What is Bocce Ball?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Bocce ball is a sport which originated in Italy, although many other nations play it as well. In this sport, sometimes called lawn bowling, players toss balls at a smaller target bowl within the confines of a large court. The game is popular throughout Europe and in areas where there is a high concentration of Italian immigrants, including the United States.

Bocce ball is also known as lawn bowling.
Bocce ball is also known as lawn bowling.

Archaeological evidence suggests that some form of bocce ball has been played for centuries. Stone balls for lawn bowling have been found in Ancient Greek and Roman sites, along with frescos and paintings depicting people engaged in bocce ball games. The game has remained popular for centuries because it is simple to learn, fun to play, and playable by all ages. Adults and children can play together if they like, while older Italians can often be found whiling away an afternoon on the bocce court.

The court for bocce ball can be made of crushed gravel.
The court for bocce ball can be made of crushed gravel.

The court used for bocce ball can measure up to 98 feet (30 meters) by 14 feet (4 meters), and can be dirt, lawn, or crushed gravel. Sizes of the court can vary depending on the area: some players use half courts, due to space restrictions. The players divide into teams which can have one to four members, and each team is assigned four balls. One team is given the opportunity to throw out the target ball, called a jack, pallina, or boccino, depending on the area. Each team takes turns tossing their balls at the targets, and the team with balls closest to the target at the end of the round wins.

There are a few sneaky things that players can do in bocce ball. Players are permitted to use their balls to knock the boccino closer to other balls, or knock balls out of the way. In some variants of the game, extra points are awarded to players who do this. Bocce courts which have raised edges can also be used by players to their advantage: they can ricochet balls off the side of the court for better positioning, or to knock balls out of the way.

The organization recognized by the International Olympic Committee for bocce ball is the Confederation Mondiale des Sports de Boules, established in 1985 and based in France. This organization oversees other regional organizations, maintains a rulebook, sponsors competitions, and tries to advance the cause of this sport worldwide with tournaments and training sessions. People interested in playing bocce ball in their area can use their favorite search engine to find locally based bocce groups, who are always happy to introduce newcomers to the sport.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Last year for Christmas I got a lighted bocce ball set. It is great because I can play anywhere at night. And it really works. The weight is correct and the balls roll the same as they would normally. Now that the weather is getting nicer I can't wait to bust it out more often.


My grandfather taught me how to play bocce ball as a kid and I have been playing ever since. I am actually in a weekly league that plays on Tuesday nights.

I am one of the youngest regular players but it is still a great group of men, and a few women. I can win from time to time but they have some real sharks out there. These people may not look it but they can throw bocce with the best of them. They have what amounts to a lifetime of practice.


I am a huge fan of lawn games and bocce ball is actually one of my least favorite. I have a bocce ball set but I almost never bust it out. In fact, I think the last time we used it was only because we had so many people and needed more games.

I don't know what it is exactly about bocce but I have always preferred horseshoes or lawn darts to bocce. They are just more fun to play and involve similar rules.

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