Sean Effel, co-founder of Squarefour, once called the "Don King of competitive four square" and the "baddest ball-slapper in Boston", answers emails about rules and procedure whether you are running or starting to run four square games for people of all ages. Just take a moment and write him a letter and he'll try to help you out.

Underhand and Blackjack, how do you do?

sean - Posted on 26 November 2008

Dear Sean,
Can a player carry the ball? For example, can a player catch the ball underhand with his or her hands above their waist? Thanks for your response. - Jerry 11/25/2008

Jerry, darned good question. You are asking me if players can carry the ball, and you are asking me if players can catch the ball below the waist. Let me pick these apart.

Normally, players are not allowed to carry, catch or hold the ball between their two hands at any time. Each play should be cleanly hit with either one hand or two hands at the same time. And to reaffirm, players are only allowed to strike the ball with their hands, that is, the part of their arms below the wrists and including all five fingers. Look at this blog for clarity on how to strike the ball: http://squarefour.org/node/573

Now those are the normal rules. But we in four square know that we can add special rules at any time, and two of the special rules we like to play in Boston are the Blackjack rule and the Underhand rule. You can read about those special rules at the bottom of this: http://squarefour.org/rules

When the blackjack rule and the underhand only rule are played together, the act of catching the ball trumps the underhand only rule. That means, if you attempt to catch the ball for a blackjack play then you can grab it any way you like. You should also note thtat our underhand rule makes no specification as to the waist level or not.

Hope this helps clear things up for you, Jerry. Drop us a line if you have more questions.

A quick comment...

sean - Posted on 19 November 2008

Dear Sean,
You guys rock! - Bjorn, 11/19/2008

Thanks, Bjorn. You rock a fair amount as well.

Hantis: Getting started in Kentucky

sean - Posted on 29 October 2008

Dear Sean,
A Big Thank You goes out to you, Sean. I know you have no idea who I am, or where I'm coming from, but I really appreciate everything you have given me, even though you don't know what that is. My friends and I have also been plagued by a deficit of alt sports, living out in the boonies of Kentucky, haha. We created a sport, which has been developing over the past few years "Hantis" and finally realized it could be something special. I've been searching through Google to find other sports websites that shared the humility and care for sports on our level. By browsing your website religiously, you gave me the idea to start our own Local League and website. Please don't get me wrong, I in no way plagiarized or copied your ideas and designs, but your leadership and care for the league gave me hope that I could do the same. Our sport, Hantis, is related to Four Square, but uses tables and a tennis ball instead. The rules are much different, but the concept is the same. Even though we may never meet, I just wanted to let you know that your influence has spread further than Mass and I appreciate the work you've done. Thank You. - Ben F. 10/28/2008

Ben, what can I say, your site is balls out. First, your new sport is crazy and crackdope and if you ever make a trip to Boston I will do my best to crush you at it. Looks like that would be tough work, based on this video it seems you are starting a scene as big as slamball. I should hope that we could trade some rounds of squares for rounds of tables. I'm glad that in some small way our four square league site inspires other folks to get their own things off the ground. Keep up the good work.

PS. My first google turned up results that made me think you lived in Turkey.

Gamma Phi Beta sorority four square

sean - Posted on 03 October 2008

Dear Sean,
Hello my name is Abbi and I am a sister of Gamma Phi Beta sorority at George Mason University. In November, we are having a 4 square tourament on our campus and I was wondering if you could help me haha. Is there any way that you could send me the break down of your tournaments? This is the first time we are having such an event, and everyone is excited, but confused as to how it will actually run. thanks so much for your time! Have a great day! - Abbi, 10/3/08

Hi Abbi, thanks for the note. I didn't know four square was such a hit with college Greeks but now that I think about it, it totally makes sense. Greeks invented geometry. I mean, Herodotis said that Thales was the first greek to "get" geometry. Pythagoras and Plato were Greek, and we know they were obsessed with right angles and even numbers. So Gamma Phi Beta is clearly next in a long line of Greek-ish mathematical ancestry (but you can't take credit for algebra, that was an Arabic triumph).

So if you want to run a four square tournament, here are some things you need to consider. First, what is the ultimate goal of the tourney? Is this the kind of event where its just fun to play, or do you plan on crowning champions?

If you are just running an event for people to enjoy themselves playing four square then its really pretty easy. You need a few of your Amazons on the court to keep the ball moving, like cheerleaders that get people pumped to join the game. If you need some suggestions for rules, look over ours.

If you do intend to set laurel wreaths on the heads of your champions, you need to work out a mechanism of identifying the best players. There are literally tons of ways of doing this and I can give you some advice on how we do it.

At the bottom or our Scores page, we lay out our rules of scoring. Ours is intensive and designed to level the playing field for our league. The idea is that we tally players scores based on the number of times they serve the ball from the top square. This says that they managed to climb to the top of the court and stay there for so many turns. We further complicate this by dividing the total number of serves by the total number of times that player enters the court, this way we have an average rather than a lump sum so it matters very little if a person has played 100 or 500 times.

The effort we spend keeping score is no less than Herculean. It's 40 hours of people time per season (20 games, 2 hours each, 2 scorekeepers each) to tally up 35 players. It's also a lot of math, but as we discussed, mathematics is no match for your sorority. It's up to you if you want to do it this way.

If you want a simpler method, try a double or triple elimination tourney. I gave some other folks advice on this in another post, they were running a tournament for school children and wanted a simple scoring mechanism.

So listen, good luck with your four square tournament. If you decide to do it like the ancient Greeks (naked and covered in olive oil) then please don't hesitate to forward some of the photos along to us.

How to hit the ball...

sean - Posted on 15 September 2008

hands2.jpg

Dear Sean,
My 7 year old son is asking me how to play so I have read over your website (thank you for the information by the way). The only question I couldn't answer was "how do you hit the ball during the game" (not in the serve)? Can you use one hand, two hands, open fist, closed fist, etc... - Nicole, 9/11/2008

Hello, Nicole. Thanks for the note. I think I can give you a pretty good answer about our hitting rules.

