Four Square Rules: Everything You Need To Know

four square playground game

Four Square is one of the simplest, and yet most competitive recess games out there. The four square rules are quite simple, as it’s played with a ball and a group of at least four people on a small court anyone can draw out. Yet it tests your skills at passing, bouncing, and catching. The humble game of four square has been around for a long time, and it isn’t going away. It’s a game that can be played indoors or outdoors and can make recess time fly by.

While simple, different teams and games have their own ‘house rules,’ and even the basic rules can be hard for new players to grasp. But we’ve laid out the 10 four square rules everyone needs to know before they start playing.

What Are Four Square Rules?

The most basic rules are that you need at least four people to play, you need a hard playing surface, and you need a bouncy rubber ball. The playing surface is divided into four squares, or quadrants, and each player stands in one. Then the ball is bounced and passed around by the players until one misses.

The eliminated player then leaves the court and the other players each move up one number. For example, if the player in the second square is eliminated, then player four moves to square three, player three moves to square 2, and player one stays where they are. Depending on how many players are playing the game, the eliminated player either goes to square 4, or another player enters square 4 and the game goes on.

Is There A Need For Four Square Rules?

players playing foursquare game

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Yes, any game requires rules to make it fair and fun for everyone involved. The best part about four square rules is that every rule can be changed based on the number of players or their skill level. For example, you could increase the number of body parts a younger player can hit the ball with, or make the squares smaller to give older players a challenge.

Aside from the core gameplay, everything else can be changed to suit the gaming situation. As long as every player agrees on the new rules, there is no reason not to make some changes!

​The Four Square Rules of Recess

First, we’ll go over 5 basic rules that every four square game needs and then look at 5 improved rules that you can use in your next game to spice things up.


How To Hit The Ball

In the typical four square rules, the ball must be hit with the hands only. This can include smacking the ball, spiking the ball, pushing the ball, or any other type of contact that doesn’t see a player catch or hold on to the ball. The game needs to be kept fast paced, so contact with the ball is minimal.

While wild changes in speed and direction can occur since the contact is so fast, players should do their best to push the ball towards the other player.
Purposefully knocking the ball out of bounds or making the ball impossible to hit aren’t the best moves to make. Additionally, the ball can only be hit with the hands, so hitting the ball with the legs, feet, chest, arms, and shoulder is also illegal.


Bouncing The Ball

​Most four square games have the ‘one bounce rule’ where a ball is allowed to bounce once inside the player’s square before the player can hit it back. Players should not attempt to bounce the ball themselves but can take advantage of a natural bounce as long as it is inside the square. Some Four Square Rules make waiting to hit the ball before a bounce is mandatory, and other times the bounce is optional.


Staying Inside Your Square

​Each square is the territory of that player, and players can move around inside of it however they like. Stepping or moving outside a square, even to hit a ball, is an automatic elimination. The inside lines of the square indicate whose ball it is, so if the ball passes over that line, it needs to be hit by that player and that player alone.


The Size Of The Squares

​The full four square court is about 10 feet by 20 feet, so the single squares are around 5 by 10. This is the typical size of a square that a player must cover. You can make the squares larger or smaller if you wish, but every square must be equal in size.

Additionally, you’ll want to make a small triangle or square near the corner of square 1, where the server must stand for every serve every single time. Once the serve is done, the server can step into the full square and play normally.


Types Of Serves

​To keep everything fair between players of different strengths and skill levels, most schools and gyms use only underhanded serves that are directed towards the opposing player. Other serves can be added in depending on the players involved, so make sure everyone agrees on what serves are allowed.


Changes To The Game: Increase The Square Size

​While most four square courts are around the same size, there’s nothing that says they need to stay that way. You can certainly make the squares bigger to accommodate more players or smaller to encourage tighter and faster play.

Use two players in each square for bigger games. This teaches teamwork and allows everyone to play. Sure waiting in line for someone to be out is fun, but having eight players on the court is also very interesting and can lead to some great moments.


​Change Up Rules About Hits

​You can add a rule to allow players to use their arms to increase their mobility and the chances of them being able to hit the ball. Or change up the number of times a ball can bounce. Make the number larger for younger players, or say that the ball can’t hit the ground at all. That will certainly cause some fun as players scramble to keep the ball off the ground. For players who aren’t as skilled, then you can even allow them to catch the ball and throw it.


​Play Different Game Modes

​With typical four square rules, the players can toss the ball in any direction and to any square they want. A game mode called “Around the World” limits players to hitting the ball towards the person on their right, going around the square until someone is out. A game mode called “War” forces two players to bat the ball between themselves until one is out.

You can make up your own rules or search up all the pre-made variations using Google; and there’s a lot of things there to pick from.


Add A Mental Challenge

​As you play, have the server pick a category (such as fruit) and say the name of a fruit before they serve the ball. Every player must say something in that category without repeating before they can hit the ball. If they hit the ball without saying anything, repeat a word, or miss their chance to strike the ball, then they are out.

Depending on the ages of the players, you can make the categories very easy or very hard. You can also make the categories relevant to a certain theme, so the overall theme could be ‘science categories,’ and the categories selected would have to relate to science in some way. The added stress of players having to think on their feet can really make the game fun and challenging to both body and brain.


Play For Hits

​Another fun way to play Four Square is to make it about keeping the ball in the air rather than being the last one standing. Play the game normally, but this time count the number of times the ball is kept in the air, and try to keep the hits going as long as possible. This encourages players to work together and is a great twist on classic four square rules.

Alternatively, you could also have players be allotted a limited number of hits, adding a speed element to the game. Maybe each player can only hit the ball three times for a total of twelve hits to get someone out, otherwise, everyone is out and the next group rotates in.

The Rules Are Easy To Learn, But Hard To Master

four person playing foursquare game

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Four square is a fun game that has been a staple of schoolyards for generations, and while the rules are fairly easy to pick up, it’s very hard to win four square. Since there’s no win condition until everyone decides to quit or recess ends, you not only have to get to square one, but you also have to stay there and outlast the other players.

Since four square can be played anywhere and has several variations on the rules and modes of play, you can have a lot of fun with it. Tournaments are also very easy to organize with the sport, and players can form teams and attempt to battle one another for the right to be called the four square champion.

To get your group of kids interested in four square and the four square rules, get a playground rubber ball, a hard surface, and a way to divide that surface up into four equal squares. That’s all you need and then you can get the four square game going!


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