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‘Roundnet is a sociable, inclusive and diverse sport. We have people from all backgrounds and skill sets playing’

Simon Leonard is founder of thriving sporting community Roundnet Ireland, which has its first national championships this September

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"The net is in the middle and there are no boundaries"

"The net is in the middle and there are no boundaries"

Simon Leonard, who says Roundnet is great fun to either play or watch

Simon Leonard, who says Roundnet is great fun to either play or watch

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"The net is in the middle and there are no boundaries"

In 2016, I was studying at the University of Colorado, Boulder. I was doing Energy Systems Engineering in UCD and this was my opportunity to go abroad. It was great, but I was a bit out of my depth. Then one day I saw people playing Roundnet.  

It’s not something I would normally do, but they seemed to be having so much fun that I walked up to see what it was.

From then on I was hooked on Roundnet, and I played for the full season. It was amazing to compete but also to be involved in a community where there were people like me, who didn’t have a specific sport that was theirs, but still enjoyed competing. I also loved the idea of being part of this new thing.

Spikeball is what you call the equipment used for the sport of Roundnet.

From my whole time studying in the US, Roundnet was my biggest takeaway. It was fun, but it also revealed something to me – that I could meet people like me in a new place through this sport. And that’s what I brought back to Ireland with me.

The guiding principle to all of this is that Roundnet is sociable, inclusive and diverse. We have people from all backgrounds and skill sets playing it.

At every training session or event, there is a real focus on people getting to know each other and making memories. It’s about competition, too, but people remember Roundnet events because of the people and the experience, not just the winning or not winning.

In Ireland, we tend to focus on four main sports: GAA football and hurling, soccer and rugby. But lots of people don’t fall between those guiderails, and can think there’s no sport for them. We have players who have dropped out of sport in school, we have rugby players, soccer players. Goalkeepers say it improves their game. Everyone brings a different set of skills.

Roundnet derives from volleyball: Two people on either side of the net, hitting the ball back and forth, with three touches allowed to get it over.

The difference is that instead of a net strung straight across between the two teams, it’s a small circle — almost like a mini trampoline — raised a few inches off the ground, and the teams can move around it. The net is in the middle and there are no boundaries. The first team serves, hitting the ball off the net, then the other team has to hit it back, using their three passes.

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What makes it so magnificent to play and to watch is that you can hit the ball in any direction. People dive over the net, go for layouts and big dropshots. It’s a fantastic spectator sport.

I brought one set of Roundnet back with me from the States and soon I was being pulled from one side of Dublin to the other for games. Then I ordered some sets in bulk and sold them at no profit to friends and family. By word of mouth, that was soon friends of friends. A small community started building and we set up the University Spikeball League in 2017. Four teams the first year, and 60 teams the next.

But university students move on and emigrate. We had 60 teams our second year, but that dropped suddenly down to 20. We had to refocus on schools and public parks.

Then Covid-19 hit and that seemed devastating at first, but as it went on, we realised we’d gone from sales of five sets a week to five sets a day. We discovered that family mash-ups, in people’s gardens, were the best fun. People were playing it safely within their homes and then in parks once things opened up again. We had 100 teams at the first tournament post-lockdown.

On September 4 we’re having our nationals, at the Sport Ireland campus in Blanchardstown. We have up to 500 people competing at all levels, following tournaments across the country.

Being recognised by Sport Ireland is a step in the right direction and we hope to send teams to the World Championships in 2022. 

For information on the Roundnet nationals tournament in Dublin on September 4, see roundnetireland.com. There, you can also find information on local Roundnet games, how to play, where to watch and how to get your school, business or club involved.

In conversation with Sarah Caden


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