Zoom Ball Games for Occupational Therapy

Have you heard of the Zoom Ball?  Is zoom ball games and activities part of your OT Toolbox? This classic activity is a must for elementary school aged children and above.  In this post we will explore ways to play with a zoom ball in occupational therapy, and how a zoom ball supports the development of gross motor coordination, visual convergence, wrist range of motion, and other skills.

zoom ball games and activities for therapy

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Zoom Ball in OT

With the daily onslaught of new products and technology available for play, it can be challenging to select the best activities for your learners.  My advice?  Stick to the classics.  They are tried and true methods, incorporating multiple skills, for a fraction of the price of high tech options. (Amazon affiliate link) Zoom ball is no exception. For younger learners, Zoom ball will be a novelty and instant winner.  Older learners can take comfort in the familiar activity.

What is Zoom Ball?

Zoomball (affiliate link) (or Zoom Ball, Zip-it, Rip-it) is a great two player game. It is best played outdoors or in a large space.  Players pull the handles to send the ball flying to the player on the opposite end.

Tug of war: the harder you pull out, the faster the ball zooms to your opponent. 

Variation – Hydro Zoom ball (affiliate link) filled with water balloons that splash, making it a great tool for outdoor sensory play and backyard lawn games.

What skills are addressed using Zoom Ball?

Therapy time is limited. There are a ton of goals to cover in a short amount of time. Picking activities that address multiple skills are an efficient use of therapy time. Zoom Ball is no exception. 

  • Bilateral coordination – both hands, shoulders, sides of the body need to be working at the same time, in order for the ball to shoot correctly.  This may prove challenging for learners with definite one sided weakness.  Hand over hand assist can be provided to compensate, until the learner builds strength or is able to compensate on their own. in this activity, both arms are doing the same thing, in opposite directions.  Coordinating both arms to work at the same time is key to getting the ball all the way down to the partner. The OT Toolbox has an informative post on Bilateral Coordination here.
  • Eye-hand coordination – the eyes must follow the ball in order to prepare for the upcoming turn. This is a fast paced game. If the learner does not send the ball back quickly, it will start to retreat back down the rope.  At this point it will need to be retrieved by one of the learners or a helper.  This is also critical to thwart the element of surprise at being smacked in the hands with an incoming ball. Read more about hand-eye coordination.
  • Visual skills- Visual scanning, tracking, and convergence, play a critical role in this Zoomball game. not only are learners required to watch the ball, there is an amount of depth perception needed to determine how close or far away the ball is to the player.  Convergence and divergence are developed while playing Zoom Ball.
  • Motor planning – Zoomball takes coordination of several muscle groups to be able to make the ball move to the other end. Timing, strength, and coordination need to be planned for smooth movement.  At first, this will be a cognitive effort while the brain and the muscles communicate this intricate dance.  After some practice, the muscles understand what to do, working in sync.  A definite motor plan is developed while navigating all of the movements and steps it takes to coordinate getting the ball down the line and receiving it. For learners with motor planning difficulty, this will be a lengthy process with several stops and starts. Read about motor planning.
  • Strength – it takes a fair amount of shoulder and grip strength to launch the ball the full distance.  core strength, shoulder and wrist stability, head control, balance, and hand strength are all needed for being successful at the Zoom Ball game. You can try shortening the ropes if your learner does not have enough strength.
  • Social function – communicating with a partner, turn taking, problem solving, compliance, attention to detail, patience, and frustration tolerance can all be addressed using a Zoom ball. working together in a group, problem solving, sharing materials and space, turn taking, and cooperation are great social skills developed using the Zoom Ball in therapy.
  • Executive function – following directions, attention, focus, sequencing, planning, task completion are key to success. Executive function, following directions, attention, attention to detail, focus, sequencing, planning, task completion, impulse control, compliance, behavior, and work tolerance are all important skills to learn while doing any activity.
  • Kinesthetic awareness – This means learning by doing. No amount of verbally explaining how the Zoom Ball works can replace getting in there and experiencing it
  • Proprioception – heavy work, bumping and crashing, pulling/pulling/lifting/carrying are all strategies to build proprioceptive skills and awareness. Zoom ball definitely involves bumping and crashing, heavy work, and pulling!
  • Hand strength – it takes a fair amount of grip strength to hang onto the handles while the ball is moving back and forth down the ropes
  • Timing- this goes hand in hand with impulse control. Timing when to pull your arms out to zoom the ball, when to close your arms and hold on tight, how long to hold your arms out, and when to brace for impact.

