Human Foosball

By Bob Carver

Foosball--or table football--can be traced back to the original patent in the 1890s, according to Wikipedia. Aleandro Finistierre wanted to make a table form of soccer that would be fun for physically challenged children who could not play actual soccer. He commissioned Francisco Altuna to develop the first game. The table game has grown so much that there are competitions and national and international tournaments today.


Almost everyone has walked up to a foosball table at one time or another and tried his or her luck in this high-energy game. Sometimes there’s one person against another. At other times it can be two against two. A player has to move quickly to grab hold of different rods and spin the men round and round. Only the best can flick their wrist in such a way that the ball screams across the table into the goal at the other end. Some games are electronic and automatically tally the score. Others--not so high-tech--require some manual means of scoring. Either way, the excitement and energy are high. The aim of the game is simple--the men suspended on the table spin around and move side to side, with the end result of kicking the ball into the goal at the opponent’s end. It is played similarly to the game of soccer.

Take that 30-inch by 55-inch table, drag it outside, expand its size by eight times, add real people as players, and voilà, you have “human foosball.” Now, instead of two to four players, expand the group to 20, and you have a level of excitement and exhaustion with which no table game can compete.

We first learned of human foosball from a sister camp--North Florida Christian Service Camp--a few years ago. It was a big help in deciding on the size and type of construction, etc. The camp sent pictures and consulted by phone and e-mails.

Constructing The Court
At Camp Allendale, the construction of the human foosball court was completed by staff and volunteers. The total cost was around $8,000. The dimensions of the court are approximately 20 feet wide by 50 feet long. The outer perimeter is an 8-foot chain link fence. At each end is an extension that contains the goal. There are entry gates on either side of the court as well as on one side of each goal. The rods are made of galvanized pipe attached through the fence. Sliding around the galvanized pipe is a PVC pipe slightly larger in circumference. It is cut shorter than the width of the court so the PVC pipe can slide back and forth on the galvanized pipe.

Taped to the PVC are hand-holds made of rope. Teams are differentiated by the color of rope used on each side. The hand-holds are made by taking a 3-foot length of rope and duct-taping the middle of the loop to the PVC pipe. You will end up with two loops per person. Each player then places both hands through the loops until they fall around the wrists. For all practical purposes, that player is then attached to the pipe and can only move side to side. There are four rods on each end of the game. The first rod (goalie) has one set of hand-holds, the second rod has two, the third three, and the fourth four. This makes ten players on each end. Beginning at one end, the goalie faces the middle. The first row of two (goalie team) also faces the middle. The third row of three (opposing team) faces the goal. The fourth row of four (goalie team) faces the middle. The same configuration with the opposing team is used on the opposite end.

The floor surface may be made of sand or, in our case, field lime. You do not want a hard surface. When multiple players are attached to a single rod, it is not unusual to have one player drag another as they move from side to side. Whatever surface you use, it is important to build in proper drainage away from the game. A nerf or soft soccer ball is used since ball strikes to the face and body happen frequently. As groups get used to the game, a second ball can be added for extra excitement.

Minding The Rules
Human foosball is played exactly like table foosball. One consideration is the need to make a ruling on when the ball leaves the court. In my opinion, the best way to handle this is to give a point to the opposite team; otherwise, you will spend all your time running down the ball gone awry. Another major difference is that many players on the table game spin the rods at a high rate of speed. When you try spinning the human foosball rods at a high rate of speed with campers attached, you end up tossing kids all over the place. OK, I’m kidding, but no doubt you had a mental picture, didn’t you? The main action of each participant is to move side to side with the other people on the same rod, all the time trying to kick the ball toward your team’s goal. This is a great lesson in teamwork. It takes extreme cooperation in order to succeed and win at this game. Yes, there is competition, but competition that promotes unity and teamwork is great!

So what happens when there is a dispute, for example, when the ball is kicked outside the court? A referee is not really necessary because there are usually one or two people who do not play and are happy to retrieve the ball and toss it back into the field of play. This game really attracts a group of on-lookers, and they are always happy to assist. It really doesn’t seem to make a difference where the ball enters the court, but try to toss it near the center between the two rods of four people from each team that face the center of the court.

This new game has been a great addition to our camping programs, whether the groups are children or adults. In fact, you can mix campers and counselors, young and old, on the same court, and they all work together well. I guess the only real difference between the young and old with this game is that anyone over 30 is gasping for air within 20 minutes of play. So if you see one of your older players turning a bit blue, I suggest a substitution is in order. Extreme exertion, screams and laughter will fill the air as your groups bond and play together.

Bob Carver has been in camp management for the past 33 years. He recently retired as executive director of Camp Allendale in Trafalgar, Ind., to become the camp's marketing director. He can be reached via e-mail at