Everyone likes to go to the pool on a hot day! As coaches, we have spent countless hours playing new and creative games with swimmers of all ages. Before you get in the water, check out some of the best games to play!
Best Swimming Games for Kids
1. Cannonball Contest
Number of Players: At least 2, but it’s so fun with more!
Equipment: None, but this needs to be done in the deep end. You can choose whether to incorporate a diving board or not.
How to Play: you can use a diving board (or just the side of the pool) to jump into the water and create the biggest splash! Whoever makes the best cannonball splash is the winner. Establish at least one judge before the game begins.
2. Mr. Shark, What Time is it?
Number of Players: At least 4 people work best, but it can be done in a larger group
How to Play: This has always been a favorite in my kids’ swim lessons when they were little. But, it can also be fun for older swimmers, too.
One person is chosen to be “Mr. Shark.” Mr. Shark stands away from the side of the pool facing the fish he plans to eat for dinner. Then he turns his back as the fish yell, “Mr. Shark, what time is it?” The shark can say 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock, etc. Each number corresponds to the number of steps toward the Shark they will take. When Mr. Shark yells out the time, he will quickly turn and glance where everyone is before turning his back again. Play continues until Mr. Shark sees that the swimmers are getting very close to him. At that point when asked, “What time is it,” Mr. Shark yells, “Dinner Time!” At this point, Mr. Shark will tag someone and that person becomes Mr. Shark.
3. Sharks and Minnows
Number of Players: A large group works best (10 or more)
How to Play: If you were/are on a swim team, chances are this game is not new to you. It’s one of the simplest games to play with a large group of swimmers because it is basically just “Tag” in the water!
Start with one Shark (the person who is “it”) and the rest of the players at opposite ends of the pool. The game starts when the Shark shouts, “fishies, fishies come out and play!” At that time, the Minnows start to swim toward the other side of the pool. The Shark must remain in place until the next call, which is, “Shark Attack!!” This is when the Shark begins to tag the swimmers (Minnows). The Minnow’s goal is to avoid the Shark and make it to the other side of the pool without getting caught.
Any Minnow who gets tagged becomes a Shark, making the game more difficult as it goes on. The last Minnow standing is the winner!
4. Diving For Treasure
Number of Players: 2-6 players is a good number to make the game fun
Equipment: Goggles and treasure! (Be creative with your treasure!)
How to Play: Adults throw treasure all over the pool (or just the shallower half of the pool for less experienced swimmers). When one adult yells, “Go!” all of the swimmers will jump in the pool and dive down to the bottom to collect as much treasure as they can. If they can’t hold it all, they can come up and put it in a pile on the side and dive down again.
Safety Tip: Don’t play this game in a crowded pool. Adults should be able to clearly see each of the swimmers down at the bottom who are searching for the treasure.
Number of Players Needed: At least 2 players
Equipment Needed: Water bottle filled with pool water and re-capped (white cap is preferred)
How to Play: Players line up on the side of the pool with their backs turned to the pool. An adult or non-player throws the bottle into the pool. When swimmers hear the splash, they turn around and jump in the pool to find the water bottle. This sounds easy, but it’s actually very challenging! The water bottle will blend in with the pool water. The player who finds the water bottle and brings it to the surface is the champion!
6. Fishy in the Middle
Number of Players: at least 3 players
Equipment: A ball you can easily throw and catch
How to Play: If you’ve ever played “Monkey in the Middle,” this is the same game, but played in the water. This game CAN be played in the deeper end of the pool, but only for stronger swimmers who can tread water for a long period of time. When played in the shallow end where players can stand, everyone can be included. Two players stand on opposite sides of each other. The “Fishy” stands in the middle. The two players on the outside throw the ball back and forth and try to keep it away from the Fishy in the middle. When Fishy does finally catch the ball, the player who was responsible for them being able to get it becomes the next Fishy.