Here at the Boston league, players hit the ball with any part of their hand from below the wrist to the end of the finger. Much like classic volleyball the hit may be with one hand or two hands as long as both hands strike the ball at the same time. The ball must also be hit only once per player, and at no time are players allowed to hold, catch or carry the ball.

So, if you can make a fist and punch or hammer the ball then you can really pick up some velocity. This is great for spikes and hard hits with adults who are playing for keeps. This might not be appropriate for your 7 year old son and the mixed age group he is playing against.

If you read over the answers to some of the other letters I get then you will see that I advise (heavily) that you scale the rules so they are the most fun and safe for the age or skill of the players. If you want to reduce the number of scraped knees, bruised cheeks, and smashed windows then you could set the rules that there are no closed-fist hits until your kid turns 12 (when theoretically he has a more refined muscle control and a better appreciation of sportsmanship).

But you know, there is a lot to be said for letting little kids pummel each other with playground equipment. I personally believe it builds character for days down the road when we eventually take a beating from bullies, frat boys, bosses, doctors, and eventually our own children. Just saying...

Seems pretty legit...

sean - Posted on 10 September 2008

Dear Sean,
I've been searching for a while now for some serious foursquare enthusiasts and your site seems pretty legit. We've had our feet in it for a couple years now. We have some videos and photos that I need to get over to you that you need to see. Hit me back - Austin, 9/10/08M.

Word. Show me what you got.

All I hate about linin' track...

sean - Posted on 25 August 2008

measure.jpg

Dear Sean,
I'd like more detailed information on painting lines for a court. How wide are the inside and outside lines, and does the 16' court include the boundary lines or fall within them? Thanks. - John Sisson, 8/25/2008

Thanks for the note, John, this is a great question. It's very timely, as well, since I'm writing the boundaries section of the rule book this week. Here is what I'm writing, you get a sneak peek before it's published.

First let's remind ourselves of the boundary lines and what is in-bounds and out-of-bounds. We work off this "inside out, outside in" principle, which says that the inside lines of the court are out-of-bounds and any player hitting them with the ball is out. The outside lines, however, are considered in-bounds and and balls landing on the outside line is still in play. This means that players can have an 8 foot square where all the surface is playable, in short, the the 16 foot courtside includes the two perpendicular outside lines on each end.

The inside lines are negligible. They should be as thin as possible, even hairline thin, so that the square has as much playable space as possible. The only consideration when painting a thin inside line is to be sure that it is bright or bold or wide enough for visibility. The brighter the better with some players, if you know what I mean.

We typically make all the lines of the court 1-inch thick, coincidentally the same width as a roll of blue painter's masking tape, which our tape of choice for not destroying the finish on basketball floors.

Btw, where in the world do you happen to be painting courts? If you need any confirmed champions to come out and dedicate or christen the court with you, we have agents all over the country and could probably work something out. Good luck and stay in touch!

Backboards, bus stops, and mailboxes, etc

sean - Posted on 20 August 2008

Dear Sean,
I'm a big fan of Four-Square, and my friends and I play with the standard rules. However, I use a couple variations in my play that might be good enough for this site. I hope you appreciate the suggestions:

  • A cool custom rule technique is a "bus-stop," where a player may stop a ball in mid-air before it lands on his/her square. After stopping it and letting the ball bounce the one legal bounce, a player may now hit a better positioned ball. If one is using the "body language" rule, a player may bus-stop with any part of his/her body.
  • The four-square (the "royal," "ace," or "stone-cold") is usually the one to determine the line boundaries. In other words, he/she should be the ultimate decision-maker on whether a ball is in or out. Only if it is completely indiscernable should a showdown be made.

Hope that helps! - John F, 8/21/09

Thanks for the note, John. I'll address your comments in the order they were received.

I've played this bus stop rule of yours before, except we used to call it "backboards". It would let a player tap the ball once, allow the ball to hit the ground once, and then hit the ball a second time for real. It's pretty fun. We called it backboards because it was a lot like using the backboard of the basketball hoop to sink a basket.

But we know a different rule by the name of bus stop, and it's totally crack dope. Basically, the rule is such that if a designated person were to yell the words "bus stop" then all players would abandon the ball and run to the center of the court. The intersection of the four squares represents the school bus stop where the bus picks you up for school. The bus only has three seats and the last person to touch the bus stop with their foot is hosed and has to walk to school. They're out. It's a massive departure from the normal game.

To the same tune, the rule called "mailbox" means that kids have to run to the outside corner of their square. That corner is called the mailbox, its across the street from the bus stop, and the last kid to check their mail doesn't get any. They're out.

These are awesome rules, John, but I have to admit that your second suggestion just wouldn't work in our league. We're overflowing with aggressive type-A personalities who would rather argue their way out of a play then learn to play better. Letting the top player determine who was out is a big conflict of interest on the court, so we would rather leave it up to a third party.

I might begin calling four square "stone cold". I can call it whatever I want, actually, since that's where I am most of the time.

Thanks, John. Keep it real.

We get this question a lot...

sean - Posted on 22 July 2008

Dear Sean
Is there a rule about where you need to stand in your square during a serve? While you are in square 2 is it legal to be at the apex of squares 4,3, and 1? Is there anything saying you cannot? I know there is anti-poaching and interference rules, but is there anything saying the person occupying square 2 cannot crowd squares 4,3, and 1 and cause a misdirection of the serve once it is hit in the general direction? - "Bannerism", 7/21/2008

Thanks for the message, "Bannerism". You are actually asking two different questions, let me try to pull them apart.

The easy question you are asking is if can players can stand anywhere they want. The easy answer is yes, they can stand anywhere they want. There is no rule in our league about staying inside your square. If a player wants to crowd another square or run across the room, they take a big risk in being in poor position to defend their square.

