In advance, tie one end of the rope to the top of the milk crate (or bucket.)
Feed the other end of the rope through a mechanism or device that allows the crate to be suspended approx 5 to 6 metres (20′) off the ground, eg throw rope over a tree branch or rafter.
When ready, distribute one tennis ball to each person.
Challenge your group to toss all of the tennis balls inside the crate in the quickest time possible.
Announce that your group will be permitted to make up to five official attempts to record their best time.
Allow several minutes between rounds for your group to plan and discuss strategies as required.
For each round, start the timer when the first ball is tossed towards the crate, and stop when the last ball lands inside it.
Lower the crate between each round to retrieve all of the balls.
In conclusion, invite your group to reflect on their performance and the manner in which they completed the task.
How To Play Narrative
On paper, the challenge of tossing a bunch of balls into a crate seems such a simple task, but it’s often more difficult and/or complex than most groups first imagine.
Your first and most difficult part is to gather the required equipment and then locate a suitable place to suspend the crate or bucket. If you’re indoors, you may be able to thread the rope through a pulley system or a rafter, or if you’re outdoors, look for a sturdy branch over which you can throw the rope.
A critical element of whatever you set up is the ability to lower and raise the crate at will. If you can’t do this easily, look elsewhere.
When ready, gather your group around the crate and distribute one tennis ball to each person. Announce that the group’s task is to toss all of these balls into the crate (which is suspended 5 to 6 metres off the ground) as quickly as possible.
Simple enough, eh? Maybe.
Explain that you will allow up to 20 minutes for the group to make as many official attempts as they can. During this time, encourage your group to plan how they will solve the problem between each round.
Step back, observe and make notes about the group’s process.
At the end of each round, you can assist the group to lower the crate to retrieve all of the balls to begin another round. My advice is to wait until the group is actually ready to begin a new round before retrieving the balls, lest they will be distracted with something fun in their hands.
Hopefully, your group will have managed to record several official attempts to achieve a new world’s record.
There’s a lot to review in this activity, so be sure to find the time at the end to invite your group to reflect on their process especially in regards to goal-setting, decision-making and roles.
Practical Leadership Tips
As much as is possible, ensure that the crate or bucket sits evenly at the end of the rope, ie if it is tilted in any way, the task will be easier to accomplish.
In case you’re wondering, you could suspend the crate underneath a regulation height basketball hoop (or sit it on top of one), but this is typically too low to be a challenge for most groups, especially adults.
In the interests of fairness, be sure to re-suspend the crate to the exact same height as it started. To this end, I often mark a permanent line or spot on the rope/floor/tree, etc to help me know where the rope needs to be re-fastened before we start a new round.
In my experience, I typically distribute the tennis balls after I have briefed the activity, lest my group gets distracted playing with them while I brief the activity.
Beware the sneaky practice of hiding one or more balls to give the impression that all of the balls have been tossed inside the crate (to stop the time prematurely.) To be fair, it is possible for the group to miss the fact that some balls have rolled out of sight during their attempt, but just in case, it may make sense on occasions to count the number of balls in the crate between rounds.
Note that one of the strategies some groups adopt to help their tossing be more successful is to sit one or more people on the shoulders of another person, ie the balls are handed to these elevated people to toss a lot closer to the crate. You may even see the creation of a human pyramid! If you see one of these strategies occur, ensure that the elevated people are physically spotted (supported) at all times.
For a long time, this group initiative was known as Paul’s Balls because it was named after its originator Paul somebody-or-other. Viewed through the lens of what would be considered acceptable today, you can probably imagine why we changed its name.
You could integrate Ally Oop as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to manage their emotions, thoughts and behaviours effectively in different situations and to achieve goals.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
The dynamics of this fun group initiative will invite your group to interact and engage with each other in a manner that will necessarily speak to the benefits of having developed a set of supportive and healthy behavioural norms in advance. Or, if not, you could focus on any less-than-desired interactions or outcomes to explore what sorts of behaviours your group would prefer to see and commit to in the future.
For example, in addition to those described in the Reflection Tips tab, you could invite your group to reflect on the following questions to explore a variety of full value behaviours such as:
How did the group demonstrate its ability to care for self and others?
Generally speaking, how did the group make decisions? How were all members involved?
Describe your group’s goal-setting process?
Was the group’s goal realistic and/or challenging? If not, why not?
What types of leadership were demonstrated during the exercise? Were they effective?
Were there any behaviours that concerned you?
Tossing a ball into a small opening 5 to 6 metres above the ground is tough at the best of times, so you can expect many people to struggle with this task. Those who get frustrated and give up quickly often pass the balls to a more accomplished thrower. This strategy may be more effective for a team playing to its strengths, but this would mean missing an opportunity to explore and develop resilience. To this end, consider facilitating a discussion about how to build a resilient mindset before presenting this group challenge to test out these new ideas.
Variable Height: Limited only by your surroundings, suspend the crate lower or higher to meet the needs and abilities of your group. If you are restricted to a less than optimal height, look for a smaller crate which features a smaller opening (for the balls to be tossed inside.)
One Ball Your Ball: Same set up, but each person is responsible for tossing their own ball into the crate, ie they are the only person permitted to touch it directly before it lands inside the crate. This does mean anyone can retrieve the ball of others, but they are not permitted to toss it towards the crate (unless it’s their own.)
Goal-Setting: Challenge your group to set a realistic target to get all of the balls inside the crate from the beginning, ie before any attempts are made. In conclusion, invite your group to reflect on what they learned about setting an effective goal.
No-Go Zone: Lay a long rope to form a circle (approx 3 to 5 metres diameter) directly under the crate. Announce that all activity must be kept outside this circle. If a ball can not be retrieved by reaching into the circle (with both feet outside the circle) then the ball is lost and the round is deemed ‘unofficial.’
Variable Perimeter: As above, but make the circle progressively larger with each passing minute.
Paper Core Stack: Gather a bunch of solid paper cores and stack them one on top of the other to achieve a similarly tall opening (at the top) to accept the balls. This stacking can be your group’s first initiative, and then they can work together to see how long it takes to toss all of the balls inside the tall tube of paper cores. Beware the propensity of these cores to topple.
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Useful Framing Ideas
All you want to do with a ball in your hand is throw it, right? And if you had a target, you can bet you’ll want to toss it towards the target, right? Well, if this sounds like you, you’re going to love this next challenge…
If you happen to play the sport of basketball or netball, you have probably developed a skill to help you successfully toss a ball into a small ring – at least perhaps more successfully than most people who have not played. As a team, I want you to consider how you could leverage these strengths of your group in our next challenge…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after leading this fun group initiative:
In what ways did your group cooperate to achieve this task?
How did your group allocate roles? On what basis were the roles assigned?
How did leadership surface during the activity? Was it useful?
What were the most important elements that contributed to your group’s success?
Was your group’s success inspired by some form of creativity? How?
If you set a goal, how realistic were you?
Are fun and enjoyment more important than achievement? In what context?
What is your criteria for success?
The inspiration for Ally Oop, (aka Bucket o’ Balls) and many more active group initiatives, was sourced in the following publication: