Games We Played
n my professional career I have had to attend many leadership seminars which almost always included some team-building activities. This typically involved the introduction of attendees to various games, often with others I did not know. Frankly, inside, I was a reluctant participant. I had to consider whether refusing to join in as directed might have more negative results than the embarrassment of playing and looking silly. Finally, I decided to join in play considering that if management wanted to pay me to waste time like this, then who was I to object? As a manager myself, I knew my attitude didn’t reflect very well, so I warmed and in the end, had fun. I can now see the benefits of those games that broke down barriers of communication and encouraged a little risk taking. Once you have ‘broken the ice’ and bonded with team members it becomes a lot easier to cooperate and work to achieve common goals.
Games were a big part of growing up. Back in the day it was common during recess for teachers to organize games for a portion of the time and then allow ‘free play’ during any time left. Games were also introduced at church, vacation bible schools and also at various other camps. All with the same result. We had fun, we bonded, and we helped each other bring victory to our respective teams. Wow! Maybe this tool isn’t as silly as it seems!
Many kinds of games are played by children in neighborhoods all across the world. Some have oral chants that are pretty well known regardless of the language. We immediately recognize the tune and at least mentally, join in the fun. Our playing these well-worn and semi-organized games was a big part of our early lives. As such, they became part of our language and our universal understanding of the principals of fair play. Through these casual games we learned to cooperate with others. We learned how to be leaders and how to follow directions. We learned to obey rules, to work together and enjoy the friendly competition. We also learned how to win, and just as importantly, how to lose. These games also gave us lifelong memories. When we see kids playing today, we have a Deja vu experience which floods us with a touch of nostalgia. Watching children playing today we identify with them and become immersed in their play. It can also bring back feelings that gives us a fresh acquaintance with our childhood. Because our minds are keen to jump to life with our mental pictures of the games and sounds of yesteryear, I have come to see that bonding through play has many benefits.
Anytime, in any neighborhood we may hear a ‘sing-song’ “Ring around the Rosie, Pockets full of posies; Ashes, Ashes we all fall down!” I never understood this one because it normally rang out from some neighborhood girls from down the street while I was busy playing with my toy trucks in the dirt. Just the same, I heard it enough to remember it, so it became part of my growing up. Years later, I heard my wife playing the same game with my children. I put down the paper and watched their delight when it was time for them to fall. Suzie didn’t grow up with me, but clearly she has the same enriched foundation with memories universally known.
Everywhere I have gone I have seen a series of squares drawn with chalk on sidewalks for a game of hopscotch. Another chant that seemed to fit several games arose in my memory, “One, two, buckle my shoe, three, four, shut the door, five six, pick up sticks, seven eight, lay them straight, nine ten, big fat hen.” If repetition builds memories, it’s no wonder I know these words. They were everywhere, echoing in the background while I was employed with other things. It was the girls that usually played hopscotch or jumped rope. Once, some girls tried to introduce hopscotch to me. I tried once or twice, but it required jumping and not hitting lines, standing on one foot, and bending down to pick up a rock while standing on one foot. It was too hard for this clumsy boy. When the girls saw how bad I was, I was released for being untrainable. I heard them whispering to each other something to the effect of “Poor boy! He can’t even stand on one foot!” Yes, I felt a little pang of pain and considered trying again, but I knew my weakness. I decided it best for me to go back to my toy cars or find a male friend to toss a ball. Maybe someone will play catch with me, I hoped.
One game I had totally forgotten was one not as often played in my presence. It was called “Four Square.” Four or more players stood in one of four numbered quadrants in a large square. A ball was bounced by the person in square one and struck so to bounce it into one of the other squares. The player(s) in that square tapped it toward another square. When someone missed hitting the ball they had to move to square one. From that, undoubtedly, we still say whenever something fails, “we’ll have to go back to square one.” Terms that rise out of games are almost never ending and make up more of our vocabulary than we may think. We all know, “Here I come, ready or not.”
At school or church gatherings, we played ‘Tug of War.’ It is still being played wherever people gather. I remember it being played where the rope stretched over a pit of water, or a messy mud puddle. Losers had to wear their wet badge of defeat until they had an opportunity to change.
