Footbag 4 Fun
Footbag, otherwise known as Hackysack, is an exciting, fun sport which you can play by yourself or with friends. It’s taken Dan from overweight 12 year old to four-time Australian Footbag Champion, 7th at the World Championships in 2007, Australia’s Got Talent (2007), Saturday Disney (2008) and a Subway Commercial (2009). With the Footbag 4 Fun program Dan has taught over 10,000 students at over 50 schools all over Victoria, Australia. He’s also taught Footbag in Japan, Germany and the Czech Republic. Dan loved coming to schools: speaking and performing at Assemblies, teaching all year levels and he does a choreographed routine for each class that he taught. The program has been discontinued as of December 2011.
World Championships 2007
Watch from 2 minutes 50 seconds. Before that it is a short description of Footbag as a sport.
Prior to the World Championships I staying in San Franscico and trained with one of the top coaches out there Steve Goldberg, who I am always humbled to be helped by. The routines I worked on with him were going to really need to stand up in what was a very intimidating, and largely North American field. My first routine came off without a hiccup and I placed first in my Qualifying pool. The plan was that I should rank highly so that I could get seeded in an easier pool for the semi-final. If I could move up out of my semi in to the final, I would be the first person from Australia, and the entire southern hemisphere to acheive that. The one thing I hadn`t planned for was what I`d do in the final if I made it.
I`d felt sick on the day of the preliminary finals but warmed up enough to be able to ignore it. I desperatly wanted to top the pool so that when I got to the semis I could be in one of the easier pools. In the semi finals there are four pools of six people, and only the top two go through. There are about six players though that are so much better than the rest that if you are in one of the two pools that has two of the top six seeds, then you are pretty much a goner. I was hoping to get into one of the two pools where there was only one superstar, so that I could come 2nd in the semi final pool, and realise my long time dream of making the finals at the World Championships. Here is my Quaterfinals routine:
I topped the pool incredibly, and went to bed early that night, knowing that the semi-finals the following day was my chance at making the finals.
The next day, the semi-final day I had a nauseating stomach ache. When I arrived I saw Ken Somolinos, a guy who has helped me enourmously as a footbagger who has lived in Japan for a number of years. He said `Hey Shrednie (my footbag nickname) check out how easy our pool is`. I went over to the notice board, and started slipping into psychological turmoil. In the semi-finals of routine I drew the `pool of death` with the current World Champion, Jorden Moir the only player to beat the World Champion in routines in the last 3 years, the 1999 World Champion Scott Davidson, Ken Somolinos who is rightly renowned as one of the masters of the game and one of the top Japanese players, Yusuke Tomohiro. With only two to advance, and the top spot to be taken by the invincible Vasek Klouda I originally saw my task as impossible.
I left the main arena immediately and sat alone with my quandries on the upper deck of an empty basketball arena. I felt terrible, I felt like I`d been given too hard a pool, though I acknowledged that the other pools were only marginally fairer. I`d had a dropless routine with big tricks and planned choreography and I realised that one mistake in my routine was going to knock me out of the tournament. I`d rationalised that coming third place in that pool with give me a placing of 11th which would be much better than the 21st place I got in 2004, and after letting it all come out in tears, I vomitted up the little that I ate that morning, and returned to the venue.
I began warming up, and looking back I was in some really good form that day, although it was hard to know it at the time. I stayed very quiet and focuessed and because the semi finals were in the middle of the day rather than the end I wasn`t going to need to wait for long. In the semis I had beaten my main rival for the 2nd qualifying spot, Jorden, I knew he wouldn`t be taking it easy this time, and I was expecting my best effort to not be quite enough if he played to his potential. But I can still remember the exact scene when the thought crossed my mind that I had gone dropless to beat him yesterday, and today I was doing my stronger routine, and that without any mistakes, I would be able to do this. I didn`t dwell on this, but all I needed to do was plant that thought in my sub-conscious to give myself the best chance.
Steve Goldberg, one of my three greatest mentors, amoung Lynton Stephens and Ales Zelinka, called me to the stage. I came out, stood in front of the crowd, looked down at the footbag knowing that the next two minutes could and would change a lot of things in my life regardless of the result and my feelings afterward. And this is what happened:
I had planned to do one hard final trick, but having made no bleamishes coming up to the final trick I felt happy to just kick that footbag up in the air once, just like I`d done nearly 7 years ago while learning basic tricks and caught it in my hand – thusfar the best performance of my life.
Only 20 minutes later the results were confirmed and I had joined Phil Morrison, the lone New Zealander at the tournament, in the final as the first ever finalists from the Southern Hemisphere. This was significant because for us it costs a lot to travel to either Europe or the United States and it is a sport dominated by those two regions.
After I`d been playing for about 1 year I`d had three major goals in footbag, the first was to make the final of the World Championships, and just making it, because obviously I hadn`t yet performed there, was a huge validation of the thousands of hours I`d spent, mainly alone, practicing this obscure but inspiring sport. I knew I`d already reached my telos for this worlds, and now I just needed to put in one more good performance in two days time.
Having made the final, and by that stage growing weary I began warming up on the day of the final and I knew I was injured. My left ankle was very weak and I was considering getting it taped up, but that would have reduced my flexibility too much. I just needed to play for about 30 seconds, because I`d quite happily made the final 12 for that event two during the competition, and then a two minute showpiece in what was to be the best final to date with three dropless routines, three one-drop routines, my routine (two-drop) and the debut of the new Czech prodigy Milan Benda.
I felt very calm before the final, I`d been treated so well by my circumstances and I wasnt blind to it in the slightest. The MC was Pete Irish, my long time hero and someone I sought advice from through an email over six years ago when I was just beginning. He`d helped me develop as a player who performs and plays and connects with the music rather than just kicking a bag with some song playing in the background. And Steve was Head Judge in front of the crowd.
