Regardless of how often we played certain games, the rules always had to be defined before play began each time. This was an important ritual, especially when there was a new boy or girl in the group. Because everyone was familiar with the various versions of the rules, it was more a matter of agreeing on which version would be adhered to. In two-on-two basketball, for example, a standard version was make-it-take-it, meaning if you score a basket, you have control of the ball again.
Not only did rules structure play, but the whole language of rules made the experience familiar and personal. “Make-it-take-it,” “no time outs,” “safe,” “off limits” and “out of bounds” were all phrases that became an integral part of our English vocabulary as children.
The process of making and agreeing on rules could take some time and was generally achieved by vocal consensus. Rules would often be adapted if there were younger children playing so that the older, more athletic players would be handicapped to make it fairer for everyone. The older children liked this, as it challenged them to make it to “home” on one leg or to play with their hands behind their back or tag with their elbows instead of their hands. No challenge was too difficult for the seasoned game player.
Today, children follow the rules rather than make them. They learn the language rather than create it. This is the difference between organized, structured play and creative, active play. This is the difference between now and then.