Four Squares and a Ball
Looking for something super fun, a little physical and highly competitive to play with your family and friends... Don't forget Four Square! You remember this game right? It could be that you know it by one of its other names... Square, Box, Block or Hand Ball are all common names used around the world for the classic game of Four Square.
Cast your mind back to school days. If you were like me and millions of other kids around the world, lunch time at school would mean "Four Square" time. A lengthy line of kids would gather with the sole aim of getting all the way to that king square, just to try to reign for as long as possible. Still popular today, Four Square provides good healthy fun, is great for improving reaction times and your dexterity, is competitive (giving it that exciting edge), is full of strategy (helping improve cognitive functions) and is a great chance to socialize and have a laugh with your friends.
Some of you may be surprised to know that Four Square is not only a schoolyard game, but is taken quite seriously by many people. Enough so that there is actually a "Four Square World Championship" held every year in Bridgeton, Maine U.S.A. Whilst it is largely made up of contestants from around America, people can and do come from all over the world to take part.
Object Of The Game
The whole object of this game is to eliminate other players from the court so that you can progress to the number 1 position, most commonly known in schoolyard play, as the "Kings square". To do this, the ball is hit and bounced around within the court - by hand - until one player makes an error, taking them out of the play and meaning that they must leave the court. This gives the players that are remaining a chance to advance with in the squares and enables a new player to step into the lowest ranked starting square, commonly known as the "Jack Square", so that play can continue.
The fact that this game is played all over the world, in many communities and school grounds, makes for many variations on the rules but there are actually a set of official rules to play by, so if by chance you ever did find yourself playing at a competition, or wanted to set your own association up, a worldwide standard can be followed by everyone.
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What You Need To Play
Court: If you are playing outside you can mark your court out with chalk,. For inside games I use electrical tape. The official size of the court is 16' x 16' which is divided into four smaller 8' x 8' squares. This creates two sets of lines - The outside lines and the inside lines (which form a cross in the middle of the court creating the four different sections.
Schoolyard rules name the squares like this but you can also just number them 1 - 4.
- Square # 4 = Highest ranked square = King
- Square # 3 = 2nd highest ranked = Queen
- Square # 2 = 3rd highest ranked = Jack
- Square # 1 = Lowest ranked (this is the entry square for a new player entering the court) Jack, Joker, Ace are all commonly used names for this position
The Inside Lines: These count as "Out Of Play", meaning that if you hit the ball and it doesn't land in another persons square, but instead bounces on one of the inside lines, then you would be deemed OUT.
The Outside Lines: These count as "In Play", meaning that if you hit the ball and it lands on the outside line of another players square and they can't keep it in play - you win the point and that player is OUT.
Note: Players themselves are not physically required to stay within their own square although the more you move out of your square the less chance you have to defend it and lets face it, this game is really mostly about defense.
How To Play Four Square: The Basic Run Down
How To Serve
The highest ranked square (the king) always serves. To serve correctly, the person must drop the ball to the ground, letting it bounce once and only once, before hitting it into an opponants square. In the official rules of the game it states that the highest ranked player in position #4 must serve only to the lowest ranked player in position #1, but in schoolyard play... that doesn't always work out successfully as it sometimes makes kids a little scared to join in. Whilst not in the official rules, allowing the server to serve to whichever player he or she likes, is a better way of keeping everyone alert, and helps to prevent what in four square terms they call a "Tea Party" occurring.
Tea Party - This is when two players hog the play, hitting back and forth to each other and excluding the other two players from the game
Note: Hitting the ball on the full is allowed. A receiving player does not necessarily have to wait for the ball to bounce before they attempt to hit it.
You Are Out!
Ways to be eliminated from the game meaning you will have to leave the court are:
- Hitting the ball out-of-bounds or on to an inside line.
- Allowing the ball to bounce more than once within your square.
- Throwing, catching, carrying or hitting the ball.
- Playing the ball with another part of your body other than your hands.
- Hitting the ball when it is not in your possession (poaching).
Note: For the sake of safety when playing with school kids, I do not allow spikes or punching the ball, neither whilst serving nor within general play, but in the official rules - spiking is allowed.
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Do You Keep Score?
Mostly if you're playing four square for fun, the challenge is making it to the highest ranked position and staying there as long as you can, however if you want to get serious about it, the easiest way to keep score is to tally each players complete number of times that they have actually served the ball. The highest ranked square is always the person who must serve, so it is a good, easy way to find a champion for the day. Basically, it is still whoever has spent the most time in the highest ranked position that is the champion, but by keeping score of how many times they have served the ball, stops any disagreements.
As with all ball sports, remember it's all about showing off and having fun. To prove it, lets finish up by having a look at some footage from the "World Four Square Championships". Happy four squaring everyone!