You have likely played picnic Bocce in your backyard, at a family reunion, or seen old men in white suits partaking. International and Paralympic Boccia is a high stakes and high performance precision sport.
The balls are made of leather and filled with plastic pellets. They are slightly bigger and heavier than a baseball.
The court is any hard gymnasium like surface. A major part of Boccia strategy is adapting to new and different surfaces. The surface is the same for both players, so is not usually an advantage or a disadvantage. A 6m X 12.5m court is taped on the floor in the following layout:
Players throw from one of the six throwing boxes pictured above. The white jack ball must be thrown past the v-line, shown in orange, to be valid.
The object of the sport is to score more points than your opponent, by placing your coloured ball closer to the white jack ball than your opponent’s opposite coloured ball. To accomplish this, Boccia players have the intense task of placing balls on the court so precisely, that they block their opponent’s angle, hit and move balls for offense and defence, ricochet into place, and even climb on top of each other from the force of throws.
Boccia is played in three divisions: individual (1 vs. 1), pairs (2 vs. 2), or team (3 vs. 3). As you see in the diagram above, there are six throwing boxes, to accommodate the different number of players on court at a time.
6 red balls, 6 blue balls and 1 white ball called the jack are in a set of Boccia. All divisions of play use exactly one set of Boccia. This means that individual players have 6 balls each, pairs players have 3 balls each, and team players have 2 balls each.
In international boccia, players do not alternate throws. Rather, whichever side is further from the jack will throw their coloured ball until they get closer, or run out of balls.
Below is a video from the Beijing 2008 Paralympics of a team game: Norway vs. Japan. Watch for the two brilliant take out shots.
You will notice that men and women compete together. Boccia is one of the few international sports where genders are truly mixed.
In 2006, my pairs partner, Jonathan Poulin, and I won the Croatian Boccia Open in Osijek, Croatia. Watch the video for an example of an entire Boccia pairs match being played.
Anyone who plays Boccia loves the strategy and intense competition of the sport. I speak often in schools, and when I introduce the students to Boccia they don’t ever want to stop playing it. Many students want to buy an indoor Boccia set and start a competitive league.
Physical Education teachers can sometimes be at a loss on how to include a student with a disability with the rest of the class. Boccia is the perfect solution, and as a sport, puts everyone on a near equal playing field.
At the Paralympic level, athletes are classified based on the severity of their disability as BC1, BC2, BC3 or BC4. BC3 players use a ramp to propel the ball, and have a sport assistant who positions the equipment. The other classes throw or kick the ball onto the court. The following video is of BC3 player Grigoris Polychronidis from Greece facing off against a Chinese BC3 player.
For more information on which severities of disability are eligible for Paralympic competition, consult the CPISRA Sports Manual.
Boccia is a sport for all. But, only the most dedicated and talented athletes will make it to the top international competitions. This is not your grandpa’s game; it is a high performance sport that brings out the world’s fiercest strategists and competitors.