Speedball (American ball game)

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Speedball is a fast-paced sport that combines many aspects of other sports. Points are scored by throwing or kicking the ball into the opposing goal, it is played with two teams of five or more, each with one goalie on a basketball court or soccer field (depending on variant).


The game was invented by Elmer D. Mitchell in the early 1920s at the University of Michigan.[1] Elmer was a physical education professor, who sought to develop a game that was not restrictive to the rules of any one sport, he also created the sport to involve more students, especially those who were not as athletic. The sport was popularized and later reformed by players and coaches at Millburn High School in New Jersey; the sport became so popular in the Millburn area that it became an official gym class elective any student could take. Today, it is played in many American high school physical education classes; the sport is still struggling to turn into an actual sport played by club and high school teams.


The main objective of speedball is the objective of soccer/football. There are two goals, each guarded by the opposite team members or a goalie; each team attempts to throw the ball into the goal. However, unlike soccer, there are multiple ways goals can be scored. Goals can be scored by kicking the ball into the net or through goal line markers with one's feet or throwing the ball into the goal. "Kicks" into the soccer goal are worth three points while "throws" are only worth one and shots made into the basket are two. The team that scores the most goals by the end of the match wins the game. In speedball leagues, whether they are at school or for a local speed ball team, wins are worth three points, ties are worth one point and a loss is worth none.

The field and the ball[edit]

The field can be any number of sizes and locations but the earliest variants were generally played on a basketball court or on a soccer field; the size of the goal should be about 6 ft wide by 2.5 ft tall. However, different size and types of goals can be used; the larger the goals, the faster the game generally goes. Hockey goals are also commonly used. A soccer ball, football, rugby ball, or volleyball may be used.


Speedball can be played on a soccer field but there can only be a max of five on the field at a time, and usually the entire soccer field is not used but rather a small portion of it.

The positions are usually as follows:

  • Goal Keeper (GK) - Guards the goal - tries to block the ball from going inside the goal
  • Center (C) - Moves with the ball - can play offense or defense
  • Right Winger (RW) - Plays in the upper right corner of the court/field - crosses the ball in to the center
  • Left Winger (LW) - Plays in the upper left corner or the court/field - crosses the ball into the center
  • Defensive Back (DB) Plays defense - tries to gain possession of the ball


The game starts by having a jump ball or coin toss in the center of the court/field, the players are allowed to move anywhere on the court/field of game play; the field players are permitted to touch the ball with any part of their body at any time EXCEPT their arms/hands (see next rule for details). Players may use their arms/hands as long as the last thing the ball touches is not the ground; one may not pick up the ball from the ground. You can pick the ball up if it bounces off the ground in middle school but in adult speedball you can not pick the ball up if it bounces off the ground. A player may use their feet to get the ball in the air to carry it around.

If a player does touch the ball with their arms illegally, then it is considered a handball penalty and will result in the ball being turned over to the other team's goalie. If the player has the ball in his/her hands, they must make every effort to stop moving as fast as possible (if one keeps moving it is considered a travel and the ball will be turned over to the other team's goalie). Once a player has a ball in their possession, they can pass it off, attempt to score, or drop the ball in order to utilize other parts of the body to move the ball. Goalies must stay on their side of the court and can't cross the half line (can't cross half court line). Goalies can touch the ball with any part of their body, meaning that they can pick up the ball off the ground without it being considered an "illegal" move, it is still illegal for goalies to travel with the ball in their hands; however they can dribble the ball

Penalties and Fouls[edit]

A penalty is when a foul is committed inside the goal box and the other team gets to take a penalty kick. A foul, committed anywhere except in the box, results in a free kick for the player fouled. If the ball goes outside and is no longer in bounds the last player to touch it must give the ball to the other team; the team receiving the ball can throw it in like a throw-in for basketball. Unlike soccer, there are no yellow cards in Speedball. A player, who commits an unnecessary foul receives a red card. Unlike soccer, a single red card does not mean the player is kicked from the game; the player receiving the card must sit in a penalty box and must stay out for at least five minutes. Three red cards for a single player means a player is kicked from the match.

