about 2 inches in diameter) that has been adequately broken in. Brand new bags-which are called "hacky sacks", "hacs", "sacs", or "sipas"-tend to be very tightly woven together. This results in a faster, bouncier, "action", whereas a sac that has been kicked around a while will be much looser feeling and easier to control. Hacky sacs can range in size from 1 inch to 2.5 inches in diameter, and they also vary in price according to the degree of artistry involved during the construction process. A descent one will typically cost somewhere around ten dollars, and it should endure many hours of shredding practice, provided it doesn't get wet. Once the sac has been purchased, it's time to start kickin'! When practicing alone, patience and calmness are major assets to players at all skill levels. This is because it usually requires a few minutes for the body to warm up and establish a rhythm. The novice player will of course first need to become familiar with the basic kicks and develop a sense of foot-eye coordination. My advice to this aspiring novice is to drop the sac and to use either the right thigh or the toes of the right foot to thrust it back upwards. The thrusting motion will be generated from the hip. It is very important to concentrate upon the feel of sac as it hits the body and to note how it responds to the impact. It is also of vital importance to keep the eye on the sac at all times. You will notice that it is necessary to lean forward somewhat at the waist in order to maintain balance and to properly see the hac as you kick it. Once the sac is airborne following initial impact-REACT!! Kick it again!! And AGAIN!! Set small goals at first…just baby kicks! Try to get two, three, maybe four, consecutive kicks. If the sac hits the ground, instantly start back at square one-drop and kick upward with the thigh or toes. Notice that there are "sweet" spots and "sour" spots when you kick the hac. The sweet spot of the foot or knee refers to that part that allows for a controlled return to the body for another favorable kick. The sour spots are those that cause the hac to die or dart off in an unanticipated direction. Also, you should notice that your toes will need to become rigid and bend inward in order to direct the sac back towards the body. Be patient, and keep hacking away at it; you will be surprised at how quickly the lower body reflexes develop as you forge ahead in the attempts to keep the sac in the air! And of course, along with the heightened reflexive responses, overall lower body coordination and agility will begin to become manifest. The most important thing at this point is to continue to practice without becoming discouraged. Frustration and impatience can GREATLY affect the learning process. This is an activity that requires mental focus and precision, and negative thoughts can easily promote habits that are hard to kick…or so to speak.

Once a base level of agility and coordination is developed, one can begin to concentrate more and more upon developing the basic kicks. These basic kicks are the toe kick, the thigh kick, the inside kick, and the outside kick. The toe kick and the thigh kicks have already been introduced, since they are the kicks most often used in initiating the practice session. The inside and outside kicks are somewhat trickier to develop since they require mobility around the knee joints, and it often requires a considerable amount of "warm up" time before the joints feels lubricated and limber. However, with consistent practice and perseverance, the shredder wannabe will also naturally develop these kicks. The inside kick is performed by rapidly kicking one foot inward toward the groin area while remaining balanced on the opposite foot. The outside kick, on the other hand (foot), is performed by kicking and turning one foot to the outside of the body while balancing upon the nonkicking foot. So indeed, the names of the four basic kicks are very straightforward and unembellished!! The necessities for mastering these basic kicks are also very straightforward: practice, patience, and focused attention! Make no mistake about it; learning the basics will almost certainly present a challenge. But they are without a doubt the foundation of all other "flashier" moves to be learned and invented later. Furthermore, the more efficient one becomes with the fundamentals, the better he or she will be able to train the cardiovascular system. In turn, an improved cardiovascular system will allow for longer, more focused practice sessions and even greater rates of skill improvement. At this point, the hackster can begin to turn his or her attention towards different ISOLATED skills if desired. For example, she may wish to focus primarily upon rhythm for a while, or maybe balance, foot-speed, or breathing. An alternative is to hone in on a particular SEQUENCE of moves, such as a knee-to-knee juggle, or perhaps a left-inkick to right-inkick juggle. The possibilities are numerous, and slowly but surely, the practitioner will begin to realize that legs and feet are becoming as dexterous and nimble as arms and hands. This is the stage at which one can really begin to engage in the art of freestyle footbag. For the movements now become increasingly graceful and synchronized, and the discipline of the sport becomes a free-flowing dance. But until then newbie shredders, it's all JUST FOUR KICKS!!

Mr. Reinhard has asked that we publish his footbag articles which are also published in other fitness sites. Thank you for your contribution to the sport Todd!

Past Guest Articles
Join IFPA! | A Kick for Footbag | JUST KICKIN' IT! and KICK RETURNS