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 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.”