Answering 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.

Neutral Gender and Rollerskates

  • Posted on: 21 March 2018
  • By: sean

Dear Sean,

I was just wondering whether you could adjust the rules to remove references to gender. In some places you use he or she, him or her but in others its just her. What I suggest is that you either use "their" or simply say "the
player" instead. This applies equally to the main rules and you monster custom rules list. What do you think? My main sport, roller derby, prides itself on gender neutrality when it comes to rules. I intend to use the four squares game as a drill on roller skates - should be fun!

- John Davis

Thanks for the message, John. I have two important points.

  1. Regarding the gender references. Official rules? Check, done. The monster rules? We didn't write those. That was skimmed off Wikipedia's user contributions when they were threatened to be deleted because they lacked proper citation (and rightly so since most of them were made up rules from kids around the country). We just did a little automated find/replace operations in a word processor to swap out his and hers for one's and so on. I did not proofread, but I bet that did the trick.
  2. Regarding the roller skates drills. I'll be super disappointed if you don't send some photos of your four square roller skate activity. That is a dimension I have never imagined, and it's definitely worth a spot on our blog.

Best of luck,



Some more Aussie rules!

  • Posted on: 2 September 2016
  • By: sean

Here's a message from one of our friends down under about how they play fours square on the opposite end of the earth. Enjoy!

Hi guys,

In Australia there are a few common rules that seem to differ from those you posted here. I am a primary school teacher who grew up playing this wonderful game and has seen it played at many schools around Australia You are correct, we often play with a standard tennis ball, but also (becoming more popular) with a slightly smaller rubber ball (boy that that thing fly!) Here are the differences that I can see between your rules and ours and you may like to include them as alternate or "Upside down" rules because they come from down under!

In our rules, King, Queen, Jack and Dunce (1, 2, 3 and 4) are arranged in a clockwise ascending order. This means that the person in the lowest square is not an obvious target for skimmers (or swipes as they can be called) from the King. Squares are usually drawn on concrete or bitumen and in the summer sun reach temperatures of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This adds an element of danger to the game that we quite enjoy.

King serves the ball by throwing it into THEIR square first and then it must bounce above knee height into an opponent's square. A player may receive the ball before it bounces into their square (on the full) or after it bounces in their square. Each player must hit the ball with their hand into their own square regardless of whether it has already bounced in their square or not. The ball must then land within the boundaries of the outer lines or, another player can choose to play it on the full. In this way, a player has to make a choice whether to leave the ball or play it on the full. This is the major difference I believe. Each player MUST hit the ball into their own square first.

If a player hits the ball into an opponent's square without it touching their own square, that is called a "Lob" or a "Mixture". If the receiving player catches the ball, the offending player is eliminated. If the receiving player plays the mixture as normal, then they are eliminated. This does not cascade to each player who continues the rally. Once a mixture has been caught or played the game stops and the last offending player is eliminated.

Other faults that would cause elimination include:

Playing an opponent's ball: If a player hits a ball AFTER it has bounced in a receiving opponents square, they are out. If they hit it BEFORE it has landed, there is no fault and the play continues. Double Bounce: If the ball bounces twice in a square without a hand hitting the ball the player in that square is eliminated. This can occur as a player receives the ball (the ball has beaten them) or after they play it (their play does not carry to an opponents square) As with your rules; grabbing, holding or dragging the ball through the air is not permitted. A solid hit is the only way to play the ball. A player that hits the ball so it rolls is eliminated.

Unlike your rules, if a ball hits a line, play continues unless there is a call or a contest of which square it is in. When contested, the play stops and the person in Queen bounces the ball at the point at which all squares meet so that it bounces back towards them. They must play this ball as normal before it bounces again and the game continues. In may cases, unless there is a dispute, many students simply keep playing as a call of "lines" usually advantages the Queen. Kings will rarely call lines as they have nothing to gain.

Any interference from outside forces results in the Jack serving the ball in the same manner as King would. Disputes that cannot be solved by other means are replayed by the Jack serving as normal.

A "skimmer" or "swipe" refers to when the player allow the ball to drop very close the ground and plays it at the last second before it lands. Hitting it almost parallel to the ground the ball bounces once in their own square and rises only 3-4 inches off the ground before landing again in an opponent's square. Skimmers or Swipes are the second hardest technique in the game. Skimmers are legal as long as the bounces are discernible and the play follows all other rules. A ball that rolls instead of skimming is bad and results in the offending player being eliminated. Successful skimmers are very hard to defend and, if executed well, almost always results in eliminating the recipient. If defended successfully, it usually results in another swipe back the way it came and rallies of skimmers are exciting for all to watch. Skimmers are most successful on diagonally opposing squares as the speed of the hit causes the ball to carry a longer distance. Defending a skimmer successfully is the hardest part of Australian Foursquare.

As with your rules there are MANY variants played around the schools and within each school, but these above rules are common wherever I have been teaching.

I love this game and hope that you guys find our rules an interesting read. Have a go at Aussie Foursquare sometime. I hope you like it.

