Tetherball Poles, Sets, Balls, and Courts
All of the recommended tetherball poles, sets, and balls below are sold by Online Sports, which has links to their full catalog of tetherball equipment on every product page.
A tetherball is much like a volleyball, except that it needs some way to be attached to a rope. The attachment comes in two types: a loop protruding from the tetherball's surface or a bar recessed below the surface. I recommend the second type. The protruding loops tend to break faster, and when they get hit, they hurt the player's hand. The recessed bar is a little harder to get the rope through when you first set up your court, but it's well worth that extra bit of effort, as hitting the reinforced part of the tetherball near the bar hurts much less than hitting the loop, and it's nearly impossible to hit the bar itself.
Tetherballs vary quite a lot in how soft they feel when hit. Most tetherballs are made much too hard; your hands can start hurting pretty quickly, and an accidental hit on the wrist has quite a sting. The Super Soft type is most comfortable, and you don't give up any other qualities to gain that comfort. I recommend the four Super Soft tetherballs above, which all have recessed bars and come with nylon ropes.
Recommended Tetherball Poles and Tetherball Sets
Even though the tetherball doesn't weigh very much, it exerts fairly strong forces upon the pole. The thin, lightweight sectional poles that come in some tetherball sets are not up to the task. They wobble so badly, they ruin the ball's flight path, and eventually, they bend or break. One-piece tetherball poles are by far the sturdiest, but they're also expensive. What you pay for is durability and convenience. These galvanized poles will last virtually forever and will easily support anyone who decides to climb on them, which seems to be a common temptation. They come with an attachment for the rope, a cap to keep rain out, and, optionally, a ground sleeve. I recommend using a sleeve in case you ever need to remove the pole. If a one-piece pole is too expensive, the best of the sectional poles, shown farther down on this page, are a good alternative as long as they're not severely abused.
This is the best tetherball set for overall quality and durability:
If you're sure you'll never need to move the pole, you can get essentially the same set, but designed for permanent installation, at a slightly lower price:
You can also get a tetherball pole without a ball or rope. The following pole comes with a 3' chain to link the rope to the pole. If you plan to take the ball and rope off the pole regularly, having the rope attached 3' lower is convenient, but otherwise, I do not recommend a chain, because it tends to get caught up on the top of the pole much more than a rope does.
Sectional tetherball poles are not as sturdy as one-piece poles, but they're much easier to ship and thus less expensive. Lower quality sectional poles are just terrible, but the best sectional poles should hold up quite well with normal use; only the worst sort of abuse, such as being climbed and then yanked outward by a big kid or adult, is likely to bend them.
This is the sturdiest of the sectional poles:
Building a Tetherball Court
A full-sized tetherball pole 12' long should sit 2' deep in the ground so that it rises 10' above ground level. Dig a hole 2.5' deep, with a 2' diameter, pour a 6" concrete footer, let it set, then set a 2' sleeve (a piece of larger pipe) in the hole with something to keep it in place while the surrounding concrete sets. The sleeve should provide a fairly tight fit for the tetherball pole it will hold, and it should protrude just enough above ground level to keep soil from falling in, yet not high enough to be hit by a lawn mower, if relevant. When the pole is removed, a small cap to keep debris out is a good idea. Make sure the sleeve sets up perfectly plumb.
Although the most common site for a tetherball court is on a lawn, heavy use will turn that area into mud in short order. Extra driveway space can make a great site, as can a gravel area, both of which make it easier to play while the ground is still wet after a rain. Falling should be very rare for most players, so a hard surface should be safe.
No outer boundary circle is needed for the court, because there's no advantage to getting very far from the pole, but it's best to have at least 8', preferably 10', of clear, level ground all around the pole. The only boundary needed is a line dividing the court into two equal halves.
One setup that is definitely unsafe is using some kind of a portable stand as a base. While tetherball players rarely fall, they constantly jump, and coming down on the edge of the stand will almost certainly cause an injury. I have seen portable stands used in supervised indoor paddle tetherball, but intense vigilance is required by the supervisor, and this choice is not recommended.
The rope's length should be set so that the bottom of the ball ends up two feet above the ground when the rope is not wrapped and the ball is at rest.
Commercially made pole, ball, and paddle sets do exist, but usually people just use old tennis balls with a rope poked through at about 10:00 and 2:00. The best way to make the holes in the tennis ball is with a power drill and a 1/2" bit. Hold the ball in a clamp while you drill. The bit can slip off the ball easily, so you don't want your hand in the way.
The only difference in the pole requirements for paddle tetherball is that a lighter pole might do, because the ball is so much lighter. A portable base is still unsafe. Set the lighter pole in the ground if at all possible.
Paddle tennis racquets make great paddle tetherball racquets, and Jokari paddles or aluminum junior tennis racquets will do. Racquetball racquets work well, but they'll wear out quickly hitting the heavier ball and, occasionally, the pole. A wrist string should be worn with any kind of paddle or racquet to keep it from flying out of the hand and hitting someone.
In paddle tetherball, the ball flies fast and sometimes unpredictably. It's also small enough to injure an eye. Wear eye protection. The type used for racquetball will work perfectly.