You are also asking if players can interfere with a serve. The answer is no. The serves are meant to put the ball into play fairly. If other players were allowed to interfere with the serves then it creates too much opportunity for error and confusion about who should be out. Aside from the server calling special rules at the start of each round, it's actually the first receiver after the serve who starts the game. See how that works?

Squarefour is not the final word in four square since this game is really flexible and scalable - it can be adapted for any level of age or skill. Four square is a lot like poker, it's a widely known and accepted game but there are dozen or more ways to play it. I would leave it up to your local gang on how this is played in your neighborhood.

Hope this helps! Drop me a line if you have more questions or whatever.

Must always stay within their square?

sean - Posted on 02 June 2008

Dear Sean,
During play, can a player occupying a specific square leave the square for any reason? I am under the impression that a player must always stay within their square. Please advise. Thanks - John, 6/1/2008

Hi John. I've answered this before but I'll give it another go.

The official ruling is that we let players run all over the court. But that doesn't mean this "ruling" is right for your players.

We're adults, we've signed releases, we play big, and that works for us. We enjoy the challenge of chasing the ball into the far corners of the gym or diving across the court in a last ditch effort to save yourself. The way we see it, its fine to leave your square but foolish to leave it empty and for the most part our athletes don't stray far.

But we have some other rules in place that make this possible.

The anti-poaching rule helps us keep clarify who is allowed to touch the ball and when. Basically this says if a ball touches a square then the only person who can hit it next is the owner of that square, anyone else touching it then would be out. This helps us make it clear when a player is in possession, not matter who might have crept into your square with you.

The interference variety of rules are designed to punish players who prevent a play from happening by getting in the way. This is one of the things stopping a player from flat out moving into another square and being in the way.

But on the flip side, there are advantages to keeping players in their squares.

There is less tendency for players to charge across the gym after a pop fly and accidentally crack some kids skulls together. It can keep the aggressive players in check.

So really, you can play any way you want, and four square is good in this way because you can adjust rules to suit the age and skill of the players. Let us know if this advice is helpful!

Sports capital of Texas

sean - Posted on 01 June 2008

Dear Sean,
Hi my name is Brittany and I'm with the Round Rock, TX Convention and Visitors Bureau. We are interested in hosting and bringing tournaments and competitions to Round Rock. If you wouldn't mind, please provide us with more information about Squarefour.org such as 2009 tournaments and facility requirements. Thank you - Brittany Wilson, www.sportscapitaloftexas.com, 5/30/08

Hi Britt, thanks for the message. It would be real cool if you guys down in Texas took an interest in four square.

We have one major event each year, the Four Square World Championships which take place in February. We've had about 100 people register each year and we're starting to outgrow our current arena. In fact, we're looking for a city that is willing to build us a new stadium so we can blow the lid off our registration caps. Round Rock, that city could be you.

How do I award team trophies?

sean - Posted on 14 May 2008

Dear Sean,
I'm the teen director at the boys and girls club here at Cape Cod Mass where foursquare has recently become a club favorite game to play, and I?ve got a few questions for you. First off, how do you hand out trophies for a TEAM in a game with four people and the people are continuously changing? And secondly the staff here has become ADDICTED to the game, how do we get invites to the next ?World Championship?? - Russ 5/9/08

Thanks for the note, Russ, glad to see you have such a strong scene. I have a few answers to your few questions.

First note that we track individual players scores through each game for the entire season and because of this we can pull out interesting numbers. When we do team scoring we track the performance of each player and then average them out by the number of players on the team. If there are four people on a team and two of them score a 10 (this is an example) and two of them score a zero then the team score is 5. We don't worry about a team taking over the court and working together because in four square there is only one person scoring points at any one time.

At the world champs, we give out a team trophy or faction trophy based on the scores of the people in the final round of the tournament. If the final round of the tourney is filled with 50% Boston kids and smaller percentages of other factions then its likely that Boston performed better as a group, if you know what I mean.

If you want to be at the world championships of four square, then you need only show up. They are held in Jan-Feb each year and are an open invitation to four square players all over the globe. The folks up in Maine are extremely friendly and gracious hosts and will go out of their way to make the event awesome - just ask the current Canadian men's world champ.

It can't be used as a strategy...

sean - Posted on 24 April 2008

Dear Sean,
A shoeshine is when on the serve, the server hits the person in the shoe and they're automatically out. It can be used as a strategy. I can barely possibly hit it! -Will, 4/24/2008

Will, thanks for the note, and thanks for bringing this up. It's complicated and I see at least two ways of looking at it.

You could approach this as the receiver's fault, and this is how lots of officials might see it too. Our league rules say that you may only hit the ball with your hands and should the ball be hit with something other than you hands then you should be out. If the receiver on the serve can't get his or her feet out of the way then this rule says the receiver is out.

You could approach this as the server's fault. Our league rules say that the serve must be delivered to a specific square fairly. Some people might call this "no blood on serves" but the principle is points should be earned on good plays and not aggressive serves. Actually, the common misunderstanding about serves is people think the server is in charge of the round, but instead the receiver is the one who determines the first clever play. The server's job is to just start the game. This whole approach would mean that the server served the ball poorly and should be penalized.

We usually go with the second approach, but its a soft target. One frustrating part for kids (and teachers who supervise them) are the softness of the rules and how many kids can just argue better about the rules rather than be a good player. So the trick to running good games is to have firm rules that can't be interpreted. And you need rules that work together as a system to be make decisions like this clear.

My final thoughts are these. Hitting the ball at another players' feet is totally okay and should be used as a strategy for getting players out. If they can't move out of the way or reposition themselves in the square then certainly they aren't playing hard enough. But strategies should not be allowed on serves and creating firm rules on the right way to serve will prevent this from happening.

Thanks again for the note, Will. Hope this helps you sort it out, and come back to us if you decide on a set of rules that work for you.

