This article will give you some insights into one of the most ancient games ever played on this planet. It will help you figure out how to play bocce ball and what bocce rules there are. Also, you’ll find useful information about different elements of the game, its interesting origins, and the worldwide spread.
Let’s talk a little bit about one of the most ancient lawn or yard games in the world. You might’ve come across some Italians who happened to mention it once or twice. You might’ve even been invited to play the game, but the name only left you in awe and utter confusion.
Yes, we are talking about bocce. You may come across the name Italian lawn bowling also, as this phrase is most commonly used outside Italy. Bocce is widely known mostly because of its simplicity and the fact that people of all ages and different skill levels can play it.
We are all rather familiar with contemporary bowling. To be completely honest, for starters, you can just imagine bocce as bowling — just eliminate the pins.
However, we have to be a little specific about the different terms that people all over the world are using. There is a whole category of games in which you are trying to hit the target ball by throwing or rolling other heavy balls. Bocce ball represents one of those different variants. How popular the game was back in the day shows the fact that some of the greatest people in history used to play it.
Just to throw some names out there — we’re talking about Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Hippocrates, and George Washington. Many admirals, poets, scientists, even emperors played the game. They all found the game extremely beneficial to their mind and body. Thus, there are many bocce courts and clubs widely known all over the world. The game started to gain popularity on a larger scale with Italian migrants, who exported it to many different places.
We should take a look at the etymology of the word bocce. In Italian, bocce is a plural form of boccia, which came from a Latin word bottia (it literary means ball). We can also find the word boulles in Latin, which is how the British got their name for the game bowls and the French version Boules. Since we’re talking about France, we should also mention that in the south of France, you can hear the name pétanque as well. It derives from a dialect in Provence, and it describes the position of the player before tossing the ball.
Let’s assume you’ve gathered a group of people to play the game. The first thing you want to do is divide the group into two teams. You can have only one person in each team, or you might want to make teams out of two or four people on each side.
Bocce balls come in different sizes and colors or material. Depending on what you’ve got, each team picks a color or a pattern.
There are usually eight balls, two of each color or pattern to choose from.
Now it’s time to decide which team is going to play first. Most of the time, players come to a decision by flipping a coin. The winner then chooses a team member to pick up a smaller target ball (pallino) and to make the first throw. That is how the location of the target ball is chosen.
Whoever plays first should consider the perfect position of the pallino — not too far, but also not too close. All balls are to be thrown underhand, and if the rest of the players decide that the pallino was thrown poorly, the first player can rethrow it.
Ok, now we have our two teams (let’s say Team 1 and Team 2), and we have a pallino on the court. The pallino thrower now picks up the first bocce ball for Team 1. All the players should aim well because their goal is to throw the bocce ball as close as possible to the pallino. Team 2 then gets the chance to throw their first bocce ball. They have the next move if their bocce ball ends up being further from the pallino than Team 1’s first ball.
However, if it’s not closer to the pallino, then we have Team 2 playing again. Of course, the next player would be a different team member. Basically, whichever team is further from the target ball keeps throwing. They need to get closer to the pallino than the other team’s closest ball. To finish the round, you’ll have the other team throwing their remaining balls. Players can also move or knock away the pallino or the opposing team’s balls during the game.
Let’s go through the bocce scoring system.
After throwing all the balls, the team that has the ball or balls closest to the pallino gets a point per each ball that is closer than the opposing team’s closest one.
Just to make things a bit clearer, let’s assume a specific situation. Team 1 ended up having three balls closer to the pallino than Team 2’s closest one. That means that Team 1 has scored three points in this round and Team 2 zero.
If there’s a situation where both teams have their balls on the same distance from the pallino, it’s a tie, i.e., nobody scores. You can use a tape measure, which comes pretty handy when those close calls come about. If a ball touches the pallino, it's worth two points. The new round begins with the team that won the previous one.
You can have as many rounds as you please. Usually, there’s a predetermined set of points, anywhere between 7 and 21. It basically depends on how long you want to play and how much fun you’re having.
Let’s talk a little bit about the different colors and sizes of the balls. To play the game, you’ll usually need eight balls of the same size and around two pounds in weight. Other than that, you’ll need to have a smaller target ball that weighs significantly less. This ball is usually white, and a wide range of different names can be used for it. Some of those names appear to be: pallino/pallina, bocce target ball, pill ball, boccino/boccina, jack (ball), bocce small white ball, etc.
You can also encounter the name cochonnet or piglet, which are the French variants of the name. Either way, this white ball is essential for the game as it determines the point to what all the bocce balls have to get as close as possible. If the pallino is knocked out of the court, the round will end, and no points will be awarded. The game will resume from the opposite end of the court. The same team then tosses the pallino again.
