Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
1 Dec

Grok Tag

There was a time when you could go to any schoolyard and see kids being kids. Kids would run, leap, throw, and exert themselves with the pure joy of uncorrupted youth. They were suddenly realizing their bodies were incredible machines capable of precise, complex movements, and the games they played developed these capabilities. Dirt clod fights, epic dodgeball matches, and tetherball developed hand-eye coordination and agility; roughhousing that never graduated into enmity taught kids the value of a few bumps and bruises (as well as how to dish ‘em out); games like tag, capture the flag, and monkey in the middle emphasized foot speed, lateral agility, and rapid changes of direction. The teacher on yard duty might hand out a citation or break up a little scuffle once in awhile, but recess was generally pretty relaxed. About the only thing your average schoolyard athlete worried about was explaining away the grass stains, or maybe the scuffed knees. Looking back, we really had it good: unstructured play, impromptu workouts that didn’t feel like work but got us into great shape and developed our social skills. We were little Groks, cultivating our minds and bodies without actively planning a routine (or play date). It probably helped that we didn’t have Nintendo DS Lites or smart phones (or overbearing parents) to distract us, but the fact remains that we just were. A bit like Grok, we didn’t run and jump to get better at running and jumping; we ran and jumped because it was fun, because it simply felt like the right thing to do. Our athletic development was merely a bonus.

We’ve totally lost that. Kids now spend recess checking their Facebook statuses, their weekly itineraries, and catching up on piles of homework. I actually have a close friend in school administration – principal of a public elementary school – who laments what she sees as the loss of recess. Well, recess is technically still around, but it’s been neutered into some unrecognizable form. Dodgeball is widely banned (promotes competition and inequality), and the random roughhousing and general tomfoolery kids used to get into are completely cracked down on. Dirt fights and wrestling, I can understand, but dodgeball? I weep. I weep, but I’m not even that surprised. Those red rubber balls sure do sting (the ego?), and we wouldn’t want our precious kids made aware of any discrepancies in ability between their peers and themselves. Save that revelation for adulthood – that’ll be healthy!

But the latest schoolyard casualty is too much to handle. I won’t stand for it. As of 2006, administrators in Cheyenne, Boston, and Spokane elementary schools have banned tag. Tag. It’s perhaps the oldest game in the world, and it’s being banned from schoolyards across the country – even here in my backyard, Santa Monica. They cite “concussions, broken bones and numerous bumps and scrapes” as potential causes for concern, as well as the “self-esteem issue.” I dunno about you, but I foresee far greater self-esteem issues for the kids who never learn the value of honest competition. Getting picked last is part of life. Losing is an essential skill. If they don’t learn these lessons early on in a natural, organic manner, how are kids supposed to handle the rigors and responsibilities of adult life, where the consequences are graver and your parents can’t come pick you up at lunch and get you ice cream?

I’m beginning to digress.

My point is this: those childhood games teach us important lessons, and they facilitate our athletic development. As adults, we stand to gain a lot from going back to these games, even if we were lucky enough to grow up in an age where kids were allowed to be kids (strike “allowed,” actually; kids simply were kids). Games like dodgeball, monkey in the middle, and especially tag are excellent ways to get a great, fun workout (I would advise against dirt clod fights and roughhousing with random adults – these tend to morph into actual fights). Play, after all, is one of the Primal Laws, and what better way to show your children the value of a good game of tag than by playing it with them?

Let’s remove the “childhood” tag from tag, shall we?

I focus on tag because it can be played anywhere without equipment. Dodgeball is great, but a good game requires a special ball, a court, and a certain amount of players. All you need for tag is a few participants and an open space. Tag’s also perhaps the purest, oldest game. I’m strictly guessing here, but I’d imagine organisms – hominids, dogs, otters, baboons, and squirrels – have been chasing each other around for no particular reason for millions of years. Go to a zoo or a dog park or a playground (sometimes) and you’ll see evidence of animals left to their own devices who default to chasing each other.

Tag is completely free form. There are no boundaries and few rules. In football, there are clear goals. A guy’s chasing you, but he knows exactly where you’re headed: to the endzone. In tag, you can be completely unpredictable. You’re darting this way and that way without a real spatial goal in sight – except to get the heck out of the other guy’s clutches. You’ll develop moves you never knew you had and agility you thought was long gone, all because you remove those conscious mental filters that slow things down and prevent pure instinctual reactions.

