Hoop rolling

For rock rolling, see trundling.
Bowling bicycle rim hoops in Toronto, 1922

Hoop rolling, also called hoop trundling, is both a sport and a child's game in which a large hoop is rolled along the ground, generally by means of an object wielded by the player. The aim of the game is to keep the hoop upright for long periods of time, or to do various tricks.

Hoop rolling has been documented since antiquity in Africa, Asia and Europe. Played as a target game, it is an ancient tradition widely dispersed among different societies. In Asia, the earliest records date from Ancient China, and in Europe from Ancient Greece.

In the West, the most common materials for the equipment have been wood and metal. Wooden hoops, driven with a stick about one foot long, are struck with the centre or the 2/3 point of the stick in order to ensure good progress. Metal hoops, instead of being struck, are often guided by a metal hook.[1]


A version of hoop rolling played as a target game is encountered as an ancient tradition among aboriginal peoples in many parts of the world. The game, known as hoop-and-pole, is ubiquitous throughout most of Africa. It is also found on other continents. In America, where it has been played by a great number of unrelated tribes and is known in English as hoop-and-stick or hoop-and-dart, the game has exhibited many variations of materials and size of implements and rules of play.[2] It is postulated that its wide distribution is a factor of the rich symbolical possibilities of the game, rather than indicating radial diffusion from a single center of invention.[3]

Ancient Greece

A Greek youth depicted playing with a hoop

The Greeks referred to the hoop as the trochus. Hoop rolling was practised in the gymnasium, and the prop was also used for tumbling and dance with different techniques.[4] Although a popular form of recreation, hoop rolling was not featured in competition at the major sports festivals.[5]

Hoops, also called krikoi, were probably made of bronze, iron, or copper, and were driven with a stick called the elater.[6] The hoop was sized according to the player, as it had to come up to the level of the chest. Greek vases generally show the elater as a short, straight stick. The sport was regarded as healthful, and was recommended by Hippocrates for strengthening weak constitutions.[7] Even very young children would play with hoops.[8]

The hoop thus held symbolic meanings in Greek myth and culture. A bronze hoop was one of the toys of the infant Dionysus,[9] and hoop driving is an attribute of Ganymede, often depicted on Greek vase paintings from the 5th century BCE. Images of the hoop are sometimes presented in the context of ancient Greek pederastic tradition.[10]

Ancient Rome and Byzantium

A boy playing with hoops, depicted in the 6th-century CE mosaics of the Great Palace of Constantinople

The Romans learned hoop driving from the Greeks and generally held the sport in high regard.[11] The Latin term for hoop is also trochus, at times referred to as the "Greek hoop." The stick was known as a clavis [12] or radius, had the shape of a key, and was made of metal with a wooden handle. Roman hoops were fitted with metal rings that slid freely along the rim. According to Martial, this was done so that the tinkling of the rings would warn passers by of the hoop's approach: "Why do these jingling rings move about upon the rolling wheel? In order that the passers-by may get out of the way of the hoop."(14. CLXIX) He also indicates that the metal tires of wooden cart wheels could be used as hoops: "A wheel must be protected. You make me a useful present. It will be a hoop to children, but to me a tyre for my wheel."(14. CLXVIII)[13] Martial also mentions the sport was practised by Sarmatian boys, who rolled their hoops on the frozen Danube river.[14] According to Strabo, one of the popular Roman venues for practising the sport was the Campus Martius, which was large enough to accommodate a wide variety of activities.[15]

The Roman game was to roll the hoop while throwing a spear or stick through it. For Romans, this was more an entertainment and military development, not a philosophical activity.[16] Several ancient sources praise the sport. According to Horace, hoop driving was one of the manly sports.[17] Ovid in his Tristia is more specific, putting the sport in the same category with horsemanship, javelin throwing and weapon practice: Usus equi nunc est, levibus nunc luditur armis, Nunc pila, nunc celeri volvitur orbe trochus.[18] It was also presented as a virtue in the Distichs of Cato, which enjoin youth to Trocho lude; aleam fuge – "Play with the hoop, flee the dice."[19] A 2nd-century CE medical text by Antyllus, preserved in an anthology of Oribasius, Emperor Julian's physician, describes hoop rolling as a form of physical and mental therapy. Antyllus indicates that at first the player should roll the hoop maintaining an upright posture, but after warming up he can begin to jump and run through the hoop. Such exercises, he holds, are best done before a meal or a bath, as with any physical exercise.[20]