12, 48, 64, oh my

sean - Posted on 04 April 2008

Dear Sean,
A few friends and I are putting together a tournament in our high school,there's plenty of interest and we're looking from anywheres from 48 to 64,maybe even a few more people. for scoring we're planning on give 3pts for each time a person holds the king spot, 2 for each queen, and 1 for each jack. How do you suggest widdling down to just 1 from either of those 2 numbers in one day? for a field of 48 i was thinking of four games of 12, top 8 from each advance, then continue to take the top for from each 8 until theres one final match of just 4 individuals. so basically, what do you think would be best? thanks for your time. - Philly0two, 4/2/2008

Phil, I don't know what to say. There are so many ways to tackle scoring a tournament that your guess is as good as mine. I say that the way you are planning to score points for each square on the court sounds like craziness. You would need tons of people keeping score on each court (I assume you would do more than one court open) and then you would have to crunch numbers at the end of each round before you can move on. 64 people waiting around for scores does not bode well... !

See, if I were you, I would do single, double, or triple elimination tournament. Then you don't even need scorekeepers. I did this with some grade schoolers last year and basically we stuck three pieces of tape on their shoulders and as they got out we took away a piece of tape until there was only one kid with tape and he was the winner. Then the thing runs itself and you don't need officials to keep points and if you are doing this for the first time, and hope to play in the tourney too, thats a pretty good thing.

So if you have lots of helping hands for scoring and math, try your system out. If not, simplify it or take another approach so that you and your attendees enjoy themselves and want to come to your next four square thing.

Objectively, of course!

sean - Posted on 03 April 2008

Dear Sean,
How do you decide each players final score? -Rebecca, 3/31/2008

Hi Rebecca, thanks for the note. The scores are calculated pretty easily when you look at the numbers by themselves, but here is the low down on how we do it.

We keep track of two stats for every single game played over the season. Each time a four square round is played, we mark up one entrance point for the person in one-square and then one serve point for the person in four square.

After thousands of games in a season, we then divide a players total serve points by their total entrance points. This basically tells us that a person worked their way to the top and served approximately X number of times each time she stepped into the court. That X is their final score. A score of 1.000 means that you served at least once for each time you joined the court. Our final scores range from 0.200 to 3.000

We add another element that is helpful to our players, basically we drop out our player two lowest scoring games without giving them a penalty. Because we're all adults and all have commitments sometimes missing a game is unavoidable and this rule lets our people not worry too much about missing a game or playing very poorly now and then.

Our men and women play together on the same courts during the season, but we track them separately so we can have a mens and womens 1st, 2nd and 3rd place league champs. We also examine the numbers to get some other stats, like the Most Improved award who is the person who shows the greatest positive change in game scores between all ten sessions. Also, we keep a running tally of impressive plays for each player, a totally subjective persuasion by the judges, for recognizing players for heavy hits, acrobatic explosions, cunning feats, and strategery.

We also used to do team superlative awards, with crazy categories like Most Marketable Player and Biggest Bruiser. We stopped doing those because they were just popularity contests and we would rather award people based on merit and great play.

Hope this enlightens you somewhat on how we do our scoring. We are just one model but it seems to work for us. Some people care very much about their scores and some really don't. If you have other ideas or suggestions, let us know and we can try them out.

Laters,

Sean

Getting your own league off the ground...

sean - Posted on 01 March 2008

Dear Sean,
I was at the World Championships and I just want to know where you bought the balls that we used. Also I know that you have league competitions in Boston every two weeks but sadly I can't make it to those games, so I was wondering if there are any other open tournaments during the year. - Keyan, 2/18/08

Hi Keyan, I remember you from the Champs. The first question about the balls is the easiest one to answer so let me give you the details. The balls were bought from the Dick's Sporting Goods website. They are the 8.5 inch diameter inflatable playground balls, they come in tons of solid and pattern colors, and they cost a whopping 2.99 each (plus shipping, so it makes sense to buy like ten at once). I go through balls pretty quickly, about one per month dies on our courts.

The second part, however, is tougher. Four square has traditionally been a pickup, impromptu game on playgrounds and as such it will be hard to find regular four square games that you don't work to create. Your best results will be from your own initiative in starting regular games somewhere and building your own attendance. I have two approaches that might help you get more games going than the ones our league offers:

  • Find yourself three friends and pick a busy part of your neighborhood that has a lot of foot traffic. If you start a game and make yourselves appear friendly and fun then some people will come join in. If you add the broadcasting power of Craigslist and Facebook, you will definitely get yourself a crowd.
  • If this doesn't work, then its time to take greater measures. Approaching your neighborhood schools or clubs (like YMCAs, etc) to start a structured four square time might really be in both of your interests. You get to play the game and the organization or club gets a free supervised activity.

I mean, creating four square opportunities is not easy and one that will undoubtedly be frustrating at some times, but a little bit of work and the right expectations and you will have something soon enough.

Good luck, and write me if you get anything going!

Dear Sean,
Hello, I am planning to start a four square league of my own and want to know what program you used to make the 2008 square four shirt logo. Also what program did you use to make the site? - Keyan, 2/21/08

Hi Keyan, thanks for the follow up. This is pretty much what I hoped you would do.

The quick answers are like this:

The shirt design was made in Adobe Photoshop after a lot of playing and brainstorming. I then made a life-sized file in JPEG format and sent it to our screen printer here in the Boston area. That printer is Expertees, in Stoneham, MA, cause I know someone will want to know - and if you use them be sure to tell them you heard about them from us, it will help us get better rates in the future.

The website is built on the Drupal platform. Drupal is a free, open source content management system and site building framework intended to make site development easy and accessible. Its not something to dive into lightly, but it happens that Drupal is something that I have some expertise in. Some other good starting points might be Blogspot or Wordpress for the start of a new website.

If you have any other questions in getting your league or club rolling, or bouncing, or whatever, just drop me a line. Good luck!