Thanks, Jarrad Blackburn


About a ball hitting a player before hitting the ground?

  • Posted on: 4 February 2016
  • By: sean

Dear Sean, I have looked and looked online to find somewhere where it clearly defines what the rules are about a ball hitting a player before hitting the ground in their square. For example one player hits the ball from his square into another person's square and instead of it hitting the ground it hits the player's foot! What is the call? Out on the person who hit the ball or out on the person the ball hit? Sincerely, Kjersti.

We get loads of questions about how the ball can be hit (like, in the air) or cannot be hit (such as not hitting it at all). But you have presented even another possibility. The answer is in the Official Rules under "The Ball". You were looking for what is NOT allowed, but the rule that answers your question is about what IS allowed.

During play, players may only hit the ball with their hands. We describe the "hands" as any area between the player's wrists and her fingertips, including the backs of her hands. The ball may be hit with open or closed fists in the same manner as official volleyball.

The rules say you "may only hit the ball with the hands". If a player touches the ball with anything but her hands then she is out. It doesn't matter who hit it last or if it didn't hit in her square first. Sometimes players aim at other players bodies as a aggressive tactic - sometimes it works to eliminate people but most of the time it backfires as nimble players can leap out of the way of oncoming balls and let them sail out of bounds.

Also, don't mince this question of hitting the body with the one of poaching. Poaching is when a player illegally hits a ball that belongs to another player. The ball belongs to a player when it is hit and lands in her square. No one else may touch that ball before she does - if someone does then that someone is out. Only after she hits it in an attempt to return the ball does it then become "free" for anyone to hit it next until the ball is hit into another square or hit out of bounds.

Good luck and keep it real out there.


What if the ball is unplayable?

  • Posted on: 27 May 2015
  • By: sean

Dear Sean,

My students are organizing a charity four squares tournament at our school for the local food pantry, and we want to make sure we've got all the rules right. I'm a former Ragin' Narwhal and think I have most of them down pat, but we came up with one question. If someone legally hits the ball into your square, but the ball immediately starts to roll OR the ball stops cold (i.e. it's unable to play off), who is out? The person who hit the unplayable ball, or the person whose square it is? Thanks, and see you next February! ~Ms. Cusack, May 27, 2015.

Hi Ms. Cusack, good to hear from you!

We have to observe the most fundamental pillar of four square: If you can't hit the ball back then you are out.

The laws of physics make things like rolls and dead stops pretty hard to do. The complex forces your kids would have to apply to a ball to make those things happen would write new chapters in college textbooks. What they are really saying is they are concerned that some shots are too hard to return and they want exceptions made to accommodate their inability. You could do that and your fundraiser would still be OK - but it does not push them to grow as athletes or human beings.

I heard that the NFL moved back the extra point kick distance this year because the freaks they breed for pro football basically always scored on every kick - they needed to increase the difficulty because player performance had improved to the point that the old distance was no longer a challenge. But if some kid develops a new four square technique that does those things with enough consistency so that it changes the nature of the game then we can rework the rules at that time. Your kids have a lot of Wheaties to eat before that day comes around.

Rage on, Narwhal.


How big is a standard four square court?

  • Posted on: 26 February 2014
  • By: sean

A lot of people from a lot of different industries are looking to us to answer questions about the standards of this playground game. Somehow we have become the official source for rules clarifications, managing behavior, and even consulting about world records. This week we're addressing a couple of questions about the size of a four square court. I will answer your questions in the order they were received...

Dear Sean, I am the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association and we are updating our book, Indoor Sports Facilities: A Construction and Maintenance Manual. Our members are increasingly telling us they are being asked to add FourSquare lines to gymnasiums and playgrounds. I am wondering if we can get... an official diagram for the game so that our members can make sure they are lining facilities correctly? Thanks, Mary S. 2/23/2014

Mary, it's flattering that you are looking to us to provide standardization. I would love nothing more than to have official guidelines for this game published somewhere that facilitates the construction of more four square courts.

Here is our official diagram straight from our rules page. The court is a total of 16 feet wide and each square is 8 feet wide, all the lines are one inch. If we want to get technical, the total width includes the width of the lines themselves.

Our group plays with teens and adults and we use a court size that is appropriate for their skill level. We have also played with young children and found that sometimes our court is too big for them.

I have suggested in the past that a clever playground designer could make one court that has a large and small set of lines. Perhaps the 16' court is painted in blue and the 10' court is painted in red and they both have the same center point. Then players (or teachers) could decide on their own what size court was best.

When you put together your listing for your publication, Mary, please send us the details so we can circulate it!

Dear Sean, What would be a standard width of the boundary lines for playing square four. I know the length. Just want to know if there is a required width of the tape being used. Thank you. Thanks, Mark A 1/15/2014

Hi Mark. We decided a long time ago that wide lines take away valuable playground space. For that reason, we chose 1 inch as our standard for line width. That means in a pinch we can put up a make shift court with 1 inch wide masking tape. You can often buy permanent court lining designed for asphalt that comes in 1 inch widths.

