Gaga: The (Un)Official Game of J Camp
Long before gaga referred to a pop singer with outrageous fashion taste, gaga had a different association at Jewish camps. Ga-ga, which means touch-touch in Hebrew, is a kinder, gentler form of dodgeball. Our campers (and staff) can’t get enough of it.
Supposedly, gaga originated in Israel and made its first appearance in the United States in Jewish camps in the 1970’s. (There is one infamous Camp Chi alum who claims that he is the originator of gaga or, at least, that’s the story he’s gotten his children to believe.) The game is played in an enclosed area called a “gaga pit.” A lightweight ball is bounced in the center. Campers push the ball using one hand and try to hit other players below the knees. The object of the game, to be the last person standing, is deceptively simple as there are many other official and house rules that go along with gaga.
It’s hard to describe the game without seeing it being played, but there is no doubt that gaga is fun. Fun, though, is only part of the reason that gaga (un)official game of J Camp. The intention behind gaga aligns so well with what we want campers to experience in our camps while playing sports and games.
Anybody Can Play
Gaga is a great equalizer. Often the star players are not who you would expect. It’s a sport that doesn’t require superb hand-eye coordination, strength or speed. Children and adults of all ages can participate and even play against each other. The small playing area, soft ball and quick games lend themselves to be easily adapted and inclusive of children of all abilities.
Competition without Hurt Feelings
We believe that it’s important for campers to experience healthy competition. Because gaga’s foundation is about having fun and not athletic skills, campers are invested in playing and want to win, but they aren’t distressed when they get out. Kids feel that getting out isn’t a reflection on their own athletic skills, but, instead is just a temporary part of the play.
Sportsmanship is Key
As with any game, issues can arise regarding fair play and sportsmanship in gaga. Counselors are always watching (and often playing themselves) so they can call for a quick pause, address the issue and guide campers back to appropriate play. Sportsmanship spills over into the kids who are temporarily “out” in a way that is unusual in sports. Campers find that gaga is almost as exciting to watch as it is to play. When campers are “out,” they stand outside of the pit, take in the action, cheer for others, play referee, shout out strategies and eagerly wait for the next game to begin.
Ready to bring gaga to your backyard? It’s easy. Many playgrounds at suburban schools have gaga pits. You can also easily create one using by resting folding tables on their sides.
We have just one piece of valuable advice before you begin your gaga adventure: Agree to the rules before the game begins. Trust us, kids love to make up the gaga rules as they go.