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The Army Strategist’s Guide to Backyard Snowball Warfare

Destroy their reserve stockpile of ammunition, then hit them where it hurts.

Your backyard snowball fight is unlikely to change the course of human history, but that doesn’t mean it should just be a free-for-all. By learning and employing some real military tactics, adults and kids can make a typical backyard pelting into a sophisticated exercise in strategic thinking and execution. More to the point, a bit of forethought can make for a far more interesting, entertaining, and memorable clash. For guidance on how to have a more sophisticated snow battle, Fatherly reached out to Dr. Jeffrey D. McCausland, a retired Colonel, former Dean of Academics at the U.S. Army War College, father of three, and master of the cold weather skirmish. McCausland offered five piece of advice for parents looking to emerge victorious from fun, safe combat.

1. Make it fair.
Squabbles are inevitable during snow warfare, but you can avoid the obvious ones by setting some ground rules. “You have to come at it with a gentleman’s attitude: Agree that we’re here to have fun, not get hurt,” says McCausland. “There’s a degree of arms control that you have to deal with too. Make everyone agree that you can’t, say, use ice balls, or put rocks in the middle of your snowballs. You might even want to make an agreement on how many snowballs your arsenal can contain.” For the most compelling snowball fight, McCausland says teams should be consist of adults and kids, evenly distributed. He also recommends double checking that everyone wants to be in the fight. It’s no good to drag a conscientious objector into the mix.

2. Hit them where they aren’t.
Strategy-wise, McCausland advocates what military specialists call a “fixing attack.” “What you want to do is attack one side of their base with just a few competitors — a limited attack. People get excited and children gravitate towards where the action is. While they’re focused on that, you have a larger number of attackers hit them from the opposite side, where they’re not paying attention.” The goal, McCausland says, is to get your opposing team in a crossfire.

3. If it’s snowing, go on the offensive.
“If you’re hampered by visibility — if you’re in the middle of a snowstorm, or it’s foggy, or it’s nighttime, being on offense has advantages,” says McCausland. “Your chances are increased of being able to outflank your opponent without them noticing.”

4. Destroy their ammunition.
This is, of course, classic military strategy. “Your objective in attacking their base should be to destroy their reserve stockpile of ammunition,” says McCausland. The value to this depends on field conditions: if wet, packable snow abounds, your opponent can recover quickly, since snowballs can be made quickly, anywhere. If you’re surrounded by colder, drier snow from which it takes a longer time to craft a snowball, a stockpile strike could be devastating.

5. If (and when) a real conflict breaks out, let the kids try to sort it out before jumping in.
Chances are, somebody in your snowball fight will get ticked off and start an argument. If it’s a kid, you might not want to immediately break it up. “Within reason, sometimes you need to just let the kids go — they’re learning the rudimentary skills of conflict management,” says McCausland. “Our instinct as parents is to immediately jump in, but if you let them go, kids can learn a lot about intersocial reactions.” Obviously, there is a point (fisticuffs) at which this no longer makes sense, but games are generally more fun for kids when they get the sense that they have real agency and are not just foot soldiers taking orders from parents.

The Fatherly Guide to Snow Ball Fights