Dear Sean, I am a promoter from LA who has just moved to Louisville, KY (yes, don't ask but we are looking to put together a road tour called the unextreme games next year. We've been meeting with various cities and colleges and they like our ideas. The games are basically all the sports we were told to stop playing in 6th grade. A primary one will be dodgeball. Per this, how close can a court be to the next and how do you handle things when everyone starts playing and balls are flying everywhere? Thanks, Robert P. 11/18/2013

Now, this is a game for kids that is also played by adults. For this reason, you have to judge your target age group's ability to get themselves hurt. My rule of thumb is ten feet between the outside edges of two courts. That's a 5 foot border around each one, enough for one person to leap outside of the border and fall onto their face without being trampled. Some kids might want more room, depending on how "aggressive" they are playing.

There, let's hope this post is useful for all you guys making courts out there. Also, please take a moment to stick your new courts on our court map!


Can I Hit the Ball in the Air?

  • Posted on: 29 October 2013
  • By: sean

Dear Sean,

If the ball enters a square on the fly, and the player hits the ball in their own square before it goes to another square, is the player who hit the ball out? -Jody 10/25/2013

If a ball bounces in a player A's square and player A doesn't hit the ball, then bounces in player B's square, is player A out for not hitting the ball? -Kimberly 9/24/2013

I thought "air hits" (playing the ball before it bounces in your square) was illegal? -Arthur 8/27/2013

Is a player allowed to touch the ball before the ball bounces in their square? -Cody 7/25/2013

and so on...

We literally get this question once a month despite our rules stating the answer to this question quite clearly. The answer is simple. It matters who or what touched the ball last.

Once the ball hits a square, ONLY the owner of that square may touch the ball next. It hits her square, it is her ball. If she fails to hit it, she is out. If she hits it out of bounds, she is out. If someone else hits it before she does, that is called "poaching" and the other person is out.

Once a player hits a ball, ANYONE can hit it before it touches down in a square again. It can ricochet off players countless times without hitting the ground and it's still good. Once the ball drops in a square again, though, only one person can touch it next.

Do you see the parallel construction above? If the ball was: Touched by a square then it's off limits; Touched by a player then it's fair game.

Oh, and to clear it up. You don't have to stand in your own square all the time. You can stand and run anywhere you want. Just don't leave your square unprotected - someone will get the jump on you.

I hope this can finally answered your poaching and possession question(s) and you can get back to playing games!


Quick Chat with Guinness Book of World Records

  • Posted on: 6 January 2012
  • By: sean

A couple of groups of college kids had attempted, set and broke each other's world records for the longest marathon game of four square. I first heard about a college in Newfoundland, then a group in Ohio, then another, and another.

Each group was composed of a small group of players and a single court. They played long and hard to earn their records and probably felt great about them as they were set. It's a pretty accessible record attempt no matter how you look at it. It's not like you have to grow your fingernails for 25 years or learn how to eat airplanes. You just need endurance and stamina and a love of the game.

This is why I was surprised to get a call from the Guinness Book of World Records when they needed to ask me about the spirit of the game. They mentioned that a group out there had attempted to set a marathon four square game record in which there was one court and 50 people involved.

We talked a little bit about how the Four Square World Championships work in their final rounds, and specifically they wanted to know how many competitors there were at this time of the competition. When determining the title for "world champion" we generally have 8 to 10 players involved in the match. I think this is a great number of people because nearly half of the competitors are actively playing while the other half have about a minute to rest before their turn comes up again. I also believe this is a great number to have both a consistent presence by any one player on the court yet still change up the combination of players so that the strengths and weaknesses represented on the court are different each time. All in all, we have a great model for naming a champion and I believe that Guinness learned a lot from us.

In my opinion, I think that getting fifty people together to hold a playground game marathon would be tons of fun and everyone would enjoy it. But I don't believe that it shows a real marathon sporting event spirit. Sure, you could keep a game going forever if you have enough people to cycle in but it doesn't necessarily demonstrate the endurance and stamina of a group of game players. If I were in charge of judging world records for four square then I would give more credit to the groups that had a high percent of its players moving throughout the whole event.

The good thing is that I don't judge records. It is very gratifying to get lifeline call from Guinness to help judge these things and they did mention that our group seems to be well known for aggregating the rules of this game into a concise resource. We've become experts on this fun childhood playground game - and that feels great.

For our next trick? How about the 2020 Olympics?


Don't Underestimate Me!

  • Posted on: 14 November 2011
  • By: sean

Dear Sean, I really love 4square! I'm 11 years old but don't under estimate me. I'm really good at 4-square. On the first day of school I made my mark. And now everyone is like Whatch out for Katherine. Is it okay if it's not just in bosten because I live in Columbus, OH and Bosten is really faraway. But that's probably asking too much but I really wish I could join. Thanks, Katherine

Kat, it is obvious to me that your skills are fierce. You're authorized to mop the court with people's faces, even if it isn't in Boston. Let us know how it goes. - Sean