The History of Four Square

sean - Posted on 15 February 2008

Dear Sean,
I'm a student at California Polytechnic State University and I am planning on giving a speech about four square, simply because it is a silly personal interest of mine. I am looking for an expert opinion, that i could possibly cite in my speech, on different aspects of the sport. I was wondering if there is anything else not mentioned in your web site that would be interesting for a class of college students to hear. If you happen to know any history of the sport itself, not necessarily the league, then that would be helpful. Please get back to me with any information you have as soon as possible. Thank you!! - Emily Conklin, 2/10/08

Hi Emily, thanks for the note. I can probably help you out with this since I'm such a big fat enigma in this funny little sport, and I don't mean that in a rhetorical way at all. Running this little gig that is based on a sport with no documentation makes us an official and trusted source on this game. Seriously, we are sought out for answers to some pretty crazy things And, well, here you are.

What is hard to pin down, and might be interesting to your talk, is to speculate on how four square became so popular without having a rule book in circulation, or a unique equipment requirement to market, or even an iconic celebrity to tout it. The origins might not ever become clear but its so obvious is that this game was invented by kids and transmitted by adults.

I personally think that the game was born on the urban sidewalk and used summer camps as a vehicle for dispersal. I have a theoretical model for how this four square meme might have spread and mutated:

  • It starts as a game once called "sidewalk square" since a lot of hopscotch and handball varieties are based on the millions of sidewalk squares there are in any given city or suburb. Many people I have spoken with say they first encountered this game on a sidewalk and played with a cheap, easily acquired tennis ball.
  • So this game gets a little traction in a neighborhood or in a school playground, and some teachers or recess monitors start to notice it. Its fun, fast, easy to regulate, or the opposite, it creates fights, animosity, bad sportsmanship, etc. Either way it becomes something that educators talk about at meetings, conferences and workshops.
  • Somewhere along the timeline, this game gets written up in a list of great activities for youth and gets photocopied or printed and suddenly educators and youth workers and (here is where I think its most important) youth summer camps read about it.
  • There was a great proliferation of books on "new games" published in the 1970's and early 80's that featured new creative, interpretive and educational games, as well as teambuilding and trust-fall activities for kids. They were heavily mined by summer camp staff building out a season's worth of programming, and thus kids from Montana and Kentucky and Idaho were taught by camp staff to play a game invented by kids in New York or DC.
  • And once the summer camps had it in their blood, the game went back home with the thousands of international seasonal employees that are brought to the states to add diversity and perspective to a well balanced summer camp program. English speaking nations like Australia and the UK are heavily recruited for summer camp staff and this may (or may not, I'm speculating all of this) have lead to the migration of this game across the oceans.

I hope this can give you a few extra minutes of talk time in your speech, and maybe incite you to do a little origin hunting. Don't bother pouring over the web for answers since we already looked, didn't find them either, and eventually wrote the Wikipedia article ourselves.

If you wanted to do a little leg work, you could look for those New Games genre of books and try to find the earliest edition with any mention of four square, king square, knock out, or even sidewalk square. I know I read a few books like this that featured some schlocky looking dude in bell-bottoms on the cover posing as a hip youth work from a long forgotten decade, and yet the activities were spot on. If you had access to a phys-ed teacher's or an outdoor eductator's library then you might find something.

Good luck on your talk, let us know how it goes.

Detention plus four square equals... ?

sean - Posted on 21 January 2008

Dear Sean,
I work in a Youth Detention Centre, in the Programs Department [in British Columbia, Canada], and I would like to paint a four square game on our courtyard grounds for the kids. Could you please give me the proper dimensions for the game? Thank you very much in advance. - Sandy, 1/21/08

Hi Sandy, thanks for the note. I have to say that I can really appreciate the transformative nature of four square for kids. I have been playing this game with youth and teens for ages and this sport gives kids a real opportunity to show off, talk trash, earn street cred, gang up on the little guy, and foster repressed animosity. Throwing troubled kids into the maw of this game definitely a winning idea.

Seriously, though, it all depends on your ages. We big kids (read: adults) play on a court that measures 16 foot on each side, so thats actually a court made of four 8 foot squares. That's a pretty big court. It gives an area that's not too small and yet big enough that we have to be aerobic to cover it. For kids, you can drop the courts down to any size that you feel is appropriate for your age group, maybe using our adult size court as a benchmark.

If you are unsure of the best dimensions, try taping down a court temporarily and seeing how it goes. If you have a mix of ages you could do two courts, just be sure that there is enough room between them that no one gets hurt while playing. If you don't have space for it, try concentric courts like a 16 footer and 10 footer court, using the same center point but two different colors.

Hopefully this will lead you and your delinquent youth in the right direction!

Lightning round...

sean - Posted on 03 January 2008

I'm back from my holiday break which I spent chopping down trees with my knuckles and crushing four square balls with my wrists in preparation for the 2008 Four Square World Championships in Bridgton, ME, on Feb 16. While I was gone, my inbox filled up with a bunch of questions that I have just now had the opportunity to answer. So, in light of my recent reflex and endurance training, I'll answer these questions in one whopping lightning round of fury. Here goes:

Dear Sean,
I was interesting in starting a local four square chapter in my area and I
was hoping you could give to me information on how to get things started
and the ball bouncing. :0) Thank you for your time! - M J Saucier III, 12/26/07

Thanks for the note MJ. The only thing it takes to get your own league started is initiative. A little bit of risk, too. Find an indoor gym space and rent it, then run adds on Craigslist, hang posters at bus stops, call other leagues, make a website, send press releases to all the papers in your area and neighboring cities, etc. Heck, drag your friends into it. Our first year only cost us $600 to run and most of that was rental fees. Good luck!

Dear Sean,
My son is 9 years old and loves (loves!!) four-square. We are looking for a local competitive four square league. We live in Longmont, Colorado approximately 50 minutes north of Denver. Please let us know what is available in this area. Thanks!! - Kirsten, 12/28/07

HI Kristen. I wish I knew what was up in Colorado for kids but thats pretty far out there for me. I don't know anything about working with minors and the possible liability risk either. I think the best think you can do to satisfy his gruesome itch is to approach your local schools and set up an afterschool four square time. The phys-ed people might be into that if it gets 9 year olds into sports and provides structured play time that keeps kids active. If the school can't staff it then see if you and some other parents can supervise it on a rotating schedule. Just a start, hope this helps.


