Tetherball Rules and Origin

If you have spent any amount of time at a school playground in the United States, you have likely witnessed a tetherball game. Though the game of tetherball isn’t technically a sport since there is no governing body, it still holds a place in American lore. If you have ever wondered how to play the game of tetherball, you are not alone. Today, we’re continuing to explore the rules of sports by diving into the origin of the game and the unofficial tetherball rules.

Origin of Tetherball

In my internet digging into the origins of tetherball, I have found no shortage of apocryphal stories about how the game originated. If you want to believe that tetherball came from mounting the heads of defeated soldiers on a tether, that is an option. Another much less violent theory suggests that tetherball descended from Maypole dances.

However, the most generally accepted theory is that tetherball came about from the combination of a rise in volleyball’s popularity and the existing game of tether tennis. The game of tether tennis is thought to have originated in the early 1900s. Volleyball originated only slightly earlier in 1895. By the 1920s, the tetherball courts combining the two games were rapidly spreading across the country. Thanks to the game’s relative ease and the equipment’s durability, tetherball continues to be a popular pastime game.

Tetherball Rules

There is beauty in simplicity, something that tetherball capitalizes on. The minimalist requirements for a game of tetherball are a stationary pole, a rope, and a ball. Much like volleyball, the game gets underway when the ball is served by one player.

The incredibly basic object of the game is to try to hit the ball in a way that your opponent is unable to change the trajectory of the ball. There are a handful of very intuitive rules – stay on your side of the pole, don’t grab or hit the rope, and don’t hit the ball before it circles the pole – pretty much everything else is free game. The game will end if you hit the ball around the pole in your direction as far as it will go. Easy, right?

As tetherball doesn’t have a governing body, tetherball rules can vary depending on where you go. Generally speaking, playing a match of tetherball means you will play at least two games. A best-of-three match is the most popular but you might end up playing best-of-five or best-of-seven.

The Future of Tetherball

Though tetherball has been around for a while, leagues and championships aren’t really in existence with no governing body. I’d love to see tetherball in a more competitive sports form. The game takes little space. The costs are minimal. Setting up tetherball leagues and championships would be a fantastic way to get more folks involved in a very accessible sport. I hope to see a growth in competitive tetherball in the future.

Festival Updates

Pokatok Festival Set to Bring Sports World’s Fair to Houston

The countdown to the Pokatok Festival is on - the Sports World's Fair is coming to Downtown Houston in April of 2024.


Oklahoma Softball Sets Sights on Third Straight Title

Jay Arnold talks about the Oklahoma Sooners softball team and their quest for a third straight NCAA Title at the WCWS in Oklahoma City.


Who Invented the Skateboard?

Who invented the skateboard? Bill Richards made the board, Larry Stevenson created skateboarding, and the surfing community helped it erupt.

Our Takes

Power Ranking the Best Crowd Celebrations

Jay Arnold talks about the best instances of athlete and crowd celebrations across the world of sports. From football to MMA and beyond.