Why we’re “gaga” over Gaga Ball

It may sound cliché, but if you ask any child what they think about gaga ball, they will literally go ‘gaga’ over it.

“They actually chant and cheer when we go play gaga ball – it’s probably the one activity they look forward to most at camp,” says Kyler Tritter, a Team Lead for WinSport’s summer camps. “They really cheer during the game while playing and then cheer on their friends when they’re eliminated from the game.”

Gaga ball is a fun, intense, fast sport played in an pit with rules similar to dodgeball.
Gaga ball is a fun, intense, fast sport played in an pit with rules similar to dodgeball.

Gaga ball is best described as a simple form of dodgeball played in a partially enclosed octagonal pit that contains short walls, so the ball stays in play. Participants have to strike the soft ball with their hand to hit opponents. If a participant is hit with the ball below the waist, they are eliminated from the game and leave the pit. Due to the enclosed space, it’s an intense, fun and fast game.

“It’s a good game for all skill levels and it’s fast paced, so the games usually last two or three minutes which gives the kids a lot of opportunity to play,” Tritter says. “If they are eliminated quickly, they’re right back in playing another game in only a few minutes.”

According to Sport Resources Group, gaga ball originated in Israel and was popular in Jewish camps and community centres in the 1970s. Recently, it has quickly grown in popularity in North America and is in use at camps and schools.

WinSport incorporated the game into summer camps last year using makeshift gaga ball pits. With it being such a hit with the kids, the organization purchased official pits this year.

Tritter says despite the game’s simplicity, it supports a component of the organization’s sport philosophy which focuses around teaching kids how to lose.

“It’s important to learn how to lose – and in gaga ball, even if you do lose there’s a lot of opportunity to try again and do better,” Tritter says. “That’s one of the things we want to achieve in our camps – to build resiliency so that the kids know if they lose, it’s not a big deal and they just need to do something different next time.”

Gaga ball also aligns with WinSport’s use of Teaching Games For Understanding (TGFU), which is a way of teaching kids sport-related skills through playing simple games that later get more complex and become more strategic. Read all about it here.

“The kids are working on a lot of fundamental skills – striking, dodging and other tactics,” says Tritter adding that these same skills are used in sports such as soccer, hockey and lacrosse. “It’s really fun to watch as well when you’ve been eliminated because you can pick up on other peoples’ tactics. The kids can also can create their own strategies. We’re not telling them the strategies – they are learning on their own which is much more impactful.”

Gaga ball also separates itself from other sports in that it is more inclusive and puts everybody on an even playing field.

“You don’t have those kids dominating as you see in lacrosse, soccer and ball hockey where you get a couple of kids with previous knowledge and tend to dominate the game,” Tritter says. “Gaga ball is more of an open playing field where to large degree everyone can be competitive and have fun.”

TGFU. It’s not a bad word – it helps kids learn

The acronym TGFU is not something you say to somebody, it’s rather something that kids do at WinSport that helps them develop essential sport skills.

Teaching Games for Understanding (TGFU) is a way of teaching kids sport-related skills through playing simple games that later get more complex and become more strategic.
Teaching Games for Understanding (TGFU) is a way of teaching kids sport-related skills through playing simple games that later get more complex and become more strategic.

TGFU stands for Teaching Games for Understanding. Simply put, it’s a way of teaching kids sport-related skills through playing simple games that later get more complex and become more strategic. It’s essentially an indirect method for teaching skills and rules that kids will later apply to specific sports such as hockey, rugby and soccer.

“The biggest piece is that it makes the games fun and it teaches kids about rules and why they are in place, so they gain an appreciation and an understanding for them,” says Chris Lane, a Team Lead for WinSport’s summer camps. “It focuses on what to look for in certain situations, so they can make strategic decisions.”

TGFU always starts simple and progressively gets more complex, so kids learn strategy and tactics. For example, a game of tag may start with everybody being “it.” When a participant is tagged, they sit down. In a second game, the kids would be partnered and only that partner can tag the participant in order for them to be able to stand up and get back in the game. In the third game, teams of four are built, and only one participant can tag somebody back into the game, prompting a team to think about who should be tagged back in first.

“This is where we start building upon skills and tactics,” says Lane. “It develops a broad set of skills, it’s engaging, and kids learn the ‘why’ about a game.”

Lane says that once these tactics are developed, kids are inherently learning specific skills for sports.

“Think, for example, in a game of hockey how important positioning is,” Lane says. “The importance of positioning is taught when we play tag, along with other skills such as the importance of keeping your head up and how to get to an area as quickly as possible – which are key skills in hockey.”

Some other examples are playing net-wall basketball and gaga ball – both are trying to get a ball in a specific place and can be applied later to hockey, where it’s important to strategically aim the puck at a specific point in the net.

Lane says for TGFU to be successful, it’s important to talk with the kids to ensure they understand why certain rules were implemented into the games. He says it’s equally important to debrief the kids on the tactics they exercised.

“Between games and at the succession of the games, we pose questions to the group,” Lane explains. “How did the game change when we introduce a rule set? We really get them to understand the thought process.”

Lane says since TGFU integrates strategy and tactic into sport, success isn’t completely reliant on athleticism, so it puts everybody on an even playing field where they learn while having fun together.

Keeping summer campers safe when the temperature is high and the skies are smoky

As a venue from the 1988 Winter Olympic Games, WinSport summer camps offer kids a unique outdoor experience for their daily activities. But as we all know, Calgary’s summers can be hot and/or smoky because of wildfires.

WinSport has systems in place to monitor lightning and air quality so team leads can adjust  activities quickly when the weather turns.
WinSport has systems in place to monitor lightning and air quality so team leads can adjust activities quickly when the weather turns.

That’s why we have a system in place to constantly monitor conditions, so we can act promptly to keep summer campers safe in a manner where they can still have fun participating in their activities.

When the temperature is in the 30C range, our instructors pay extra attention as to when the campers need a break in the shade or need to rehydrate. We also modify daily activities to include water. For example, we’ll often run a sprinkler while the campers run around playing an activity.

Other ways we keep your child safe in the heat:

  • We have sun screen on-site at all camps
  • We take breaks in the shade and/or inside air-conditioned buildings
  • We encourage campers to drink water frequently
  • Mist stations are set up in the Husky Gardens so all summer camp participants have access
  • We provide hats to Sport and Adventure campers

When it comes to smoke, we are constantly monitoring air quality and take action accordingly, which include: potentially moving outdoor activities inside, taking additional breaks inside, reducing intensity of activities.

Lastly, we also monitor lightning and move all activities indoor when lightning activity is in the area.