Dear Sean,
What if you step in another person's square. Are you out? - Osa, 12/22/07

Osa, the answer is no. In our league we don't care where you stand on the court. You can run all over if you want as long as you don't interfere with other players. But its not a good idea to leave your court open, and that pretty much keeps people in their own square for other reasons.


Dear Sean,
When are you going to answer my last email? - Osa, 12/23/07

Dude, I did.

Dear Sean,
ok i got some coll ideas for 4 square we play at our school one is street 2 that means it takes 3 bounces to be out instead of 2. Another is pushball it means you cant hold the ball, and bubbling is when you just bubble. Tiny tms are when you drop it very low and is considered out. and chery bombs is when you smash it real high.Hooks no Pegs is when you sort of do a semi circle with your arm andt then you run around the court and noone can bounce it in your square.But if you dont call no pegs some one could peg you and your out.Impossibles are shots noone can get and their considered out. Abc ARE CONSIDERED SPIN SHOTS. hOPE YOU lIKE MY IDEAS! - Jim, 11/20/07

Word. Thanks for the note, Jim. Keep it real.

That's it for the holidays, hope they all went well for the rest of you and we'll be seeing you soon at either the next Boston league game or the World Champs in February.

A special way to enter data

sean - Posted on 21 December 2007

Dear Sean,
I am tryin got create a database using the same scoring used during tournaments. I can't seem to create the database and was wondering if there was a special way to enter the data into microsoft excel 2003. - Maurice, 12/17/07

Hi Maurice. We actually use a Filemaker database to keep track of our membership, payments, dates, and scores all together. I don't know what kind of programming head you have but this is a little overview of how we generate scores and averages in database language.

Firstly, we need to track 4 numbers for 9 games for each person. These numbers are the number of entrances (ENT) and serves (SRV) and dividing the ENT by the SRV comes the average (AVG) and we also create an adjusted average (ADJ). Then at the end of the season we also get a grand average and grand adjusted average.

Basically a season statistics set looks like this for nine rows per player:

ENT / SRV = AVG
ENT / SRV = AVG
ENT / SRV = AVG
ENT / SRV = AVG
ENT / SRV = AVG
ENT / SRV = AVG
ENT / SRV = AVG
ENT / SRV = AVG
ENT / SRV = AVG
ENT / SRV = AVG

Then we take the grand average and divide by the number of games which is:

Total(AVG) / 9

This is also coincidentally the same as Total(ENT) / Total(SRV), but the part that is important to our system is the adjusted and grand adjusted averages. These numbers are the same as the normal averages except we are dropping the lowest two scores off the players roster, effectively make it a 7 game grand average except it will be a different set of numbers dropped out per player.

I don't know how you would do this in Excel, but you need a system of dropping the lowest score per person. In Filemaker we just made a field that stands as an "omit" option in which the score is not included in the count. When I am done I get a formula that looks like this bugger to get the grand adjusted average:

ENT / SRV = AVG
ENT / SRV = AVG
omit (ENT / SRV = AVG)
ENT / SRV = AVG
omit (ENT / SRV = AVG)
ENT / SRV = AVG
ENT / SRV = AVG
ENT / SRV = AVG
ENT / SRV = AVG
ENT / SRV = AVG

Total(AVG) / 7 = ADJ

Then finally we have a total number that reflects the players best seven game average, and by this point we are talking members who have played something like 300 games of four square each.

Hope this can shed a little light on your project, let me know how it all shakes down.

We allow the crap out of it

sean - Posted on 21 December 2007

Dear Sean,
I just started a four square club at the University of Michigan. It's been a lot of fun and pretty successful so far, but recently one of our rules has been disputed, which is that you can't hit any overhand shots. We put it in place to prevent huge cherry bombs and cheap shots, but I went to research other clubs' rules and found your site. What's your reasoning behind allowing overhand shots? Thanks, and I really like your site! - Jake, 12/20/2007

Well, here's the thing. Those guys that pound the ball basically do one of two things pretty consistently. They either hammer it into the square and get someone else out, or they hammer it into the outfield and get themselves out. The overhand smash only works like 50% of the time and the time that it does work its not positive to be accurate.

Our reasoning is that we don't want to create base rules that restrict people in terms of their skill and ability. If we limited overhand hits by default then we might as well ban right hand hits because its just too natural as well. But we can allow special rules for no overhand smashing so that players can use this as a defense, which makes the game that much more dynamic.

There is an interesting idea that some kids in Iowa dreamed up - this is the smash zone. Imagine an extra square around the main court, and if hits took a second bounce inside that smash zone then the play is good and someone should be out. But if a hit takes a second bounce outside of the smash zone then we're talking about someone who hammered it too hard for anyone to return. This minor limitation adds incentive to hit the ball with more skill and grace rather than by brute force.

Thanks for the note and comments, Jake. Hope this gives you a little insight.

Haven't played in like 15 years?

sean - Posted on 15 December 2007

Dear Sean,
Saw the blurb about your league in the Globe Sidekick and I kind of want to check it out. Would the best thing be to just show up at the next league date, or is there something a little more informal? I haven't played four square in probably 15 years, and I'm sure some of the rules I played with are different from the ones that you play with. What's the best course of action for a newbie like me? Thanks! - Chris, 12/15/2007

Hi Chris, thanks for the note.

Best thing to do for a guy like you is to just show up and play some four square. We got lots of drop-in folks like you, we can teach you the rules in a couple of minutes. Tons of folks in our league haven't played four square since middle school or earlier, and several have never played four square at all. Its one of those great games, though, that you never forget since the rules are so simple and yet so sophisticated that it can scale for all the ages.

Anyway, come to the Y at the start of the next game, we generally have a 1-1:30 warm up time at the start of each game to help with late arrivals and late bloomers like you, too! See you then.