The pallino can also come in a bright yellow color — there are no specific rules to this. Different professional clubs have their standard size and weight for the pallino. For example, the 50mm pallino (2-inch diameter) is used in Bocce Open competitions. That is the Perfetta Club Pro standard size of the bocce small white ball.
First-time players usually get confused when tossing their bocce balls. The confusion arises from the fact that most of the first-timers think of the pallino as a “sacred” object that should not be touched. You’ll lose the points, they say. However, that is not the case.
Every player has the option to hit and knock the pallino. It can be a great tactical move. The only thing you should pay attention to is not to knock the pallino out of the court. This rule comes about even if you have a court with boundary lines because you can pretty much play the game wherever. If you prefer and would like to put your opponents in a “difficult” situation, just try hitting the pallino. At the end of the day, at least it’s going to change the pace of the game a bit. Play around with your moves a little and be creative — you’ll certainly have more fun that way.
The set of eight bocce balls usually comes in a traditional combination of four green and four red balls. These colors are obviously most commonly used, but you can find bocce balls in many other colors. It all depends on the brand and how conservative they are about the game itself.
There are some variants of the bocce game where you get the same gray colored balls, but with different patterns on them. If you are trying to decide on what set to buy for yourself to use when having friends and family over, just follow your instincts. You can stay true to the ancient times and opt for a traditional set, or you can experiment as much as you want.
You can chose a bocce ball set from our guide in case you still don't have one or need a new one.
You can play bocce on different surfaces. The most important thing is to find a field that is level. You can basically use your patio, deck, sidewalk and grass lawn as well. Of course, you’ll be encountering a specific set of terrain issues on each of these surfaces. However, sometimes that means more fun! The ball will not roll as smoothly on a ridged wooden deck. Moreover, a ball can stumble upon little dips between paving stones on a patio.
Pedestrians can get in the way of your game if you choose the sidewalk as your court. As you can see, all these alternative options have their cons, but you should not despair.
You can decide to play the game in your backyard using your grass lawn as a game field. However, that also comes with its own concerns. More often than not, you won’t have a perfectly landscaped lawn that is absolutely level. Usually, you’re going to find different bumps or holes in your lawn, and this can make your game harder. But let’s assume you’re determined to play the bocce ball game on grass.
First of all, you’ll have to dedicate your time to organizing the playing field. Avoid hills or inclined parts of the garden and focus on the most level parts. Ideally, there should be no obstacles at all, so try to have as fewer as possible. That means you’ll have to clear the area of any unnecessary objects. If you happen to find some weeds or large parts of grass sticking out, be sure to remove them carefully. You don’t want to make the playing field even worse by creating a divot.
Once you get everything you can out of the way, a fresh mowing comes as a next logical step. Afterward, just rake up the cut grass and you’ll get a smooth bocce ball court.
Read more about bocce ball court on our court guide.
Yes, you can play bocce ball even on the beach. Most people find this type of surface the most fun one. Still, if you want to make sure that your beach bocce ball game is truly entertaining, you’ll have to pay attention to some important things.
First off, you’ll have to select a perfect area on the beach for your bocce ball court. Focus on the smooth and compacted sand surfaces with a nice little slope that leads toward the water. That is your best choice! Without the slope, you might lose the most fun and super challenging element in the game. Don’t go too steep on the slope though, because the balls would constantly roll out of bounds.
You cannot just pick any spot, though. But nothing’s simpler than drawing court lines in the sand. Just pick up a stick of some sort and use it to mark the bounds. Basically, what you want to do is make a really solid cut in the sand. The court should be 16 times 8 in yards. You should divide the court in the middle so as to get two 8-yard squares that share one line. One of your long lines of 16 yards should be parallel to the water, and the court itself should lay on the slope.
Since you’re playing bocce ball on the sand, you should know that you can play Singles or Doubles (just like in tennis). Singles beach bocce means that two people are playing. Both players start the game on the same side of the court. Their starting position should be behind the 8-yard boundary line. Since it’s usually played with a traditional set of 4 green and 4 red balls, each player has its color.
The rules for doubles beach bocce state that there are two opponents on one side and a second pair on the other.
The game starts with the first player tossing the white ball, trying to keep it within the boundary of the far square. The first player has two tries to get the white ball to rest inside the court. If they miss, the other team takes over with two new tries. Once you have the jack (pallino) resting in the far square, the player who managed to do this has the first bocce ball throw.
When you have a slope, the white ball, as well as the other balls, will slide out of the boundary lines and come back in.
