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Proper use and care of an activity ball

This is an excerpt from Great Games for Big Activity Balls by Todd Strong & Bernie DeKoven.

How Do I Inflate an Activity Ball?

Back in the old days, we used to go to gas stations to inflate the big activity balls. The air compressors that top off automobile and bicycle tires can also inflate insanely huge activity balls. Although service station air pumps are good at delivering high-pressure air, they can only emit it in small streams. It usually took about 20 to 30 minutes to inflate a ball 6 feet (2 m) in diameter.

When the ball was finally inflated, we had to get it from the gas station to the park. We quickly learned to bring a convertible or a pick-up truck. Once they are inflated, the balls will not fit in an ordinary car. If the park was close enough to the gas station, we would roll the ball back. We usually attracted lots of attention and created a spontaneous parade along the way. Whether the inflated ball arrived in a vehicle or in a parade, the arrival tended to create a surge of enthusiasm among the players. Although it was a lot of fun, we don't recommend that method of inflating a big activity ball anymore.

Many types of smaller pumps now exist. However, most people are intimidated by the thought of using a hand or foot pump to fill such a large ball. The best and recommended method is to use a small, electric pump that is specifically designed for the task. Most companies that sell big activity balls also sell these pumps.

Practice inflating your big activity ball before the play session begins to become familiar with the most efficient technique. It is much more difficult to inflate the ball when you are surrounded by excited players who want to get their hands, feet, shoulders, and legs on the ball. Some electric pumps are quite loud, so you should wear earplugs when inflating the ball. If you're excited by the prospect of seeing your new ball, you may overlook the fact that you're holding a power tool, however small, next to your ear.

Some styles require two people to inflate the ball and seal its valve. For example, after inflation, you must quickly tie a length of cord around the valve of an Omnikin ball to seal it. You'll appreciate a second person for this stage of the inflation process. Think how much easier it is to wrap a present when someone else holds the knot on the string while you tie the bow.

Even if you can easily open and close the ball's valve by yourself, you may want someone to help you reposition the ball as it inflates. As the inside bladder gets bigger, the valve should line up with the opening in the outer cover (see figure 2.1). Before the ball is fully inflated, the cumbersome outer cover tends to flop around the ball and can be difficult for one person to control.

Can I Overinflate the Ball?

Some people get nervous when they learn that a big activity ball needs only 2 psi, or pounds per square inch (approximately 14,000 Pa), of air pressure. Please don't be concerned about popping your equipment during the inflation process. Activity balls are very durable. Electric pumps that are designed for big activity balls will not overinflate them. Let the electric pump fill the ball until it is nice and tight. Balls with a nylon covering will become taut when they are properly inflated.

However, an electric air pump can pop a bladder. I was using an electric air pump to inflate one of the light bladders and I purposefully kept the pump going after the outer skin was taut. The bladder popped. Admittedly, the bladder was over a year old, and the warranty had expired. I'm sure I would have gotten much more use out of that particular bladder had I not tried to overinflate it.

How Do I Store a Big Activity Ball?

If you have the space, keep your ball inflated for storage. You can store it safely in an overhead cargo net that is out of reach. When you want to play, the ball is ready for you.

If you don't have the space to store an inflated ball, keep it in a duffel or sports bag with a zipper that runs along the full length of the top for easy access. If your ball has inner and outer parts, leave the bladder inside the outer covering for extra protection (see figure 2.2). Store the bag in a cool, dry location. Choose a bag that is large enough to store the pump as well so you will have all your equipment handy when you are ready to inflate the ball again.

How Do I Prevent Leaks?

If you want to keep your ball from ripping, tearing, and leaking, make sure your playing area is free of sharp objects. If you have room, your group can play indoors. Some manufacturers recommend exclusive indoor play for their brand of big activity balls. However, most balls are sturdy enough for outdoor play. Please check with your supplier to see if the ball you'd like to purchase is appropriate for your needs. If you do play outdoors, choose a clean, grassy area rather than a dirt surface. Balls can easily be punctured by pieces of broken glass and sharp sticks.

Periodically inspect the skin of the ball to see if the stitching is holding up. The old adage, “a stitch in time saves nine,” applies here. It's much easier to perform routine maintenance than to repair major damage, and it is possible to repair or replace damaged portions of a ball. Many balls come with an extra piece of nylon to sew onto the outer skin if it gets ripped. If the bladder of your ball gets punctured, you should replace it. With the proper care, big activity balls can last for years.

How Do I Repair the Outside Skin of a Big Activity Ball?

Please understand that these generic instructions have worked well for us. If your particular brand of big activity ball has specific repair instructions, please follow those instructions. The following tips apply if you have a big activity ball with an outer, nylon skin. Our preference is to use iron-on nylon patches. Turn the skin inside out and apply the patch to the inside of the skin. This way you don't have to worry about matching the color that closely.

Set an iron on medium to medium-high heat, with no steam. Place some cotton fabric between the iron and the iron-on patch and the skin of the ball. Apply heat with the iron to melt or glue the patch to the skin. If your iron-on patch matches the skin of the ball, you can turn the skin outside out and apply a second patch to the outside of the skin.

After ironing, you can also sew the patch if you like. Our patches seem to hold up well enough without sewing.

How Do I Clean a Big Activity Ball?

In the past, we cleaned big, inflated cage balls with heavy canvas skins at a self-service car wash, then left them out in the sun to dry. It is possible to separate the bladder and outer skin of the new, lighter cage balls, so you can now clean them yourself at home.

Wash the bladder outside with a garden hose. Remember that this piece is vulnerable when outside of its protective skin, so make sure you clean it in an area that is free of bits of glass or sharp burrs.

The outer skin of the activity ball can be cleaned in either a personal or commercial washing machine. You may need to take big activity balls to a Laundromat. Wash the ball on a gentle cycle with cold water, unless the accompanying instructions call for warm water. After washing, hang the covering up to air dry.

More Excerpts From Great Games for Big Activity Balls