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10 Popular Backyard Games That Became Sports With National and/or International Associations

Beverley Byer has been writing professionally for a number of years. Her work has been published in magazines and newspapers.

Bocce balls

Bocce balls

10 Backyard Games

Not all sports were created professionally. Many of them began as simple backyard games. Here are ten popular backyard games that morphed into sports with official sanctioning bodies.

1. Bocce

  • Bocce, also called Boccie or Bocci, is regulated in the U.S. by the United States Bocce Federation, which was created in 1977 by Chris Gerardo, whose intent was to make it an Olympic sport. Equipment and rules are basically the same as the backyard version.
  • Bocce can be traced back to 5,200 B.C.
  • It is the third most played sport in the world behind soccer and golf.

Premise and Objective

There are eight large colorful balls, one smaller ball, and a rectangular court of specific dimensions. Teams consist of one, two, or four players. The object of the game, after a coin flip, is to toss the smaller ball or pallina beyond the center of the court, then roll the larger bocce balls as close to it as possible. The winning team must score a total of 12, 16, or 21 points.

Cornhole equipment

Cornhole equipment

2. Cornhole

Cornhole is professionally governed by the American Cornhole Organization, founded in 2004 by Frank Geers in Milford, Ohio. Games are also sanctioned by international associations.

The dimensions of both boards and bags are generally the same as their backyard counterparts. The official bags, however, contain plastic pellets to survive wet weather conditions. The rules and scoring are also consistent with the backyard game.


Depending on the research, there are multiple theories about cornhole’s invention.

  1. Cornhole began when Ancient peoples tossed rocks into holes in the ground.
  2. Illinois’s Native American Blackhawk tribe tossed dried bean-filled pig’s bladders.
  3. It was invented by a Kentucky farmer.
  4. The Germans invented it.

Premise and Objective

After a coin flip, teams of one or two players begin the inning by pitching four bags unto the board, preferably into the hole. The winning team must score 21 points.

Croquet play

Croquet play

3. Croquet

Croquet is sanctioned nationally by the United States Croquet Association (USCA), which was founded by Jack Osborn in New York in 1977. There’s also the American Croquet Association, which was established in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1984 by player Stan Patmor and others who left the USCA.

Global tournaments are sanctioned by the World Croquet Federation. The USCA governs tournaments in the traditional nine-wicket game, Golf Croquet, and the more modern six-wicket game.

The equipment used in these sanctioned games is more expensive than those used in backyard play.

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This British import is thought to be of French origin and was once favored by a high society garden party crowd.


The court setup, and the rules differ in each version, but the premise remains the same. After a coin toss, the first team hits four croquet balls with a mallet through hoops planted in the ground.

Dog frisbee game

Dog frisbee game

4. Frisbee

In 1967, a group of Maplewood, New Jersey high school students established a governing entity called Ultimate Frisbee. They created an official game, incorporating plays from football, soccer, and basketball.

The regulation plastic Frisbee disc, now owned by the Mattel Toy Company, was purchased from the Wham-O toy company in 1994. Wham-O began producing the flying discs in 1957 after purchasing rights from one of the original inventors. The company took the toy to two world fairs (Seattle in 1962 and New York in 1965), where they demonstrated and promoted freestyle Frisbee as a new sport.

It was then discovered a similar game called Tin Lid Golf was played by a Canadian elementary school in 1926. A disc golf game was also created with the Frisbee in the late 1970s by Ed Headrick, one of the toy’s original inventors. That tournament is governed by the Professional Disc Golf Association.

Horseshoes equipment

Horseshoes equipment

Horseshoes court

Horseshoes court

5. Horseshoes

Current U.S. and Canadian charters consisting of clubs, state associations, and individuals fall under the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association (NHPA), which was formed in 1926.

Pits are standardized, and a more stringent scoring system is used. The NHPA also sanctions international tournaments and offers an annual health program in July.

The game’s history traces back to second-century Roman soldiers who occupied Britain. They needed something to do with their spear time, so they created a game called quoits, where they pitched castoff shoes from chariot horses.

Quoits’ roots stem from the Greeks’ discus-throwing game, which was one of the main competitive sports at festivals and the Olympics. When English colonists crossed the Pond to the U. S., they brought the game with them. Quoits eventually became known as horseshoes.

It’s now played by over 30 million and is considered to be one of the most popular pitching games.

6. Lawn Bowling

Also called Bowls or Boule in French, lawn bowling is considered the English version of bocce. But both games are rooted in Ancient Egyptian rock tossing.

There are four distinct differences between them:

  1. The large lawn ball is flat at one end.
  2. Instead of being pitched underhandedly to start play, the ball is rolled.
  3. Lawn bowling is played on a grass court or in a rink and not on dirt/sand.
  4. The smaller white ball is called Jack.

The U.S. governing body for a professional competition, standardized rules, and promotion in the United States Lawn Bowls Association better known as Bowls USA or USBLA. They’re headquartered in Arizona. The global governing entity is World Bowls, located in Edinburgh, Scotland, an appropriate location since lawn bowling’s first official rulebook, Manual of Bowls Playing was published Scotland in 1864. The backyard game arrived in the U.S. in the 1600s.

7. Pickleball

The USA Pickleball Association was established in 1984 to govern and promote the sport nationally and internationally. They also published pickleball’s very first rulebook.

The equipment was changed or improved from ping pong paddles, softballs, and plastic balls with holes to larger, standardized paddles with a slight change in shape, a perforated ball resembling a Wiffle Ball, and a net and court of specific dimensions.
Tournament scoring typically varies from backyard scoring.

The backyard game was invented in 1965 by three men who lived on an island some miles from Seattle, Washington. They were seeking a way to relieve their kids’ summertime boredom. The equipment and rules were simple. As a matter of fact, they based the rules on those of badminton.

One interesting story was that they may have named the game after a pickle boat.
The game’s first-ever organized tournament was created by the fathers in 1976.

8. Spikeball

The sanctioning body for spikeball is USA Spikeball, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.

It was established in 2008 when Chris Ruder purchased the rights to the game.
He and his partners hired a product design company to help them redesign the equipment, but Ruder more or less established the rules of play, which he borrowed from volleyball and another ball game called foursquare.

The sport, which now boasts over 4 million players across the globe, found a resurgence after a 2015 appearance by Ruder, the sanctioning body’s CEO, and a few of his friends on the hugely popular ABC reality show Shark Tank.

The actual backyard version of spikeball is called roundnet and bears some similarities to volleyball. It was invented way back in the late 1980s by industrial designer, toymaker, and cartoonist Jeff Knurek.

Spikeball was called Slammo after the equipment was used to play it. It’s also known as Bounceball.

9. Washers

Also called Washoes, Washers Toss, Texas Horseshoes, Holey Boards, or Holy Boards, washers are sanctioned or governed by the International Association of Washer Players (IAWP). It was founded in 2010 and is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama.

If you played washers in the northeastern part of the country and then played it in the south or in the west, the rules of the game may be quite different.

Professional equipment depends on the version played. Backyard equipment consists of a variety of homemade pits and boards or a portable pit kit. There are generally two-player teams, and scoring is 21 points or less.

Like other toss games, it’s rooted in ancient Egypt. Two theories about its U.S. introduction exist:

  1. When pioneers took a break from their long journeys, they used their wagon wheel washers to play the game.
  2. Employees at Texas oil fields played the game with washers from oil derricks.
Wiffle ball game

Wiffle ball game

10. Wiffle Ball

The first Wiffle Ball competition was held in 1980 in Indiana, the same year and place the World Wiffle Ball Association, which governs and promotes the game, was formally organized. The rules are similar to baseball and stickball.

This backyard ballgame was invented by a Connecticut father for his son in 1953. The father was a semi-pro baseball pitcher. His son, perhaps wanting to follow in his dad’s footsteps, practiced throwing sliders and curveballs with a golf ball. It would have done eventual damage to his arm. So as a solution, his father created a number of ball designs before settling on two concave halves of plastic with eight equidistant perforations.

The son named it Wiffle ball, a derivative of the term “wiff,” which people in their neighborhood used to identify a strike.

The Wiffle Ball company, which was established by the family, is still around today.


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