A while back, I wrote about how many of us used to exercise as kids. It was largely through games or sports. I recalled how we couldn’t wait to get outside on the first warm days of spring and reacquaint ourselves with the round ball, be it baseball or basketball, tennis or golf. Well, there was one game that even the kids who didn’t like sports were willing to play. I am talking about the round ball sport of kickball.
It is generally accepted that the game of kickball was invented in 1917 by Nicholas Suess, then the park playgrounds supervisor of Cincinnati, Ohio. Suess recommended the public school system incorporate his game into its physical education program to acquaint young children with the sport of baseball.
The game had some advantages over its model. Less equipment was needed which made the cost lower. Also, there was less of a chance of injury as there were no small, hard(er) balls to catch or bats to swing. Finally, kickball required much less expertise to play than baseball. Kicking a large rubber ball was much easier than hitting a pitched ball with a bat inside a defined batter’s box. As a result, kickball remained a popular children’s game for several decades, although it did appeal to adults, as well, including U.S. soldiers during WWII.
Kickball rules mirror those of baseball but some differences do exist. Kickballs are inflated rubber balls, generally between 8.5″ (adult size) and 16″ in diameter with varying amounts of pressure often determined by level of play. The kickball takes on the role of the baseball and one’s leg acts as the bat to strike the ball. Kickball play is initiated by the pitcher rolling the ball toward the kicker. While a kicker may miss the ball three times and strike out, it’s not likely to happen. (In one variation on the rules, strikeouts are even excluded from play.) Once a player kicks the ball, he or she must run to first base and will be safe there (or at a succeeding base) unless one of four things happens first:
- He or she is tagged out by a fielder holding the ball
- He or she is tagged out by a thrown ball
- His or her kicked ball is caught in the air
- A fielder throws the ball to another fielder who touches first base before the kicker gets there
Since it’s a bit more difficult to throw and catch a kickball, and easier to put it in play by kicking it, there is a greater likelihood that more runs will be scored than in baseball. So it’s crucial that fielders take full advantage of an option that is unique to kickball which allows them to tag runners out by hitting them with a thrown ball. As in baseball, when a player reaches all three bases and then home plate safely, he or she scores a run. The team that scores the most runs after 6 innings wins the game. Sometimes, teams will agree to play more or less innings.
Kickball is widely played in the United States and is a staple in schoolyards, playgrounds and backyards. Players of all ages join together to play at family gatherings and reunions and company picnics. The game is popular in Latin America, as well, especially in Columbia and Venezuela, and is played there with a soccer ball. Other countries where kickball is played in great numbers are Canada, Japan and South Korea.
Over the past 15 years or so, informal adult kickball leagues have been springing up across the United States. Organized leagues, such as GO Kickball, strive to combine the game with social networking for adults 21 and older. Multi-week seasons culminate in post-season tournaments designed to crown a champion. In addition, the World Adult Kickball Association (WAKA Kickball) was founded in Washington D.C. in 1998 and has leagues operating in 35 states and other countries. This organization has written official kickball rules for its league play.
Whether adult players are nostalgic for the game they played as kids or they simply want to play a form of baseball that doesn’t require the same level of expertise, kickball has made a comeback as a popular way to exercise and socialize. As each new generation of children continues to play, its popularity seems destined to last indefinitely.