Bocce ball, a timeless and beloved Italian pastime, has captured people’s hearts worldwide for centuries. Its simple yet captivating nature makes it a game that people of all ages and skill levels can enjoy. If you’re looking for a new outdoor activity to enjoy with friends and family, you’ve come to the right place.
We will delve into the rich history of bocce ball, explore the rules and strategies that make it exciting, and provide you with all the tips and tricks you need to become a bocce ball aficionado.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a complete beginner, join us to discover the joy and camaraderie that bocce ball brings to outdoor gatherings and leisurely afternoons. Let’s roll into the bocce world and uncover everything you’ve ever wanted to know about this delightful game.
After my recent trip to the Amalfi Coast, I can guarantee that this is the game you should add to your summer barbecue. I watched groups of Italian grandfathers, uncles, and old friends from one town to the next. They were lazing the days away under the shade of olive trees, engaged in games of bocce ball.
Historians have found evidence that Egyptians taught their neighbors how to play bocce ball as early as 5200 B.C. Since then, the game has swept across the globe, mostly thanks to Italian immigrants.
Bocce ball is arguably the world’s oldest sport. It has the third-largest number of participants in the world (after golf and soccer). It’s played across the continents by people of all ages and social classes. Bocce has seen relatively little change over the millennia. Though we no longer toss polished stones or coconuts like our ancestors, the rules and gameplay are essentially the same. With your own set of bocce balls, you can play just about anywhere you find an empty space. So, dust off your bowler hat, make yourself a refreshing Aperol spritz, and settle in to learn how to play bocce ball once and for all!
A Brief History of
Bocce Ball and Its Rise to Global Popularity
Many bocce enthusiasts agree that the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans invented the earliest forms of the game.
The word “bocce” is a plural form of the Italian word “boccia” (meaning “ball”). “Boccia” stems from the vulgar Latin word “bottica.”
The Italians also refer to the game as Volo, from the verb “volare,” which means to fly. This second name alludes to the manner of throwing one’s ball through the air in an attempt to strike away your opponent’s ball.
Bocce has been called many other names — lawn bowling, nine pins, skittles, and petanque, to name a few. The French, meanwhile, use the name “Boule Lyonnaise.”
Though it may have many different names, the game is played across the globe in almost the same way as it was millennia ago.
From Egyptian Tombs to the Roman Empire
English scientist Sir Francis Petrial discovered a painting in an Egyptian tomb from around 5200 B.C. In this painting, two boys are playing an early form of bocce ball.
Through the centuries, bocce spread out of Egypt and across Asia Minor. Around 600 B.C., Greeks were learning how to play bocce ball. And they eventually passed the game to the Romans.
Initially, bocce ball was prohibited for people of lesser nobility. The upper class believed that playing the game diverted the working class’ attention from more important tasks, such as training for battle and manufacturing supplies.
However, despite many attempts to ban the sport, bocce eventually became a popular public game. Everyone was learning how to play bocce ball, and it was accessible to those from all walks of life.
We have the Greek colonists to thank for bringing bocce with them into the new world. As they spread their empire, they taught the inhabitants of modern-day Italy how to play bocce ball.
To the Olympics and Beyond
Giuseppe Garibaldi was a famous Italian general, politician, and nationalist who played a significant role in Italian history. But while he unified and nationalized Italy, he also popularized bocce ball as it’s known today.
Despite the early fervor, bocce has frequently lost and gained popularity throughout the ages. However, it experienced an intense resurgence at the end of the 19th century.
The first bocce ball club emerged in 1850 in Lyon, France. In 1896, bocce appeared as an Olympic event in Athens, Greece. Then, in the Paris Olympics of 1900, bocce was featured as an exhibition sport. Bocce has been a part of international competitions ever since.
Who Was the Best Bocce Player Ever?
Umberto Granaglia is indisputably considered the best bocce player ever. Born in Italy, he was named “Player of the 20th Century” by the Confederation Mondiale des Sport de Boules in 2005.
Players recognize Granaglia’s visage throughout the bocce world. To many fans, he embodies the perfect bocce player.
After Granaglia learned to play bocce ball, he had a 23-year-long career in which he won more championships than any other player. During his life, he won 13 World, 12 European, and 46 Italian Championships. He holds the record number of wins for all three tournaments. There are many great bocce champions, past and present. However, none of these players are quite as accomplished or famous as Granaglia.
Evolution of the Bocce Ball
Early bocce ball technology was crude.