Every successful bocce ball throw should end with a bocce ball inside the far square. If any of the balls sit on the line, they are considered IN. When it comes to the scoring, it’s pretty much the same as on any other surface. You want to have as many bocce balls closest to the pallino as you can. The more bocce balls you have closer than the opponents’ closest ball, the more points per round you’ll earn.
You might hear someone saying something like Dead ball while playing bocce ball. There are several situations when a tossed ball can end up being a dead ball. Let’s take a second and consider these specific situations.
If a player throws a bocce ball and this throw makes the ball touch the backboard, we have a vivid example of a dead ball. This ball is then removed from the game until the end of that round.
There are times when you’ll throw a bocce ball that ends up resting on the pallino or any other bocce ball that is touching the backboard. This situation is resolved in two different ways, depending on which ball was the one touching the back wall when you tossed yours. If it was a pallino, both your ball and the pallino would remain in the game. If it was some other bocce ball, then your ball would remain in the game while the other one would be removed until the end of the round.
Consider this situation as well. You throw your bocce ball, and it hits the back wall. It bounces back into the court and hits another bocce ball. This move will get your ball out of the game, and the ball that was moved will be placed back into its original position.
The last example of a dead ball comes from a really tricky situation. Imagine throwing your bocce ball. It hit the back wall, but you didn’t move it immediately. Thus, it stayed in the game. Also, there are times when you will end up accidentally saving the opponent’s ball. For instance, in case your opponent throws their ball and yours prevents it from hitting the backboard. Their ball remains in the game on the position where it rests. Your ball, however, will be removed. So make sure to get your “foul balls” out of the way as soon as possible.
The rules are pretty simple. There are eight bocce balls per game. Furthermore, bocce ball should have two teams playing. These teams can have one, two or four players each. You want to use all eight balls while playing. So if your team has two players, both of you will get two bocce balls. The other team as well.
If there are four people per team, every player has a single bocce ball to play with. It basically depends on the situation and the number of people who want to play the game. If you happen to play the game with only one opponent, you’ll have four bocce balls at your disposal. Try to make the best of them.
The length of the game depends mostly on the predetermined set of points. The more points are predetermined for a win, the longer it’ll take to get there. If you’re playing the game with your friends and family, it can also depend on the mood you’re in. You might want to hang around a bit longer; thus, you’ll play a bit slower.
Sometimes numerous close calls can consume a lot of time. People are generally very competitive, and we all want to be right. This human trait can lead to many silly quarrels. However, some people find this extremely entertaining and fun. So by all means, do whatever makes you happy, as long as you’re not making everyone else miserable.
We also have bocce as a Special Olympics sport. People with special needs have an opportunity to participate in this competition in order to develop physically, gain stronger self-confidence and make some new friends.
This game offers them the chance to participate since it allows people of all ages and skill levels to have fun while playing. If you want to get yourself familiar with all the specific bocce ball court rules and regulations in detail, you should visit the Special Olympics’ official website.
We’ll try to point out only some of the most basic rules for this competition. Let’s just start by saying that the official programs may determine the events offered, and in some cases, specific guidelines for the organization of these events. Coaches usually select appropriate events based on the athlete’s skill level and general interest.
There are six official events in total available in Special Olympics when it comes to bocce ball. Those events are Singles, Doubles, Team Competition, Unified Sports Bocce Doubles, Unified Sports Bocce Team, and Single Ramp.
We should say something about the ramps. Ramps are used when an athlete does not have the physical ability to roll with their hand or hands. Ramps and other assistance devices may be used with the approval of the Competition Committee.
No mechanical aids shall be used to propel the bocce ball or pallina. Athletes using ramps must place themselves in separate divisions from other players in the singles event only. All other tournament rules shall apply to athletes in the ramp divisions.
There are well-determined sets of regulations when it comes to the court size and equipment used, rules of competition, officials and game rules. All of these are clearly stated in the official document entitled Bocce — Sports Rules. You can find this document on the Special Olympics’ website.
Let’s share some tips and strategies for this ancient game. You might want to take notes on this one. Since your team’s goal will be to get as many bocce balls as close to the pallino, one may conclude that the accuracy is all you need as a player. This skill is really helpful while playing bocce ball, no doubts about it.
So in order to get better at the game, your best move would be to practice. Once you get better at aiming and placing your bocce ball where you want, you might want to think about what would be the best position.
Here’s a valuable tip to help you in this thought process. If you throw your bocce ball slightly short of the pallino, you’re already making good progress in the game. This move would block your opponent’s bocce ball path to the pallino. Thus, it will put them in a difficult spot. So try to avoid tossing your bocce ball beyond or beside the pallino.
