Summer, and the hot weather that comes with it, is just around the corner, which means preparing yourself for spending hours near/in/by the water. Your best bet? Swimming pool games don’t require props and promise hours of poolside perfection for mom and dad. From Marco Polo to sharks and minnows, our favorite pool games mean one thing: you’ll be traveling light all summer long. If you don’t have your supply of swimsuits yet, be sure to check out the best suits for every mom bod and our favorite swimsuits for kids!
Similar to Treasure Dive, Wishing Well sends players on a search for coins at the bottom of the pool. This version, however, involves lining participants up shoulder-to-shoulder with their backs to the pool while someone throws a handful of loose coins into the water. The players then dive into the pool to collect them before they land on the bottom. Let the players keep their coins as a prize or collect them all and toss them again.
If you’ve ever played freeze tag on dry land, this is exactly that, only in the shallow end of the pool. Start with one person as “it,” and have him or her tag the other players, who are swimming. When tagged, a player must stand frozen like a popsicle until another un-tagged player can thaw him out by swimming underwater between his legs. Just be sure to change the “it” person every so often to keep from having pouty popsicles in the pool.
Who needs fancy dive sticks or expensive torpedoes when you’ve got a public pool and a kid with goggles? Just in case you’re a little afraid of what Junior might find, however, take a handful of coins and toss them in the water to focus his search.
Funny Hair Competition
You know you’ve done it. If you ever had hair longer than shoulder-length, you’ve done the George Washington (emerged from underwater with your hair flipped down over your face, then rolled it back over your head to for a stylin’ Colonial-era ‘do). Other classics include the dinosaur (spiked hair), Princess Lea (dueling buns), and the sweet roll (spiraled over the entire head).
Racers become human submarines as they race underwater to see who can get the farthest without emerging for air. The key to a successful submariner is a strong start, followed by efficient flutter kicks. Some have been known to dive deep early so as not to lose momentum on the surface mid-pool.
Underwater Tea Party
Goggles come in handy here. In an underwater tea party, two players must sink to the bottom of the pool where they sit criss-cross-applesauce and then partake in a fancy tea fit for a queen. Pouring from imaginary teapots, stirring imaginary cups of tea, offering each other lumps of sugar, and passing trays of finger foods and sweets are all par for the course.
Sharks & Minnows
While there's debate as to the proper starting position of the minnows (in the water or out of the water on the far side of the pool), and variation exists on the proper call to action by the shark (“Sharks and minnows, one, two, three. Fishies, fishes, come to me!” versus “Fiiiishies! Come out and plaaay!”), there’s no debate this classic swimming pool game will be entertaining our children’s children for summers to come. Could there be anything more thrilling than narrowly escaping the touch of the treacherous shark?
The goal is to be the last swimmer unattached to the human chain of “outed” participants. The octopus begins with one player who tags another player, who then must link arms with one another (hence the growing octopus). As the octopus grows and the number of unlinked players diminishes, it gets trickier and trickier to evade the “tentacle” of players in the pool.
Part pool game, part magic trick, this game involves a line of kids inside the pool but along the edge (in the shallow end). Have them walk, then jog, then race as fast as they can—still in single file—around the perimeter of the pool, then yell “switch!” When they turn to run in the opposite direction, the current will keep them from running, but certainly, increase the laughter factor. Bonus? Running in the pool will wear. them. out.
We give the namesake of this game two thumbs down, but the pool game is a solid 10 in our book. Be sure to set the bar high when you define the rules of engagement before shouldering up. Chicken fights are played with a minimum of four participants (two “bases” and two “chickens” who each climb onto the other player’s shoulders). A chicken can push, pull, tickle, tackle and splash the other chicken off of its base to dominate as World Chicken Champion (until the next round, anyway).
This variation on colors involves one person—the “it” one—being named the chef. Other players pick their favorite pizza topping and group together. When the chef calls out their topping, those players swim to the other side of the pool. If the chef catches you, however, you go straight into the pizza “oven” (the out area, usually on the stairs or along one wall).
Little mermaids take turns swimming like a mermaid with their ankles together, then go underwater and rocket out of the water with their arms in the air (a la Ariel in The Little Mermaid) to see who can jump the highest out of the water.
Who doesn't have a great memory of being catapulted from the water by mom or dad? Turn this classic parent-child bonding (or sibling) sesh into a friendly competition to see who can go the furthest, the highest, or do the coolest trick in the air.
Choreograph your own water ballet to go with one of your favorite songs. Perfect for a solo endeavor or with friends (think synchronized swimming), this pool game is video recorder-ready!
Similar to P.I.G. in basketball, the first player in F.I.S.H. is the leader, and the other players must follow exactly what the leader does. Jump from the side, do a certain dive, perform a choreographed pool number—whatever the task, the players must follow it or be given a letter from F.I.S.H. The first player to spell F.I.S.H loses the game.
Belly Flop Competition
Similar to a cannonball competition but without the showmanship mid-flight, the belly flop competition is all about the biggest smack of flesh on water. Who needs a cool flip mid-air when everyone knows you’re going for surface-area-to-contact records?
With this game, the more swimmers you have, the merrier (but we know of confirmed rounds of Categories involving only two players, so work with what you’ve got). Begin by choosing someone to be "It." Who then selects a category other players are familiar with (think colors for the small set, or candy bars for the older kids). "It" stands outside of the pool with their back turned from the water and all other players line up directly underneath them with their hands on the wall, waiting for their selection to be guessed. If it is, the player tries to swim to the other side of the pool without being tagged out.
Best performed from a springy, 1980s-era diving board, cannonball competitions are similar to dance-offs because each participant tries to “up” the next with their artistic interpretations mid-flight and ultimately, by the size of her splash.
Adrenaline, meet categories. Starting on the side of the pool in a jump-ready position, count “1,2,3” and then your choice of any animate or inanimate object. Kiddos will leap into the air, strike their pose, and come up for air giggling. Some sure-fire objects that they’ll love to imitate are tigers, turtles, and trees, but the more creative you get, the more they’ll beg for more.
Pool Tag Survivor
Chose one player to be "it." The chosen player then yells out "dolphin," "froggy," or "submarine." Dolphins swim on top of the water, froggies swim in the middle, and submarines swim at the bottom of the pool. Whoever is "it" must close their eyes and try to tag the other players. When a player reaches the other end of the pool, they yell out "Survived!" Players who get tagged decide which one is "it" next.
Forget Marco Polo who was the first European to reach China. In America, if it’s June, July, or August, Marco (Polo!) is the king of the pool. “Marco” catches other players based on their reply to his call, and there’s no adrenaline-like daring to be the fish out of the water! Just like tag, only in water and with your eyes closed, how many hours did you spend playing this easy but exciting pool game as a kid?