Quick Guide to How to Play Bocce Ball9 min read

Bocce ball is a fun, low-intensity game that’s been around for centuries. What once began as a distraction for Roman soldiers during the Punic Wars has evolved into a beloved sport among the Italians, and then spread across the world. The game’s current fame in the U.S isn’t surprising considering how it boosts physical and mental health by providing light cardio and stress relief.

In this post, we provide you with a quick guide on how to play bocce ball so you have a fun new game to introduce to your friends and family. Before you get started, make sure you get familiar with the essential bocce ball terms so it’s easier to understand some of the terms used in this guide. 

If you need more information about the rules and regulations of the game, you can also check out our post on bocce ball rules and FAQ. Now let’s get started.

Step 1: Understanding the Basic Bocce Ball Rules

The best way to start learning how to play bocce ball is by understanding the basic rules of the game. Remember these essential bocce ball rules before you can start playing the game:

  • The main goal is to throw your bocce ball as close to the pallino as possible.
  • You may also try to hit an opponent’s ball to move it away from the pallino or hit the pallino and move it closer to your team’s ball.
  • Do not step past the foul line when you bowl.
  • You may toss, lobb, or roll your bocce ball depending on what feels right.
  • Some bocce ball scoring rules also award two points instead of one if your bocce ball is touching the pallino by the end of the frame.
  • If both teams’ closest balls are the same distance from the pallino, no one gets a point.
  • Only one team scores points in each frame, which prevents the need for tiebreakers.
  • The game ends as soon as one team manages to score a certain number of points predetermined as the winning score. This is usually set at 12.

Step 2: Gathering Your Equipment

Next, you’ll need to gather the equipment to play the game. For this, you only need a bocce ball set, which has:

  • 1 pallino or jack
  • 8 colored balls in 2 different colors (4 balls to each color), though you sometimes get a set with 4 different colors (2 balls to each color)

Regulation size bocce balls are 107mm in diameter, though 100mm balls are also considered tournament-grade. Professional bocce players will usually go for these types of balls, as it helps them practice for professional matches. However, you can also get smaller balls (usually 90mm), which are lighter and easier to handle for kids and beginners. 

It’s also good to have a measuring rope for settling close calls. Most bocce ball sets come with one, so you can easily determine which team’s ball is closer to the pallino. Some sets will even come with a bocce ball bag so you can hold everything together. If you don’t have a set yet, make sure to check out our review of the best bocce ball sets to find one that fits your needs.

Step 3: Setting Up Your Court

Once you have all your equipment, you’ll need a place to play the game. Skip to step two if you’re lucky enough to have access to a proper bocce ball court. For games on any other field, you’ll need to set up a court. While you can just eyeball it and work with what you have, it’s ideal if you can mark off official dimensions using a measuring tape.

Regulation bocce ball courts are generally 91 feet long and 13 feet wide, but you can adjust these for backyard bocce or if you don’t have the space. The court size can vary between 60-100 feet in length and 10-15 feet in width. 

That said, you don’t necessarily have to use these size recommendations for a casual game. As long as you have a rectangular playing area with a flat and fairly smooth surface, you’re good to go. The surface can be sand, dirt, stone, dust, clay, grass, or even artificial turf.

You’ll also need court markers and lines corresponding to the bocce ball rules. If you want an official-looking court, you could use tape or paint to mark the lines for backyard bocce. You could also mark them off using pylons or other temporary markers if you’re playing in a public space.

Here’s a quick overview of what lines and markers you’ll need for your bocce court:

  • You have the centerline to divide the court in the middle. When a player throws the pallino to start the game, it can only be considered a valid throw if it ends up beyond this line.
  • Each side of the court should have a foul line that’s 4-6 feet from the court end. If a player crosses this line when throwing the pallino or bocce ball, they commit a foul.
  • You also need a spocking or hitting foul line that’s 8-10 feet from the foul line on each side of the court. Players can throw from this line as they try to hit their opponents’ balls and move them away from the pallino.

Step 4: Choosing Your Teams

Bocce is a very flexible game in that you can play it between two to eight players. Ideally, you should have an even number of players on each team so that each player gets an equal opportunity to bowl. Yet you can still have three-player teams in which one player gets to bowl twice.

At the bare minimum, two players can have four balls each and play against each other. However, you’ll have the most fun if you play it as a group. Each team can have up to four players with each player having one ball. Likewise, two-player teams can have four balls each, with each player having two balls.

Step 5: Deciding on Who Goes First

Like with several other sports, a coin toss is the best way to decide who gets to go first in a game of bocce. You can also choose a random team to go first. Once you’ve made a decision, one player from the starting team begins the game by throwing the pallino into the playing area. The pallino must land beyond the centerline for it to be a valid throw, as mentioned earlier.

If the player ends up with an invalid throw, the opponent team takes their turn throwing the pallino so the game can start.

Step 6: Bowling

Once you have the pallino in place, the starting team gets to bowl first. One player will throw the first ball and attempt to get it as close to the pallino as possible. The opponent team will then take their turn to throw a ball with the intention of getting closer to the pallino than the starting team. 

It’s important to build on your bocce ball throwing technique if you want to get better at the game. Make sure you test different techniques and strategies to figure out what works best for you. This is the trickiest part because there are several ways to deliver a bocce ball, and what works for one player may not necessarily be a great technique for you.

Some players will bowl it close to the ground like a bowling ball, while others might be more comfortable with an underhand throw. This involves cupping your palm under the ball and then lobbing it high into the air. Some players may also cup the ball from the top and then lob it into the air. 

See which option gives you the kind of control you need. It may even help to switch up your throwing technique based on the situation and playing surface.

Step 7: Taking Turns

Once both teams are done taking their first shot, whichever team has their ball farthest from the pallino gets to throw their remaining three balls. The other team will then take their turn to use up the rest of their balls.

Step 8: Measuring

After every player has used up all their balls, it’s time to see which team’s bocce ball is closest to the pallino. Even if it seems obvious which ball is the closest, using a tape measure will give you more accuracy. Only the team with the closest ball gets to collect points for this frame, while the opponent team does not score.

Step 9: Scoring

In a typical bocce ball scoring system, the winning team gets one point for each ball that’s closer to the pallino than the opponent team’s closest ball. Some bocce ball rules even award two points for a bocce ball that’s touching the pallino by the end of the frame. 

If both teams manage to land their balls at an equal distance from the pallino, then neither of them gets to score a point for that frame. For such close calls, use your tape measure to see if one ball is a few centimeters closer than the other. Once you’re done calculating the scores, you’ve completed one frame.

Step 10: Finishing a Match

After the end of one frame, the teams will move to the other end of the court and start a new frame. Tally the points for each frame as you finish it and then keep playing until one team manages to score 12 points. You may also set a different target point before the start of the game. Some games even last up to 21 points, so it’s all up to you.

Bottom Line

If you’re only just learning how to play bocce ball, this quick guide will give you an idea of how to get started. There can be variations in scoring rules, court size, and more as the game is pretty flexible. As long as you understand the basics of bocce, you can always adapt and work with what you have. If you’re interested in other similar games like petanque, don’t forget to check out our post on petanque vs. bocce.

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