What is Tetherball? How it Came About and How to Play


You may have watched Napolean Dynamite playing tetherball on the big screen, but if you have never played yourself, you might be wondering, “what is tetherball?”. Tetherball is an old-school recess favorite that dates back to the early 1900s.

What Is Tetherball?

Tetherball is a game that tests 2 players’ strategic and physical abilities. The setup consists of a ball attached to a rope that is connected to a 10-foot pole. An area of play is defined and marked (usually with chalk) around the pole. After one player serves the ball by hitting it in the direction of his or her opponent, players continue to hit it back and forth until one player wins by wrapping the rope entirely around the pole.

While tetherball is a relatively simple game that is usually played informally, you can increase your enjoyment of the play by understanding the more nuanced rules. Additionally, being aware of certain strategies can give you an advantage. Read on to learn more about the best way to play tetherball, and how you can acquire the necessary equipment.

What Are The Rules Of Tetherball

The rules of tetherball serve to make the game as fair and fun as possible. They exist to prevent one player from gaining an unfair advantage while allowing play that is both good exercise and strategically challenging.

Determining the Server

The server can be determined by a coin toss. Some house rules dictate that the victor of the previous game is the server of the subsequent one. In tetherball, the server has the advantage.

You Must Play Multiple Matches in One Game

The most fair way to ensure that the outcome of the game is the result of skill, not server advantage, is to play an even number of multiple matches. For example, a game could consist of two, four, six, or any predetermined, even number of matches. After the server is determined for the first match, players should alternate as server and receiver for each subsequent match.

Serving the Ball

The server is allowed to determine the direction of the serve. To serve, he or she holds the ball in one hand and hits it with the other. The goal is to get the ball past the opponent and to wrap it as far as possible around the pole.

Two Variations on the Serve

Some people play a variation of tetherball that allows the server to make subsequent hits on the ball after it has wrapped around the pole only one time. This increases the server advantage. Other people play so that the server must wrap the ball around the pole four times before hitting again. This gives the receiver more of a chance to return the ball and gain control.

Receiving the Ball

The receiving opponent returns the ball by hitting it and attempting to wrap it in the opposite direction around the pole. There are only two players in tetherball, so both play offense and defense at the same time.

Defense Strategies

To prevent your opponent from gaining wraps around the pole, you may jump in front of him or her. You may block the ball by hitting it against your opponent. The goal is to undo his or her wraps and gain wraps in your direction.

Offense Strategies

To play good offense, you can use your speed and reflexes to get the ball past your opponent. You can also use fake-out strategies to get your opponent to move out of the way. These might include hitting the ball in the opposite direction or feigning a low hit and at the last minute hitting high.

Winning the GameOffense Strategies

Obviously, the question “what is tetherball?” cannot be answered without discussing how the winner is determined. The match is won when one player successfully wraps the ball around the pole to its maximum extent. The winner of the game is the player who has won the majority of the matches.

Violations in Tetherball

When you ask “what is tetherball”, you might also ask “what is not tetherball”. The following are some common violations that should be avoided, because they create unfair dynamics, inhibit valid plays, or otherwise make the game less fun.

Stepping Offsides

A player is not allowed to step outside the determined area of play. He or she is not allowed to cross over into his or her opponent’s area of the court. Fortunately, this rule helps to prevent injuries and other violations that might occur as a result of unsportsmanlike conduct.

Touching the Rope

In tetherball, it is not allowed to touch the rope. Doing so can enable an opponent in possession of the ball to direct it around the pole and get an unfair advantage.

Hitting the Ball With Any Body Part Other Than the Hands

Tetherball is not soccer, so kicking the ball is prohibited. Do not hit the ball with your elbows, knees, head, or any part other than your hands. Also, do not use foreign objects to hit the ball.


In tetherball, “juggling” is keeping the ball in your position by holding it or administering multiple hits. A fair hit consists of one strike that causes the ball to bounce off of your hand. Double hitting is only allowed when the ball bounces off the pole between wraps.



Here is how to address a violation that occurs in the course of play:

The Non-Offending Opponent Gets the Serve

Play should be stopped immediately and the ball should be unwound to where it was right before the violation occurred. This will undo any wraps that resulted from the violation. The height of the ball at the time of the violation should also be recreated. When play is resumed, the non-offending opponent will serve first.

Loss of the Game

If a player incurs three violations in the course of a game, he or she loses.

What to Do If Both Players Commit a Violation

In this case, a “pole drop” is necessary. Both players hold the ball over the dividing line about three feet away from the pole. They simultaneously release the ball, and normal play resumes.

​What Equipment Is Needed for Tetherball?

What is tetherball without the right gear? Equipping yourself to play a fun and satisfying game is actually quite simple. You just need a ball, rope, pole, and something (usually) chalk to mark the area of play. Having the right equipment will ensure that the game is both enjoyable and safe.

Recommended Products

Tachikara SSTB Soft Tetherball

​​Baden Champions Series Tetherball Set

​Park & Sun Sports Permanent Outdoor Tetherball Set with Accessories

​Crafty Croc Liquid Chalk Markers

​Techniques and Tactics

Hitting the Ball

An intuitive strike or a punch might not be the most effective method. The most advantageous way to gain control of a ball that is served by your opponent is to use the pinky and pad one hand (right for righties, left for lefties) and the palm of your other hand. If you already have control of the ball, hit it with the fingers and palm of your inside hand.


Moving back and forth within your area is a good way to outmaneuver your opponent and gain possession of the ball. Similarly, if you cannot reach the ball, you can make one sacrifice wrap in your opponent’s direction. If done well, this will change the angle of the ball and allow you to cut in quickly and gain wraps in your direction.


One technique for serving is to try to hit the ball as hard as possible. This will create multiple wraps. Another technique is to try to hit the ball at an upward angle. Doing so will make it hard for your opponent to reach and allow you to keep control.


If you wish to improve your technique and practice alone, you can set up a few training exercises for yourself. You can practice hitting the ball at angles. You can do sacrifice serves by hitting the ball in the same angle you served it and then reversing the direction quickly. You can also practice receiving these strikes by returning your own.

​What Is Tetherball? Fun!

Minimal Set Up

Tetherball is a great game because it requires a small amount of space and little equipment. It is an inexpensive way to have fun outdoors.

A Total Body Workout

Tetherball is excellent cardio exercise that activates the entire body. It will have you jumping, lunging, running, and hitting!

An Exciting Game of Action

Tetherball does not require extensive periods of standing and/or waiting. Rather, it extremely active and suspenseful!



What is tetherball? Tetherball is a classic game that can be played outside, with good friends, and, historically, at recess. It is a straightforward, energy-packed way to get some fresh air and exercise while honing your strategic abilities. We hope you and your friends enjoy playing this game together.


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