What is boccia?

2014 Adult National Open and Great Lakes Regional Games. (photo by Reed Hoffmann, courtesy Disabled Sports USA.)Boccia – can be pronounced as botch-ya or botch-ee and also spelled as bocce – is a game throwing a ball towards a target, first played by the ancient Egyptians with polished rocks. According to the United States Bocce Federation, there are more than 25 million bocce enthusiasts in the U.S. today.

Boccia can be played indoors or outdoors on a hard, flat surface in either individual or team play, socially or competitively, up to the Paralympic level. With assistive devices, boccia can be played by anyone, no matter their ability.

The game begins with a player throwing, rolling, propelling with their feet, or rolling down a ramp, the white target ball, called the jack, onto the court. Opponents then take turns trying to throw or bowl their game balls (six for each player per round) as close as possible to the target ball. The basic principle is to score as many points as possible by getting more of your own boccia balls closer to the jack than your opponent. The athlete, pair, or team whose ball is closest to the jack scores one point, and receives an additional point for every ball that sits closer to the jack than the opposition’s closest ball. In matches for individual and/or a pair, four rounds (or ends) are played. In a match for a team of three, six round are played. Whichever individual/team scores the most points, wins the match.

A regulation court consists of two areas: individual player boxes and the common playing area. The common playing area has a designated target area in which all scoring occurs. Players throw from specific boxes marked on the court. These boxes are equal in size and each player must remain completely within his or her box during play. However, “unofficial” courts can be set up on virtually any hard surface. The beauty of boccia is that, in recreational play, the rules may be changed according to the players, so friends and families of all abilities can play together.

Boccia balls are made of many materials. Good quality boccia balls are soft enough to grasp, but hard enough to roll well on the court surface. Recreational boccia sets are readily available at sporting goods stores and large retail establishments.

Paralympic Boccia

2014 Adult National Open and Great Lakes Regional Games. (photo by Reed Hoffmann, courtesy Disabled Sports USA.)2014 Adult National Open and Great Lakes Regional Games. Boccia was practiced for many years as a leisure activity until it was introduced at the New York 1984 Paralympic Games as a competitive sport.

In Paralympic competition, it was originally presented as a sport for athletes with cerebral palsy (CP) but is now open to male and female athletes with severe locomotor disabilities of a cerebral or non-cerebral origin, including individuals with CP, stroke, traumatic brain injury, high-level spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and arthrogryposis.

The U.S. Paralympic Boccia Team and the day-to-day operations of the high performance program are overseen by BlazeSports America, a chapter of Disabled Sports USA, the High Performance Management Organization for boccia in the United States.

Boccia players are classified in four categories:

  • BC1 class athletes have cerebral palsy and may propel the ball with their hand or foot. They may have difficulty
    gripping the ball so they are permitted an assistant to perform actions such as handing them the boccia balls.
  • BocciaBC2 class athletes also have cerebral palsy, but have sufficient dexterity to manipulate and throw a ball and so are not eligible for assistance on the court.
  • BC3 class athletes are athletes who have either cerebral palsy or other conditions. They have the highest level of impairment and are unable to throw or kick the ball consistently into play. They will use assistive devices (ramps, arm or mouth aids) to propel the ball. They may have a sports assistant who they instruct to position the ramp for each delivery. There are very specific rules when a sports assistant is used. The assistant is not allowed to view the playing court and must follow specific instructions from the player at all times.
  • BC4 athletes are those who do not have cerebral palsy and were first included in the Games in 2004. They do not have spasticity, ataxia, or athetosis, but must have severely limited function, strength, and coordination in all extremities. Disabilities in this category include muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis or motor neuron diseases.

For more information about boccia, including classification, visit BISFed – Boccia International Sports Federation, boccia’s governing board.