Throwing balls toward a target is as old as dirt. Egyptians in 5000 B.C. played with polished rocks in a game that quickly evolved to bocce or lawn bowling. As long as there have been back yards, there have been libation-friendly convivial contests. Monks in 12th century France played a game swatting a ball back and forth across a rope strung in their gardens. Tenez! The French word meaning something like “take this” is the root of the word, “tennis”. A 13th-century game called pall – mall is perhaps an ancestor of modern golf. Popular with aristocrats, the game involved knocking balls through wickets. Another alleged off-shoot of pall – mall is croquet, which arrived in England from Ireland in 1851 and consumed the nation as its most popular sport.
Croquet may have been the first mixed-sex sport, as advice books addressed the fact that girls and women often cheated, aided by long skirts that camouflaged their kicking opponent’s balls under cover. The main sport was often above the grass, as knocking an opponent’s ball into the shrubs meant a chance to help one’s opponent retrieve it. Victorian teenagers loved croquet!
As it gained popularity and spread to the U.S., the advances in production of rubber balls by Charles Goodyear set Americans to bouncing balls over nets on their croquet lawns. Shrubbery shielded the surge in popularity of women playing with men. A lighter form of “lawn tennis,” followed, called badminton, because it required less space and ball-catching shrubbery or fences.
Today, with all the online and techno temptations for families to dive into, taking it outside means connecting more than competing.
Take a look at these links for the latest in the evolution of backyard games: