Bound: An outdoor game


Many years ago, I was on holiday at the seaside and, being an eleven-year-old boy, I was desperate to play some sort of outdoor game. I only had a tennis ball, and so I needed a game that two people could play with only a ball, a flat surface and some marked lines on the ground (ideal for the hard sand of a beach). After some intense cogitation, I thought up the game Bound. I persuaded my family to play it and it worked very well, with lots of fun being had by all.

Rather than let the game disappear into the nebulous mists of time, I thought it would be good to post a full description of the game so that other people can play it and hopefully enjoy it too.

Game Setup:

Draw three concentric circles (i.e. their centres are in the same place) on the ground. The centre circle is 50cm wide; this is the ‘island’. Draw a second concentric circle 3m wide; this is the inner boundary of the ‘field’. Draw a third concentric circle 12m wide; this is the outer boundary of the ‘field’. The field is therefore a disc around the central ‘island’, separated by a gap known as the ‘moat’.

I’ve had to guess the dimensions of the court from memory, but I think they’re roughly right. Anyone who plays the game can always fine-tune these dimensions. Changing the dimensions will affect how the game plays, and shift the importance from accuracy to athleticism and vice-versa.


Players stand in the field. They cannot step out of this area during play. Players toss a coin to see who starts. One player then throws the ball so that it hits the central island and rebounds over the moat and into the field, an action known as a ‘bound’.

If the ball lands in the field, or the opponent touches the ball but fails to hold on to it and the ball falls to the ground anywhere, the thrower wins a point. The opponent then has their turn.

If the opponent successfully catches the ball, they then ‘bound’ the ball back, again trying to bounce the ball off the island, over the moat and into the field. They cannot step out of the field at any time during play and there can only be a delay of a maximum of four seconds between catching the ball and throwing it back.

Games are first to fifteen points, unless it’s 14-14, in which case players must keep playing until someone is ahead by two points. Matches can be best of three games or higher if the players are feeling particularly fit and enthusiastic.


As my family and I played the game, certain moves became popular.

The Skip: Crouch down quickly and throw the ball fast at the island from a low angle, aiming to ‘skip’ on the island and touch the field just inside in the inner boundary.


The Lob: Get close to the inner boundary of the field and throw the ball on the island hard so it bounces completely over the head of the opponent and lands just inside the field’s outer boundary.


The Underarm: Throw at the island underarm, causing the ball to bounce up higher than expected and hopefully make the opponent drop the ball.

The Roll-Throw: When making a running catch, follow through with a forward roll, then throw the ball fast into a part of the field beyond the opponent’s reach, before they can change their position.

The Triangle: Pretend to throw at the island with one hand, but instead throw to your other hand and then throw the ball in a very different direction. Players with two good throwing hands can do very well with this move.

The Cartwheel: After a low catch, cartwheel with one or both hands around the inner part of the field and bound the ball back. Flashy and prone to disaster!


The Spin: All sorts of variations on this, but basically put spin on the ball and, even better, disguised spin, to make the ball hard to catch.

The Dummy-Overhead: Fake an overhead but throw short.

The Charge: If a player’s been moved to the back of the field by an Overhead bound, they can run in (partly to throw before running out of time) and throw; intimidating and ideal for a dummy throw.

The Body-Shot: Bound the ball directly at the opponent with the aim of the ball hitting them and falling to the ground, thus winning the point. This is usually a very fast throw. It is risky; if the opponent dodges successfully, the ball invariably travels too far and lands outside the field.


Doubles version:

The doubles version of Bound (two versus two) is the same as the singles version, with the extra rule that if a player successfully catches a ball, they can throw it once to their partner who then must ‘bound’ the ball back to the opponents. The four-second maximum time gap between catching the opponent’s bound and throwing at the island still applies. This can be a very fast and intense game.


That’s about it; Bound is a very simple game but my family had a lot of fun playing it. It’s athletic, low-impact and gives lots of opportunities for clever, skilled play. It’s also a cheap game to play as you only need a ball. I used a tennis ball when I played it with my family back in the early eighties but any ball with a medium amount of bounce should do.

Ideally, a Bound court would have a hard island but a field with a rubber surface such as the ones installed in modern playgrounds, so that the players can throw themselves around more. Also, the moat would be sunk and the island be given a curved outer edge, enabling some interesting ‘edge’ shots, but those are just fancy extras; the game is perfectly suited to damp sand, or even concrete if the players wear a bit of padding.


If anyone plays Bound, I’d be very interested to hear how you get on. If you’re happy to give feedback, please do let me know, via the contact form, what you thought of it, what changes you decided to make after playing it, any new moves you developed and maybe even a few links to some photos! I’ll post all relevant feedback on my blog. Have fun!