Number of Players Needed: 2+ players
Equipment Needed: None
How to Play: This game has a similar concept to H-O-R-S-E in basketball, but here you will spell F-I-S-H instead. Swimmers will perform a swimming move that the other swimmers have to copy. A double flip could be a good example – it’s fun to choose something challenging that not everyone will be able to do. Players always go in the same order. The next person then tries to perform the exact move. If they do, the next player tries. If they don’t, they get a letter F. Play continues with the next player thinking of a new move. The first player to spell out F-I-S-H loses the game.
8. Marco Polo
Number of Players: At least 2, but more is better!
Equipment: blindfold or blacked out goggles
How to Play: In Marco Polo, one person is chosen to be “It.” This person will swim in the water with a blindfold, blacked out goggles, or closed eyes if you don't have either of those things. “It” will then begin counting to the number of their choice. While counting, the swimmers scatter throughout the pool. When finished counting, “It” starts calling out, “Marco” while the swimmers echo back with “Polo.” “It” has to try to tag the other swimmers by using sound only. Whoever is left at the end is the winner.
Fun Swimming Games for Adults
Ready to kick it up a notch? Time to turn up the fun with a few advanced games. These games are best for experienced swimmers who like some competition.
1. Noodle Joust
Number of Players: 2 to play the game, more to make a tournament
Equipment: 2 pool noodles and 2 rafts
How to Play: Each player sits on a raft (or a kickboard) and tries to knock the other player into the water. Whoever knocks the other player off the raft first is victorious! For more of a challenge, really test your balance by standing on the kickboard instead.
2. Chicken Fight
Number of Players: Each game requires 4 players, 2 on each team. More players in multiples of 2 can join in the fun for a tournament!
How to Play: To assemble your team, choose who will stand in the water and who will sit on that persons’ shoulders. The water needs to be shallow enough for the standing players to stand with their shoulders and head out of the water. Once each standing player has their teammate on their shoulders, the two top players basically engage in upright wrestling. The goal is to knock the other player off their teammates’ shoulders. Whoever falls into the pool first, loses the round. The defending champs then go up against a new team.
Safety Tip: Establish ground rules ahead of time such as keeping hands off heads, necks, and hair or staying away from the edge of the pool deck so that no one gets hurt.
3. Water Polo
Number of Players: Ideally 6 or more. A true water polo game needs 14 players, but you don’t need this many to play. If you have more, that’s fine, too! You can always sub in and out.
Equipment: 2 small goals (street hockey size works well) and a water polo ball (or similar)
How to Play: Most of us have probably seen water polo on TV. The point of the game is simple: score by getting the ball into the net! Whoever scores the most points wins!
Some big rules to note:
You can only hold the ball with one hand and pass above water
No holding onto the side of the pool to shoot
No dunking or splashing each other
In real water polo, you cannot touch the bottom of the pool but this depends on the strength of your swimmers and the type of pool you’re playing in
Safety Tip: Playing side to side in the shallow end works well for swimmers not strong enough to tread water. If you do play in the deep end, make sure swimmers are strong enough to tread water for a long period of time. Give breaks as needed.
4. Octopus Tag
Number of Players: A large group makes this lots of fun!
How to Play: Similar to Sharks and Minnows, this game gets progressively harder as it goes on. In the beginning, the Octopus (the person who is “it”) is only made up of one person who starts in the middle of the pool. When the Octopus yells “Go!” the other players try to swim to the other side without getting caught. Anyone who does get tagged by the Octopus joins the Octopus by holding hands. The Octopus then swims together to continue tagging more swimmers during each round. The challenge for the Octopus is they can’t let go of their hands to tag a player. On the flip side, it will get more and more difficult for the other swimmers to make their way around the ever-growing Octopus(es). The last one swimming is the winner!
Safety Tip: Though this game is very fun with large groups, it can be a safety issue when too many people are holding hands swimming together. Limit each Octopus to 4 people.
5. Atomic Whirlpool
Number of Players: Get as many people as you can to join the fun!