We are the champions, my friends...

sean - Posted on 14 December 2007

Dear Sean,
I was wondering if you could give me all of the details concerning the league games and world championships. - Chudy, 12/4/2007

Chudy, thanks for the letter. I can tell you quite a bit about the four square world championships, but its actually documented quite well on this site and on other sites as well.

Firstly, its hosted by the Maine Lakes Association in Bridgton, ME, each summer, operated by Peter Lowell. Its an open invitation this year for Feb 16, 2008, for anyone to come, register, and hope to win some chrome. The time and location has not been confirmed but keep your eyes on the announcement for changes.

Its a family event so there are lots of kids there, and the champs are broken into divisions so adults, kids and seniors are in their own competition. It happens that the Ladies World Champion title has always been held by our Squarefour group, with Dana Ostberg in 2005 and 2006, and now Justine Petrillo in 2007. We're grooming some fine women here to make sure that title comes home with us again.

Hope this is good info for you, and hope to see you there.

Yes, we need 18 billion dollars

sean - Posted on 05 December 2007

DEAR FRIEND,
I AM MRS. SESE-SEKO WIDOW OF LATE PRESIDENT MOBUTU SESE-SEKO OF ZAIRE? NOW KNOWN AS DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC).

I HAVE DEPOSITED THE SUM OF EIHGTEEN MLLION UNITED STATE DOLLARS(US$18,000,000,00.) WITH A SECURITY COMPANY , FOR SAFEKEEPING. THE FUNDS ARE SECURITY CODED TO PREVENT THEM FROM KNOWING THE CONTENT. WHAT I WANT YOU TO DO IS TO INDICATE YOUR INTEREST THAT YOU WILL ASSIST US BY RECEIVING THE MONEY ON OUR BEHALF.

I WANT YOU TO ASSIST IN INVESTING THIS MONEY, BUT I WILL NOT WANT MY IDENTITY REVEALED. I WILL ALSO WANT TO BUY PROPERTIES AND STOCK IN MULTI-NATIONAL COMPANIES AND TO ENGAGE IN OTHER SAFE AND NON-SPECULATIVE INVESTMENTS.

FOR THIS REASON KINDLY FURNISH US YOUR CONTACT INFORMATION, THAT IS YOUR PERSONAL TELEPHONE AND FAX NUMBER FOR CONFIDENTIAL PURPOSE AND ACKNOWLEDGE RECEIPT OF THIS MAIL USING THE ABOVE EMAIL ADDRESS.

BEST REGARDS, MRS M. SESE SEKO

Thanks for the email, Mrs. Seko. I really appreciate your note and look forward to working with you on securing your funds in the United States. It's a major coincidence that you chose Squarefour as the beneficiary of your offer since we are right now in the beginning of our season and could really use the cash.

Actually, now that you bring it up, I am looking forward to a day when our league could have the same kind of presence in the Boston Metro area as some of the other professional sports. This relationship with your DRC funding could support us as we launch a national PR campaign, recruit top-notch international players, finally demolish Assembly Square to build that eighty thousand seat statium we've been talking about all these years, and eventually license out our league into an exciting line of talking action figures.

Please let me know where to send my passport information, social security number, DOB and other critical personal identity details and I'll get that ball rolling right away. I'm very excited to begin working with you.

There are many fights among us.

sean - Posted on 02 December 2007

Dear Sean,
I am in sixth grade, and on our playground we play a little differently than the rules you have listed. The way we play, the person who was in the server square (royalty) last wins the game. Their are many fights among us about this, and I would like to know more about this scores. We have never played by giving people scores, or points, so I would like to know more about doing scores. - Celeste, 11/30/2007

Celeste, glad to hear from you. The way that we keep score is very complicated and requires at least one extra person to sit at a score sheet and keep track. Its not very fun for that person and I don't recommend you try it at school since no one will want to do that job.

But what you can do is much simpler. You can keep track of each time a person serves the ball from four square then you give them a point. They can keep track of it themselves too, just with a piece of chalk on the playground pavement or something. YOu can also have the person call out the total number of serves they have on each serve, like playing HORSE on a basketball court. That works only if everyone is honest.

I have also done elimination games where everyone has like three pieces of tape on their sleeves and as they get out you have to give up one piece of tape - and the last person with tape is the winner.

Hope this helps, and by the way, where in world are you writing from? Glad to hear from you!

Hit over your head...

sean - Posted on 29 November 2007

Dear Sean,
If the ball is thrown so hard that it goes over a child's head is it "out"? -Brianne, 11/28/07 9:59 PM

Good question, Brianne. The issue isn't that the ball goes over their heads, its more about how hard the ball has been hit and this is why. If a ball is hit so hard that it bounces 100 feet straight up then the player can just wait for it to fall and its no big deal. If you have to run 100 feet out of the square to return it the that's something different.

In our adult league, if the ball is not returned after hitting the square then the owner of that square is out. If the ball has bounced in a player's square then they must return it. In small spaces we let them play the ball off the walls.

With your kids, you might want to make an overhead rule. Or add a "smash zone" around your court so that if the second bounce of those really hard/high hits lands outside the smash zone then the person who hit it last is out. This helps to reign in the heavy hitting kids.

Hope this provides some insight, let me know what you do.

Can they move about?

sean - Posted on 19 November 2007

Dear Sean,
So, are the players confined to staying in the outside lines during play? Or can they move about beyond their square to hit a ball in play? Thanks - nice website!!
- Kent, 11/20/2007

Nice to hear from you, Kent. I get this question a lot even from people who have been playing four square with us forever. Our rules say that you don't have to stand in your square, you can run all over the court if you want to. However, its very foolish to leave your square unprotected.

A couple of guys now and then run out of their square to try to deliver some intended crushing blow but it often backfires on them and they end up on the wrong side of the court when someone tries to crush them back. But there are other guys who get surprised when they are waiting for ball to land and someone runs from across the court to hit it first. Its a dynamic that we all find very fun, but its a flexible game and you can play it any way you want.

Hope this helps, drop us a line and let us know how you're doing with that rule.

