What's it all about?
Joining a sports club is a great way to meet people, but what if football was never your forte? What if you were always the last one to be picked for the school netball team, and the thought of running fills you with fear? That's what Come Play Sport is there for. It's a chance to try offbeat sports (ones that don't spark any bad childhood memories), in a gently competitive yet fun and sociable way. As a dedicated minority sports fan myself - korfball, cage fighting - I decided to give it a go.
How does it work?
You register for a free taster session of any or all of the following sports: dodgeball, unihoc, volleyball, handball and inner tube water polo. If you enjoy it, you sign up to join an eight- or 14-week league in your chosen sport(s). You can be assigned to a team, or you can join with friends and set up your own team. There are play-offs in the final week of the 'season' to determine rankings, and an informal awards night. But the actual sport is only half the fun - there is a strongly social side to Come Play.
Who is behind it?
Come Play is already big in North America. The UK version was set up by Rufus Hack, who was inspired by his experience of living in Toronto. He joined a sports and social club and found it was a great way to keep fit, do something different and make new friends.
What's so good about it?
None of the five sports are exactly mainstream in the UK, so beginners are more than welcome and won't feel intimidated - most players have little experience. The novelty factor and the short league seasons will keep you interested, even if you don't get hooked on the first sport you try, and you can move on to a different sport with each new season.
The basics are easy to pick up, so you'll get a good workout right from the start. The unique nature of some of the sports means you work different muscles to those you focus on in the gym. As you improve and get to know your team, you can introduce more advanced tactical play. Most importantly, you'll have fun: tipping someone out of a rubber ring or pelting them with ball can be very entertaining …
Each venue has links to a nearby bar, so you can dissect the game over a discounted pint with your new best mates (male and female - all the sports are mixed). As the Come Play website says, "The game may or may not go your way, but the drinks are still cold and cheap afterward!"
Which sport should I try first?
I tried dodgeball and inner tube water polo. Dodgeball is supposedly fast and furious, but our group of beginners started off rather tentatively. For those who haven't seen the film, the game is played on a court in two halves, with each team confined to their half. There are five balls, and the aim is to get the other team 'out', either by hitting them with a ball or catching a ball thrown at you. I was only faintly out of breath after half an hour or so, but I imagine it gets more tiring as everyone becomes more skilful and confident.
Inner tube water polo is great fun. Players sit in rubber rings and paddle furiously up and down the swimming pool, passing the ball to each other and shooting at the goal. You may tip other players out of their rings when they are in possession of the ball, which adds to the excitement.
What are the downsides?
Dodgeball can be a little frustrating if you get 'out' early on, though there is the chance to get back in the game if a team-mate makes a catch. Water polo left me with sore, scratched inner arms where they had scraped against the outside of the rubber ring during my frantic paddling, but this didn't seem to affect anyone else, so perhaps it was a matter of poor technique.
Some players at the trial session were worried about being able to commit to games every week. To alleviate this, Come Play recommends that teams are made up of 12 players to allow some leeway - the sports are six- and seven-a-side, plus substitutes. There is also a 'ringers' system, where people who are happy to play for a rival team will help out if you're short of players.
There is no formal coaching - you learn on the job. The emphasis is on fun, so if you're ultra-competitive then Come Play is probably not for you.
So far, Come Play is only running in London: in Moorgate, Angel, Elephant and Castle and Vauxhall. There are plans to expand to other major cities, including Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, in the next 18 months.
Perfect if …
You've just moved to London and want to meet like-minded people.
Best avoided if …
You've set your sights on a place in the beach volleyball team at London 2012.
What more do I need to know?
Signing up as an individual costs £50 for an eight-week league or £75 for a 14-week league. All kit, venue hire and a trial week is included in the price. The equivalent cost for teams of up to 12 people is £400 and £600.
A new league starts tonight in Moorgate from 6.15pm. To sign up, go to comeplay.co.uk.