Tag is sprinting made effortless. Well, effort is still there, but you won’t be aware of it in a good game of tag; you’ll be too busy trying to stay “alive.” If you can’t seem to get out for a regular sprint session, you might try getting a gang together for tag. You’ll end up running what amounts to dozens of sprints without even thinking about it.

Tag promotes full-on effort. Even if you’re a committed sprinter, it can be tough to really hit maximum effort each time, because at the end of the day you’re alone on a track, or a stretch of grass. Unless you’ve got a competitive training partner, you’re in an official competition, or there’s a mountain lion on your tail, you’re missing that sense of urgency that compels the true sprint. When you get in the zone in a game of tag, you do everything you can to avoid being “it.” You dodge, roll, fake, and sprint as fast as humanly possible to avoid being tagged. If you really get into it, it’ll be as if there’s a lion on your heels or a world record to be broken – your body won’t know the difference, and your performance will improve.

There are dozens of varieties of tag. Most will work for your purposes just fine. British bulldogs, for example, begins with two “bulldogs” standing in the middle of the play area. Everyone else lines up on one end and tries to rush past the bulldogs to the other side. Those who are caught become bulldogs. The last one standing is the victor. Then there’s the always classic freeze tag, or even the modified tag variant hide and seek. Too many to name, but I think we can do better with our own variant.

Grok Tag

I suppose the real “Grok Tag” would look something like basic schoolyard tag: one person trying to tag another person, who then becomes “it.” Just basics, no tricks or gimmicks. That’s fine, but I’m thinking we can distinguish ourselves and make it a real workout by throwing in a little twist.

  • Gather a group of people together. At least five is ideal, three is good, and two will technically work.
  • Go to a field, the beach, a forest – pretty much anywhere with real earth underneath, rather than hard concrete. You’re going to be running a lot, so avoid high impact ground.
  • Have everyone do five burpees simultaneously for time. The slowest is “it.” Everyone else is the hunted.
  • Once you’re ready to play, have the hunted disperse. “It” waits ten seconds and then begins the chase.
  • If someone is tagged, they immediately drop and do ten pushups. Once they finish, they are now “it” and the person who tagged them is now the hunted.
  • Next person tagged drops and gives fifteen pushups. Once they finish, they are now “it” and the person who tagged them is now the hunted.
  • Continue in this manner until you reach thirty pushups. Whoever does the thirty is “it” for the next round, which begins in two minutes. For the next round, use squats instead of pushups. And for the round after that, use burpees, but start with five and end with twenty-five (unless you’re up for the full thirty). If there are low hanging branches or pull-up bars in the area, do a round with pull-ups instead.
  • There are tag backs and yes, a single person might end up doing a disproportionate number of repetitions in a given round. That’s life, though, and it’ll only make you stronger.

You can modify Grok Tag to suit your needs and abilities. Raise or lower the reps as needed. Wear weighted vests for the duration. Have kettlebell stations positioned around the field of play, and substitute kettlebell swings into the game. You could even have a barbell sitting on the field – get tagged, do five deadlifts. The possibilities are endless, but the basic concept of being “punished” for getting tagged is key. You won’t want to do those twenty burpees or thirty squats, so you’re going to run like your life depends on it. Even the guys or girls who never get tagged still get a great sprint workout, and the guys or girls who always get tagged will only get stronger and faster.

I’ll admit. This can be a pretty hardcore workout and a far cry from the tag of your childhood, but its scalability means it will never be too hardcore for anyone. Plus, it’s a good way to ambush a reluctant workout partner: “Hey, wanna play a friendly game of tag?”And if your kids have never played the game, this might be a good way to introduce them to an archaic tradition while teaching them proper burpee and squat form.

Just don’t expect to see it in P.E. classes anytime soon.

