The summer temperatures make me nostalgic. No, not for the days of the winter, but for the days spent free from the rigorous schedules of school and packed full of epic outdoor games. Looking back on them now, they are both mortifying and incredibly useful as metaphors for my future real life struggles. So, with summer in full swing, here are 4 classic kids games and the ways they prepared us for real life.
1. Red Rover
Red Rover, Red Rover, send the weak, puny kid right over. Sure, the proper name was always summoned to try to break through the arms of the opposing team, but let’s be honest, this game is like institutionalized bullying. Not only are kids singled out by name, but they also have to prove their strength by busting through the arms of their would-be judgers. Of course, if you bust through you’re a hero and your name-callers may or not have broken wrists, but most of the time you just get viciously clotheslined and you join the herd of people who couldn’t snap through the chain/norm.
The primary lesson I picked up from this game was to find the weak points in any obstacle. Essentially, it was to work SMARTER NOT HARDER. Even the mightiest of chains/companies/friendship groups have weak links and if you’re looking to break in, you have to start there.
2. Wall Ball, aka Butts Up
Frequently played with a tennis ball or a bouncy ball this game punishes you for not reacting quick enough when the ball bounces your way. If you bobble the ball or let it touch you in any way you have to sprint for the wall before someone else can hit the wall with the ball. Of course if you don’t make it you then get pegged with the ball, usually with one hand covering your business and the other covering your face. A classic game where accuracy, speed, and coordination are crucial there is little room for people who bobble objectives and can’t react quickly to a given situation.
The one lesson that sticks with me from this game is that if you want to take a shot at throwing the ball and being an active participant, you have to actively try to catch the ball, and of course risk a traumatic bobble incident. What’s the old saying? Ah, yes: “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” And of course the penalty in this game for screwing up is getting pegged in the face, but you know, the penalty in life, nothing too serious – just a unfilling empty existence forever. Be brave. Don’t bobble.
3. Four Square
The King stays the King until his third square underlying wants to rise to the top and betrays him in front of everyone. This is cycle of both fourth square games and every power struggle from Roman Emperors to the current Yeezus/Magna Carta situation. Once you throw out all the extraneous nonsense like putting your toes in the middle and bobble hits, Four Square ultimately comes down to having an ally on the court set up your kill shots so you can rise to the king square without mercy. Of course, once you make it you have to defend your throne, but such is life at the top. I haven’t played Four Square in years and I still think about the lessons learned as a young lad trying to get to that coveted position. I picture the wink in the third square’s player’s eye when he was ready to usurp the King and,of course, the moment when my loyal third square stabbed me in the back by setting up a gimme shot to the first square that lead to my downfall.
I still wonder why he did that, was it for a Brownie Earthquake at Dairy Queen or thirty gold coins? Regardless of motivation, the lesson here is to work together to get the top, but never get comfortable. Also, don’t trust anybody.
4. Kick The Can
In the grand pantheon of playground games, almost nothing feels better than outsmarting the can guardian and making a heroic run towards the can, then letting out a joyous cry, and booting that metal cylinder up towards the blue corn moon. Kick the Can is a classic game because it enhances the classic hide and go seek game with an incentive to not stay hidden forever: to go kick the can. I was an absolute beast at this game, picking genuinely simple hiding spots with easy routes towards the can. Although as Bodie once said on The Wire, “the game is rigged” because once you find glory by kicking the can, you just end up defending it, which isn’t nearly as fun. The message here is that with some simple planning and confident execution the throne really is out there for the claiming, just be ready for people who try to take it from you when you sit on it. So true, so true.
I realize that there are a ton of games that I didn’t cover, but just like the setting summer sun, you have to work with the time provided. A couple that I missed include, Kill The Carrier, Hook, Ghost in the Graveyard, Shark, Marco Polo, and of course, Capture the Flag. Chances are you haven’t played these games that much recently, but that doesn’t mean the lessons wore off. In fact just the other day I saw some neighborhood kids playing Red Rover in the park (Red Rover, Red Rover, send Isabella/Cassidy/Madison over!), and I was tempted to show them I still had it, but then I took a deep breath, went home, and tended to my garden. After all, it is just a kids game. Right?