Gaga ball is a playground game similar to dodgeball, but it is considered to be a kinder, gentler form of the game. The game is played inside a hexagon or octagon pit with a range of sizes from 15 to 25 feet in diameter with walls generally 24 to 30 inches high. The game can accommodate a varying number of players with different ages and abilities playing together. The rules are easy to learn, and the game doesn’t require the athletic skills needed in other games. It is action-packed with games lasting generally 5 minutes, which keeps the players engaged.1
The origin of the game has been disputed with many suggesting that it started in Israel with the Israel Defense Forces as early as the 1950s or ‘60s. Although there is little evidence to support this theory, it is still believed to have originated in Israel and was brought to the United States to Jewish summer camps by Israeli camp counselors. Another claim to the origin of the game comes from a summer camp in New York owned by John Crosley, where the game was called Crosleyball beginning in the ‘50s. There are a number of other summer camps making similar claims, which have also had Israeli camp counselors, which adds credence to the belief of its origin in Israel. The name “ga-ga” means “touch touch” or “hit hit” in Hebrew.2
The equipment needed to play Gaga ball are simply a ball pit and a ball. Ball pits are designed for the number of players: 6-8 players have a 15 foot diameter; 8-12 players have a 20 foot diameter; and more than 12 players will require a 25 foot or larger diameter. The height of the pit wall is usually between 24 to 30 inches and is designed in a hexagon, octagon, or other shape for larger pits. The walls can be made from any sturdy material, such as timber, polyethylene coated timber, steel, plastic, or aluminum. Inflatable plastic Gaga pits are also available, which can be quickly set up and taken down. The surface of the pit should be hard and smooth, with concrete or asphalt working best. However, the game can also be played on grass, dirt, stone dust, or compacted sand. Any kind of bouncy ball can be used, but lightweight balls between 8 to 10 inches in diameter work best.3
The game is fast-paced and combines the skills of dodging, striking, running, and jumping, while trying to hit opponents with the ball below their knees. If the ball touches a player below the knees, they are out until the next round. The last player in the pit wins.
The game begins with all players having one hand touching a wall of the pit. A referee throws the ball into the center of the pit, and the players yell “Ga” for the first two bounces, and “Go” on the third bounce, which puts the ball in action. Once the ball is in play, any player can hit the ball with an open or closed hand. If the ball touches a player below the knee, the player is out and leaves the pit. If a player is hit above the knee, the play continues. Players cannot hold the ball, but if a ball is caught on the fly, the player who hit the ball is out. The players may use the walls of the pit to aid in jumping as long as they do not permanently sit on the ledge. As players are eliminated, a second ball can be thrown in the pit to expedite the end of the game. The last player standing is the winner of that round.4
There are variations to the rules that keep the players engaged. Normally, players who are out will stand around watching the rest of the game. In redemption Gaga ball, if a player on the outside catches a ball hit over the fence on the fly, they can replace the hitter. Another version allows for a nearly endless game that allows the player who is out to get back into the game as soon as the player who hit him is hit himself. The only way to end this version of the game is for a single person to get almost everyone out. For more advanced players who are good at dodging the ball, two balls can be put into play in another version of the game.
There are many benefits for playing the game of Gaga ball. It is an inclusive game that can be played by children of all ages, and their athletic ability is less important in being successful playing this game. It does, however, help children develop their physical skills, including eye-hand coordination, reaction speed, jumping skills, and coordination. These skills can translate into other sports like soccer, football, and basketball.5
- 1. Cary, Joan. “Gaga ball becoming the great playground equalizer.” Chicago Tribune. 20 Oct. 2015. < https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-gaga-ball-met-20151020-story.html > 26 Feb. 2019.
- 2. Silver, Stephen. “The Ga-Ga Saga.” Tablet Magazine. 17 Aug. 2016. < https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/210407/the-ga-ga-saga > 26 Feb. 2019.
- 3. Tony. “GaGa Ball Game Rules: How to Play and the Gaga Ball Pit Dimensions.” Kid Activities. < https://www.kidactivities.net/how-to-play-gaga-ball/ > 26 Feb. 2019.
- 4. “What is Gaga?” Gaga Center. < http://www.gagacenter.com/nyc/about/what-is-gaga/ > 26 Feb. 2019.
- 5. Op. cit., Tony.