Have your own thoughts on a variation of Primal tag? Share it in the comment board. Thanks, everyone!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. we also called it manhunt in flatbush, brooklyn. We would split into two teams of about 10+ kids. Each team would have a home base which was a safe spot for the hunted team and a jail for the hunting team. The boundaries were determined based on the number of participants: anywhere from a 2 block radius to a 5 block radius. The hunted team had 10 minutes to scatter.Then they would be hunted. A caught person was brought back to the jail, from where he or she could be freed simply by another team member tagging the person within the jail. This hunt lasted anywhere from 1 to 8 hours on a Saturday or during summer vacations. Now there are play dates:-(

    dr. pierre debs wrote on December 2nd, 2009
  2. We also played semi-tackle football on the streets during the summer and when it snowed, full on tackle on snow-covered car lined streets. From 1970-1980, only 3 people broke a leg.

    I used to ride bikes and skateboards with no helmet.

    We where kids back then.

    Kids today are being mad into pansies from absurd parenting techniques derived from talk shows. Never once did my parents have to tell me to go out and play in the streets of the hood. All they said was “don´t hurt yourslef and be home for dinner”

    dr. pierre debs wrote on December 2nd, 2009
  3. It’s not the schools, it’s the overprotective parents who are vicariously reliving their youth through their kids and making sure that all the “bad” stuff gets taken out. The first wave of these kids are now adults and have zero coping mechanisms. It would be funny watching them if it wasn’t so sad.

    On a lighter note, my family’s version of tag was aluminum ball. You would wad up some tin foil, turn off the lights (you have to play this at night) and run around trying to hit people with the foil ball. Great fun and I think we only broke two lamps …

    Trish wrote on December 2nd, 2009
  4. There is hope! Too bad this wasn’t just restricted to Kindergarten.

    Uncle Herniation wrote on December 2nd, 2009
  5. The sports league around here (zogsports) has a bunch of organized sports available, two of which are childhood favorites — dodgeball and kickball.
    Coincidentally, I just read an article in Time on the backlash against helicopter parenting:,8599,1940395-3,00.html.
    On page 3, they talk about the importance of play on leadership, resilience, sociability, learning, memory, etc., and how it literally shapes brain pathways (well duh, all experience does).

    MariaNYC wrote on December 2nd, 2009
  6. We also played tag with the end-of-season rotten tomatoes. I can recall being out as a 11 year old very late at night picking s shirtful or rotten tomatoes off the vines in our backyard. We pelted each other until late at night. Boy did we stink! They can leave a bruise too, which to us was a badge of honor! Sure was fun though.
    It’s funny the things we remember from our childhood and the fun we had. I think that these kinesthetic activities are burned into our memories because of the movement involved… and because it was so darn much fun!

    Dave, RN wrote on December 2nd, 2009
  7. Great post. This reminds me of my favorite New Years Eve memory ever. My husband and a bunch of couples we know from college all rented a cabin in Wisconsin for the holiday. We’re in our late 20s/early 30s and some people were pregnant and not drinking, so we ended up playing hide and seek at 1 a.m. for over an hour. It was so fun! It then developed into a tag-like game as the hiding times decreased. Even the 2 dogs that were there got into the action.

    jdl409 wrote on December 2nd, 2009
  8. This is such a great idea. This is really great for anyone running a group fitness program as well. Ive done fun things like fitness bingo and have seen others do capture the flag and water balloon fights to keep their workouts fun and entertaining.

    Love it Mark!

    Tony M wrote on December 2nd, 2009
  9. I wasn’t athletic at all as a kid, but freeze tag was great fun–running around and working on balance too.

    The whole self-esteem thing reminded me of a Kurt Vonnegut story–“Harrison Bergeron” where society has decided to “equalize” everyone–ballerinas must wear weights so they aren’t more graceful than others, attractive people must wear a bag over their heads, thinking people get zapped if they have a non-approved thought. Like most futuristic fiction, there is that scary element of truth!

    Catalina wrote on December 2nd, 2009
  10. If this wasn’t a great argument for Charter Schools, I don’t know what is! I have 2 boys and I’m sure plenty of parents out there know that (especially young boys) need to get out that extra energy so they can settle down and focus. Drives me nuts that they are taking away this tremendously important life skill. It’s being so devalued!

    As a society were moving away from Grok so why should kids need to experience any needless pain since they’ll be sitting in a cubical their entire life?
    LOL! I use to let my kids fall and let them hurt themselves, I knew the scream that needed my attention, which was very rare, but I would be there in a heartbeat when they were really hurt. After awhile the would get the bump look at me see that I wasn’t going to run to them, then they would get back to what the were doing. Playing tag!

