These wearable, inflatable balls are blowing up right now. Get the lowdown on the hilarious sport that's mixing soccer and bumper cars

By Kylie Gilbert
June 16, 2015
Bubble Ball Extreme

Say goodbye to your summer kickball league-a new sport is taking over parks around the country. But this isn't your typical ball sport: Bubble Ball involves climbing inside an inflatable bubble and subjecting yourself to getting bounced, rolled, and flipped (are we the only ones getting giddy about this?!). It's described by one company as, "More fun than soccer, safer than football, cheaper than hockey, and bouncier than basketball."

So how exactly do you play? Well, bubble soccer (or the European version, 'bubble football') is just like your typical game, with potential bonus points scored by catching an airborne ball in your bubble and running it (and yourself) into the goal. However, some companies like BubbleBall, which has more than 15 distributors around the country, also offer other games including bubble baseball, sumo smash (it's exactly what it sounds like: two players in their inflatable bubbles trying to force each other out of the ring), and even 'Zombieball.'

Bubble Ball Extreme, a Rochester-based company that opened last year after founder Mark Constantino saw a hilarious YouTube video of the inflatable balls, runs both youth and adult bubble soccer leagues, and offers group rentals. According to Constantino, he's had more than 8,000 customers to date, and business and sponsorship opportunities have been exploding lately. In addition to peaking the interest of athletic groups for the great cardio workout (CrossFitters are big fans, he says), it's also become a huge co-ed social activity, like intramural sports.

But what about the safety? (After all, this is being marketed as a kid-friendly, family activity.) Well, as with any sport that involves running and the potential (or intention) of one athlete colliding with another, there's a risk of injuries to your ankles, knees, hips, as well as a risk for concussions, says John Gallucci, physical therapist, sports medicine consultant, and author of Soccer Injury Prevention and Treatment.

However, the bubble balls themself do provide a level of protection you won't find in, say, a game of rugby. In general, bubble balls can be made with either PVS (polyvinyl chloride) or TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane), but Constantino recommends going with the TPU version (his company's manufacturer uses TPU exclusively). This material is more flexible, resistant to tearing, and, in his words, "like a tank." Inside the balls, you'll find harnesses that you put on like a backpack that keep your arms secure, and keep you from falling out if you get knocked over. Plus, your head is contained eight inches below the top of the bubble, offering neck protection upon collision.

While some companies allow you to purchase bubble balls to use independently (they're also available on Amazon), renting or joining a league through companies like Constantino's ensures you have a safety operator who will train you to use the equipment properly. Some key precautions these safety operators bring to the field? Never hit someone from behind (it's dangerous, and like in football, is also a cheap shot), don't lower your head upon impact, and limit your amount of time in the bubble ball to five consecutive minutes to avoid overheating on a hot day, Constantino advises.

If you're still not convinced, watch the video below to see Jimmy Fallon trying out the hilarious sport against Chris Pratt. You're welcome!