Tug and Trip: An Adult Retrospective

We grew up in a Norman Rockwell-esque neighborhood in a small town in Wisconsin. We did the things that kids did: baseball, soccer, video games, fishing, swimming, and biking around to explore our whitebread little world. But this standard suite of kid activities was not always enough to keep us fully entertained. So like many kids, we made up our own games, the names of which read like the event line-up for some post-apocalyptic Olympics: SWAT Team Raid, Deer Tag, Blindfold Torment, and the perilous Tug and Trip.

I have very little memory of how Tug and Trip originated (true of most of the games we came up with). But here’s how it was played. One person was designated as “it”. The “it” would then tie a 15 foot piece of climbing rope around one of his ankles (I feel comfortable saying “his” because I am certain no girls ever showed even the slightest interest in this game). Once the rope was secure the game was afoot, and the rules were simple. The mob of other players held the objective of using the rope to bring the “it” to the ground by any means possible. The “it” was supposed to evade that fate for as long as possible. And so, actual gameplay looked like, and in essence was, five or six kids running around a yard trying to grab a rope trailing from the ankle of some other kid.

At first, the capture and upending of the “it” was relatively non-violent. Someone in the mob would get their hands around the rope, and the “it” would stop running as the mob hauled him in and hoisted him up by his ankles like a trophy tuna on the scales at the docks. Rope burn, some grass stains, nothing too intense. Yet.

Every sport experiences its revolution, though, when a dynamic player comes along and changes the very essence of the game. In this case it was our friend Matt, who when given the chance to be “it”, took off running with a ferocity and bizarre kinetics that made the rope jump around like a sparking renegade power line. It had become nearly impossible to secure the rope. And Matt just kept on running, watching our futile efforts over his shoulder and laughing like a maniac.

But as always, when a defense designs a new scheme, the offense eventually finds a way to adjust. Our adjustment ended up being the Tug and Trip equivalent of the two-handed dunk. I’m not sure who was the first to execute this maneuver, but at one point during one of Matt’s blistering unstoppable runs, someone put their foot down. Literally. One of us just stepped on the rope and planted all our weight on it. The result was spectacular. Matt’s momentum stopped abruptly at the ankle and carried all the way through his body, culminating in a completely unmitigated face plant.

Body-wrenching crashes like that became the expectation and the norm from that point onward. I sit here as an adult who now gets sore joints from slow-pitch softball, and I shudder to think of the damage we could have done to ourselves. Recently, I described this game to my friend Mitch, a college athletic trainer. Here’s how that conversation went:

Me: Ok, so when we were kids in my neighborhood, my friends and I invented a game called “tug and trip”. One person was “it” and had a 15 foot piece of rope tied to one of their ankles. They ran, and the goal for everyone else was to get them on the ground using the rope (no tackling). So what usually ended up happening is that someone would stomp on the rope, completely stopping the runner’s momentum and sending them crashing on their face. From an athletic trainer’s standpoint, what do you think of that?

Mitch: I’m laughing because that is something my brothers and I would do and did do, but where I am at now that sounds very dangerous. As kids grow, let’s say the person who was “it” broke a bone in their ankle or even worse; that can start the process of further damage like arthritis if not taken care of properly.

As a health care professional that is a dangerous game.

Me: So you would recommend it for kids? Maybe as a part of a gym class curriculum?

Mitch: Not a chance. Lol.

Me: As both a sports fan and an athletic trainer, would you find this game more interesting if there were wiffle bats involved?

Mitch: How are wiffle bats involved? To hit the person who is “it”?

Me: To hit everyone.

Mitch: As an athletic trainer, that makes the game more dangerous, but as a kid I would love this game more. Lol.


Stay tuned for part two: when the wiffle bats come into play.

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