Four Square Rules – How to Play the Game of Four Square


The following instructions explain how to play classic schoolyard four square that I learned in the 4th grade. What I describe here is a two-hand four square variation I prefer because it works well for every skill level and volleys tend to last longer. I still play using this variation most of the time.

How to play four square.

Why four square is a perfect activity

  • Four square is easy to learn and doesn’t require expensive equipment.
  • The game provides hours of fun for children and adults. It’s fun at any age.
  • It’s an activity that inspires social interaction.
  • Four square is excellent for developing hand-eye coordination.
  • Four square provides a low-impact exercise alternative for people at almost any fitness level.

What you need to play four square

The number of players

4 or more players is best. If you have more than 4 players, that’s fine because four square allows players to rotate into the game from the sideline. You can also play with 2 or 3 players by adjusting the rules for two square or three square variations.

Where to play

Any hard and flat surface like a smooth concrete driveway.

Equipment

Chalk. This can be used to mark the court.

A properly inflated four square ball. This is essentially a rubber playground ball. I have used the Mikasa brand, but there are a number of other companies that make highly rated rubber playground balls. Don’t worry if you don’t have the perfect ball at the moment. Play now with what you have and find a decent four square ball at a later time.

The objective of four square

The objective of four square is to eliminate other players so that you can advance and hold the server position (the highest quadrant). The game centers around a one-bounce rule. Players must allow the ball to bounce one time in their own quadrant before returning the ball to another player’s quadrant. Failure to return the ball results in an ordinal rotation. For example, if a player in the highest quadrant misses the ball they rotate to the lowest quadrant, while the other players advance in the rotation one quadrant higher.

Four square court setup

The best four square court setup takes into consideration the types of players. For example, if small children are playing then you would probably do better with a smaller court size. You will learn the best court size through trial and error. The great thing about using chalk to outline your court is that it isn’t permanent. So you can adjust as needed until you get a perfect size.

I play with a group of adults and children of mixed ages. We tend toward a smaller 12′ x 12′ court size to accommodate our group. I would likely change the size of the court depending on the age and experience level of the players. Other common dimensions include a 16′ x 16′ court size.

Here is an example of a 12-foot court setup with a server’s box of approximately 20 square inches. A sideline is an optional feature used for extra players to rotate into the game. It’s best to locate the sideline somewhere near quadrant D because that’s the starting quadrant (lowest quadrant).

How to play four square. Measurements / dimensions of a four square court.


Rules to play four square

I. Getting into position…

Each player chooses one of the four quadrants to occupy: A, B, C, or D. The youngest player gets to start as the server. Additional players stand behind the sideline awaiting their rotation into the game. The player in A quadrant is the server and holds the ball until all players acknowledge they are ready to begin. The illustration represents a four square game consisting of five players.

How to play four square. Four square court with people in position, the server's box, and sideline

Note: The server remains inside the server’s box until the ball is served. The server is free to roam anywhere within quadrant A after the serve.

II. The server starts the game…

The server drops the ball in front of them to produce a single bounce. When the ball comes up from the single bounce, the server hits the ball with open hands performing an underhand serve. I’ll call this single bounce + hit. After the single bounce + hit, the ball must enter and then bounce inside any of the other players’ squares to be considered a good serve. If the serve is successful, then the game is officially in play. If a fault happens the server gets a second try. If the server faults on their second try the server loses their position and all players rotate. Game rotation is explained in part IV below.

How to serve. A four square court with players and the server making a good serve from quadrant A into quadrant D

A review of a proper four square serve:

1) Stand inside the server’s box. Note: For younger children, the server’s box may be too far away from other player’s quadrants. Adjust the rules accordingly like allowing the child to serve from anywhere within quadrant A.

2) Bounce the ball once in front of you for a single bounce + hit.

3) The proper way to serve the ball is underhand with open hands (the inside of the hand). Both hands must contact the ball simultaneously so it’s good practice to keep your hands close together. Think of the single bounce + hit as sort of like a scooping or underhand pushing motion.

Four square two hands together


4) Your single bounce + hit must propel the ball directly into any player’s quadrant so that the ball strikes the ground (bounces) inside a player’s quadrant.

5) An improper serve results in a fault. Faults include:

  • Not standing in the server’s box during the serve.
  • Hitting the ball with one hand or hitting the ball with some other part of the body.
  • An overhand serve.
  • The server holds or carries the ball during the serve.
  • The ball does not reach another player’s quadrant (falls short).
  • The ball goes out of bounds.

6) You get a second try if you fault on your first serve.

7) When the ball lands on any line during a serve it’s considered a do-over and does not count as a fault. A server gets an unlimited number of do-overs. For a do-over to be considered legitimate it has to be called out immediately by any player. Otherwise, the ball will be considered in play. This rule only applies to serves. In ongoing gameplay, any line bounce is considered to be out.

III. Now that the ball is in play…

1) Remember the one-bounce rule. A player must allow the ball to bounce once in their own quadrant before hitting the ball to another player’s quadrant. When a player fails to return a ball it’s commonly referred to as an out. A player is considered to be out if they do not return the ball after that first bounce or if they hit the ball out of bounds. Things that will get you out are explained under #4 below.

2) Players always return the ball with two open hands (the inside of the hand). Both hands must contact the ball simultaneously so it’s good practice to keep your hands close together. Hitting the ball overhand is allowed as long as both hands contact the ball simultaneously. This differs from serving which always requires the underhand method previously explained.

Tip: Hitting the ball does not require a strict flat-hand return. It’s natural that the fingers of both hands may be used to propel the ball much like how you would set in volleyball. The important thing is that both hands make contact with the ball.

3) There is no spiking in this variation of four square. You can tell if someone is spiking the ball if they are predominantly using their palms to hit the ball.

4) Things that will get you out include:

  • The ball goes out of bounds.
  • The ball does not reach another player’s quadrant (falls short).
  • The ball hits any quadrant line or boundary line.
  • One-handed returns, spiking the ball, and/or holding/carrying the ball.
  • Returning the ball with any other part of your body besides your hands.
  • Physically entering another player’s quadrant when it’s not your ball (interference). This also includes returning a ball that did not bounce in your square.

5) In competitive gameplay, disputes can occur. Before starting the game try and form an issue resolution plan. For our group, we have a majority vote whenever there are things like line disputes. To settle disputes we often allow a do-over in certain situations. You can also designate a sideline player or spectator to assist in making difficult judgment calls.

IV. A player is OUT. It’s time to rotate…

Rotation is like a promotion if you are doing well. You advance one quadrant. On the other hand, if you get out then you are demoted all the way to the bottom from whatever quadrant you had achieved.  In the example below, you will see that the server (the girl in yellow) in quadrant A missed the ball so she moves to the sideline. The boy in the green shirt then advances to A and becomes the new server. The girl in the blue shirt in quadrant C advances to B, and the boy in D moves to C. The girl on the sideline now gets to play and will enter quadrant D.

How to rotate in four square - Players performing a four square rotation