In the time of Roman soldiers, players would use anything that resembled a ball, including rocks, bound rags, and fruit. Early participants were also known to use coconuts brought back from Africa. Later on, they switched to hard olive wood to carve out balls.
In 1923, metal technology took off. Players were able to have balls made out of bronze. Makers also created slight variations in weight, diameter, and pattern to fit the hand size of the player and their throwing style.
Modern bocce balls are about the size of a grapefruit. They are heavy, solid, and made of wood or epoxy. For most players, having the right set of balls is just as important as knowing how to play bocce ball.
Growth of Bocce Tournaments
In the past century or so, bocce has also become a popular tournament sport. Competitions regularly occur worldwide, some offering significant cash awards to winners.
Today, the Federation International de Boules (FIB) regulates bocce play at the international level, dictating all official rules and instructing people on how to play bocce ball.
The FIB was established on April 14, 1946. Immediately after, the FIB held the first World Bocce Championship in 1947.
Today, this sport is most popular in the Mediterranean. The most skilled and highest concentration of players come from France, Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia. More than 30 nations participate in the World Bocce Championship every other year.
Tournaments include traditional events like Singles and Doubles. They have added newer events to the competitions, such as the Progressive Throw and Relay. These specialized events focus on the more athletic aspects of bocce rather than the original game itself.
The two biggest tournaments in the world are the Pentecote Tournament Bellecour in Lyon, France, and the Gara Alassio in Italy. Both tournaments occur over two days and welcome over 4,000 participants yearly.
The Strange Legend of Kissing Fanny
If you’re going to learn how to play bocce ball, then you also need to learn how to lose gracefully. This means you need to learn the story of Fanny.
When you’ve lost your match, and someone tells you to kiss Fanny, you shouldn’t turn red in the face or make a terrible faux pas. Though this ritual is a bit cheeky (pardon the pun), it’s not as crass as it may sound.
You see, Fanny is the patron saint of bocce ball. If you lose a game of bocce without scoring a single point, you are “être fanny” (being fanny).
Kissing Fanny or experiencing such a dramatic loss is the ultimate humiliation for players everywhere. And this is true in more ways than one since such a bad loss makes it seem like you don’t know how to play bocce ball!
So What’s Her Story?
As the story goes, just after World War I, there was a waitress named Fanny working at the Café de Grand-Temps. When someone had lost a game without scoring a point, she would take pity on them and allow them to kiss her on the cheek.
One day, the local mayor lost a game and went to the café for his prize. No one is sure what prompted Fanny to do what she did next, though maybe she was upset with the mayor for another reason.
She lifted her skirt and offered him the other cheek!
Legend has it, the mayor didn’t even hesitate. Thus began the tradition that requires a player (or entire team) who loses a game without scoring a single point to “kiss Fanny.”
What You Need to
Know About How to Play Bocce Ball
Bocce is a team sport and is best with two teams squaring off. Each team can have two, three, or four players depending on the game. The objective of the game is to score points by tossing or rolling your bocce balls closer to the target ball (pallino) than your opponent’s balls.
Invest in the Right Equipment
Bocce Balls: A standard bocce set includes eight bocce balls, four of one color and four of another color. These balls are typically made of wood, resin, or metal and are divided into two teams of four each.
Pallino: The pallino is a smaller target ball, usually white, which serves as the objective for the game. It is initially thrown to set the target for the other balls.
Playing Surface: Bocce is typically played on a flat, level playing surface, such as a lawn, backyard, or bocce court. The quality and type of the playing surface can vary, but it should be relatively smooth and free of obstructions.
Measuring Device: In more competitive games, a measuring device like a tape measure or calipers can be used to determine which bocce ball is closest to the pallino when it’s a close call and minimize potential disputes.
Bocce Court Markers: If you’re playing on a dedicated bocce court, you may use court markers to outline the boundaries and foul lines for more precise gameplay.
Remember that different skill levels require varying sizes of bocce balls. Beginners and kids tend to use smaller balls, but professionals use larger ones. Regulation-sized bocce balls have a standard diameter of 107 millimeters (4.2 inches) and a standard weight of 920 grams (less than 2 pounds).
Setting Up Bocce Ball
Tossing the Pallino: The game starts with a player from the first team tossing the pallino onto the playing surface. The pallino should be thrown a reasonable distance away but not too far. Ideally, it should be about 12-16 feet away from where the players are standing.
Throwing Bocce Balls: After the pallino is in place, the same player or a player from the opposing team takes their turn to throw one of their team’s bocce balls, attempting to get it as close to the pallino as possible. Players can choose to roll the ball along the ground or toss it through the air.