If you end up being the first player after the coin toss, it’s up to you to place the pallino on the court. This first move can make a big difference when it comes to game development. If you place the pallino closer to the backboard, your improved accuracy can help you a lot. This kind of jack placement creates rather complicated situations, and the game becomes a little more challenging.
We have also prepared some tips and tricks for different surfaces used as a bocce court.
Since we were talking about the white ball placement, let’s see how similar it is when you play the game on the beach. You remember we said that you could draw the beach bocce court in the sand. We end up having boundary lines instead of a back wall.
The strategy is quite similar since you would try to get the jack as close to the boundary line as humanly possible to create difficulties for your opponent. You should pay attention to the skill level your opponent(s) has. They might be way better than you if the jack is closer to the central line.
If you make your bocce court on a slope as suggested, this gives you a chance to go around your opponent’s ball and easily get to the jack. So use the slope as much as possible.
Also, when the round is over, don’t bother picking up all the balls and carrying them to the starting point. Just use your feet to roll them back to the line. It’s easier and fun!
The only tip for this surface would be to avoid making the ball roll towards the jack. The grass is not a good surface for this type of move. It will stop your ball way sooner than the other surfaces, thus making your throw unsatisfactory.
Different people use different rules of the game. It would be wise to talk to all the players before the start in order to get familiar with the rules they want to use. Come to an agreement before misunderstandings and possible quarrels arise.
Also, different tournaments stipulate different rules as well. So if you decide to become a more active player, make yourself familiar with the rules beforehand.
How you throw your bocce ball depends on your ability and the court you’re playing on. Many people love bowling, and they would use that skill for bocce ball as well. Some people prefer tossing rather than rolling the ball.
Basically, there are many different types of bocce ball throws. For example, if a player rolls the ball with great accuracy so as to get it as close to the jack, this throw is usually called the puntata.
Others prefer throwing the ball so as keep it in the air for most of its movement. People call this type of throw the volo (flight). People using the volo throw like to add a little backspin so as to help the ball stop as soon as it hits the ground. Be aware of the fact that this throw can damage the surface if it’s not solid and make everyone angry. So be careful when throwing like this.
Also, you can opt up for a similar throw -— the raffa. You can use this throw to spock the opponent’s ball or the white ball. You should throw it with speed, but only part of the distance, since your objective is just to clear the way.
Well, there are many speculations about the time and the place of origin of the bocce ball game. You can find different sources stating different things. What you accept as a place of origin would depend on the time when you think the first game was played.
There is some evidence in the form of cave paintings in Egypt that depict boys playing a game that resembles bocce ball. However, that is all subjective because we cannot say that those paintings don’t show boys playing some other ball games.
There are also stone balls, which were found in Turkey, but others argue that Greece was the game’s birthplace. Therefore, the interpretations are open. The same goes for the date of birth.
Okay, we’ll offer you some speculations about the time of the bocce ball invention.
Those stone balls in Turkey date back to 9000 B.C. Meanwhile, the Egyptian cave paintings date back to 5000 B.C. If we talk about Greece, then we’re talking about the year 600 B.C.
In its current form, some might say, the game was played in 264 B.C. That was the time of the Punic Wars, which were fought between Rome and Carthage.
In any case, bocce ball is certainly one of the oldest games ever invented. Just think about it. All you need is a human being tossing a stone for the game to be recognized.
We cannot determine the date of bocce ball’s origin. We cannot even determine the place where it was invented. Therefore, it’s obvious we won’t be able to say who came up with the rules first. These are some unanswerable questions, and honestly, it won’t make any difference at all.
Like we said at the beginning of the article, there are many bocce variants. Most of them come under the common name Boules (a French version). Also, we said that some might use the name Italian lawn bowling to refer to bocce.
To make it simple, there are three main differences between the two.
The first one is obvious when you look at the shape of the balls used. The bocce ball is perfectly round, while the Lawn ball has an elliptical shape.
We have already talked about different types of throws in bocce, but the general rule is to throw the ball underhand, just like in softball. On the other hand, players usually roll the Lawn ball.
The last difference is the court size and surface. Bocce court is slightly smaller than the Lawn bowling rink.
Our main objective with this article was to get its readers a little more familiar with the game of bocce. We tried to make sure the reader now knows how to play bocce ball and what the bocce rules are. Moreover, we went in-depth to show some other elements of the game, as well as many other fun ways you can play it.
Hopefully, this article will be of assistance to anyone interested in this leisure activity. Try to remember only one thing, though — there's no point in playing if you're not having fun!