Modern usage

Children rolling hoops, Holland, 1560
Afonso, Prince Imperial of Brazil holding a stick and hoop, 1846

Early 19th-century travellers saw children playing with hoops over much of Europe and beyond.[21]

The game was also a common pastime of African village children on the Tanganyika plateau,[22] and not long after it is recorded in the Freetown settler community.[23] In China, the game may well go back to 1000 BCE or further.[24] Christian missionaries encountered it there in the 19th century.[25] Children in late Edo period Japan also were known to play the game.[26]

In English the sport is known by several names, hoop and stick, bowling hoops,[27] or gird and cleek in Scotland, where the gird is the hoop and the cleek, the stick.

In the west, around the end of the 19th century, the game was played by boys up to about twelve years of age.[28] Hoops would at times have pairs of tin squares nailed to the inside of the circle, to jingle as the hoop was rolled.[29] Up to a dozen such pairs of rattles might be placed around the rim of the hoop. Some preferred the ashen hoops, round on the outside and flat on the inside, to the ones made of iron, as the latter could break windows and hurt the legs of the passers by and horses.


Among the games played with the hoops—besides simply trundling them, which is a matter of driving them forward while keeping them upright—are hoop races, as well as games of dexterity. Among these are "toll," in which the player has to drive his hoop between two stones placed two to three inches apart without touching either one.[30] Another such game is "turnpike", in which one player drives the hoop between pairs of objects, such as bricks, at first placed so that the opening is about a foot wide, with each gate kept by a different player. After running all the gates, the openings are made smaller by one inch, and the player trundling the hoop runs the course again. The process repeats until he strikes the side of a gate, then he and the turnpike keeper switch places.

Conflict games such as "hoop battle" or "tournament" can also be played. For this game, boys organise into opposing teams that drive their hoops against each other with the aim of knocking down as many of the opponents' hoops as possible. Only those hoops which fall as a result of a strike by another hoop are counted out.[31] In some parts of England, boys played a similar game called "encounters," where two boys would drive their hoops against each other, with the one whose hoop was left standing being declared the winner.[32]

The "hoop hunt" is yet another game, in which one or more hoops are allowed to roll down a hill, with the double aim of rolling as far as possible and then of locating the hoop wherever it may have ended up.[33]

British Empire

In England, children are known to have played the game as early as the 15th century.[34] By the late 18th century, boys driving hoops in the London streets had become a nuisance, according to Joseph Strutt.[35] Throughout the 1840s, a barrage of denunciations appeared in the papers against "The Hoop Nuisance," in which their iron hoops were blamed for inflicting severe injuries to pedestrians' shins[36] The London police attempted to eradicate the practice, confiscating the iron hoops of boys and even of girls trundling them through the streets and parks. That campaign, however, seems to have failed, as it was accompanied by renewed complaints about the increase of the nuisance.[37] Other writers mocked the complainers as grumblers depriving the "juvenile community" of a healthy and harmless pastime that had been practised for hundreds of years "without any apparent inconvenience to the public at large."[38] The passion for passing laws was ridiculed: "Enact, say our modern philosophers, enact. Pass statute after statute. Regulate with exquisite minuteness the cries of the baby in the cradle, the laughter of the hoop-trundling boy, the murmurrings of the toothless old man."[39] In the 1860s, the anti-trundling campaign was taken up by Charles Babbage, who blamed the boys for driving iron hoops under horses' legs, with the result that the rider is thrown and very often the horse breaks a leg.[40] Babbage achieved a certain notoriety in this matter, being denounced in debate in Commons in 1864 for "commencing a crusade against the popular game of tip-cat and the trundling of hoops."[41]

Girl With a Hoop (1885) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

The fuss over boys playing with hoops reached halfway around the globe. In the Colony of Tasmania, boys trundling hoops were blamed for endangering horsemen and rending ladies' dresses, and the Hobart paper called for their banishment to the suburbs, bye-laws, and police attention.[42]

Not only schoolboys, but even graduate students at Cambridge enjoyed trundling hoops after their lectures. The practice, however, was brought to an end sometime before 1816, by means of a statute that forbade Masters of Arts to roll hoops or play marbles.[43]

By the early 19th century, the game was already part of the standard physical education of girls, together with jumping rope and dumbbells.[44] Girls from four to fourteen could be seen by the hundreds, trundling their hoops across the grass in the London parks.[45] Though held to be common in the early years of the 19th century, the simplicity and innocence of those years was alleged to have been replaced by the 1850s with a precocious maturity, where "Instead of trundling hoops, urchins smoke cigars."[46]

In the mid-19th century, bent ash was favoured as material for making wooden hoops.[47] In early 20th-century England, girls played with a wooden hoop driven with a wooden stick, while boys' hoops were made of metal and the sticks were key-shaped and also made of metal. In some locations, hoops with spokes and bells were available in stores, but they were often disdained by boys.


A great number of widely separated Native American peoples play or played an ancient target-shooting version of hoop rolling currently known as chunkey. Though the forms of the game exhibited great variation, generally certain elements were present, namely a prepared terrain over which a disc or hoop was rolled at high speed, at which implements similar to spears were thrown.[2][48] The game, when played by adults, was often associated with gambling; and quite often, very valuable prizes, such as horses, exchanged hands.[49] The game has been played by tribes such as the Arapaho, the Omaha,[50] the Pawnee[51] and many others.

Since hoop and stick involves spear throwing, it is thought to predate the introduction of the bow and arrow that took place around 500 CE. In the California region in the 18th century, it was widespread and known as takersia.[52] Canadian Inuit players divide into two groups. While the first group rolls the hoops—a large and a small one—the players in the other group attempt to throw spears through the hoops.[53] The Cheyenne named two months of the year after the game: January is known as Ok sey' e shi his, "Hoop-and-stick game moon," and February as Mak ok sey' i shi, "Big hoop-and-stick game moon."[54] Among the Blackfeet, children would play the game by throwing a feathered stick through the rolling hoop.[55] Salish and Pend d'Oreilles youth played hoop and arrow games "to become skillful at bringing down small game for the village" in early spring, when the men were gone in search of large game.[56]

Among the European settlers, hoop-rolling was a seasonal sport, seeing the greatest activity in the winter.[57] Children, besides rolling the hoops, also tossed them back and forth, catching them on their sticks.[58] In the 1830s, hoop trundling was seen as an activity so characteristic of the young that it was adopted by a fanatic sect in Kentucky whose members mimicked children's activities in order to gain access to heaven.[59] Hoop driving was also seen as a remedy for the sedentary and overprotected lives led by many American girls of the mid-19th century.[60] The game was popular with both girls and boys: in an 1898 survey of 1000 boys and 1000 girls in Massachusetts, both the girls and the boys named hoop and stick their favorite toy.[61] In Ohio, the wood of the American elm (Ulmus americana) was particularly valued for making hoop-poles.[62]

At Bryn Mawr College, Wellesley College, and Wheaton College, the Hoop Rolling Contest is an annual spring tradition that dates back to 1895, and is only open to graduating seniors on that college's May Day celebration.

