European Youth Portal
Information and opportunities for young people across Europe.

Footbag – a bit of fun, a hobby, and a professional discipline

Mała piłeczka, wielka zabawa: footbag © Josh Kenzer -
Kicking a small bag... has conquered the world. Footbag has many faces. It involves fun, training and competition, and, above all, a community of young positively crazy people

Has it all started with a severed head?

In Poland, the following urban legend is popular: in pre-war Warsaw, a group of boys wanted to play football, but because they did not have a ball, they ripped the head off a doll that belonged to the sister of one of them. The doll was reportedly named Zośka (Sophie), which is the Polish colloquial name for footbag. The head was, however, only suitable for casual kicking... Now, several decades later, the footbag community keeps growing.

No, it was... the Kalmyk people!

According to wise books, the Polish term “zośka” has, however, more complex origins. Only one part of the doll story is confirmed – that the term “zośka” was already used before the war. However, the name was brought from the East. Actually, both the game and name. To cut a long story short, it all started with the Kalmyk word zōs, which meant a Chinese coin with a hole drilled through it. One would thread yarn through that hole to create a ball of wool. The first footbag was made. Then our Slavic brothers, and specifically, the Russians, turned it into zoska, and we seem to have been using a slightly mistaken form of the word – zośka. Some sources say that footbag was brought to Poland by the Russians, at a not so friendly time – during the partitions.

Footbag sounds proud

Generally speaking, footbag is a more professional variant of “zośka”. As a discipline, or rather quasi-discipline, it was born in the USA back in the 70’s of the twentieth century. A dozen or so years ago, in Poland it was simply referred to as “zośka”, but you need to move with the times. And so, in 2009, Poland hosted the European Championships for the first time (in Leszno), and in 2012 – the World Championships (in Warsaw). It is worth seeing the film promoting the latter of those events to see what this is all about.

2012 IFPA World Footbag Championships in Warsaw

I wonder if the first time Damian Gielnicki kicked a small bag, he thought about how cool it would be to become a world champion in footbag. Probably not... But in 2008, he won the title – not for the last time, and not as the only one! You should read an interview with Rafał Kaleta, who was also a world champion and is great at explaining all matters related to footbag – from how to get started to how to participate in championships.

Real strength comes from a team

In Poland, there are footbag clubs, such as Nowe Miasto Footbag Association, Strzelin Footbag Association, and Warsaw Footbag Association.

Kraków has the Maniac Footbag Team. At the international level, there is the IFPA – International Footbag Players’ Association. The President is a Pole, Wiktor Dębski (as at 2013). It is an equivalent of the Polish Football Association and the FIFA. Aside from the obvious differences, footbag is different from football in that it is not penetrated by the problem of corruption and match-fixing – “zośka”, unlike football, will not give you a living.


Why not gather your own footbag brigade? In addition to the desire to play, you do not need much. The ball can be self-made or bought on-line – stores sell a professional footbag for about PLN 35. Videos of training and demonstrations of the best tricks can be found on YouTube.

“Be creative and build your freedom”

This is the title of a project implemented by young enthusiasts ages ago, in 2005. They organized an international exchange, invited guests from abroad, and trained, played and competed together – all with the support of the Youth EU program (now, Youth in Action). A description of the project can be found at the website of Eurodesk Poland. For some, that is for those few who spend every free moment training, the footbag adventure resulted in foreign trips, contacts with players from around the world, and trophies. But “zośka” and footbag are, above all, a lot of fun in nice company. You do not need to be a champion.


Łukasz Smogorowski

Published: Wed, 31/07/2013 - 12:44

Tweet Button: 

Related links

Info for young people in the western balkans

Need expert help or advice?

Ask us!