Black Jack is a crackdope rule

sean - Posted on 08 November 2007

Dear Sean,
In the rules I couldnt find out if the ball was served to you when you hit back to someone can you hold the ball? And do you have to serve to D? -Branden, 11/8/07 10:19 AM"

I'm not sure I understand the question, Branden, but here is what I think you are asking.

No one is allowed to hold or catch the ball at any time, unless the special black jack rule has been called. And even when black jack is called, it does not apply to the first return of the ball. You cannot catch a serve when using black jack.

I don't know what you mean by D, but maybe you mean the number of the square for serving. We always serve from square four to square one, and we make them diagonal from each other.

Hope this helps, let me know more if this doesn't clear things up and I can take another stab at it.

It's all about possession

sean - Posted on 07 November 2007

Dear Sean,
Hello I am a manager for an after school program and last night we were playing 4 square when their was a dispute over who was out. Player 1 returned the ball and player 2 re-returned the ball before it bounced in their square but on the re-return she bounced it back into "player 1's" square who did not try to return it claiming that player 2 was for not allowing it to bounce there square. If you can help me settle this dispute so we can continue to enjoy the fun of 4 square it would greatly be appreciated. Thank you! -Annette, 11/8/07 11:19 AM

The way we play in Boston we allow people to hit the ball before it bounces. But this gets compicated. Think of it this way, Annette, here is our logic.

Its all about possession. So when the ball bounces in a square then only the owner of the square may hit the ball. Period. This is what keeps the possession clear for everyone on the court. If anyone else hits the ball before the owner of square can hit it first, we call that other person out (we call it Poaching, like killing an animal out of season).

This makes is more clear for your problem too. Essentially one of your players did not allow the ball to fall in a square before she hit it. That's fine with us. As long as the ball wasn't poached, its all fair play.

Hope this helps you out some, and makes the rules more clear for your kids.

You need more technique

sean - Posted on 26 September 2007

Dear Sean,
I recently began a new 4-sqaure club, and it's officially up and running. Our school has already jumped into it anxiously, but i need more techniques and moves. This will madly impress all the participants. Please email back very soon!
-LSEballer, 9/26/07 6:48 PM

So, dear Baller, here is what I have to contribute. First take a look at the resources we have on our site already, specifically the forum named Coolest Rules. Theres a reasonable list of interesting rules there. Also take a look at the links on Wikipedia's article on four square (actually, we wrote most of it but its got a lot of awesome contributions since then) and see what other leagues are doing.

So, linkage:

http://www.squarefour.org/forum/7
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_square

Also, if you haven't heard of The Scorpion maneuver then imagine falling on your belly and kicking the ball behind your back with your heels. Hence, the Scorpion. Don't try it unsupervised and certainly don't encourage your children to try it.

Hope all this helps.

Start your own tournament

sean - Posted on 19 September 2007

Dear Sean,
Our PTA is hosting a 4 square tournament next month and I am looking for some advise on the best way to do this. The ages and skill level will vary from 2nd to 5th graders. -Barb, 9/19/07 11:37 AM

Thanks for your questions, Barb. Glad to know there is more activity out there for kids and four square. Where are you located?

Take a look at the wikipedia entry for information on ages and difficulty. It has some interesting info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_square

If that doesn't help, I just ran a neat afternoon tourney for kids and did it this way. Kids all got three pieces of tape, stuck it right on their shirts. When they got out, I stood at the end of the line and confiscated one piece of tape from ever kid that got back in line. Last kid with tape was the winner. Maybe something like this would help you out.

Let me know how do you it, I'm very curious how you handle it.

I am ill nasty

sean - Posted on 09 September 2007

Dear Sean,
I am (what i like to think of as) a good four-squrare-er... I have seen your movies and rule films, but i was wondering if you had ill-nastys (behind the back,around the head,between the legs), voleys (before it bounces in your square,you hit it),reach-voleys (same but it doesnt have to be goin in your square,it could be on its way to someone elses square), cant get out on serve, or holds (where you hold it...)? im my school i call,"etreme foursquare" this is double touch, voleys, reachvoleys ,ill nastys, and hold as long as your in the air. and i can get almost anyone out...i would like to join you and posssible come to a compatition in maine and compete... -englandish2, 9/9/2007

Englanish2, dude, thanks for the shake down. This is some sick mcnasty stuff. I am so inspired that I wrote a haiku about you. It goes like this:

I am ill nasty
I can get anyone out.
I would like to join.

I hope very much that you get a chance to come to Maine on Feb 16 for the World Champs and hand out some pink slips.

Getting a thing going in LA

sean - Posted on 19 January 2006

Dear Sean,
I'm interested in finding people to play Foursquare with in LA -- perhaps even starting a league. Can you give me any advice in that direction? I think it's awesome that you have such a big group of people to play with -- now if only Boston were closer to Los Angeles... -David, 1/19/06 6:07 PM

Hi David, there are two ways you could go about doing it.

The first is to just start a social group with your friends, nothing official, and play irregular games. We have a tradition in our circle of friends to throw a party once per year that is dedicated to playing four square. We have a bbq, beers, music, and a bunch of four square courts to play all day. Usually lots of people turn up for a party like that ? and I think your weather is more predictable than ours too.

Craigslist is an awesome tool for finding interested players. If you don?t already know: http://losangeles.craigslist.org/

Then you could also form a full on league or club, which depends on having space available on a regular, reliable basis. Usually you have to pay for that, check out the local YMCA or YWCA, school gyms, city recreation centers, or any place that has a flat, dry floor for activities. You just have to work out a little math, set in advance how many games or hours you want to play over a few months then you know how many people you need to sign up to break even. We pay $35/hr for our gym, we planned on recruiting about 25 members and each payed $40 per person, and we had money left over to outfit them in cool shirts. Sometimes community based organizations like the Y would consider a partnership, you would split your admission fees with the Y, or by percentage, and then they would have financial incentive to register members too.

Best of luck and play hard.

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