    Gigi wrote on December 2nd, 2009
  11. This is great! Not only do adults need to return to being kids every now and then, but children today need to devote more time to being kids and getting out to move and have fun outside.

    FoodFitnessFreshair wrote on December 2nd, 2009
  12. The best game growing up, hands down, was “Wolf.” You’d get a group of maybe 5-8 of your friends, dress in dark, old clothing or camo, and have a full out game of hide and seek combined with tackle tag in the dark, best if in the woods or a shady area. One person was “it” and had to go after all those hiding. You were bound to get stained clothes, roughed up hands and knees, and possibly some big bruises, but it was fun as hell and no one cared. Just as long as we were inside by curfew.

    OH and also the game of “run through the cornfield at midnight and hope you don’t get lost” was fun but damn scary! It’s amazing the stuff we used to get away with!

    Those weren’t allowed at school, but kickball and dodgeball sure were :) Even as a kid who was a little on the chubby side, I could still run and play with the best of them. The only time me (and some friends) got into big trouble was when we attempted to re-enact a WWF brawl. That ended in a week of lost recess.

    Melisisa wrote on December 2nd, 2009
  13. I get what you’re saying. I don’t think tag should be banned. I did hate tag growing up, because I was fat and slow and if I got tagged, I would pretty much stay tagged. But I could always choose to play a different game (I was quite a tetherballist).

    That said, I have a scar from a game of tag. Wasn’t watching where I was going and ran into another kid face-first. So I have a little scar over my right eyebrow from a game of tag. Of course, a scar’s not that big a deal. There was a lot of blood, though. If I were a playground supervisor, I wouldn’t have wanted to have to deal with that.

    Jamie wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  14. Banning tag what ever next! Here in Britain we call “recess” “play time” which is exactly what it should be.

    As for self esteem many kids who aren’t so great academically get to shine during play time.

    Childhood and adolescent rates of depression have sky rocketed over the last couple of decades and this might partly be due to lack of exercise.

    Agreed I loved/love tag

    Keep up the great work

    Mark Tyrrell wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  15. A few weekends ago the parkour club I train with on campus ended a Saturday training session with a game of tag, played on some limestone slabs which were set up at good distances so we could jump across them. The rules were to stay on the rocks, if you touch the ground, your it, if you are already it and touch the ground, 10 push ups. Lots of sprinting and leaping. Most fun I’ve had in years!

    Liana wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  16. My dog played tag with a horse once. They would chase each other back and forth across the pasture.

    Chris wrote on March 6th, 2010
  17. Bizzarely was reading this post when my workmate pointed something going on outside.

    There was a magpie and a rabbit playing tag :)
    went on for around 5 minutes or so.

    I suspect that the magpie is nesting and the rabbit just was in the wrong place at the wrong time…
    No idea what the outcome was they disappeared back into the treeline.

    David W wrote on May 17th, 2010
  18. That is funny. A game that probably didn’t even wind us as kids would literally floor me today and have me sore for a week.

    Great idea!

    nathan wrote on June 7th, 2010
  19. Fantastic idea. Perfect game to play after a grokfeast. I need to start planning!

    Primal Toad wrote on September 8th, 2010
  20. Nice concept. Gotta find a group of decently fit people, otherwise, it’s gonna be a very short game.

    Jeff wrote on November 11th, 2010
  21. Thanks for linking to this, Mark!
    When I was in grade school, I hated dodgeball. For a good while, I would have agreed with banning it. It always made me feel like crap when I would stand in the back, dodging stray ones and tossing balls to the good throwers in the front. At least, I felt like crap until the day I won the entire game for my team, as the last one standing against the other team’s mvp. I used my dodging skills to my advantage: as we stood almost toe-to-toe, each with one ball and flinching when the other moved half an inch, I suddenly dropped to the floor and threw my ball at his knees. His went right over my head. Now that made me feel awesome! All that dodging paid off, and I’m very glad I got to learn that lesson: dodgeball can suck, but if you play it a lot and don’t give up, you can win big.

    Kate wrote on December 29th, 2011

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