What Is Gaga Ball & How Do You Play?
What Is Gaga Ball?
While it’s now a sensation in numerous countries, the game Gaga Ball was invented in Israel. In fact, the word “gaga” is actually Hebrew (גע גע) and means “touch touch,” describing the main action players take when they “touch” the ball.
Gaga Ball is a safe alternative to dodgeball that aims to help kids have fun in an enclosed environment during school or other activities. The gameplay is designed not only to be fun, but to teach motor skills such as dodging, underhand ball striking, and jumping.
The game is popular among kids in schools, church groups, and summer camps.
But is it actually fun? The best way to find out is to try for yourself, but the hardest part for me is to get my kids to stop playing! So how do you play?
How to Play Gaga Ball?
Gaga Ball is played inside an enclosure called a “pit.” The pit is generally shaped like a hexagon, although octagons are sometimes used as well. At the start of the game, each player enters the pit and places one hand and one foot against the wall of the pit.
The ball is served by tossing it into the center of the pit. Players must allow the ball to bounce three times before they can touch it. Oftentimes, kids shout something like “Ga-Ga-Ball” as the ball bounces.
After the third bounce, it’s a live ball and the kids can move away from the walls of the pit. The object of the game is to bump the ball into another kid’s leg at or below the knee. If the ball touches you below the knee, you climb out of the pit. Kids can touch the ball with their hands to roll, smack, strike, swat, or block the ball. However, they may not pick it up or catch it. Additionally, if a kid knocks the ball out of the pit, they’re out. This encourages kids to keep the ball low to the ground.
Each kid can only touch the ball once. The ball must then touch another player or the outside of the pit before the same kid can touch it again. If a kid touches the ball twice in a row, they’re out. This encourages kids to keep moving and allows the ball to move around to all of the players.
When there’s only one kid left inside the pit, the game is over.
What Are the Rules of Gaga Ball?
Gaga Ball has simple rules, making it easy for young kids to get the hang of the game. The game can be broken into three parts:
Setting Up the Game
Setting up a game of gaga ball is incredibly simple. Of course, you will need a gaga ball pit. (See section 4 of this article for different pit options)
To set up the game, you will need a rubber playground ball (or a foam ball for a slower game). Any ball will work but a rubber playground ball is recommended. The players line up along the walls of the pit, and everyone must have one hand touching the wall.
An outside referee begins a countdown and throws the ball into the pit. If using a second ball for larger groups of kids, the referee will throw both balls in at the same time. As the balls bounce, the kids yell, “Ga!” For the first two bounces. On the third bounce, the kids yell, “Go!”
Once the playground ball has bounced three times, it’s in play, and the kids can take their hands off the wall. Players cannot hold the ball. Instead, they hit the ball with a closed or open hand, more similar to “smacking” the ball.
Players can jump over the ball, hit the ball, or avoid the ball, making the game similar to dodgeball. Because the gaga pit is an octagonal arena, kids will have to watch their backs as balls could ricochet into their knees from behind.
The kids can use the pit nets and the pit wall to help them evade the bouncy ball as long as they don’t try to sit on the wall or net.
If a player gets hit below the knee by the rubber ball, they step out of the pit
It’s easy to know when a player is out of the game, ensuring that there’s less confusion over who’s still in the game. Essentially, if a player gets touched by the rubber ball or soft foam ball below the knee, they’re out of the game, even if they threw the ball that hit them. Players can self-eliminate if they’re not careful.
Gaga Ball is a battle royale, meaning there are no teams. To make the rules as clear as possible, explain to the kids that if a ball touches them (even grazes their leg) below the knee, they’re eliminated.
Gaga Ball’s elimination rules help the game to move quickly. Even if kids are disappointed that they were eliminated early, they can find comfort in knowing that a new game will start in just a few minutes.
Just because a player is eliminated doesn’t mean they’re out of the game. Occasionally, players inside the pit will hit a ball too hard, or it will ricochet off the pit wall at a crazy angle. If the ball flies out of the pit, the eliminated players can try to catch the ball. If they do, they’re back in the game.
What Are Some Other Ways to Play Gaga Ball?
- Grab and Roll
Same rules as the Classic Version of Gaga Ball
However instead of striking or hitting the ball with your hand you may pick up the ball and roll the ball.
Player may not move when holding ball
This version is great for Kindergarten age children as part of a progression
- Two Touch
Same rules as the Classic Version of Gaga Ball except now you can hit the ball twice
This version works well if there is a large pit and people are not as close together
Similar game mechanics to Classic Version except you run a line down the middle of the pit and put a team on each side.
