Dear Sean,

I’d first like to thank you for everything you’ve done to keep this website and the game of Four Square alive in schools throughout the country. Over the past year, our organization, which has been hosting games of Four Square for over five years, has been trying to standardize our rules with those provided on this website. It’s been great to have a clear authority to fall back on whenever rule disputes come up, and between the rulebook and FAQs, most all of our questions have been answered.

One dispute has been gaining traction among our players: the rules concerning serves. The passage in the rulebook is quite succinct: “The ball is always served from the highest ranked square to the lowest square. Squares 1 and 4 are positioned diagonally across the court. The server must drop the ball and serve after the bounce. The ball must be allowed to bounce once in the receiving square, then the receiving player must hit the ball into another square. After the receiver touches the ball,the ball is in play. Serves are meant to place the ball fairly into play. Because the server must serve the ball the same way each time, it is the receiving player who controls the first play of the game.” There are three main questions that have arisen: 1) May the server two-hand the ball on the serve; 2) What is the meaning of “ the server must serve the ball the same way each time,” and; 3) How do you define “fairly into play?” To elaborate on the second question, is the server allowed to change the direction or placement of the ball in the 1 square each serve? For more on the third, is there a specific place the ball must bounce in the square or a certain style of serve required?

Thank you again for your efforts in keeping the game alive.

Sincerely, Benedict

Yup, the language around the serve can be strengthened. Thanks for pointing that out.

There's an old expression you hear sometimes that goes "no blood on serves" and it means that you don't get people out when you're serving the ball. That works on playgrounds where kids are all different ages and they've all been waiting in a long line for their chance to play. It also works with adults who want to use the opportunity of serving to eliminate people - it's easier to place a ball just right when you don't have the pressure of the other players exerted on you in the middle of a game.

It should be the player receiving the serve who makes the first "play" of the game. That is, they will make the first decision of where to hit the ball next. If we want to reserve that person's right to make the first play then we need to take away the authority of the server to influence where the ball is placed, how fast it travels, etc, etc. There are some things we can do to make the serve as neutral as possible so here are a few ideas.

There could be a marked area in the receiving square where the serve must bounce first, like tennis or volleyball, before the receiver is obligated to hit it. We could allow the receiver to reject any serve that she didn't want to try to return - this would take the wind out of the sails of aggressive servers pretty quick. We could allow players several attempts to hit the ball back correctly, like the principle of the foul ball line in baseball.

If you have ideas, too, then send them our way and we can strengthen the Official Rules of Four Square together.