Power Ranking Old School Recess Games

Power Ranking Old School Recess Games

Recess is where champions were made and legends are born. Thirty minutes to an hour (depending on the badassery of your school) to participate in your game of choice. Here’s how the favorites stack up:

11. Tag

If you played tag at recess, you were basic. Sure, it has all the necessities of a childhood game (running, physical contact, could play boys vs. girls), but it just doesn’t have enough rules. There is no structure. Tag never fucking ends. You’d play until you got bored/someone fell and skinned a knee/breathing was no longer an option. This game is a time filler, plain and simple. It’s only upside is that it can be played with any amount of people, and needs nothing except a certain amount of space to play.

What it taught us: Some things in life serve no purpose, but you have to do them anyway.

10. Freeze/Lava/Team/Hide and Seek Tag

This was one step up from tag, but just barely. Yes, in freeze tag the game could hypothetically end if the person who was “it” froze everyone, but do you ever remember that actually happening? Realistically, you would delegate the kid that no one liked to be “it,” and enjoy running around and unfreezing people until they realized this was an impossible task and gave up on trying. The suckers tagged in the very beginning of the game are allowed the luxury of siting down for a while. Sometimes I would self sacrifice for the sake of stopping this runaway train. Hide and seek tag adds an extra element to the game, but once again, the guy playing, “it”, is having zero fun.

What it taught us: If you don’t like someone, the best way to avoid them is to literally run and/or hide.

9. Tetherball

On paper, Tetherball is awesome. You get to hit a ball as hard you can without having to chase it, and if you’re really good, you can hit someone in the face with it. This was likely your first taste of playing something with a definite winner and loser, and damn did it feel good. This was probably also the first time you realized that height matters in sports, and if you were blessed to have hit your growth spurt early, you could just hit the ball over the other kid’s head for 20 seconds and never lose your spot on the court. This would get a higher rank, but when I was in first grade, a fourth grader pegged me in the face with the ball and made me cry in front of Stephanie Graham, my first crush, and I’m still salty to this day.

What it taught us: How good winning feels.

8. Kickball

Confession time: I’ve never played kickball. I know, I’m a communist and shouldn’t be allowed to write this ranking. Too bad, I’m doing it. I’ll be honest; kickball doesn’t sound that fun. It has all the negative aspects of baseball (a lot of standing around, pretty boring if you’re not drinking), and adds kicking in the mix. Kicking sucks. It ranks behind all other ball motions (throwing, catching, spiking, and headbutts in that order), and adds a much higher risk of whiffing and falling on your ass. Plus, when the ball finally gets into play, you can barely throw it because it’s the size of your head. I will say that as an adult who can pregame rec sports, kickball has some more appeal. But as a kid, this just doesn’t seem fun at all. If you disagree, feel free to express that in the comments.

What it taught us: To be a team player.

7. Smear The…Other Guy

Come on guys. It’s 2017. I can’t use its original name. Much like tag, this game had no real rules or ending point, but unlike tag, you got the chance to really lay someone out. The rules were simple. Everyone who didn’t have the ball would try to hit/kick/tackle the person with the ball until they gave it up, and then it would start again with the new ball holder. Why we all wanted the ball, knowing that possessing it would just make everyone want to hurt us, I don’t know. But damn if it wasn’t fun to play. This was the first time that I realized I liked hitting people, and I carried that mindset through the next ten years of my extremely mediocre hockey career. If you had beef with someone in fourth grade, this game is how you settled things.

What it taught us: You have to be prepared to take a beating to get what you want.

6. Knockout

While this may have seemed like a sport that encouraged basketball skills, what it actually did was encourage being an asshole. I don’t care how great of a shooter you were, at some point you were going to rim it, and I’d be waiting to knock your ball across the blacktop and give myself ample time to set up my shot. If you played this game as a strictly shooting game without the ability to knock balls away, you probably had a sheltered upbringing and were surprised to find out that people don’t care about your feelings in the real world.

What it taught us: People are assholes and can undermine you no matter how talented you are. Stay woke.

5. Red Rover

I fucking loved this game. The rules are simple. When your name was called, haul ass at a line of people with interlocked arms and do your best to blow a hole through them. It’s brutal and pits one person against the world. Everyone loves an underdog story, and I remember how pumped I would feel when I broke through a chain of my peers with nothing but speed and strength. For a lot of people, this was the best precursor to Pop Warner, and I’m making the (wildly unsubstantiated) claim that we will have fewer hard-hitting NFL running backs as schools start to ban this game nationwide.

What it taught us: Sometimes you have to take on unfair odds, and you can’t back down.

4. Four Square

This was a game of skill; pure and simple. It had fairly complex techniques for serving and hitting, and everyone had their own style. I played fast and low, always attempting to skim into people’s legs so I could move up into their square and get to the coveted serving position. My buddy had a serve he patented “the war hammer” where he would slam the ball as hard as he could directly under the open legs of the kid next to him, making it bounce straight up into their taint. He was a real asshole. We remain good friends to this day.

What it taught us: Life is a progression, and you can’t take a shortcut straight to the top. You have to work your way up.

3. Capture The Flag

The only reason this game isn’t #1 is because of the amount of room and people needed to play. Without at least a junior sized soccer field and 20 people, this game got old fast. When you had all that however, this game was the shit. It involved teamwork, skill sets that would continue to be important in sports (speed, footwork, tackling), and it allowed for out of the box thinking when it came to coming up with designed plays to get our fastest runner to the flag. If you weren’t running the Mighty Duck’s V formation at least once per game, you probably sucked and my team could totally beat up your team.

What it taught us: Not everyone is equally talented. Some people will be team players, and some people are meant for the glory of the spotlight.

2. Dodgeball

I would say your enjoyment of this game depended heavily on your social status at school. We played this in P.E. once every few months throughout elementary and middle school, and it always seemed like an excuse for popular kids to beat up on “nerds” that are now making triple their salary. As someone who’s status ranged from “who?” to “that kid’s pretty cool” on the popular meter, I never really got to be on the full receiving or giving end of this game. The only rule of this game was “no face shots,” and not only was it never enforced; it was highly encouraged. I once accidentally blasted a girl in the face with a ball (not my fault, the guy in front of her ducked), and as she ran out crying, our gym teacher didn’t even attempt to hide the grin on his face.

What it taught us: People getting hit in the face will always be entertaining.

1. Butts Up

Also known as Wall Ball, Burn Ball, Rump Rounders, and other increasingly sexual sounding names, this game was the pinnacle of the playground. The rules were simple. Someone would throw a tennis ball at the wall, and as soon as it bounced off the ground once, it would be up for grabs for anyone to pick up and throw back against the wall. However, if you fumbled it and didn’t pick it up, or if it hit the ground before the wall when you threw it, you were totally fucked. These have-nots served their shame by standing with their palms against the wall in what I now refer to as “the cop car pose,” and you couldn’t leave until someone hit you with the tennis ball. If you fucked up three times, you had to stay in that pose for the rest of the game until the last man standing won. This game truly had all the best parts of sports and childhood wrapped up into one. It involved running, catching and throwing, and unnecessary pain and violence. If that’s doesn’t sound like the perfect childhood game to you, then you probably went to a private school.

What it taught us: Everyone makes mistakes, but everyone has to pay for them. Also, if you make the same mistake too many times, you could be out of the game for good.

Image via YouTube

Email this to a friend

Nick Arcadia

The opposite of a life coach. Email me if you want some bad advice:

70 Comments You must log in to comment, or create an account

Show Comments

For More Photos and Content

Latest podcasts

Download Our App

Take PGP with you. Get

New Stories

Load More