Equipment: None, but this game will need to be played in the shallow end of the pool.
How to Play: Begin by having everyone start in a single file line, designating one person in the front as the leader. The leader then begins walking slowly in a large circle towards the end player, while everyone else follows behind (forming a circle). Once the circle is formed, the leader will begin running in the water. Everyone else begins to run as well. Continue running until a whirlpool is formed. Players will notice themselves being picked up off the ground at this point while being carried by the current of the whirlpool. At that point the leader shouts out, “TURN!” and everyone turns and tries to run in the opposite direction of the whirlpool. Laughs will be had as everyone realizes how difficult it is to run against the current!
Safety Tip: Since this is in the shallow end, keep an eye out for little ones. Make sure they are away from the whirlpool area.
6. Pool Tag Survivor
Number of Players: Large groups work great
How to Play: This is another variation on the game of “Tag.” One person is designated to be “it”. The “it” person starts on one side of the pool, then has the option to yell out one of the following commands to the other swimmers at the other end of the pool:
“Dolphin” – As dolphins, the swimmers will swim on top of the water
“Froggy” – Froggies swim underwater in the middle of the pool
“Submarine” – Swimmers as submarines will swim across the bottom of the pool
Once “it” has yelled a command, they must close their eyes and try to tag the other players. When someone makes it across without being tagged, they shout, “Survived!” Continue to play until there is only one player left…the winner!
Safety Tip: Make sure swimmers know that they can come up for breath as needed even as a Froggy or Submarine.
7. Popsicle Tag
Number of Players: 4 is enough, but more is better!
How to Play: This is basically the water-version of Freeze Tag. Swimmers should be able to tread water easily unless playing in the shallow end of the pool. Someone is chosen to be “it.” The rest of the players swim around the pool trying not to get tagged. When they do get tagged, they have to stay in one place and tread water (or stand with legs apart). In order to be “unfrozen” another swimmer has to swim under the other swimmer’s legs. Players cannot be tagged while underwater.
Safety Tip: It’s likely that “it” won’t be able to freeze everyone to end the game. Play for a few minutes or until “it” is tired and chooses someone new.
Number of Players: This can be played with as few as 3 people, but more is better! A group of 6 – 8 works well.
How to Play: Establish the colors to be used – the easiest way is to use colors from the rainbow (think ROYGBIV). Next, you’ll need to pick a starting spot for swimmers as well as a “safe” spot for them to swim to. One side of the pool to the other works well.
Choose someone to be “it”. That person will get out of the pool with their backs turned to the swimmers. At that time, every swimmer in the pool will choose a color in their minds and keep it a secret. Then, the person who is “it” will shout out colors for everyone to hear, such as “RED!!” Any swimmer who chose red as their color then begins to swim as quietly as they can to the other side of the pool. If “it” hears someone they turn around and jump in the pool to try to catch the person(s) swimming across. Whoever is caught first by “it” becomes the next “it”. If the first “it” jumps in and doesn’t tag anyone before they get to the other side, they stay “it” and play another round until they catch someone.
Safety Tip: If the water isn’t a proper diving depth, be sure to remind swimmers to jump in the pool instead of diving.
9. Air Ball
Number of Players: 3 – 6 players are ideal
Equipment: Beach Ball
How to Play: The goal of this game is to keep the ball in the air by passing it to other players through a “setting” type motion (think volleyball). Once it touches the water, the round is over. For extra fun, count each pass and try to keep the ball up longer on subsequent rounds.
From the games listed above, we have separated them based on the number of players required to help you choose which are best for you! Please refer to the explanations above.
Swimming Games for Two:
Here are some games you can play with just a pair!
Diving For Treasure
Swim Games for Teams:
Last but not least, here are some fun games to play with a bigger group!
Mr. Shark, What Time is it?
Sharks and Minnows
Pool Tag Survivor
Have we not mentioned your favorite swimming pool game? Please let us know in the comments below!