Bocce Ball for Beginners

23 06 2013

IMG_7767I played bocce ball for the first time at a family reunion and was hooked from that introductory game. Three generations of cousins taught me bocce ball rules while also demonstrating the fun in bending those rules to accommodate current situations. My first bocce court was a slightly mowed hillside field where the balls often rolled out of sight. My first bocce team was a mishmash of age and skill.

I didn’t hesitate in buying my family a bocce set and teaching my children how to play. cooperOk, we’ve never actually played by official rules and we’ve only played on our backyard grass. Our sidelines are bee-covered flowers and rose bush thorns. Our main obstruction is one Cocker Spaniel who has traded chasing and snatching the target ball for lying in the middle of the yard and ignoring our pleas to move. I guess I can consider that a slight victory.

Throughout the summer, I’ll begin a bocce game with one of my kids to then find another wander into the backyard eager to join in. Sometimes we throw the target ball to the far end of the grass and sometimes we gently toss it close by. Sometimes our bocce balls hit a bump in the yard, bouncing and rolling onto the patio while other times they disappear in those longer clumps of grass that signal it’s time to mow.


About 5000 B.C., the Egyptians invented a primitive form of this popular game. Galileo enjoyed bocce for its precision and competition. Even Sir Frances Drake delayed his defense against the advancing Spanish Armada until his bocce game concluded. Good thing they aren’t part of our loosey-goosey backyard version! So now that I’ve thoroughly disturbed avid rule followers of which usually I am team captain, allow me to share game rules so that you may join others such as Galileo and play correctly. I do have a disclaimer, however, in that official rules change between cultures—and families.

The Set
A set has eight colored balls, two of each color, called boccia and one traditionally white target ball called the jack, pallina or pallino. My jack is yellow though.

The Court
Bocce can be played anywhere there’s a flat, level area of grass, dirt, sand, gravel, or asphalt. Be sure to have barriers if using a concrete court, otherwise it will carry your boccia off to Neverland. Court dimensions should measure about 10 to 13 feet wide and 60 to 100 feet long.

The Team
Each team consists of one to four players and gets two different colors of ball. Teams with multiple players take turns each round.

The Form
Bocce is a bowling game, so naturally, we would assume the only acceptable form of delivering the ball to the jack would be to roll it. That’s just one way. Although the ball is moved in the underarm fashion, it can be thrown, bounced, or gently tossed into the air. I, however, will never divulge to my children that throwing and bouncing is acceptable. I shudder to imagine the damage my property might suffer.

The Game
After team order is determined (Americans call Heads or Tails with a coin), a player from the starting team tosses the jack into the court. That player then tosses a ball as close to the jack as possible. The opposing team tries to get a ball even closer to the jack. A player can use their ball to knock their opponents’ away from the jack or to knock the jack closer to their own ball already on the court. One point is awarded each round to the team with a closer ball to the jack. With a tie, no points are given. A round is finished when all eight balls are on the court. Teams continue to alternate until one of them reaches a predetermined score. Match points range from 10 to 21 points. Some rules call a winner when the match point is made while other rules require a win by a two-point margin. In my backyard bocce ball game, we play until someone decides there are more interesting things to do besides repeatedly rolling a ball across the grass.

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