Blind Man’s Bluff was another game where someone called ‘it,’ was blindfolded and placed in the center of a group. The blind man had to find someone, touch them (or hold them). To make it a challenge the free kids had to get as close to ‘it’ as possible without getting caught. If ‘it’ did catch someone and could guess who they caught, then that person became ‘it.’ This one reminds me of ‘Marco Polo’ played all around the swimming pools of America, except it is much wetter.
In grade school we played dodgeball, but since I was relatively slow, I was often ‘it.’ Teachers sometimes rescued me and started the game over with someone else playing ‘it’ so I could have a break. I didn’t mind because I thought it was more interesting to be ‘it,’ so it didn’t matter.
I remember playing ‘Drop the Hanky’ in grade school. Again, this game required a circle of kids. One carried a handkerchief around the outside of the circle and dropped it behind someone. That person had to pick up the hanky and run in the opposite direction around the circle to reclaim the vacant spot before the original person could claim it. If they didn’t it was their turn to drop the hanky. I wasn’t fast so if it dropped behind me, I’d be ‘it’ for a good while.
Musical chairs required a circle of chairs, but with one less than the number of players. Music played while everyone marched around the chairs. When the music stopped everyone tried to claim a seat. After that the one left without a seat was a loser and was no longer in the game. Another chair was removed and the music started again. I got good at claiming a seat, but in the end, someone ended up on someone else’s lap, or on the ground. We all had a lot of laughs. It was fun when two bottoms aimed for the same seat. That was very like the ‘cake walks’ we sometimes had in grade school. I remember winning a cake once and taking it home. I think I might like to play that game again! Sadly, I also had to learn to share…rats!
“Hoops” (not basketball) was played by the kids of earlier generations before my time. It was about rolling barrel hoops on the ground and controlling them with a stick. That took a certain amount of skill I’m sure. Contests were set up where the one keeping it running the longest or furthest, was the winner. Sometimes they had races with multiple hoops flying down the roads or across fields. In my day barrels were few and coopers (barrel makers) a rarity. Maybe that’s why I didn’t experience this, but we did have plastic ‘hula hoops,’ which became the rage. I never saw anyone try to run one down the street like a barrel hoop, but I saw many contests on keeping it going around the waist. Even I got pretty good at that. I remember the joke that was born from this craze, “What do you call a hula hoop with a nail driven through it? A navel destroyer!” That was cute first time I heard it.
We played ‘pick up sticks’ a good bit. They could be played on the ground, the porch or even a game table. We had to put all the sticks into its tall, narrow can and shake them we had to dump them on a flat surface to make a confused pile. It was the players challenge to pick up as many sticks as possible without causing any other stick in the pile to move. Sliding one out of the pile successfully was fun. The pressure was on with everyone rooting for the others and screaming whenever the effort ended in defeat. On the other hand, if you could get them all, it too, was celebrated.
I remember boys playing marbles at grade school in the play-yard. A circle was drawn, and boys took turns shooting their marbles to knock others out of the circle. I remember the big metal bearings that we called ‘steelies.’ They were made of solid steel and were a good bit heavier than glass marbles, but they still considered fair to use. They were much like a breaker ball in billiards, or pool. Sometimes the marble games were for ‘keeps’ and other times just for fun. I lost my share back in the day. Some of were very fancy with wonderful swirls of color, others were plain. I still find one or two around when I go through drawers looking for something. For that matter, any digs around an old home place are bound to find marbles. It was a sad day when someone suggested that you had ‘lost your marbles.’ I think that pertained to brain-power, don’t you?
How about Jacks? I know the girls played that a lot. They dumped the little metal jacks on the ground and then bounce the tiny rubber ball. While the ball was still airborne, they quickly reached down and picked up a jack. Different rounds made them pick up one, then two, then three, etc. until they failed to grab the right number. The winner was the one that survived, if anyone.
Games were a big part of our past and go toward making up the persons we have become. Our games today reside on computers, tablets, smart phones, and electronic games. I know these are supposed to be part of ‘social media’ but I wonder if any real bonding occurs. Is there laughter and toning of muscles? Electronic games do not require chalk circles or squares or doesn’t require running, jumping, or good balance. I expect the foundational bonding and learning are nothing like those games of old.
I guess I’m old school and maybe a bit of an old fogey but looking back I see value in these active games and a lot of fun for the kids who played them. I’d like to think they will not totally away in the memories of senior generations. If not, maybe they will experience them at some seminar or leadership conference.