Tetherball is a game that has been popular on playgrounds, schoolyards, and summer camps for years. The game involves two players who attempt to hit a ball attached to a pole by a rope in opposite directions until one of them wraps the rope completely around the pole and the ball stops. Tetherball can be enjoyed by school-aged children and adults alike with varying levels of fitness and very little expense.1

The history of the game is uncertain with some suggesting that in the ninth century the Tatars, who lived in the areas of today’s Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, would hang their fallen enemy’s head from a pole and beat it with a stick. Others have thought it could be related to the practice of maypole dancing that was done in medieval England and northern European countries, where villagers would hold ropes or ribbons hung from a tall pole and dance around the pole.2 However, because the ball most used is similar to the volleyball, the game is believed to have been developed some time after 1895 when the game of volleyball was invented. There is a popular version of the game called paddleball that is played in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, where a smaller ball is hung from a pole and hit with paddles.3

Tetherball is a popular addition to schoolyards. The cost of the equipment is minimal, very little space is required, and the tetherball pole can be set up on pavement, grass, or gravel. The game can be played casually between two players, and there are only a few simple rules to follow to maintain fair play. The nature of the game requires constant movement and can provide good exercise during recess.4

The tetherball equipment consists of a vertical metal pole that is usually ten feet tall but can be shorter for younger children. The pole is secured firmly into the ground usually with cement, although there are portable versions that are deemed a safety hazard by some because they are less sturdy for play. The ball that is hung by a nylon rope, or tether, from the top of the pole is similar to a volleyball. The length of the rope is long enough to allow the ball to hang two feet from the ground when not wrapped around the pole. The tetherball court is an approximate ten to twelve foot radius that is divided into two equal halves. The ground within the circle should be a flat, even surface.5

Although the rules of the game may vary, the object of the game is to hit the tetherball in one direction and wrap the rope completely around the pole so that the ball stops. The two players decide who will serve the ball first. Because there is usually a disadvantage for the server, the players must also decide how many games they will play in a match to determine the ultimate winner. To be fair, the winner must win by two games.6

Once the ball has been served, the server cannot hit the ball again until the opponent has hit the ball. The players can only use the hand or forearm to hit the ball, must stay within their half of the court, and cannot touch the pole or the rope at any time. The ball must bounce off the hand immediately and cannot be caught or thrown. The ball can only be hit once per rotation by each player, except if the ball hits the pole between hits. If a violation occurs, play is stopped and returned to the correct number of wraps around the pole before the violation. Then either the player who did not commit the violation can serve the ball or in some rules, a pole drop is performed where both players place one hand on the ball holding it three feet out from the pole and then releasing it to hit the pole, which then allows either player to hit the ball and continue play.7

Gaining and keeping control of the ball allows a good player to win. The ball can be hit at a downward angle that causes it to then rotate above the opponent’s reach. Moving forward and back in his side of the court can help the player maintain or steal control of the ball. These tactics can be practiced, and tetherball is the easiest of all ball sports to practice alone.8

  • 1. Norman, Paul A.”Tetherball Games.” Livestrong.com. < http://www.livestrong.com/article/168318-tetherball-games/ > 3 Nov. 2011.
  • 2. Allen, Jae. “The History of Tetherball.” Livestrong.com. < http://www.livestrong.com/article/366742-the-history-of-tetherball/ > 3 Nov. 2011.
  • 3. “Tetherball.” Lifetime.com. < http://www.lifetime.com/article/4923 > 3 Nov. 2011.
  • 4. “The Advantages of Tetherball.” Total Tetherball. < http://www.toteth.com/tetherball_advantages.html > 3 Nov. 2011.
  • 5. Porter, Lisa. “What is Tetherball?” Livestrong.com. < http://www.livestrong.com/article/156143-what-is-tetherball/ > 3 Nov. 2011.
  • 6. Op. cit., “Tetherball.”
  • 7. Op. cit., “Tetherball.”
  • 8. “Tetherball Tactics.” Total Tetherball. < http://www.toteth.com/tactics.html > 3 Nov. 2011.