Alternate Throws: The opposing team then takes its turn, attempting to get their bocce balls closer to the pallino or to knock the opponent’s balls away. Players alternate turns until all eight balls have been thrown.
Scoring: After all eight balls have been thrown, the team with the bocce ball closest to the pallino scores points. Typically, only the closest ball from each team is counted. The team whose ball is closest to the pallino scores one point for each ball that is closer to the pallino than the opposing team’s closest ball. If a team’s ball touches the pallino, they score two points.
Starting a New Round: The team that scored in the previous round throws the pallino to begin the next round, and the play continues.
Bocce Ball offers flexibility in throwing techniques, allowing players to adapt their strategy based on the desired outcome and the characteristics of the playing surface. Here are some common throwing techniques in Bocce Ball:
Indeed, Bocce Ball offers flexibility in throwing techniques, allowing players to adapt their strategy based on the desired outcome and the characteristics of the playing surface. Here are some common throwing techniques in Bocce Ball:
- Rolling Along the Ground:
- The most traditional and widely used technique involves rolling the bocce ball along the ground. Players release the ball with an underhand motion, allowing it to roll smoothly toward the pallino. This technique is often preferred for precision and control.
- Air Throw (Volo or Fermo):
- Some players prefer to throw the bocce ball through the air, aiming for a more direct approach to the target. There are two main variations:
- Volo (Fly): The bocce ball is thrown through the air to reach the target.
- Fermo (Still): The bocce ball is thrown with a slight spin but without rolling on the ground.
- Some players prefer to throw the bocce ball through the air, aiming for a more direct approach to the target. There are two main variations:
- Bouncing Throw:
- In certain situations, players may choose to throw the bocce ball in a way that it bounces before reaching the target. This technique can be useful for navigating obstacles or adjusting the trajectory.
- Bank Shot:
- Similar to billiards, players may use the sideboards of the court to execute a bank shot. The bocce ball is strategically thrown to bounce off the sideboards and land closer to the pallino.
- Backspin Throw:
- Adding a backspin to the bocce ball can help control its movement upon landing. This technique is often used when players want to minimize rolling and keep the ball closer to its landing spot.
- High-Arc Throw:
- A high-arcing throw involves tossing the bocce ball in a high trajectory to clear obstacles or opponents’ balls. This technique can be effective in certain situations where precision is crucial.
Players often develop their preferred throwing style based on personal comfort and experience. The choice of technique depends on the specific circumstances of the game, including the position of the pallino, the arrangement of opponents’ balls, and the characteristics of the playing surface. Experimenting with different techniques and adapting to varying situations can enhance a player’s skill and enjoyment of the game.
How to Win Bocce
More than knowing how to play bocce ball in the first place, you want to know how to win bocce ball. Well, when it comes to this game, the best offense is a good defense.
The game continues until a predetermined score is reached, usually 12 to 16 points, depending on the agreed-upon rules. The team that reaches this score first is declared the winner.
It will take some time, but to become a good player, you have to learn when to aim for the pallino and when to aim for other balls on the court. It might behoove you to knock an opponent’s ball out of play or knock one of your balls that are already in play closer to the pallino.
Most importantly, remember that winning a frame is far more critical than scoring additional points. Your team scores no points if the opposing team has the closest bocce to the pallino. So, defending your position may be wiser than trying to get an extra point or two.
Dressing the Part
The best part of bocce is how you can modify the game to your level of competition. This game is perfect for amateurs and professionals alike.
Just like you can play the game anywhere you find a level surface area, you can wear whatever makes you feel most comfortable.
If you play at a country club or bocce club, they may require you to wear the proper attire. Most places also require their patrons to cover their shoulders, meaning no tank tops.
No matter where you play, wearing low, soft-heeled shoes is best. Bocce games can keep you on your feet for a long time. Therefore, you want to wear shoes that give you plenty of support.
High heels are a big no-no, as they can tear up or puncture the court.
Get Your Bocce On!
Bocce Ball is a historical game that is once again sweeping the globe by storm! Bocce’s versatility makes it the perfect family game to play in the backyard or take on vacation. This game is a fantastic and inclusive outdoor game that brings people together for hours of fun and friendly competition.
It’s a game where anyone can quickly become a contender, and every roll of the ball can change the course of play. Bocce locations are springing up at country clubs and recreational centers across the country. So, gather your bocce ball set, find a suitable playing surface, and start practicing your throws. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned player looking to refine your skills, the joy of bocce is waiting for you.
What techniques have you used to teach your family how to play bocce ball? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below!