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The scale of activity balls impacts the game

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

Some people define art as that which allows the audience to experience things in a new way. Changing the scale of an everyday, frequently viewed object makes art out of standard games by turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. Claes Oldenburg makes art by exaggerating scale in his famous sculptures of objects such as a giant typewriter eraser, a massive clothes pin, and an immense lipstick tube.

Here are some of the specific benefits of altering the scale of the ball:

Novelty. Activities that may have become stale are refreshed when you look at them in a new way. Well-known games that may bore your players in their traditional format become new and exciting with a big activity ball.

Leveling the playing field. When your players attempt a giant version of an old game, they all begin as novices. Superstars that may have gained expertise in the traditional version of the game begin this new rendering of the game at the same skill level as everybody else. This change in roles eases pressure for players who feel they must perform at a peak level all of the time and allows them to have more fun. By the same token, because everyone is adapting to the new scale of the game, players less skilled in traditional games may feel less intimidated by their teammates.

Engaging the whole player. Adapting a familiar game for play with an oversized piece of equipment requires an entire spectrum of social, intellectual, and physical skills. Imagination, creativity, sensitivity to others, agility, and problem solving all become part of the play experience.

Changing just one aspect of a game affects all the others. Consider the game of soccer (or football for folks outside of the United States and Canada). Traditionally, two teams of 11 members play on a rectangular field that ranges in size from 54 by 100 meters to 75 by 110 meters. The standard ball has a circumference between 27 and 28 inches (69 and 71 cm) and a diameter of approximately 9 inches (23 cm). The game also has rules that limit the ways that players interact with the ball. For example, one familiar rule is that the only players permitted to use their hands when the ball is in play are the goalies.

Begin by changing one aspect of this game, the size of the ball. Instead of using a standard-sized ball, try playing with a ball with a diameter of 6 feet (approximately 2 m). How does this change affect the other components of the game?

The first change you must make is to allow the players in the field to make contact with the ball with any part of their bodies, not just their feet. It is very hard for one person to move a ball this large by kicking it with one foot, so players should be allowed to use their hands, arms, and chests as well. In fact, the best way to move such a large ball down the field is for several players to simultaneously push the ball with their bodies.

Another obvious change is to increase the number of players on each team. Instead of 11 players per team, giant soccer or football games can have several hundred players on each side.

Because a giant ball might not fit under all goalposts, indicate the scoring area with a long end line.

Sometimes the ball bounces over the players' heads, either as an unexpected consequence of players from opposite teams pushing the ball at the same time, or as an intentional strategy to move the ball over the opponents' heads. That's OK. When this happens, players quickly adjust their strategy from that of banging against a giant, earth-bound ball to a collective group effort of keeping the ball aloft by slapping it with a multitude of hands. Giant overhead soccer is fun, too.

Perhaps the most fascinating change is the shift from competition to fair play and support for the underdog. Often, as the ball approaches one of the goal lines, many players spontaneously switch teams to keep the ball in play and to prevent a goal from being scored.

All of these changes are created by manipulating just one aspect of the game, by increasing the size of the ball.

Continue this train of thought by imagining you are decreasing the scale of the game. Instead of making the ball much larger, shrink it down to the size of a table-tennis ball. How would that change affect the rules and procedures for the game?

The number of players would be greatly reduced. A soccer or football game played with such a small ball would involve only one or two players per team.

Instead of using their feet to kick the ball, the players should use some sort of a paddle.

A game with a small ball should be played in a much smaller area than a standard soccer field.

In fact, a very successful small-scale adaptation of soccer exists. It's called foosball, and it can be found in arcades, recreation centers, and playrooms across the globe.

Changing the scale of the equipment is a great way to make classic activities fresh and new. Try playing pick-up sticks with cardboard tubes that are 12 feet (approximately 4 m) long, instead of with the standard pieces that are the size of chopsticks. Imagine using 100 meters of clothesline to play a giant version of cat's cradle. In the standard version, two players play with both hands. In other words, they use 20 fingers between them. In the giant version, 20 players simulate the four hands, with each person representing one finger.

More Excerpts From Great Games for Big Activity Balls