How to use the Zoom Ball in Occupational Therapy

Not only do occupational therapy providers like to have fun in therapy, it is important that the activities support the development of new skills.  Play is the function of a child, therefore play based therapy is important in teaching learners new skills. 

The Zoom Ball, while used to develop and practice skills, is definitely a fun game, once both participants get the hang of it.  The Zoom Ball game is of course not limited to occupational therapy providers…  It is great for physical therapists, speech language pathologists, caregivers, teachers, PE teachers, and more. 

Therapists love activities that address multiple skills at once.  It makes our job easier and much more efficient than planning 47 activities for an hour-long session.

  • Traditional method – two people stand opposite each other with the rope taught between them.  The first person spreads their arms wide enough to launch the ball at their partner.  Once it reaches their partner, they repeat the motion of opening their arms wide.  The wider, faster, and more forceful the movement, the better the ball will move.  There is a big learning curve to get the ball to go far enough to reach the other end.  Usually it ends up stuck in the middle somewhere until your learners get the hang of it
  • Ramp – play Zoom Ball on an incline.  The stronger player will be launching uphill, while the less strong/younger/poorly coordinated learner will be at the top, flowing downhill. This is a great challenge for targeting balance activities.
  • Experiment – talk about problem solving and demonstrate what happens if your learner goes too slow, uses one arm more than another, does not pay attention, pulls their arms fast and hard, etc.
  • Use the Zoom Ball in a Single Direction – If there are only two of you, and your learner needs significant help, tie one end onto a tree or post.  Provide hand over hand assistance to launch the Zoom Ball, then manually retrieve and reset it.
  • Add a communication/cognitive element – have learners count while launching the ball, say a letter of the alphabet each time they launch, play categories yelling out a word in the category until someone is not fast enough to name something, do math facts, listen to a set of numbers/letters/items and repeat them while playing.

How to Play with a Zoom Ball

Directions for use: 

  • Players pull the handles to send the ball hurling toward the other player
  • For 2 players
  • The line between the players must be taut in order for the ball to zoom across 
  • The harder the players pull while spreading their arms apart, the faster and harder the ball will go
  • There is definitely a learning curve to this activity, with a lot of fetching the ball  stuck in the middle along the way

If your learner is fearful of the ball crashing into their hands, you can add “bumpers” using clay, polymer, or pieces of foam that is attached to the string.

Zoom Ball Games

In addition to changing the type of Zoom Ball as highlighted above, changing the way it is played can also add to the challenge.  There are some great ways to make the task more challenging.

Try these variations of zoom ball games:

  • Kneel while doing the Zoom Ball – kneeling on both knees or on one knee at a time changes the element of balance and increases the need for core strength
  • Standing on a foam cushion – standing on an uneven surface such as a wiggle cushion, foam block, or Bosu ball can increase the level of challenge
  • Stand on one foot – now there is an added challenge of balance while playing
  • Change arm movements – what about chomping up and down like an alligator while moving the ball
  • Categories – yell out an item in a category each time the ball touches the player’s hands
  • Math facts – yell out a math fact for students to answer when it is their turn
  • Counting – count the number of passes between students before they make a mistake
  • Spelling – shout out spelling words as the ball zooms back and forth

More Resources:

The OT Toolbox has an Outdoor Lawn Games  post to add to your outdoor fun.

How about some more information on Upper Body Strength?

Types of Zoom Balls

There are several different variations of the classic Zoom Ball. While the classic stands the test of time, there may be reasons to mix it up once in a while.

Check out some of the variations below (Amazon affiliate links):

Classic Zoom Ball (affiliate link) is made of a plastic hollow football, with two sets of handles on each end of a long cord.  The slogan is “zip it to rip it”.  There are several variations on this classic model:

Hydro Zoom Ball (affiliate link) – fill the ball with a water balloon that explodes when it reaches one of the ends.  This adds the element of surprise, as you never know when the balloon will pop!

Foam Zip Ball (affiliate link) – this features a softer ball and shorter ropes for use with children ages five and up or those with lower range of motion or strength.

Homemade Zoom Ball – Make your own Zoom Ball!  All you need is string/cord, a two liter bottle, and some duct tape. Cut the bottoms off two plastic water bottles and duct tape the open bottoms together. Thread the string through the tops of both water bottles and then play.

Other Great Resources from the OT Toolbox to Develop Coordination Skills:

While there is a push out there to include electronics, technology, and gaming to everything children do, don’t forget to teach classic activities and games like Zoom Ball that their parents and grandparents grew up playing.  There is a good reason these activities have withstood the test of time to become classic games. 

Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

zoom ball