How to Play Tetherball (Rules, Tips & Tricks)

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One of the most popular and most action-packed games that you will find at any camp or playground is tetherball. This is a fantastic game that requires plenty of speed, strength, and hand-eye coordination. Sure, it might be a game that kids play for the most part, but there is no reason why adults cannot play it.

It’s a very simple game with almost no rules, it provides for great exercise, and the games go very quick, thus making it ideal for a large group of people. Right now, want to teach you everything that there is to know about the great game of tetherball.

How to Play Tetherball

What Is Tetherball?

In case you don’t know what tetherball is, no worries, because we are about to go over the basics right now. In its most basic form, tetherball is a game that features a ball tied onto a rope, which is tied onto a pole. Simply said, what you have is a relatively tall metal pole with a ball hanging from the top of it.

Tetherball is a two-player game, where the two players stand on opposite sides of the pole. Both players choose a direction to strike the ball, with one player operating in a clockwise direction and the other in a counterclockwise direction.

The aim of tetherball is to strike the ball consistently so that it continues to fly around the pole until the entirety of the rope is wrapped around the pole. Once a player manages to wrap the entirety of the rope around the pole, they are declared the winner.

In terms of when and where exactly tetherball was invented, no one is 100% sure. There is an early version of this game described in Jessie H. Bancroft’s book Games for the Playground, which was written in 1909. That said, it is thought that tetherball was invented in Britain as early as 1875, with some accounts claiming that it was invented in Ireland. Whatever the exact facts are, tetherball is well over 100 years old, and by all accounts, appears to be a European game.

What is interesting to note is that early versions of tetherball were played using tennis balls and tennis rackets (the balls were tied to a pole), and at some point, a larger volleyball or dodgeball-like ball was switched out for the tennis balls, and people started using their hands instead of rackets to strike the ball.

What Equipment Do You Need to Play Tetherball?

Tetherball Equipment The cool thing about tetherball is that you don’t need much equipment to play it, not at all. Generally speaking, all you need is a metal pole, a rope, a tetherball, and the ground to play. Let’s take a closer look at the exact equipment required to play tetherball:

  • Tetherball: The first required piece of equipment for this game is of course the tetherball itself. Yes, this is a specific type of ball. It looks much like a volleyball in terms of size, and unless a specific request is made, the balls are usually always a bit firmer than volleyballs. For those of you who know the games of kickball and dodgeball, the balls are more or less the same. These balls will usually feature a small bar inserted into the exterior (which is flat and flush with the ball), to which the rope is attached. Sometimes, there is a small loop that protrudes from the ball, to which the rope is tied, but this is considered inferior because players can hurt themselves when they hit that loop.
  • Pole: The next thing that is required for the game of tetherball is the pole, a large metal pole, which is generally between 7 and 10 feet in height. There is no standard length or height of pole for tetherball, although most usually top out at around 8 or 9 feet. If you plan on building your own tetherball rig, the height of the players involved will be the main determining factor.
  • Anchor: Besides the pole itself, you also need a way to anchor that pole into the ground. Some tetherball poles are stuck directly into the ground using a concrete anchor and many use concrete-filled tires as anchors. Commercially available tetherball sets are typically either anchored using stakes or a base fillable with water or sand.
  • Rope: The only other thing that you need for tetherball is a rope, usually a nylon rope between 4 and 7 feet long, depending on the length of the pole being used.

How to Play Tetherball: The Rules

The thing about tetherball is that it is actually a very easy game to play with very few rules, which yes, means that this section will be fairly short. Anyway, let’s teach you how to play tetherball.

Basic Gameplay – The Aim of the Game

As we have mentioned before, the object of the game is for one player to totally wrap the rope around the pole by continuously hitting the ball in the chosen direction until there is no more rope left to wrap around the pole. When a player manages to successfully strike the ball consecutive times to wrap the ball around the pole, that player is declared the winner.

Equally as important, to win the game, the final time the ball wraps around the pole, it must strike the pole at a certain height which is marked by a line. On a side note, it is acceptable to hit the ball with both open hands and closed fists.

If tetherball is being played by two people, then the winner gets a point, the loser can then serve the ball. If the game is being played by more than two people, who will keep playing after one game is done is up to you. Generally speaking, the winner will continue playing and the loser goes to the back of the line.

Start of the Game

Generally speaking, if it is the first game of the day, then players can choose who goes first using any common method, such as flipping a coin.

However, if it is not the first game and there are many people involved (tetherball is usually played in schools where there are many children waiting in line to play, with tetherball being ideal for this because games can take less than a minute to finish), then the winner keeps playing, and the loser goes to the back of the line.

Technically, the player who serves the ball is supposed to yell “sides and ways”, although most people do not do this. The player who serves the ball is allowed to choose the direction of play. This game definitely advantages the server, as control of the ball always starts with the server, thus making the game much harder for those who do not serve.

Playing Tetherball


If a player commits a foul during gameplay, they are either forced to let the opponent serve or automatically lose the game and are sent to the back of the line. If the foul is intentional, the game is lost, but if the foul is considered an accident, then the player who did not commit the foul gets to serve the ball. Any of the following offenses count as a foul and will result in that player losing the game:

  • Throwing the ball
  • Stopping the ball
  • Grabbing or holding the pole
  • Touching the pole
  • Hitting the rope
  • Stepping into your opponent’s zone
  • Double hitting the ball (hitting twice before it makes a full revolution around the pole)

There are some variations of the game that allow for double hitting and throwing of the ball, but this is not really official.

Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks

When it comes to being good at tetherball and winning games, there are some important tips that you should follow at all times:

  • When the opponent serves the ball, you have to play defense, and this means that you want to use an open hand strike, as this is far more accurate and better for ball control. If you are the one serving the ball, it is generally best to serve with a closed fist. A closed fist hit will produce maximum power.
  • When using a closed fist to strike, do not hit the ball with your knuckles, as these hits can be very unpredictable.
  • If you plan on stealing the ball to gain control, you must move into the path of the ball.
  • Keep in mind that if the opponent hits the ball upwards, it may fly right over your head. To avoid this, always position yourself as far away in relation to your opponent as possible. For example, if your opponent is standing on the very right of his field, then you should do the same.


There you have it people, everything that there is to know about playing the great game of tetherball. As you can see, you really don’t need much equipment at all. For about $100, you could install your own tetherball pole in your backyard.

It’s a fast-paced and physical game that can help improve hand-eye coordination, build some muscle, and pass some time too. If you are a very competitive person who likes being faster and better than everyone else, then tetherball could be a great game for you.