Going Gaga Over Gaga Ball

Statistics note that 70 percent of children who play organized soccer quit by the age of 12. Although children love fast-paced games that involve challenge and movement, traditional sports, such as tennis, soccer, baseball and football, are difficult for youngsters because they get frustrated trying to learn the required skills. If a game could be invented that incorporates the skills necessary for sports success, but is conducted in a fun and easy way, every child would do well. Gaga is such an activity.

The game of gaga is usually played in an octagonal-shaped “pit.” It combines the motor skills of dodging, striking, running and jumping. The object of the game is to hit opponents with a ball below the waist while avoiding being hit. Usually, this is an individual sport; however, teams can be utilized for tournament play. Gaga is very popular in certain geographic regions, such as southern New Jersey and Philadelphia. However, as more people are introduced to the game, its popularity has soared. And while the sport is fun for all ages and provides a great workout, gaga courts are becoming readily available, and can be purchased for the backyard and basement.

A History Lesson

The exact history of gaga is not known, but is believed to have been invented by John Crosley at his summer camp in the 1950s. The game then was introduced in Israel when Israeli counselors from Crosley’s camp returned home. The Israeli translation for “hit” is “gaga.” The name stuck as the game made its way back to the United States. During the 1980s, the international popularity of gaga soared. Currently, throughout the world, there are pockets where gaga is played and adored by both children and adults. The popularity of this game continues as it is played at summer camps, college campuses and backyards. Students at HarvardUniversity are often seen playing gaga on the outside patios surrounding the campus.

Reaping The Benefits

The game of gaga incorporates dodging, striking and agility, and is a fun way to improve skills that may be advantageous in other sports. It also provides good exercise, as players must continually move to avoid being hit by the ball. The game is effective at leveling the playing field because the best athlete is not guaranteed to win every time. Strategy, luck, finesse and sometimes teamwork are important components to gaga. Often, kids who struggle in more traditional sports excel at gaga, which helps to promote their physical activity. Gaga can be played for a lifetime.

Some Basic Guidelines

The game usually starts with each player having one hand on the wall and the ball thrown into the middle. When the ball has landed, players are allowed to leave the wall. An alternative start is to have one player (the previous winner), serve the ball against the wall. There are several regional changes to the game; however, the following guidelines are consistent:

· A player cannot be “out” on the serve.

· The ball must be punched with an open or closed hand.

· Players cannot hit the ball with two hands and cannot touch the ball a second time without it hitting a wall first.

· Players can hit the ball repeatedly, provided that between hits they rebound it off the wall.

· If the ball contacts a player below the waist, that player is out and must leave the gaga pit.

· If the ball contacts a player above the waist, that player is still in, and play continues.

· If the ball leaves the gaga pit, the last player to touch it, whether it was above or below the waist or on a rebound, is out.

· The game is over when there is one player remaining. If the game is taking an extended period of time, a 10-second countdown is used, and there are multiple winners.

· The game can be self-judged; however, due to the pace of the game, an outside referee is recommended to avoid conflict.

· A ball that has some weight to it but is soft is best. Various companies make a foam-filled ball that works well.

More Information

Individuals can build their own gaga court, or choose to buy a portable unit. Individuals building one should follow these steps:

· To obtain a suitable playing surface, eight wood boards that are 6 feet in length should be purchased.

· The boards can be hinged to the next board like a door, making an octagon shape.

· The boards can be 18 to 23 inches in height.

· A border or cap should be placed on the top of the board to prevent injury.

· The game can be played on any surface.

Again, portable units are available for purchase, with a typical home unit running $300 to $500. More information on portable units can be received by contacting the author of this article. You can call me if you a referee--or an opponent--too.

Dr. Douglas Mann is an associate professor in health and exercise science at RowanUniversity. In addition, he is a camp counselor at Tall Pines Day Camp in Williamstown, N.J. Dr. Mann and his family love to play gaga, and he can be reached, if he is not in the gaga court, at mannd@rowan.edu.