See also


  1. The boy's treasury of sports, pastimes, and recreations. Samuel Williams, p.15.
  2. 1 2 Indian Games By Andrew McFarland Davis; p44-56
  3. O. F. Raum, "The rolling target (hoop-and-pole) game in Africa - Egyptian accession rite or multiple ritual symbolism" in African Studies, Volume 12, Issue 3 September 1953 , pages 104 - 121
  4. A dictionary of Greek and Roman antiquities By Sir William Smith, Charles Anthon; p1020
  5. Athletics and literature in the Roman Empire By Jason König; p281
  6. Athletics and Games of the Ancient Greeks By Edward M Plummer; p50
  7. "Hippocrates recommended playing with a hoop as a cure for weak people" Psychoanalytic perspectives on art: PPA, Volume 1 - Page 97 by Mary Mathews Gedo
  8. The history of the manners and customs of ancient Greece, Volume 1 By James Augustus St. John; p148
  9. Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity: Being Studies in Religious History from 330 B.C. to 330 A.D. by Francis Legge; 1915 p. 125
  10. The ancient Olympics By Nigel Jonathan Spivey; p48
  11. Karl Groos., "Playful Use of the Motor Apparatus." Chapter 2 in The Play of Man, translated by Elizabeth L. Baldwin. New York: Appleton (1901): 74-121. "Other rolling toys, such as wheels and hoops, whose motion is kept up by means of continuous striking, offer a very different kind of amusement. The violent running, combining as it does something of the zest of the chase with the pleasure of overcoming a difficulty, forms a delightful compound with the enjoyment of the rolling as such. The Greeks called the hoop trocoVor krikoV. They were rather large, and made of metal studded with tinkling bells and propelled by a metal rod. Ganymede is often represented with such a hoop. The Romans had an extraordinary fondness for this sport, and Ovid, who refers to a teacher of the art of hoop rolling, says in one of his enumerations of the spring games "Usus equi nunc est, levibus nunc luditur armis, Nunc pila, nunc celeri volvitur orbe trochus." Fouquières cites a passage from Martial about youths rolling hoops on frozen streams.
  12. Encyclopædia of antiquities: and elements of archaeology ..., vol. 2, by Thomas Dudley Fosbroke; N3p619
  13. Harris, 136-137
  14. Empire of Pleasures: Luxury and Indulgence in the Roman World By Andrew Dalby; p212
  15. The Book of Acts in Its Graeco-Roman Setting By Conrad Gempf; p458N5
  16. Delaney, Madigan, Tim, Tim (2009). The Sociology of Sports: An Introduction. McFarland (February 11. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-7864-4169-3.
  17. The etymological compendium, or, Portfolio of origins and inventions ... By William Pulleyn; p139
  18. Sport in Greece and Rome By Harold Arthur Harris; p135
  19. Harris, 136
  20. Sport in Greece and Rome By Harold Arthur Harris; p133-
  21. Voyage en Amérique By François-Réné Chateaubriand (vicomte de); p120; August, Freiherr von Haxthausen: Studien über die innern Zustände, das Volksleben und insbesondere die ländlichen Einrichtungen Russlands, Part 2, Volume 1, p20; Hanover, 1847-1852, about the blonde children of Padowka playing with hoops. "Es waren allerliebste kleine blonde Buben, die mit dem Reife spielten."
  22. The Great Plateau of Northern Rhodesia, Being Some Impressions of the ... By Cullen Gouldsbury; p273
  23. Robert Wellesley Cole Kossoh Town Boy p.54
  24. Justin Corfield, "Ancient China" in Encyclopedia of Play in Today's Society By Rodney P. Carlisle; p24
  25. "They also delight in rolling the hoop" The Gospel in all lands - Page 69
  26. Sir Rutherford Alcock The capital of the tycoon: a narrative of a three years' residence in Japan - Page 281
  27. Bowling hoops - (how to play hoop racing game invented by the ancient Greeks) Article from:Child Life Article date:June 1, 1994 Author:Cameron, Layne
  28. Cassell's complete book of sports and pastimes - Page 237; 1896
  29. The boy's own book;: a complete encyclopedia of all the diversions athletic ... By William Clarke; p28
  30. The Corner cupboard, by the ed. of "Enquire within upon everything". By Robert Kemp Philp; p. 56; 1858
  31. John Kendrick, Every boy's book of games, sports, and diversions, or The school-boy's manual of amusement, instruction and health; p18; London, 1852
  32. Clarke, 28
  33. Chamber's Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Arts By William Chambers, Robert Chambers; p503, 1864
