What Is Bocce Ball?

An Ancient Game Makes Its Way to Your Garden Party

People playing bocce ball, balls in focus in foreground

kgeijer / Getty Images 

Bocce (pronunciation: baa-chee) is a lawn or yard game that's played with eight weighted balls aimed at a smaller target ball, or pallino. The objective of the game is to earn points by getting your balls closer to the pallino than your opponent does.

The "bocce" in bocce ball is the plural for the Italian word that means "bowl," and the sport is similar to British lawn bowling. The balls used in bocce ball and croquet also share some similarities; however, regulation bocce balls are larger and heavier. Bocce rules are fairly straightforward, and people of all ages and skill levels can play the game. Plus, you can use just about any patch of level ground as a bocce ball court.

What Is Bocce Ball?

Bocce is one of the most widely played ball sports in the world. It's also one of the oldest yard games, with the modern version originating in Italy—hence it being known as Italian lawn bowling.

A Quick History of Bocce

Bocce's origin can be traced back to 5200 B.C. with ancient Egyptian artwork that depicts boys playing something that resembles the game. The game spread until it reached Greece in around 600 B.C. and then Italy. People from all demographics enjoyed playing with whatever they could find to serve as the balls, including rocks and even coconuts.

The game continued to spread and evolve with the Roman Empire and eventually made it all around the world, ebbing and flowing in popularity. Bocce rules have gone through many changes over the years, and organizations have been established to monitor leagues and tournaments. Bocce ball games have become an especially popular Special Olympics event. 

Fun Fact

Bocce is popular in Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, and Montenegro, where it's known as boćanje or balote.

Where to Play Bocce

Bocce games can be played on a variety of surfaces, including grass, gravel, hard-packed dirt, clay, and sand. If you have a grass lawn, you can deeply mow a patch to create a bocce court. Wherever your chosen court, the surface should be level.

A regulation bocce ball court size is 86.92 feet long and 13.12 feet wide. However, this can be adjusted for informal games. The smaller the court, the easier the game will be.

How to Play Bocce Ball

Two people can play against each other in a bocce ball game. Or teams of two, three, or four people can play against one another.

To get started, you will need a bocce set that consists of:

  • One pallino (the target smaller ball that's usually white)
  • Eight larger bocce balls (four each of two different colors or patterns)

It's also helpful, but not essential, to have a tape measure to settle close calls.

Illustration of how to play bocce ball

The Spruce / Colleen Tighe

Begin the game with a coin toss to decide which team goes first. The loser of the coin toss can assign ball colors/patterns to each team.

A member of the winning team will then throw the pallino from behind the foul line, a line marked 13 feet in from the end of the court (though this can be adjusted depending on your court size). The pallino must go beyond the center line of the court but not past the opposite end of the court. If the player fails to do this, the other team gets to throw it. The teams will alternate throws until the pallino is in play.

Then, the coin toss-winning team, Team 1, will throw or roll the first bocce from behind the foul line. The goal is to get the ball as close to the pallino as possible.

Next, the opposing team, Team 2, takes its turn to try to get a ball even closer to the pallino. If Team 2 succeeds, then it’s Team 1’s turn again to put a ball even closer. But if Team 2 fails, its players will continue to take turns throwing the rest of its balls until one lands closer than Team 1’s ball. 

Play continues like this until all the balls have been thrown. Then, the team that has the closest ball to the pallino gets a point for each of its balls that are closer than its opponent’s balls. If each team’s closest ball to the pallino is the same distance from the pallino, no points are awarded for the round.

Players can knock the other team’s balls out of the way, as well as knock the pallino into a more preferable position as long as it remains on the court and doesn’t come back in front of the center line. If a ball rolls all the way to the back of the court without touching another ball, it’s considered out of play and should be removed from the court.

If points were awarded in the round, that team gets to start the next frame. If no points were awarded, the team that originally threw the pallino starts the next frame. You can play up to any score you like, but it's common to play frames until one team reaches 12 points and is declared the winner.

Article Sources
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  1. History of Bocce Ball. World Bocce League.