To Be A Footbagger

More recently, I’ve started to question what it truly means to be a footbagger. What sort of criteria dictates the definition of a footbagger? What motivates us to progress and excel in such a sport? When does one really become a footbagger in earnest? These inquiries came about as I progressed a bit further into the world of footbag, myself being somewhere in the intermediate level after two years of playing. I do not represent myself to be any sort of expert on the philosophy of sports or footbag in specific—what follows is simply my efforts to piece together a coherent response to the aforementioned questions that have been kicking around (no pun intended) in my brain lately.

In order to be able to comment on when someone becomes a footbagger (physically and mentally), it is likely logical to first start with a definition of what constitutes a footbagger. A simple enough task if we stick to the quite literal interpretation of a footbagger as merely someone who engages in the sport of footbag. However, let’s attempt to convolute this definition in the interest of creating an overarching argument to our story. A footbagger: someone who plays footbag, yes—but at what skill level? How frequently does one need to play? Does the equipment or situation (i.e. solo or with another footbagger) they play in matter?

Regarding the topic of skill level, my own personal experience has been the basis of writing this piece. As I have progressed further, learning and developing beginner tricks into strings of increasing length, I’ve felt a shift in my brain in regards to being a footbagger. Now that I am a pretty comfortable tiltless player, my identification has started to shift from simply being someone who plays footbag to being a “true” footbagger. However, this is only my personal experience of transitioning, and should not be included in our definition of the true footbagger. In my opinion, skill set or expertise in footbag should not be a determinant of whether or not someone should be a considered a footbagger—that would be, frankly speaking, elitism to the point of arrogance.

Concerning the frequency of play to be considering a fully-fledged footbagger, this is one area where my opinion may not be elitist, but perhaps more exclusive than called for in our search for what defines a footbagger. It is my own opinion that in order to be labeled a “true” footbagger, some level of consistency must be maintained in regards to the intervals of play time that one commits to the sport. In the interest of providing an actual quantifiable amount to said consistency, I’d propose that at least one or two sessions (length may vary) of footbag a week would suffice. You could miss a week or two here and there, but in relation to a base line amount of play, this is what I would consider sufficient.

However, it is understood that this statement would not be inclusive enough to fit into our overall definition of a footbagger. Certain circumstances may prevent someone from playing with this level of frequency, or they may have other hobbies that take up most of their time. Along a similar thread of logic, I would consider, for example, someone who spends 90% of their free time drawing or painting and only 10% on footbag, to be an artist who happens to play footbag, not a footbagger who happens to practice the arts, if you follow me. What about someone who used to play footbag at some level of frequency but now only plays once or twice a year? For our interests, we can probably say for frequency of play: a footbagger is someone who does or has played, with some level of frequency as befits their schedule, the sport of footbag. A highly refined outline I’m afraid these guidelines are not.
In the area of equipment and situations of play, this aspect will enjoy some brevity of explanation as my own opinions, and what I will establish as an inclusive definition of footbagger in this area, are one and the same. Whether you play in the most pristine Lavers ever found on this graceful Earth, or shred in the most beaten up running shoes. Whether you are student or mentor, playing in rain or shine, day or night, I would consider that person a footbagger as long as they meet the above set standards for playing footbag. For our definition however, it will simply suffice to say that the conditions and equipment that you play in does not matter in regards to being defined as a footbagger.
With all three of these aspects now covered, we can summarize all of the above to be simply read as what follows: a footbagger is someone who does or has in the past engaged in the sport of footbag with some amount of frequency at essentially any skill set level. What a highly concise and narrowed down definition, right? But let’s try to add some more substance to our admittedly somewhat expansive description by discussing our second theme to this piece—the motivations for playing footbag.
For motivational factors related to why someone would play footbag, we need not necessarily look at the footbag world / footbag culture in specific; perhaps only determine why someone would play any sport in general. Certainly, what is arguably fundamental to any sporting event is the thrill or fun associated with either playing or watching it. To exceed and expand your own abilities and technical skills in said sport, most definitely another aspect of possible motivating factors. Also, on some instinctual level, the need for human interaction in regards to social events or gathering may also be presumed. I’m no sociologist, certainly not any level of biological expert or practitioner. However, it is easily apparent to see the level of bonding or friendship that occurs when two people / a group of athletes play the same sport together.

