Insane, Made-Up Yard Games for Dads and Kids
The insane yard games we seemed to make up every Summer, in the half acre of lawn and asphalt around my house, happened spontaneously. Only after the rules actually worked did they become family traditions. And so we have Yard Ball. Bolf. Bagball.
There was the time, for example, when I stood in the driveway beneath the basketball hoop, holding a football, but my boys, then 10 and 7, wanted something more intense than playing catch. A straight game of tackle football didn’t seem like a fair match between a huge, 5’8” man and two elementary school kids. So I put the street hockey net on the other side of the driveway.
“You guys have to throw the football...or…kick it…into this hockey net to score a point,” I improvised. “I play goalie, and I try to shoot the football into the basketball hoop.”
Yes, that’s the original story of how All Ball was born.
Every great sport, and every stupid one too, was invented once upon a time, by a pioneering nut with time to kill and equipment meant for other things. In 1891, gym teacher James Naismith concocted basketball to keep his hyperactive students from wrecking the building during winter months. He tried something called “battleball.” Then, inspired by a game called “duck on a rock” he had played as a kid, he got a soccer ball and some peach baskets (after first asking the janitor for wooden boxes), and he made 13 rules for basketball. Today, professionals are making thousands of dollars a year playing it.
In early baseball, the pitcher was a human batting tee who merely served up the ball with a soft toss, to help the batter hit it. His ERA was garbage. Fielders could get a runner out by nailing him with a throw (an innovation that has made kickball our National Pastime).
Obviously, you don’t have to be a genius to invent a sport that gives rambunctious youngsters and desperate dads a break from the same old stick-and-ball routine. You just need an old ball, a stick, some chalk, PVC tubing, a fish net, duct tape, a hula hoop, two sawhorses, a garage door, a couple of trees, grappling hooks, a swing set, and a maybe a garden hose.
These made-up sports are specifically designed to let kids and dad compete on a more or less even footing. In their own way, they develop all kinds of athletic and competitive skills. Here are some that we play when mom won’t let us back inside. Play these, or think up your own for a change:
The team that needs an advantage will shoot into the cavernous hockey goal, although in a game with even teams you may switch sides each half.
To start, get a radio or CD boombox, because the length of each half is three complete songs. The dad team punts the football into the air. The receiving team’s job is to get the ball into the hockey net. Running with the ball is allowed, and dribbling isn’t is required, though feel free to try it. The ball may be thrown or kicked into the net, though all players on the offensive team must hold the ball at some point before a goal will count (this encourages passing).
Tackling isn’t allowed, but pretty heavy-duty grabbing is. Each goal counts for one point. After a goal, the scoring team goes to its side and punts. Flagrant fouls and other infractions may be called by dad, granting the violated team member a foul shot or a penalty kick with no goalie.
A ball behind a goal is in play, and if it goes on the grass you might as well tackle somebody. At halftime, drink from those juice containers that look like IV pouches. If at any point a team leads by 13, a technical victory is declared.
Trozy is a mutant of volleyball, using a backyard swing set as its net. Its name derives from “throw,” which is what you do, using any medium-sized, round, rubbery ball. The game was invented for kids about five years old, who called their stuffed animal penguin Penguiny and the leopard Leopardy. So, Trozy.
Two players stand on opposite sides of the swing set about six feet back. Our set had one of those acrobat bars that you hang from by your hands or knees. To score a Trozy, you must throw the ball in such a way that the ball hits the hanging bar before proceeding through it, to the other side, and falling on the ground. If the player on the other side catches the ball, it’s no score, and then it’s his or her turn. If it goes straight through without hitting anything -- swish! -- no points. That’s a “Nozy.” If it bounces back, throw it again. Anything made to swing by the ball must be left swinging freely.
In a version of the game that’s easier for really little kids, a ball thrown through the aperture of one of the swings (of course it must hit the swing or its chain on the way through and land on the other side) can count as one point (an “Ozy”), in which case a successful hanging-bar shot is worth two points. First player to 15 wins. Then drink juice out of those bags that look like IV pouches.
Bolf is golf: using a wiffle ball and bat as the club and ball, your hand as the tee, and a hockey goal as the hole. Place the hockey net in a distant corner of the backyard. Walk to the other side of the house and mark a starting place. Hit the ball out of your hand -- you know, toss it up and bat it. Where it lands, pick it up and hit it again. Repeat until you hit it into the hockey goal. The player taking the fewest strokes wins. Each player should have a ball, though you can share the bat. You can experiment with different course designs (bunkers, sandbox traps, etc.), and if you convince 17 neighbors to set up their yards, you get your own Pebble Beach Bolf Course.
Bagball wasn’t invented at home. We were at a pick-your-own vegetable farm, and it got, uh, boring. So we tried to see how far the wind would carry those flimsy plastic bags you put the okra and green beans in to weigh them. Turned out to be far enough to make a game, requiring nothing more than those stupid free bags, some breeze, and two lines on the ground, which need be no more exact than “past that tree.”
Grab a bag. Face the wind and establish one line on the ground in front of you (The Release Line) and one behind you (the Goal Line). Twenty yards or so ought to separate them. Hold the bag up so that it fills with breeze and is ready to move if you let go. Run forward until you are over the Release Line and release the bag. You opponent’s job is to stop the bag from crossing the Goal Line. If it crosses, it’s one point. If he catches it, then he runs over the Release Line quickly, hoping to catch you out of position, and releases the bag toward the Goal Line.
The feeling of “playing with the wind” is an indescribable, natural high. Not really. But it does test your agility and you get a good run.
A warning: Yardball is the most violent of our fun backyard games, and the most requested by the children. It is best played with a slightly deflated beachball, which has the unique properties of being easy to grasp in one hand, hard to throw any real distance, and soft when whipped at your head or groin. Set up two goals at far sides of the yard. They may be a chair and a rock, doesn’t matter. One team has to touch the ball to the chair. The other team has to touch the ball to the rock. By any means necessary (note: there is no hitting or kicking of other people allowed, nor scratching or gouging, and, conforming to Ultimate Fighting rules, no tickling).
After you score, you punt or throw the ball to the other team. Play to 15, or until someone gets hurt.
Here’s a sport you can play competitively against children as young as eight months. And at first they’ll kick your butt. Hold the child in one arm so that your heads are at about the same level. Hand the child a soft item such as a rolled-up baby sock. The infant’s goal is to throw the sock on the floor, and the little jock gets one point for each successful flooring. You score one point each time you catch the sock with your free hand before it hits the ground, provided the child doesn’t hit the ground either. The best child players are completely unpredictable. Most don't even know they are playing.
First player to 20 wins, and please be careful when diving for the sock near walls and doorways.