Gaga: Parents, get to know the dodgeball-like game your kids are most likely playing at summer camp

Do you know what gaga is? Chances are that if your kids go to summer camp, they do.

My kids are enrolled in day camp this summer, and they say “gaga” all the time.

But, they’re not speaking baby talk. Or, talking about the singer.

No. They’re talking about a game with global origins that’s similar to dodgeball. And, it just so happens to be one of my sons’ favorite things to do at camp.

Gaga continues to rise in popularity

At first, I thought gaga was just a game my sons happened to play at their summer camp here in Chicago.

But, then I read a The New York Times article about the game’s rise in popularity in 2012.

An exciting game of gaga at the Gaga Center in Manhattan. Credit:

An exciting game of gaga at the Gaga Center in Manhattan. Credit:

Later, I learned about the two-year-old Gaga Center in Manhattan. The center, which I’d love to visit, is billed as the first of its kind and the only place to play gaga in Manhattan. It has three permanent gaga pits – and space to hold your birthday parties, too. It's not just a place for kids. Adults also can get in on the "grown-up gaga" action with leagues, corporate events, team-building exercises, family tournaments, and more.

This summer, we’ve been touring overnight summer camps in the Midwest. Each camp we’ve visited has boasted that they offer gaga as an activity. One camp even had four wooden gaga pits. Not surprisingly, the camp said the game is a hit with all of their campers.

Yes, the dodgeball-like game with global origins is becoming a fixture on the summer camp scene. And, it’s time this parent learned more about it.

Gaga 101

Gaga is often played by individual players or teams in an octagon-shaped pit with raised sides.

At the start of each game, players stand with their backs against the gaga pit walls. One player bounces the ball. All of the other players let the ball bounce three times, saying “ga” each time it does.

A helpful gaga tutorial courtesy of my older son - and proud gaga player.

A helpful gaga tutorial courtesy of my older son - and proud gaga player.

After the ball bounces three times, players are free to use one or two of their hands to slap or punch the ball at each other, only hitting it after it’s bounced off a wall or another person.

Like in dodgeball, players who get hit with the ball are considered out and need to leave the game. But, according to most rules, you only get out if the ball hits you below the knees (or sometimes the waist, based on your chosen rules).

You also have to leave the game if you hit the ball out of the gaga pit or another player catches your ball – which is why you want to try to keep your ball low to the ground at all times.

The last player left in the gaga pit is deemed the winner.

The global beginnings of gaga

A typical gaga pit. Credit:

A typical gaga pit. Credit:

Gaga roughly translates to “touch touch” in Hebrew. But, the origin of the game depends on who you ask.

An article on, touched on the lack on consensus on the game’s origins, noting that gaga is said to originally have been a Israeli game. But, others have said it originated at a camp in the Northeast and Israeli counselors brought it back to Israel with them. Others have said the game started in Israel, but rose in popularity when it was played in Australia.

The 2012 The New York Times article on gaga's popularity noted that the game started being played in the 1970s. But, according to Wikipedia, Gaga was first played by people in Israel and Australia back in the 1960s.

Regardless of where or when the game began, gaga continutes to make it way across summer camps - and now school playgrounds - in the US. And, leading the charge are the kids who fervently play it.

That probably explains why it’s the parents who hear about gaga from their kids – and not the other way around. And, why gaga may be an unfamiliar term for many of us - unless you played the sport at summer camp as a kid, too.

Gaga doesn’t just have to be played at camp

Since my sons have been in summer camp, I’ve learned that gaga doesn’t need to be confined to the gaga pit or just played at summer camp. They’ve also played it in a gym, at the park, and even in their bedroom.

As shown here by my younger son, gaga can be played by two or more people.

As shown here by my younger son, gaga can be played by two or more people.

It’s easily played with two people – or lots more – making it something siblings, families and friends can all play together. And, as many people have pointed out, gaga is an ideal sport since it can be played by people of all ages and athletic abilities.

These days, I’m on the hunt for any public gaga pits in the Chicago area. Of course, we’d fully embrace a Gaga Center opening here so my sons can play the game year round, too.

But, for now, I’m happy to know a bit more about the game with the odd name that children are playing across the US – and the globe.

Are you familiar with gaga? Where have (or do) you play it? Do your kids play at it summer camp? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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Filed under: Camp, Sports

Tags: gaga, gaga ball, games, sports, Summer Camp

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