Thus far however, we have not really discerned any motivating factors that would lead one to play footbag in particular. In this area, I can think of several reasons that are readily apparent to anyone who has played footbag for more than a couple months / been to a footbag event, jam, or tournament. The community or culture in general, having a friend or crew to shred with, or even getting props or recognition on your game, a particular good run, or personally difficult trick. Last, but certainly not least, is the drive to constantly improve and develop your trick selections, variety, and skillset.

Footbag culture or events are perhaps known for being highly welcoming and friendly, in my own experience and likely others as well—more-so than any “regular” or mainstream sports. This statement has several different aspects to it which I would like to discuss, but for now let’s focus on footbag events or tournaments themselves. Jams are informal to the point of being intimate—what I mean by this is that virtually nowhere else in mainstream sports (that I have seen) will you likely find a group of players get together from all over the country (U.S. in this context) simply to play a sport together for the weekend, all the while crashing at some player’s house for an extended amount of time. The closest analogy I can think of would be something akin to basketball or football (North American or European) camps, although the validity of such an analogy I cannot comment on from lack of experience in this regard.

Overall, however, past the point of being informal, what strikes me as being somewhat unique about footbag is the very personal nature of events or tournaments. This is meant both in the form of footbaggers in general being known to be a pretty friendly or at least chill crowd, as well as the unusually high level of interaction between the very top and very bottom of footbag compared to other sports. Footbag events offer an opportunity for the inexperienced to look at and interact with the giants of the sport at a very human and individual level when contrasted with mainstream sports. However, bringing the conversation back from my slight digression, what I find to be motivating about all of the above discussed elements is 1) the friendliness, selflessness, and openness of the community, and 2) the opportunity to interact with both the top and bottom levels of the sport in an equal manner—along with the realization that, given enough time and effort, you can push yourself to be at or near the top of the sport.
As to having a friend or crew to play with, this is probably a core motivating factor to some footbaggers in the form of having others to gain insight or expertise from, or even just to shred with on a regular basis. Excelling and refining footbag skills by yourself is one thing, but quite another to have a whole group of footbaggers consistently playing and improving as a whole. One need only look at some of the crews around the U.S., let alone the rest of the world, to see the motivation and progression that comes from being in a group: Michigan, Boston, and PA, to name a few.

The third point of getting props or recognition for your progression in footbag has, coincidentally, already been discussed somewhat in depth on the recent “BAP” thread in the Freestyle Footbaggers group on Facebook. However, leaving aside the arguments poised in that thread, getting recognition for your hard work and progression in a skill, hobby, what have you can be a highly motivating factor in continuing to succeed for some people. However, in order to advance, I think it highly more efficient and practical to cultivate a love for footbag itself rather than simply thrive on the recognition and props from others in order to progress. But this is simply my own opinion rather than being reflective of what could be a motivating factor for someone to play footbag in general.

My last point—or the drive to constantly improve and develop the self in relation to footbag progression—I believe is the single most motivating factor that leads someone to continue to play footbag. The sensation that accompanies hitting a new trick, link, or combo are, in the words of Nick Polini: “…that feeling right there, chills all throughout my spine, perfect day man, perfect day.” To anyone who has ever played footbag, I’m sure this comment needs no further explanation.

This element of footbag leads me into my third and final question (which may be somewhat easier to answer accurately now) that is: when does someone become a footbagger? In sum, there is no requirement on the level of shred you put out, nor any major requirement concerning the number of hours you put into the sports, nor even the necessity of having Lavers and a standard metal-filled 32 panel. At the end of the day, all that matters is an obsessive craving for that “chills down your spine” feeling that comes with consistently advancing and improving that one trick, drill, or concept. In short, being constantly addicted to progression in its purest form of footbag advancement—the need to become better.

Words and Photo by Daniel Carey

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