Family sports that children and adults can all have fun playing together

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Luckily, there are no "real" family sports designed specifically for family participation. The "real" sports have their big leagues and little leagues.

But none of them have leagues where big and little people play together. They have their Olympics and their Special Olympics, but there are no Olympics where special and the non-special play together.

I say "luckily" because this gives us permission to make up our own! And, even more luckily, the family sport that we make up together is very likely to be the very sport that we can all have fun playing together.

Another bit of luck is that we don't have to make them up from scratch. We can begin with a sport that we already know: football, volleyball, golf, whatever. To make it more fun (that is, to help us from taking it too seriously), we won't use the official equipment.

We'll go to a playground to play basketball, all right. But we'll use a bouncier, safer playground ball. And if some of our people are in wheelchairs, we'll use them, too. Maybe throw in a few extra wheelchairs. And some socks. And maybe a slide whistle for the referees.

This idea of using unofficial equipment (junk) and creating unofficial rules and maybe even playing in unofficial places is what I call "junkyard sports." Which is the title of a book I wrote for Human Kinetics. And the name of a website (, where you can find example after example of these wonderfully warm, wacky invitations for family play.

For example, here's one that's in the book: Wheelchair Doubles Basketball (from Junkyard Sports)

The game begins with two players, one from each team, competing in a tip-off. Other players position themselves so that they are each ready to receive the ball and move it down the court to the opponent's basket. Players score 2 points by getting the ball into the opponent's basket. The team with more points at the end of 20 minutes wins. Wheelers must keep both hands on their chairs at all times.

Bouncers must either bounce or throw the ball. No holding the ball.
Players who commit fouls exchange places with referees. The fouled player gets a free throw.

Two teams of 2 to 10 players per team.


Playground, gym, or any hard-surfaced area at least 12 by 20 feet.
A basket on either end (anything from a regulation backboard to trashcans)


Wheelchairs, office chairs, even shopping carts (one for every other player)
A good bouncing ball (at least 6 inches in diameter)
Cloth (towels, pillowcases, socks) for blindfolds (optional)
Noisemakers for referees

Players work in pairs. One player is the wheeler, the other the bouncer. The wheeler can stand behind a chair or sit on the chair. The bouncer can sit on the chair or on the wheeler's lap. Each team selects one or two players (one if the sides are uneven) to play referee.


Chairs can tip over or collide if there's too much enthusiasm.


Alternate roles where possible (wheelers change position with bouncers). Encourage bouncers and wheelers to develop good communication. Wheelers are standing and have a better view of the whole court. Try playing it with wheelers or bouncers blindfolded.

This article is courtesy of Bernie DeKoven, author of Junkyard Sports - Copyright © 2004


The following are all traditional games, but include some very untraditional suggestions for making them more fun for the kids playing.


Ball Tag

This is a free-for-all tag game. After the children have decided who’s IT, takes a ball (a large, playground ball) and tries to hit someone with it. The player who is hit becomes IT. (elements to vary: the ball (ping pong ball, balloon, bean bag, etc.). create a safe zone, when a player is hit, both that player and the one who hit him, become IT, until everyone is IT; give a time limit, define boundaries, start with several balls and several ITs.)

Stealing Sticks

The area to be played on is divided into two parts, with a clearly defined center line. Piles of 4 or 5 sticks are placed towards the center back of the two areas. A prison is marked off on each of the two sides. The object of the game is to capture the opponents’ sticks without being caught. As soon as a player crosses the center line, he may be caught by the other team and put into prison.

If a player gets to the opponents’ sticks and secures one, he is safe to return home with it. A player can be freed from prison if one of his teammates touches his hand; he is freed to go back to his own side without being tagged. The team which has all the sticks and all its players out of prison wins. (vary the amount of sticks, try it with three or more teams, change the location of the prison to a more distant or more accessible place, eliminate prison altogether, thus, anybody tagged becomes part of the other team).

Catching the Dragon’s Tail

Team members form a line, each person holding on to the shoulders of the person in front of him. The head of the "drag" tries to catch the tail. All team members continue holding shoulders and may do whatever is in their power to keep the head from catching the tail.

Once the head catches the tail, roles are reversed, the former head moving to a position behind the new head. (play this game with several teams at once, or have each team try to catch the tail of the other team, or make it into a tag game so that everyone not part of the dragon has to hop, or take baby steps, and anyone tagged by the head or the tail becomes part of the dragon).

