What is Bocce Ball & Why You Should Play Bocce9 min read

Bocce is one of the oldest games in the world and has grown in popularity over the years. It’s a favorite among Italians, and is sometimes called Italian lawn bowling. It’s common to see a group of elderly Sicilians gathering in the town square for an afternoon game of bocce. If you’ve ever been to Italy or watched movies and documentaries set in the country, you might have come across this scene before.

The game is easy to play and is suitable for all ages and skill levels. It’s also quite adaptable, with almost any flat surface substituting a bocce court, much like how you can turn most flat surfaces into a court for playing shuffleboard. So you never really have to worry too much about where to play bocce.

That’s perhaps one of the reasons why it has become so popular in the United States and other countries. The 2017 movie “Breaking Balls,” which was set around a bocce tournament, also added to bocce’s fame and popularity.

But what is bocce ball, really? If you’re not too familiar with the game, this post will help you learn all about it – right from its history and evolution to its game play. It will also help you understand some of the most important reasons why you should start playing bocce. We’ll even cover the topic of bocce pronunciation, which some people struggle with.

A Brief History of Bocce

The history of bocce can be traced back thousands of years, although there is no real knowledge of its exact origin. Some speculate that it originated in ancient Egypt around 5000 BC, because of cave paintings that depict boys playing a game of something that looks like bocce. However, this could be a completely different game altogether.

Others believe that bocce was played as early as 9000 BC in Turkey, because of stone balls that were found in this region dating back to that period. Again, there is no confirmation if these balls were used for playing bocce or some other game. But eventually, the game became popular among the Greeks and Romans, where players would substitute bocce balls with coconuts, bound rags, carved wood, and melons.

The earliest known period that bocce was played in its current form was in 264 BC, when Rome was fighting the Punic Wars against Carthage. They would form teams with an even number of players ranging from two to eight. They first threw in a small “leader” stone and would then take turns throwing larger stones at this “leader.” Whichever stone managed to get closest to the “leader,” would score.

Playing bocce helped relax troops and took their mind off the stress that came with fighting a war. And when the Roman Empire grew, other countries also started learning about the game. From being a popular game among the military, it grew to become a favorite with poets, sculptors, and scientists.

Even famous historical figures like Da Vinci and Galileo regularly played bocce because they saw how it was beneficial to the mind and body. You could also see bocce being portrayed in one of the works of the Flemish baroque painter, David Teniers.

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The current popularity of bocce in different countries can be attributed to Italian immigrants. The word “bocce” is Italian and translates to “balls.” So referring to the game as “bocce ball” may be a bit redundant. In English the game is generally pronounced boch-ee but the more authentic Italian pronunciation sounds like bawt-che or boe-chae. The term has roots in the Latin word “bottia” for ball.

Details of the Game

For anyone asking, “What is bocce ball?” the best way to answer their question is by explaining how to play the game. Here are some of the essential details that you should know:

Where to Play Bocce

Traditionally, you would play bocce on natural soil and sometimes on asphalt courts. But you can play the game on most surfaces, as long as they are flat and fairly smooth. Bocce can be played on grass, gravel, and hard-packed dirt, and even on a deck or patio.

An official bocce court is 76 feet in length and 10 feet in width. But you can adjust these measurements depending on your available space, as long as the shape is similar.

Team Requirements

At the minimum, bocce can be played between two players. But it is an excellent team game, involving two teams with an even number of players each. However, you do sometimes see games in which there are three players on each team. At the most, you can have eight people playing bocce at a time (four on each team).

Equipment Required

Each game of bocce requires a set of bocce balls. The set will include:

  • 1 pallino or jack, which is the target smaller ball
  • 8 bocce balls, which are larger in size and come in different colors or patterns (four of each color)

There should be no differences in the bocce ball size, diameter, or material. In other words, this means that there should be no differences in the bocce ball weight either to make for a fair game. You can also opt to have a tape measure handy in case you need to settle close calls.

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How to Play the Game

A bocce match begins with a randomly-chosen side having the opportunity to throw the pallino from one end of the court into the playing zone. The same side also gets the opportunity to bowl first once the pallino is in position. The other team then takes their turn and tries to get their ball closer to the pallino than the other team’s ball.

The end of the frame occurs when both sides have used up all their balls. Whichever team manages to get their ball closest to the pallino gets to score for that frame: one point for each of the balls that manage to get closer to the pallino than the other team’s closest ball. Game length varies depending on the region, but typically ranges from 7 points to 13 points.

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5 Reasons Why You Should Play Bocce

Now that you have a better idea about what bocce ball is and how to play the game, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why you should play it. There are plenty of benefits to playing bocce, but here are the top five:

#1: It’s Enjoyable and it Relieves Stress

Bocce is a game of leisure and the main reason to play is to enjoy yourself! Set aside life’s stressors and worries for a little while to enjoy some recreation time with your friends and maybe even add some spice to it. Bocce combines social activity, light exercise, and outdoor time which is a great recipe for stress relief. Decreasing stress has health benefits and will have a positive impact on your mood and improve your overall quality of life.

#2: It Helps Improve Your Coordination

To be a good bocce player, you need good hand-eye coordination because you need to make sure you release the ball at the right moment and get it as close to the pallino as possible. And the more you play the game, the better you will get at it. So playing bocce can help you improve your coordination, which could come in handy for other activities as well.

#3: It Sharpens Your Mind

While some people may think that they can just throw their ball as hard as possible to win at bocce, that’s not exactly the case. Although a little strength is essential, there’s a lot more brain power involved in bocce. You need to carefully put factors like distance and velocity into consideration before you bowl. This engages your brain and keeps it active and sharp.

#4: You Get to Do Some Light Cardio

Bocce is essentially a low-impact game, but it does involve some light physical activity. Although you’re not going to burn as many calories as you would while swimming or cycling, it does enable you to do some light cardio. Staying on your feet and moving up and down the court after each frame are some mild forms of exercise

Image Credit: Brisbane City Council on Flickr

#5: You Can Improve Flexibility

Playing bocce involves movements such as bending your body and extending your arms. So you’re flexing and moving your joints without causing too much strain on them. This can be a great way to improve flexibility, which is particularly useful for seniors in maintaining their mobility.


After reading this post you should now be able to answer the question, “What is bocce ball?” You now know everything from a brief history of the game to how and where to play it today. You can pronounce the game boch-ee so English-speakers will know to which game you’re referring, or you can try the more authentic Italian pronunciation, boe-chae, to impress your friends. You also know a few of the top reasons why you should play this enjoyable game and if you’re interested in learning a close variant to Bocce, Petanque could be of interest or perhaps learn some additional bocce terms. Finally, if you’re sold on the game, why not check out some of the best bocce ball sets of 2019?

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