Tetherball Rules: The Basics of How to Play

Here are the tetherball rules you need to know to play this classic and fun schoolyard game.

Tetherball is a playground staple. So what’s it doing on a site about bar games? Well, for one, classic playground games like tetherball are becoming popular again as adults look to reconnect with fun and iconic games of their childhood days.

Whether it’s for kids or adults, tetherball is a fun, active and exciting game. Plus you can find a portable set and play at the park, beach, or pretty much anywhere.

But how do you actually play tetherball?

Follow along for the basic tetherball rules and you’ll be back in recess mode in no time. 

How do You Play Tetherball?

Tetherball is played with two players standing opposite each other in a circular court. There is a ball attached by rope or chain to a pole in the center of the circle. The serving player starts the game by hitting the ball around the pole in one direction with his hand or forearm. The other player tries to hit the ball in the opposite direction. The first player to wrap the ball completely around the pole wins the game. 

Before playing your first game, decide on how many games will be in your match. You must win by two games to win the whole match. A common number of games for a match is 7. 

That’s the basic and very simple premise of this game. Now let’s go into a bit more detail about how to set-up and play a game of tetherball. 

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Tetherball Rules

Set-Up

There are no hard and fast rules for setting up a game of tetherball. You can use these general guidelines to get started:

  1. The pole should be approximately 10 feet high from the ground. The ball should hang 2 – 3 feet off the ground. If you’re using a portable set with different dimensions, it will come with specific instructions. Also, if setting up for kids, you may have a lower pole height (i.e. 6 – 8 ft.)
  2. The court should be a circle that is about 20 feet in diameter (can be smaller if playing with shorter pole and smaller ball – check set up instructions).
  3. Playing Zones (Simple): The court will be divided into 2 playing zones. A simple way to do this is to draw a line through the middle of the circle to divide in half. Play from opposite sides of the pole.
  4. Playing Zones (with Neutral Zones)

 

The official way to play tetherball is with neutral zones. So you have two playing zones, and two neutral zones. You can set this up by dividing the circle with an X:

  1. Draw one line between 60 degrees and 240 degrees (2 o’clock and 8 o’clock)
  2. Draw another line between 120 and 300 degrees (4 and 10 o’clock)

The smaller zones on the sides are the neutral zones, the larger zones on the playing zones (you must stay within these while playing). With this set-up, playing zones will be approximately 17.4’ across at the widest point. 

Gameplay

Once your court or playing area is ready, following these simple rules for playing a few games of tetherball.

First, pick sides and decide who will serve to start the first game. The non-serving player gets to pick which direction they want to hit towards. Take turns serving for subsequent games. 

Serve the ball by hitting it with your hand or forearm in one direction. You can hit it directly off your  hand, or toss the ball and hit it. 

Important: The server can’t hit the ball again until the opposing player hits it back in the other direction or the ball wraps around the pole 4 times. 

Once the game gets going and each player is allowed to hit the ball when it reaches their side.

Did you know bears can play tetherball too?

Fouls and Penalties

Keep an eye out for the following tetherball fouls to make sure the game is played correctly. You can call these on your opponent (or yourself) and play will stop, followed by one of the penalties explained below:

Standard tetherball fouls:

  • Stepping on any out of the playing area into a neutral zone or your opponent’s area
  • Trying to catch, hold, or delay the ball instead of hitting it
  • Hitting the ball with any body part other than your hands or forearms
  • Touching the rope with your hands or forearm
  • Touching the pole with any part of your body
  • Hitting the ball more than once per wrap around the pole is not permitted unless the ball touches the opponent or the pole. 
  • Throwing the ball or attempting to increase its momentum 

How many fouls can you spot in this video?

Tetherball Penalties

If a player commits one of the above fouls accidentally, stop play and wrap the ball over to the non-offending player, who then gets to serve it back into play.

If you commit a foul intentionally and the other player calls it (or you call it yourself), you forfeit and lose the game. 

If both players commit a foul at the same time, each player places a hand on the ball, holding it 3-feet away from the pole while standing on the line between the two playing areas. Drop the ball and let it contact the pole, then either player can hit it to restart the game. 

Time to Play Some Tetherball

As mentioned, you can play several games in a single match. Decide how many before the first game. Many players choose 7 or 11 games for a match. And you must win by two games. 

Super simple and fun, tetherball is one of those games that brings you back to your childhood but is just as fun as an adult. Try it out at your next party or picnic to see for yourself. 

You can also play with a paddle. Generally, all the above tetherball rules will still apply. 

Top image Credit: https://www.1stmlg.marines.mil/News/Photos/igphoto/2000780218/

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