I ranked 7th in the Routine, and 10th in the 30 second event. Here are the videos from the final of the routine with the 30 second event to come in the next week hopefully:
After a nervous start but I performed well in the long middle sections with a slightly dissapointing finish, but nothing to worry about. On the whole, it a performance that I am more than happy to show people and one that I have learnt a lot from. I am happy that I have been able to continue to find more and more reasons to play this game.I feel proud of myself and thankful to all those I`ve met along the way. I have been given a new impetus to kick on, I`ve found found more and more reasons to play Footbag, and I feel like its been one of the best rides I could have found!
How the Story Started
I started playing when I was 12 years old and his friends at St.Kevins were playing. My motor coordination skills were great, but my weakness was fitness, and I’d finish in the last five places in the 1km race around the double ovals in Year 7. I’d finish with the last five with the slowest, most unfit in the whole year level.
Despite having no real interest in the game, that my best two friends were doing it made it worth playing. The game quickly became special, as I convinced my mum to buy me one to play with over the Year 7 to Year 8 school holidays. Desperate to master the tricky skill, I spent hours playing in the street, in the back yard, and in the carparks behind the local video store. He started to practice running around the oval, stretching and doing pushups.
The first day of Year 8 came, and in the first PE class the group was going to do the 1km Poplar Run. Dan had established in his mind, like so many people do, that he wasn’t good at running. I’m going to come in the bottom five, just like I did last year, and the year before that. The race started and for the first one hundred meters, I was there, at the back, just like always. I started to feel good though, I wasn’t puffing like the other four around me, I was breathing easily. So by the three hundred meter mark I had pushed up to the middle of the back of the middle of the pack. As I passed each kid in the middle I got looks, ‘What are you doing here Ednie?’ I could feel their reactions, their surprise, but also how impressed they were.
The eight hundred meter mark went past, and a gap was left between myself at the front of the middle group, and the four top runners still ahead of me. I was hurting, but I knew I had enough for a final sprint. I broke away from the middle pack, and launched myself for the top. I finished just after the fouth place runner, one of our best footy players. They patted me on the back, the teacher made special comment of it – I was suddenly considered one of the best runners in the class.
I knew it had been the Footbag – and now I just wanted to get fitter and fitter, and better and better at this sport.
My dad brought home a new computer and the internet, and the very first thing I looked for was ‘hackysack tricks’. I found http://www.footbag.org and saw videos of the top players and I was overcome by an all-consuming desire to be able to do those tricks. Not because I would be better than anyone, not because I thought it would earn my big dollars one day. I just wanted to be able to do those tricks because they were beautiful and I wanted to be able to emulate that.
I soon became the best player in the school and despite only being in Year8, I could do tricks that none of the year 12s could even come close to doing. I had found the thing that I could excel in, and I planned to do just that. I played as much as I could, as often as I could, and for the next two years I would never have a session where I thought I took a backward step, I always improved noticably every time I played.
In Year 9, at Melbourne High School, I was asked to perform at the end of year presentation assembly. It was for about seven hundred Year 9 and Year 10 boys, and I practiced my routine to music for about three weeks. I never managed to do the whole routine dropless because I didn’t have the fitness and strength yet, but I was sure that the adrenalin would carry me over the line.
I walk out, I stand in front of my peer on the stage. I cue the music, and I just freeze. I’m stage struck. I start lifting my legs, but they aren’t moving as they usually do. Mind and body are split, and after only about ten seconds I drop the Footbag. I can hear the adolescent boys in the crowd laughing, and I can hear ‘you dropped it’. They know nothing about the game, but they know that you aren’t supposed to drop it on the ground – its such an obvious mistake. I get better from there, but I still drop it eight times in total and I’m devastated. I don’t play for the next month.
My mum sits me down, and tells me that no matter how bad the performance was, I’ve got a special skill and I should keep playing. She’s right, and I start playing again all through the summer holidays, playing with my friends, going to festivals, doing performances, showing my friends from school my new tricks. I start busking and even though the people only stop for a short while, there is pressure to perform well. I get invited to perform at community festivals and while there are only twenty or thirty watching, I only have one chance to put together a great performance. I start speaking to those groups and explaining what the tricks are and my public speaking skills start to improve.
The next year rolls around and at the end of Year 10 I decide that I want to come back for a second performance. The teacher in charge says to me ‘Sorry Dan, you did it last time, it was great, but we want to have other new performances this time’. I’m shocked, I talk to my classroom teacher, then the assistant principle. I never really tell them the reasons why I want to do it, I didn’t tell them how important it was to me. I get to the principle, and I tell him the same story and he gives me the same answer as all of the others. I know its all on the line, so I start to open up about how depressed I was after the last performance, and how this was important to me to show my peers that I can do this, and I can do it well. I start to well up, and he tells me he’s heard enough.
The principle made arrangements for me to perform again and the organising teacher tells me he had no idea it was so important to me.
I walk out in front of the group, one year on, I put the footbag on the end of my foot, I cue the music and… I’m stage struck again. I was expecting this though, and I start off with the easiest moves I can. My legs start to feel like my own legs again, and after 30 seconds I start moving into the harder tricks and combinations. I’m getting cheers. One minute goes by, still no mistakes. I do a paradox whirl on each side which was my signiature trick. I have a couple of drops but overall its an entertaining and strong performance and I get a massive round of applause. I met my demons and performing and doing harder and better tricks more consistently is so much a part of my life that I am practicing over 20 hours a week: an hour before school, at lunch time, after school (just two of those three). Then playing for up to four hours on the weekend.
Australia’s Got Talent Prelims
Australia’s Got Talent Semi-Finals