Protecting Eggs

One player is the protector of the eggs. The other players are robbers. The protector has a pile of small stones or balls near his feet. The robbers try to steal the eggs from that pile. If the protector tags a robber with his hands or feet, they exchange roles. If the robbers succeed in stealing all the eggs, the protector serves again in the next play.

Bear Pit

The players form a circle with clasped hands. This is the bear pit. One player is the bear, and stands in the center of the circle. The bear tries to escape by breaking through clasped hands or by going under or leaping over them. If he escapes, all the players chase him and the person who catches him becomes the bear for the next game.

(have several bears, have the bear break in instead of out of the circle, and give the bear time to hide so that the players have to find him and trap him into a circle first.)

Insect Soccer

Three children stand back to back with their arms linked. Several insects are set up in this manner. A soccer ball is placed equidistant from the insects. A goal is set up at the other end of the playing area. First team to kick the ball through the goal, while remaining intact, is the winner.

(form soccer teams of five or two insects each, have two, four or five children in each insect, play like regular soccer, have an insect to defend the goal, have several goals, several balls, balloons, cage ball, etc.).


Team members hold on to a rope. The group stands in a small area known as the pond. The front player throws the end of the rope into the pond. Any player in the pond may grab the rope and try to jerk it away from the team. Once a player touches the rope, he is caught.

Players in the pond may call for help. Any member of the group pulled out of the pond becomes part of the team. If any member of the team steps into the pond, all of the players in the pond who are holding on to the rope may let go. (make a very large pond or a very small one, start out with only one player as fisherman, have several players with several ropes).

Chieftan’s War

Each team picks a chief. The two chiefs meet in the center and choose a form of hand-to-hand combat (thumb wrestling, rooster wrestle, arm wrestling, etc.). Teams may also pick medicine men to harass the other team or encourage their own. The team whose chief has lost it chased and tagged by the other team. Those players now join that team. (encourage dramatization, make the combat into a race, have the winning team impose a penalty on the losing team, let each team have two chiefs.)

Line Pull Tug of War

A line is drawn down the middle of the playing area. There are two teams. With one team standing on either side of the line and with each player facing a man from the opposing team. A player grabs hold of his opponent facing him and tries to pull him across the line.

Teammates may help a player. A player does not become part of the opposing tam until his whole body has been pulled over the line. He must then join the other team in trying to pull players across the line. He must then join the other team in trying to pull players across the line.

The team that has the larger number of players at the end of a time period is the winner. (play it with no time period, the last person being given the honor of naming the next game, try it with a circle instead of a line, or with players on hands and knees). 

Crows and Cranes

Two teams form lines facing each other. Both teams have their own goal lines a certain distance behind them. One person is the leader and decides which team is the crows and which the cranes. The leader then calls one of the team names. If he calls crows, the cranes chase the crows to the crows’ goal line. Any crow tagged by a crane becomes a member of the cranes’ team. Game continues until all the players are on one team.

Kick the Can

One person is IT. A home base is selected. To start the game, one person kicks the can. IT must retrieve the can, and, walking backwards, place it on the base. All the other players hide. As soon as IT has placed the can in the base, he goes out looking for other players. When he sees one, he calls "I spy ----- (person’s name)." That person must try to get to base before being tagged.

What is especially annoying about this game, at least form IT's perspective, is that any of the untagged may, by sneaking back home and literally kicking the proverbial can, free everyone who has been tagged.

Scavenger Hunt

Each team is given a list of objects to find. The first team to complete its list and return the objects to the leader wins. (play with several teams, with one team trying to beat the clock, try rhymed lists, lists by categories, lists with double meanings).

Grass Blade War

Each player selects one piece of grass. He loops a piece of grass through a loop held by another player. They have a tug of war, and the person whose blade breaks, loses. (make a mock tournament out of this, let kids make braids out of the grass for the contest, reverse the goal so that the player whose grass breaks wins).


The player who is IT sits down and counts to 15, with eyes closed. Other players run and conceal themselves. Players try to get as close to IT as possible without being seen. At 15, IT opens his eyes and names any people he can see. These players must drop out of the game. The person who is IT closes his eyes again and counts to 14.

Again, he opens his eyes and names whoever he can see. IT continues counting to one number smaller each time. When IT has counted to one, all the other players still in the game reveal themselves. The player closest to IT becomes IT for the next game. (try playing in an open or wooded area, try having several ITs at the same time; let IT hide first, then let the players try to find him, hiding as close to IT as they dare).

This article is courtesy of Bernie DeKoven, author of Junkyard Sports - Copyright 2004

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