  34. The Pictorial History of England vol. 2, by George Lillie Craik, Charles Knight, Charles MacFarlane, Harriet Martineau; p. 263
  35. Pulleyn, 139
  36. A dictionary of Victorian London: an A-Z of the great metropolis By Lee Jackson; p122
  37. London Chartism 1838-1848 By David Goodway; p105
  38. "An Englishman's Privilege" in Chambers' Edinburgh Journal No. 49 New Series; December 7, 1844
  39. The Christian remembrancer, Volume 3 By William Scott, Francis Garden, James Bowling Mozley; p200
  40. Passages from the life of a philosopher By Charles Babbage; p360
  41. Hansard's parliamentary debates. THIRD SERIES COMMENCING WITH THE ACCESSION OF WILLIAM IV. 27° & 28° VICTORIA, 1864. VOL. CLXXVI. COMPRISING THE PERIOD FROM THE TWENTY-FIRST DAY OF JUNE 1864, TO THE TWENTY-NINTH DAY OF JULY 1864. Parliament, Thomas Curson Hansard "Street Music (Metropolis) Bill"; V4, p471
  42. "The Hoop Nuisance-The practice pursued by boys in trundling their hoops on the streets and footpaths has become a dangerous nuisance. The other day a gentleman was riding a rather spirited horse in Macquarie-street when a careless urchin drove his hoop against the animal's legs, when it instantly reared and plunged, and would have thrown its rider had not his good horsemanship enabled him to keep his seat, and, eventually, to quiet the frightened horse. On another occasion an elderly lady was crossing Davey-street, where three boys were vigorously racing with their hoops, one of which came in contact with the lady's silk dress, and damaged it by a considerable rent. We are not averse to boyish games or amusements, and as there are numerous quiet localities in the suburbs, but little frequented by passengers, either on horse or foot, the boys ought to be compelled to quiet the public thoroughfares, and to resort to places where no injury could arise from the pursuit of their pastimes. The Corporation could effect this by a bye-law, and tin Police ought to receive strict directions rigidly to enforce it." The Hobart Town Daily Mercury; Wednesday, 18 August 1858; p3
  43. "Essay on Triposes" in The Classical journal, Volume 13; p. 83; No. XXV, March 1816
  44. The New American cyclopaedia: a popular dictionary of general ..., Volume 8 By George Ripley, Charles Anderson Dana; p609
  45. Thorburn, Grant (1834). Men and manners in Britain: or, A bone to gnaw for the Trollopes, Fidlers, &c. being notes from a journal, on sea and on land, in 1833-4, p. 37. New York, NY: Wiley & Young.
  46. Christopher Romaunt, "Boyhood as it Is" in The Literary world, Volume 10; N.257; Jan 10th 1852; p5
  47. "The ash is familiar to us, bent into trundling hoops, and measures for dry commodities." from "Timber-Bending" in The living age ..., Volume 51 By Eliakim Littell, Robert S. Littell, Making of America Project; p479; 1856
  48. Keeper of the Delaware dolls By Lynette Perry, Manny Skolnick; p82
  49. Travels in North America: including a summer residence with the ..., Volume 2 By Sir Charles Augustus Murray; p19
  50. Early Western Travels, 1748-1846 By Reuben Gold Thwaites; V14 p294
  51. Games of the North American Indians By Stewart Culin; p463
  52. Monterey in 1786: the journals of Jean François de la Pérouse By Jean François de La Pérouse, Malcolm Margolin; p96N24
  53. Sports and games of the ancients By Steve Craig; p181
  54. George Bird Grinnell, Pawnee, Blackfoot, and Cheyenne: history and folklore of the Plains - Page 175
  55. To live and die in the West: the American Indian Wars, 1860-90 By Jason Hook, Martin Pegler; p109
  56. International Traditional Games Society. Indian Education for All - Traditional Games Unit (PDF) (Revised 2013 ed.). Montana Office of Public Instruction. Retrieved 2013-10-27.
  57. American education, Volumes 14-15 - Page 350; 1910
  58. Women in early America: struggle, survival, and freedom in a new world By Dorothy A. Mays; p175
  59. The Fanatics in New York. 1832. From The North American Review. March 26, 1899, Wednesday; Page 23
  60. Wisconsin journal of education, Volume 1 By Wisconsin. Dept. of Public Instruction, Wisconsin Education Association Council, Wisconsin Teachers' Association, Wisconsin Education Association; p52; 1857
  61. Daily life in the industrial United States, 1870-1900 By Julie Husband, Jim O'Loughlin; p126
  62. Werthner, William B. (1935). Some American Trees: An intimate study of native Ohio trees. New York: The Macmillan Company. pp. xviii + 398.

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