Gateball: an introduction

Gateball is a mallet sport derived from aspects of Croquet. The two teams use five balls each, either red or white depending on the team, and play in an alternating fashion between red and white, from numbers one to ten. Each player wears their number of the playing order, also shown on their own ball (“stroker’s ball”), and plays the same ball throughout the game.

Object of the game

Each team tries to get its own balls to pass through as many gates as possible and hit the goal post (‘Agari’). You win a point by passing a gate in the right sequence, and also have the right to “stroke” again. One point is given for every gate the ball passes in order, and two points for then hitting the goal post, for a total of five points for a finisher. To decide the winning team, each player’s scores are totalled at the end of the game, and the team with the higher score is declared the winner.

How does a game start?

The balls are played from the starting zone in front of hoop 1 (see layout diagram, over). The sides decide by tossing a coin which will start. The first team to play uses red balls, with odd numbers. The other uses white balls, which have even numbers.

Touch and spark

Once your ball has passed the first gate, if you hit another ball (called a “touch”), you have once more the right to stroke again, provided that both your and the other ball stay inside the boundary line.

Having made a successful touch, you must now “spark”. This means, you pick up the ball touched and bring it back into contact with your own and, placing your foot (your toes, really) on your own ball so that it doesn’t move, stroke again so as to drive the touched ball to the desired position.

The sparked ball must move at least 10 cm, unless it hits the goal post in turn. Following a spark, you stroke again, but cannot “touch” the same ball twice in a turn. If you touch in the same stroke as successfully passing a gate (a “pass touch”), after sparking you then get 2 more strokes.


Going out of the court

An out-ball cannot touch any other ball or pass a gate until the turn after it is stroked back into court. Whenever any ball goes out of court, it is placed at a point off court 10cm from where it crossed the inside line.

What is the sequence of gates?

The balls have to pass through the gates in a set sequence and direction (see diagram). To pass the gate successfully (“tsuka”), the ball must stop beyond the plane of the non-playing side of the gate (the “gate line”). A ball that goes out of court or knocks another out of court when passing a gate has not passed successfully.

To pass gate1, a ball must not touch another ball on the way towards it. A ball that has passed the gate line of gate 1, but not by more than the diameter of one ball, may be temporarily moved if it obstructs the passing of another ball.

Size of a gate, and a ball ==> Croquet

Times limits

Each player has only 10 seconds in which to stroke their ball from when called upon to stroke, or from when the right to keep playing occurs. The referee on-court keeps count of the 10”, and warns the player when 8” is reached. Players normally wait at the courtside near their own ball, to save time when it is their turn to stroke again. The ball of a player who does not stroke within 10 seconds stays where it was until that player’s next turn to stroke, although such a ball in court can still be touched and sparked by others.


When you spark team mate’s ball, you make positive tactical choices about positioning, bearing in mind the playing order. For example, the first team to pass a ball through gate 1 successfully (say with ball 1) will often place that ball between gate 2 and the boundary. That way, it is dangerous for the other team to try and touch without a ball going out, whilst if a ball from the other team (say ball 2) takes position to run gate 2 on its next turn, it can be touched by ball 1 and made use of, to benefit the first team. Instead of positioning in front of gate 2 therefore, ball 2 might go to guard the access to gate 3.

If you spark a ball from the opposing team, you might send it to where your team’s balls can use it, bearing in mind the number sequence of those balls which are due to play before it. Alternatively, you might send it out of court, meaning it then needs to use its next turn just to come back into court, without being able to touch or to pass a gate.

Double touch

When you see 2 balls of your own team near each other, a player will normally try to take position for a “double touch”. A ball that touches 2 others in the same stroke gains the right to spark twice in succession, which is a very powerful attacking tactic. The other balls touched are temporarily moved until it is their turn to be sparked.


End of the game

The game ends after 30 minutes. When time is called (“game set”), if the leading team is playing, the next player from the other team has one last turn. If the following team is playing when “game set” is called, the game ends when that stroker’s turn is completed.


The referee(s) in charge of the game decides on whether a ball is in or out, whether a gate has been successfully passed, a touch made, a successful spark, a fault committed (such as hitting your own ball twice in a stroke), the goal post hit, and when the 10 seconds has elapsed for each player to stroke.

The arm gestures made by the referees and linesmen, at the same time as they call the decision, indicate to the recorder, players and spectators what is happening:

  • « Play ball » (30’ starts) is by the hand outstretched in front at face height, palm down.
    A turn is notified by the arm(s) raised, fingers showing the stroker’s number.
  • « Standby » by bringing one arm up to point, then down to the side when the 10” starts.
  • « Gate Tsuka » : is pointing and looking sideways in the direction of the successful pass.
  • « Touch » is pointing forwards, at the place where the touch occurred.
  • « Out » is by raising one arm straight above the head, palm facing forward.
  • « Safe » (the ball is still in) is by sweeping the forearm outwards across the body
  • « Time » when the 30’ clock is stopped temporarily, is by a T-shape with 2 hands.
  • « Foul » is by bringing a clenched fist to shoulder height.
  • « Agari », when the goal post is hit, is by raising the arms to a V-shape above the head.
  • « Game set » at the end is with forearms crossed above the head.

The complete rules published by the World Gateball Union : RulesCroquet


The world championships have been dominated for several years by players from China and Japan. At the 2011 world championships staged in Shanghai, 96 teams took part from Australia, Brazil, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Paraguay, the Philippines, South Korea, Russia and the USA.


More information?

If you enjoyed this game, and would like more information about where and when to play gateball, contact the Croquet Federation of Belgium. Please surf to: