Ball boys and ball girls are individuals, usually youths, who retrieve and supply balls for players or officials in sports such as association football (soccer), American football, bandy, cricket, tennis, baseball, and basketball. Though non-essential, their activities help to speed up play by reducing the amount of inactive time.
Due to the nature of the sport, quick retrieval of loose balls and delivery of the game balls to the servers are necessary for quick play in tennis. In professional tournaments, every court will have a trained squad of ball boys/girls with positionings and movements designed for maximum efficiency, while also not interfering with active play. As well as dealing with the game balls, ball boys/girls may also provide the players with other assistance, such as the delivery of towels and drinks.
Feeding is how the ball boys and girls give the balls to the players. At different tournaments, they use different techniques for feeding. At some tournaments, bases have both arms in the air, then feed the balls with one arm; at others, they have one arm in the air which they feed the balls with and the other arm behind their back. When feeding the ball, they must also be aware of a player's preference. Most players accept the standard, which is for the ball boy or girl to gently toss the ball (from the position with their arms extended upwards) such that it bounces one time then to the proper height for the player to catch the ball easily.
There are various methods for selecting the ball boys and girls for a tournament. In many tournaments, such as Wimbledon and the Queen's Club Championships, they are picked from or apply through schools, where they are selected by tournaments and they have to go through a number of selections and tests. In some other tournaments, such as the Nottingham Open, Australian Open and the US Open, positions are advertised and there are open try-outs.
Applicants are required to pass a physical ability assessment. In addition to fitness and stamina, the abilities to concentrate and remain alert are essential.
High-profile association football matches may employ ball boys to avoid long delays when a game ball leaves the pitch and its immediate vicinity. Typically positioned behind advertising boards surrounding the pitch, ball boys will try to be in possession of a spare ball at all times, so that this can be given to the players prior to the loose ball being retrieved. Ball boys are not permitted to enter the field of play.
Association football ball boys hit the headlines in England in 2013 when, with his side trailing on aggregate in an away Capital One Cup match, Chelsea player Eden Hazard appeared to kick at an apparently time-wasting ball boy who was lying on top of the ball. Hazard was subsequently sent off for violent conduct and suspended for three games.