Handball — if a player touches the ball with his/her hands after it touches the ground

Traveling — when a player takes steps after coming to a complete stop while the ball is in the player's hands

Unsportsmanlike Conduct — viciously assaulting another player with no intention of going after the ball

Goalies Passing The Half Line — when a goalie moves over the half line


Naval Special Warfare (SEAL Speedball) - Currently played throughout Naval Special Warfare:

Originally adapted as an alternative to organized physical training (PT); the SEAL Teams wanted a fast-paced game that was aggressive and posed a relatively low risk of physical injury. The founder of the SEAL variant is up for debate and the exact rules change from platoon to platoon, team to team, and coast to coast; however the basic rules are not too different from the above outlined.

The objective is the same, to score, but the rules have been truncated to simplify game play and keep the pace up; the field is whatever space is available, scaled to the number of people playing however, teams of five to eight are the standard but the bigger the field the bigger the teams can be. The game is played with a football or rugby ball in an open space with cones, shirts, water bottles, etc... marking the goal. The goals are positioned at opposite ends of the field, the goal width is approximately 15 feet but can be any size agreed upon. Field boundaries are normally marked in a similar method, cones, shirts, water bottles, etc...


First possession is decided by rock, paper, scissors. Winner chooses to kick or receive.

One point is scored at a time. Points are scored when the ball passes through a goal by running it, throwing it, or kicking it. If the ball is thrown or kicked it must pass between the goal markers and be received by the team trying to score.

Play does not stop except for turnovers. Turnovers take place when the ball touches the ground (either dropped or failed pass), goes out of bounds (carried or thrown), the carrier is touched by the apposing team (one hand or both), or a goal is scored; the turnover takes place on the spot of the above situations with the exception of a goal. When a turnover happens the ball carrying team has the option to immediately run, throw, or kick the ball to begin play; the ball carrier cannot be tagged unless they have taken more than one step from the spot of the turnover. When a goal is scored direction of travel is changed and the scoring team will throw or kick off to the other team.

Passing and running can be done in any direction with whatever method the ball carrier sees fit; this includes the "self pass". A self pass is when the ball carrier throws the ball into the air to avoid being tagged, passes the would be tagger and catches the ball to continue play. If a pass is intercepted, play does not stop and the interceptor can be tagged, in turn it is better to knock the ball down and the ball will turn over at that spot.

The game is played to a point count or a time limit.

Villa Park High School (California) - had a Speedball league in the 1970s one quarter of each year:

  • Played on a soccer field with a goal and goalie
  • Played with a soccer ball
  • Caught pass over the end zone line = 1 point
  • Thrown into the net = 2 points
  • Kicked into the net = 3 points
  • You could kick the ball all you wanted
  • You could pick up the ball, you could pass it to others
  • You could only run 2 steps without passing the ball or throwing it on the ground (like traveling in basketball.)

Springton Lake Middle School (Media, PA) - Physical Education department introduced a variation of Speedball during their Cultural Activities Unit.


  • Played on a basketball court, with a goal in the center at each end and a folding mat laid out in opposite corners of the court
  • Played with an indoor soccer ball, slightly deflated outdoor soccer ball or modified trainer volleyball
  • Played by two teams, consisting of 5-8 players per side


  • Game starts with a jump ball in the center of the court
  • Whenever the ball touches the ground, it must be played like soccer
  • Whenever the ball bounces off of a body part or a wall and caught by a player, the game must be played like handball
  • The last thing the ball touches before a player catches it can't be the floor
  • When playing, like handball, the player with possession of the ball is allowed to take two steps
  • Self Pass - a player with possession of the ball is allowed to make a Self Pass by tossing the ball above their head and catching it. This allows the player to take more than two steps. However, a player is not allowed to make more than two Self Passes; the defense can defend Self Passes by attempting to steal them.


  • 1 point for a touchdown - successfully catching the ball with two feet on the other team's mat
  • 2 points for a handball goal - successfully throwing the ball into the other team's goal
  • 3 points for a soccer goal - successfully kicking the ball into the other team's goal


  1. ^ (Pleban and Wiersma 2003)
  • Lisa A. Pleban & Lenny Wiersma (2003) Speedball: The “Oldest New Game Around”, Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 74:3, 23-28, DOI: 10.1080/07303084.2003.10608465

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