Red Rover

"Friends Holding Hands" by digitalart - FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Red Rover is a classic outdoor neighborhood and playground game that children have played for years. No equipment is required and it is most appropriate for elementary school children. However, with the increasing concern for children’s safety, the game has been deemed too rough for children by some and has been banned because of the risk of injury on many school playgrounds.1

It is impossible to trace the origin of the game with any certainty. The name, Red Rover, has been found on boats with that name from the 18th and 19th centuries in America, and some game historians try to attach the history of the game to other events in the 1930s. It has been played throughout the United Kingdom, Australia, and other countries of the British Commonwealth by the names of British Bulldogs and Octopus Tag. There is a similar game played in China called Forcing the City Gates as well as a Japanese version.2

The game is made up of two teams of children standing at least 20 to 30 feet apart, who form two lines facing each other by holding hands. The object of the game is to capture players from the other team. The game is won when all the players have been captured by one team or the children decide to stop the game earlier and the team with the most players is the winner.3

To decide the two teams, two captains are chosen, who pick the players for their teams by taking turns. The team members stand side by side holding hands and forming a straight line to make a chain. The captain of the team, who had second pick when choosing sides, begins the game by consulting with his team members about who on the other team they would like to try to capture. They then call out, “Red Rover, Red Rover, let ____ come over,” calling out the child’s name. That child then leaves his team’s line and runs across to the other line attempting to break through a pair of clasped hands to break their chain. If he breaks through, he can choose one of the players where he broke through to join his team. If he is captured, he joins the other team where he was captured. It is then the other team’s turn to call for a runner.4

Although the game has a simple premise of capture or be captured, children have the opportunity to test several strategies to boost their chances of winning. In choosing which runner to call, the decision made to choose a stronger player causes a risk of possibly losing a team member rather than gaining the stronger player. And choosing a weaker player to run could mean adding a weaker player to the team. The child running must also make the decision about which two children to attempt to break through. Hoping to run through a link with a stronger player may result in the child being captured rather than being the captor. The suspense of the game adds to the excitement.5

There are some rules for holding hands to make the game safer. Only hands can be clasped; no double-linking by holding wrists or arms is allowed. Arms are to be held straight out at the sides of the children about waist high; they cannot be held high enough to “clothesline” the runner, to avoid injuries to the throat. Also the hands cannot be held in a forward manner creating a fist that could injure the runner.6

No adult supervision is required to play this simple game. Children will learn to solve problems and negotiate conflicts when they have the need to correct players who attempt to play unfairly by running into people or trying to knock down other players to push through the line. As children work together to achieve their goal of winning, they learn from each other the strategies to use, and while there is competition between two teams at the beginning of the game, the cooperative play of each team results in everyone being on the winning team at the end of the game.7

  • 1. “Red Rover: A Traditional Favorite Outdoor Game.” About.com. < http://grandparents.about.com/od/projectsactivities/qt/Red_Rover.htm > 12 Oct. 2011.
  • 2. Taylor, Lesley Clarula. “Schoolyard game Red Rover dates back to 1930s.” Toronto Star. < http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1058452 > 13 Oct. 2011.
  • 3. McNamee, Terry. “Red Rover, an Old Fashioned Children’s Game.” Suite101.com. < http://terry-mcnamee.suite101.com/red-rover-an-oldfashioned-childrens-game-a158999 > 12 Oct. 2011.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Op. cit., “Red Rover: A Traditional Favorite Outdoor Game.”
  • 7. Op. cit., McNamee.