Bocce ball is a classic backyard game with a great history spanning thousands of years, and people of all nationalities and nobility have played the game for millennia. The objective of the game is simple. Each team is attempting to roll their bocce ball closer to the pallino (the small white ball) than the other team. This simplicity is why bocce ball is a great game for people of all ages.
Throughout this article, we will discuss everything there is to know about bocce ball. We’ve included a condensed history of the sport, a guide on how to play bocce ball, and even rules and set-up instructions for competitive play.
From Ancient Relics to Modern Recreation
The history of bocce ball is somewhat mythic, and the specific claims made are difficult to verify. However, the legend of the bocce ball’s origin is quite fascinating, so we’ve decided to include it here.
Bocce ball is believed to have originated in ancient Egypt some 5000 years ago. Paintings in Egyptian tombs discovered by one Sir Francis Petrial (whose own history is clouded in mystery) are believed to be the first depiction of the sport. The game endured the test of time and spread throughout Asia Minor and Europe. And famous individuals from Antiquity, like the Roman Emperor Agustus and Greek Physician Hippocrates, are believed to have played the sport recreationally.
Assuming that this history of bocce ball is accurate, it would be one of the oldest sports known to man—even surpassing sports like soccer and polo, which date back to the Ancient Roman Era around 300 C.E.
The game’s more modern history is easier to verify. It is widely held that the modern iteration of the game was created by Guiseppe Garibaldi—the Italian revolutionary and ruler responsible for unifying Italy in the mid-to-late 1800s. Since then, Bocce has been a recreational sport for millions worldwide. The game is even played competitively in the Special Olympics.
The Basics - Setting Up
There are several different ways you can set up and play bocce ball, depending on the space you have available and whether you’d like to participate in a club. Bocce is best enjoyed using a flat surface with either natural or artificial grass. To avoid damaging your bocce balls, we recommend not playing on a hard surface.
To play bocce ball, you will need a minimum of 8 large colored bocce balls and 1 small white ball known as the pallino. You will also need at least 6 stakes to mark the edges of your court and the half-court position.
Recreational Set Up
If you’re looking to play the game recreationally with friends and family, the setup is straightforward. However, if you’d like a more structured playing experience, you can make out a playing field with stakes. A backyard court can be any size you want, but 60 feet long and 12 feet wide will give you plenty of room.
You can even omit the court entirely. Just mark out a minimum throwing distance, and you’re good to go.
For teams, we recommend splitting into either solo teams, groups of two, or groups of 4. For solo teams, each player uses 4 bocce balls. In a team of two, each player gets 2 bocce balls, and in a team of four, each player gets 1 bocce ball.
Bocce Recreational Play
This portion of the article will guide you on how to play bocce ball at a recreational level.
Before beginning the game, each team must decide on a player rotation to use for the game's duration. Once each team has chosen their rotation, flip a coin. The coin toss is used to decide who will toss the pallino first and what color balls each team will be using. The coin toss winner gets the first choice between tossing the pallino and choosing the color bocce ball they wish to use.
To begin the game, one team will toss the pallino. The pallino must be tossed past the half-court line without going out of bounds if you're using a court. Should the ball not fall within the legal play area, the opposing team gets a chance to toss the pallino. After that, the pallino toss goes between each team until one side tosses it into the legal playing area.
The player who successfully tossed the pallino into play will be the first player to deliver their bocce ball. When a team gets their ball closer to the pallino than their opponents, they step aside and allow them to deliver their bocce balls. This continues until all teams have delivered their bocce balls. Once all bocce balls have been delivered, the frame is over.
Bocce ball is played in frames. Only one team can score in each frame. The team that delivered a bocce ball closest to the pallino is the scoring team.
To determine the number of points to be awarded, decide how many of the scoring team’s bocce balls are closer to the pallino than the opposing team’s closest bocce ball. A ball must be distinguishably closer than the opponents to receive a point.
The number of bocce balls determined to be closer constitutes the number of points the scoring team is awarded.
The team that reaches 16 points first wins.
Basic Rules of Bocce Ball
As previously stated, the game's objective is to get your bocce ball closer to the pallino than the other team. It is also important to note that all balls must be delivered with an underhand toss.
There should be a designated foul line if you're using a court. The foul line designates where a player must stay behind when delivering the pallino and their bocce balls. A player will receive one warning for stepping over the foul line.
If a second infraction occurs, the frame ends, and scoring begins. Only the offended team is allowed to receive points after a foul infraction has occurred. The offending team receives nothing.
Any ball that goes out of bounds is considered dead for the frame's remaining, and if the pallino is knocked out of bounds, the frame ends, and no points are awarded.
While bocce ball is a game that most people worldwide enjoy recreationally, there is a growing competitive scene that players may be interested in joining once they’ve gained some experience. If you’re looking to enjoy bocce ball competitively, join a club, or participate in tournaments, then you need to adhere to US Bocce Federation rules.
The US Bocce Federation has a guidebook that teaches you how to play bocce ball competitively. Rules are revised each year, so we recommend checking that out for the most in-depth and accurate information.
The dimensions of your court should be 26.5 meters long and between 4 and 4.5 meters wide. A half-court line should be placed at the 13.25-meter mark, with foul lines placed at 4, 7, and 9 meters from each end of the court.
Competitive games must be played on a constructed bocce ball court, and the US Bocce Federation outlines the specifics construction details for regulation courts in their official rulebook.
The number of bocce balls you will need will depend on the number of players. For solo teams, each player will have 4 bocce balls. For teams of two or three, each player will need 2 bocce balls. Regardless of team size, you will only need one pallino.
Competitive Rules and Gameplay
By and large, the rules of competitive bocce ball are the same as recreational bocce ball. The main difference is that players must declare the type of toss they are taking to the referee before delivering the bocce ball.
There are three types of throws that a player can implement in competitive bocce: raffa, punto, and volo.
A punto throw is best used whenever you have a clear path towards reaching the bocce ball. The goal of punto throws is to get your bocce ball as close to a reference point, such as the pallino or another bocce ball, as possible without hitting other objects on the field. Should a punto throw result in another object being displaced, the referee will determine whether or not the thrown ball is void.
A raffa throw is used whenever you want to displace another object on the court intentionally. The displaced object can be the pallino, an opponent’s bocce ball, or even your own bocce ball. Players must declare to the referee what item they are attempting to displace and roll or bounce the ball as they usually would.
A volo throw is a high-arching aerial toss that is also used to displace other objects on the court. These throws are usually discouraged on courts because they can cause damage to the court and even your bocce balls.
A Game For Everyone
Bocce ball is a fun, simple game that people of all ages can enjoy. So whether you’re super competitive and want to join a club or looking for a new game to play at your next barbeque, bocce ball is a very accessible game that anyone can get into.
If you’re ready to start playing bocce ball, we have everything you need to get started! Our bocce ball sets are professional-grade resin and contain everything you need to play your first game! Get your bocce ball set today and start playing!
For more yard game fun, check out our other outdoor game guides.
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