Sepak Takraw: The hardest sport you've never heard of
If you are from outside of southeast Asia, you probably are not familiar with the sport called "Sepak Takraw;" a sport that combines volleyball, badminton, and...soccer? The sport is not an Olympic event, so instead, it finds its largest stage in the Asian Games. Out of the different participating Asian countries, Thailand is far-and-away the dominant country in this sport with 32 total medals in the Asian games, 26 of which are gold medals.
Sepak takraw is played on a court with the same dimensions as that of badminton. The net heights between the two sports are incredibly similar as well; the top of the badminton net is 1.55 meters above the ground, whereas, for men's sepak takraw, the top of the net is 1.52m and 1.41 for the women's competition.
A typical match is played with three people on each side. At its very basic description, the match is played with one of the three people in the back to serve, while the other two are in the front, one on the left and one on the right. However, once the ball is served, all three players are free to move about creating an awing sporting spectacle to behold.
The point of the sport is simple, just like volleyball, get the ball (a roughly 5.5 to 6.5 oz woven synthetic fiber hollow sphere) back to the other side. Here is the one catch, instead of using your hands...players use their feet.
Think about when you watch volleyball, after a bump and a set, one team spikes it back over the net. Now, imagine doing that spike with your feet. Now, obviously, the volleyball net is higher, but still, I can't imagine that a lot of you reading this right now think, "ya, spiking a 14cm diameter spherical ball with my feet sounds like something I can do."
Episode 10 of The Globally Ballin Podcast featured Karen Caballero, president of Philippine Amateur Sepak Takraw Association (PASTA) to discuss sepak takraw and the SEA Games. You can listen to this episode by clicking the link below, enjoy!
Much like volleyball, the receiving team gets 3 chances to hit it over the net. Of course, in this version of "volleyball for overachievers," they have to do this all while not using their hands. The winner is decided after one team wins 2 out of three sets; each set is played to 21 points. While only one team gets to win, at least the losing team can go home with the peace of mind that they are more capable of competing in a sport that the vast majority of the average people on this earth can't even comprehend much less play.
I remember in middle school wanting to play every sport I could until track season rolled around and I got my first look at the high jump bar. I quickly realized that it was not for me. At least it makes me feel good to know that while I can't successfully do the high jump, there are people in this world basically playing volleyball and soccer simultaneously all while doing the high jump.
I remember in high school there were always a couple of athletes that could basically pick up whatever sport they wanted to, quickly make varsity, get some good minutes, become a star, and then hang it up. However, even for those morale-destroying individuals that I am picturing, I cannot believe that any of them would have been able to pick up sepak takraw. This is a sport that has a clear exclusion of those who are not cut out for it. One of my favorite parts of watching sporting competitions is watching players excel doing things that I know that I could never do, much less at the level at which they are doing it. So, because of that, for those of you that are able to play this sport, you have my admiration, and you deserve more attention.