Ga-ga (literally 'touch-touch' in Hebrew) is a variant of dodgeball that is played with one ball. The game combines dodging, striking, running, and jumping, with the object of being the last person standing. Players hit the ball at each other with their hands, and are eliminated if the ball strikes them on or below the knee. The game can be played by a group of individual players or with teams, as well as in one-on-one matches. Rules, ball types, pit surfaces, and pit sizes can vary widely at different venues. Other names for this game include Israeli dodgeball, octo-ball and panda ball.
Ga-ga is played in a large fenced in area (usually an octagon or hexagon) called a ga-ga pit. The ga-ga pit generally consists of flat walls atop a smooth dirt, turf, or sand surface. The ga-ga ball can vary in size and form, generally ranging from a foam dodgeball to a rubber kickball. The game begins when one player throws the ga-ga ball into the air; while their backs are against the wall, the players shout "Ga" on each of the first three bounces. After three bounces, the ball is in play, and the players may leave the wall and "hit" the ball at each other in the pit. A player who is hit by the ball or breaks a rule is eliminated and must leave the game. Players may not "hit" the ball twice in a row, and a player who causes the ball to leave the pit is out. When the ball is caught in the air on a fly, the last person to hit the ball is out.
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- A player can hit the ball with his hands, but picking up the ball and throwing it at a player is not allowed. Some versions do not permit "scooping," or curling one's fingers while hitting the ball so as to project the ball into the air. In some games, only open hand hits are allowed to prevent striking injury to small children and also to enable greater control of the ball, keeping it low and inbounds.
- If the ball touches a player anywhere on or below the knee (in some versions, below the ankle or waist), that player is eliminated from the game. If a player hits himself with the ball, accidentally or otherwise, that player is eliminated.
- A player may not hit the ball out of the pit. The penalty for breaking this rule is assigned to the last player to touch the ball before leaving the pit, rather than to the original hitter. Because this provision can result in a strategy of hitting the ball upwards to eliminate another player, the rule prohibiting scooping attempts to discourage this. In some versions, an exception is made if the ball hits a wall or the ground before leaving the pit; in this scenario, the exit is deemed to be the result of a ricochet, and the player is not eliminated.
- Holding or otherwise using the wall to assist a jump is termed "wall jumping" and is prohibited.
- No player may hit the ball twice in a row, unless the ball comes into contact with the wall or another player between touches. This rule is sometimes expanded to include "self-serving," which prevents the player that served the ball from being the first to touch the ball.
- If a player pops the ball up into the air, another player may catch it and ground it. The other player is then out. Some variations prohibit catching completely.
- A player must step out of the pit completely to show that he has been eliminated.
- A player must start the game with one of his feet to touching the wall of the pit. One player has to throw the ball in and have it bounce twice and chant "Ga-Ga". if a player removes his or her foot off the wall before the chant, they are eliminated.
Other rules may be added as necessary, and some may choose to play without all of the above rules. For example, some venues do not permit handstands, because eliminating a player who is using handstands would generally require players to scoop the ball. Additional rules that vary in frequency of implementation include the prohibition of blocking (using one's hands as a barrier between the ball and one's feet, rather than jumping), crouching, playing on the ground, and rolling. In other variations, an additional ball may enter play towards the end of the game if the two or three remaining players are making slow progress. Commonly, there will be a 20 second count down when play is too slow and only 2 or 3 players remain. At the end of the countdown, a new game is started.
Popularity outside Israel
Ga-ga was played in the Australian Jewish community of Perth, Western Australia, from the 1960s. The 1980s saw a thriving period for junior competition Ga-ga. The game was introduced through the exchange of Israeli madrikhim (counselors) to Australia or Australian madrikhim returning from Israel. Ga-ga was also played in US Jewish camps and Youth Movements in the 1960s, having been introduced through the same mechanism.
In July 2012, The New York Times wrote that, "to the surprise of parents who recall the game from their youths, gaga is solidly mainstream." Among the things that contributed to ga-ga's expansion, the article credits children's love of the game. "They are teaching it to their parents and not vice versa. It's not like baseball or football or tennis, where they have to emulate someone else. Kids own it."
North American expansion
It is believed to have been brought to the United States by Israeli counselors working at Jewish summer camps. It was played as early as the mid-1960s in a wide variety of locations. Children often learn about ga-ga through summer camps across Canada and the United States, with varying sizes of pits.
Ga-ga continued its US expansion to Manhattan with the opening of The Gaga Center, New York's first facility dedicated to the sport. ABC News was the first broadcast news organization to cover the sport of ga-ga at The Gaga Center, labeling it the "kinder, gentler version" of dodgeball.