One team wins by elimination all of the other team players or if time doesn’t permit whichever team has the most players left
- Protect the President
Have two even teams
Pick one player per team to be “President”
If the “President” gets out, the whole team is out
- Ball Tag
Same rules as the Classic Version of Gaga Ball except this time only the person that is “it” can touch the ball.
When someone else is hit by the ball. They are now “it” and only they can touch the ball
- Run Laps
This version mixes Classic with Fitness
When you get out you must run a lap before getting back in the pit
- One Foot Version
Same Rules as Classic but hop on one foot while playing
- Two Balls
Same Rules as Classic but with 2 balls
This version speeds up game play
A Gaga Ball pit can be used to also teach soccer
Who Can Play Gaga Ball?
Anyone who wants to!
Generally speaking, it’s very popular among kids ages 3-14. I’ve seen it played at a number of elementary schools and middle schools, and every time it’s a huge hit. That being said, I’ve seen high schoolers, college-aged kids, and even grandparents enjoy playing Gaga Ball.
What Equipment Do I Need for Gaga Ball?
Really, you only need two things: a Gaga Ball pit and a ball. We’ll discuss the ball below. As for the pit, there are a few types. Let’s break them down.
- Permanent Pits
Permanent Pits are generally made from either wood or plastic paneling. They’re usually placed over wood chips, grass, dirt, blacktop, or cement.
Permanent sets are nice because you never need to set them up (aside from the initial assembly) and they generally last for a long time. However, the most obvious downside of these pits is that they can’t be moved at all. They require a permanent spot dedicated to them, and if the weather is bad then they’re basically useless - especially if it rains or snows and moisture gets trapped inside the pit. In wetter months, grass or dirt floors can get pretty muddy. In drier weather, wood chips or dirt floors can get pretty dusty as well.
Because the walls are made of wood or plastic, the ball usually rebounds really well, which is fun for gameplay. Of course, these hard materials are also less safe if a kid happens to fall or run into the wall.
The final problem is that these sets tend to be the most expensive, costing about $2,000 after installation.
- Portable Pits
The walls of Portable Pits can be made out of plastic paneling, nets, or even inflatables. Depending on the specific pit, they can generally be set up and used both indoors and outdoors. They don’t require a permanent spot dedicated to them, and are generally more versatile and cheaper than a permanent pit.
The downside, of course, is that you need to set up the pit every time you want to use it OR you need a pit that is durable enough and in a safe enough location that you can keep it set up. Some portable pits can be set up fairly quickly (e.g., in five minutes) but others may require much more time.
If the walls are inflatable or made out of netting, some of the ball’s momentum may be absorbed when it rebounds off the walls. This can slightly alter the gameplay by slowing down the ball. Of course, netting is safer than wood or plastic if a kid happens to fall or run into the wall.
- Inflatable Pits
Inflatable Pits are just another version of a portable pit, but there are so many options that they deserve their own category. They’re generally like a bounce house, and come in a wide variety of materials. Their biggest problem is that they’re generally the least durable option. They also have the worst rebound - while balls will rebound well off of wood, plastic, or even netting, the inflatable pits tend to absorb basically all of the ball’s momentum, severely altering the gameplay.
On the plus side, they’re easily the safest set. They also tend to be portable, although they may require a lot of time to inflate and some require a power source. Finally, these are usually the cheapest option - although you get what you pay for when it comes to durability.
- Playing without a Pit
You may be asking yourself - do I need a pit at all? The answer is…maybe not? Sure, you could dump a pile of balls onto a gym floor and have kids swat at the balls until only one kid hasn’t been hit by a ball. Usually, however, the space you’re playing Gaga Ball in ends up too big, so the game gradually migrates from “pit-free Gaga Ball” into a form of dodgeball, getting more aggressive and focusing on powerful strikes that can carry the ball across a gym instead of gentle rolls that can bounce off of the pit walls.
What Ball Should I Use for Gaga Ball?
Technically, you can use just about any ball to play Gaga Ball. However, some balls are better than others. For example, I wouldn’t recommend trying to use a bowling ball!
In all seriousness, the best ball to use would be a playground ball such as this one (sometimes called a kickball). While you could use a lighter, bouncier ball (such as this one), it’s usually best to avoid using balls that are too bouncy or lightweight because you want the ball to stay close to the ground, and lightweight balls tend to pop into the air too easily. Kickball-style playground balls are ideal because they’re just heavy enough to stay close to the ground, but just light enough that they’re still easy to bump around the pit. They’re also not too hard, so kids won’t get hurt when the ball bumps into them.
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