Photo by Constantinis from iStock
What Is Boccia?
Boccia (pronounced ‘botch-iah’) is a target sport which was specifically designed for athletes with a disability. However, it can be played by all and is an ideal sport for playing in care home settings. It follows a similar pattern of play to bowls, with two sides competing to propel their set of balls closest to the white target ball, which is called the ‘jack’.
Players compete individually, in pairs, or in teams of three, and the game takes place over a set number of ‘ends’.
Each ‘end’ sees the two sides propel six soft balls by throwing, rolling, bouncing or kicking them in an attempt to be closest to the jack ball. Players who are unable to release the ball with their hands often use a specially designed boccia ramp.
Standard boccia is usually played indoors on a court measuring 12.5m (41 feet) x 6m (19.5 feet). Still, any flat surface is suitable, and it’s a game that is incredibly easy to set up with specially designed tape to help. There’s also a lawn boccia version which has slightly harder balls and is designed specifically to be played outside.
Right now, boccia is the fastest growing Paralympic sport in the world in terms of participation. Watch it or play it once, and you’ll be hooked on this great game of skill and strategy.
The History Of Boccia
Throughout the centuries, many cultures had games which involved throwing items at targets. Boccia is believed to have evolved from the ancient Italian game of ‘bocce’, which itself started in Greece. The difference with the modern sport of boccia is that it was designed specifically for athletes with disabilities or for those who were unable to pay a standard came of boules, such as children or the elderly.
Initially created for those with cerebral palsy, it was designed to test muscle control, accuracy and coordination. It is now played by athletes with many disabilities, as well as those with none.
The sport was introduced to the UK in the early 1980s. It is now played at all levels from recreational right up to Paralympic standard. It made its Paralympic debut in New York in 1984. It is still a part of the Summer Paralympic games with South Korea having the biggest haul of gold medals with a total of 9 across the various classifications.
Boccia is now played in over 50 countries worldwide, and there are clubs and leagues springing up across the globe all the time. Whether as a player, coach, fan or volunteer, there’s never been a better time to get involved with boccia.
How Is It Played?
Like other sports, it is simple to play, but tricky to master. All you need to get started is a flat surface roughly the size of a badminton court and a set of boccia balls. Of course, it’s preferable to have a properly marked out court, and you need to make sure all participants can propel the balls in one way or another.
In each ‘end’, both teams have six balls which they propel towards the jack, with the aim of getting theirs the closest. The player who begins the game by throwing the jack (the white ball) follows up by throwing their first coloured ball. Their opponent then throws their first ball. After each side has thrown one ball each, the team whose ball is farthest away from the jack continues to throw until they become the side with the closest ball, or they run out of balls. If they get one of their balls closer to the jack, play switches so that the side who are not closest are always the throwers. When each end is complete, the winning team scores a point for every ball they have closer to the jack than their opponents’ closest ball. The scores are totted up to find an overall winner when all ‘ends’ are complete. In the event of a tie-break, one more ‘end’ will be played to determine the victor.
It’s a game of physical skill and great strategy. Players and fans alike will tell you that the tension and excitement come from tactics employed by the two sides, as they try to get their balls closest to the target while blocking out, or knocking out, the opposition.
In boccia, men and women play as part of the same team and, although boccia was originally designed for people with disabilities, it truly is an inclusive sport. At a competitive level, there is a classification system in place to ensure that players compete at a similar level of ability.
How Can I Get Involved?
If boccia sounds like the sport for you, there are many ways to get involved. You can find a nearby club by visiting https://www.bocciaengland.org.uk/find-a-club. The website has details for existing clubs as well as information on how to get involved with coaching and volunteering. It even has guidance on how to go about setting up and funding your own boccia club – although that might be a bit of a leap if you’re new to the game!
Sport is a great way to socialise and meet new people, as well as being a fun and exciting way to build confidence, social skills and friendships. If you would like to get involved but don’t necessarily want to play, there are always opportunities for volunteers to assist clubs in all manner of ways.
Volunteers are the lifeblood of amateur sport and boccia is no different so, whatever you want to do, however you want to get involved, boccia clubs up and down the country are just waiting to greet you.