10 Tips to Running Youth Group Games (Ultimate Guide)

You’ve picked out a great group game, checked out its rules, picked a great spot to play and found some equipment to use. All you need now are the enthusiastic kids!  What possibly could go wrong? Hopefully nothing! However, to ensure all is smooth sailing for your youth group, I have put together my top ten tips to running youth group games.

High Energy

This would have to be the tip with the biggest punch! Use your excitement and energy to fuel the kids in your group. Energy is infectious. Before you know it, the kids will be pumped and eager to play. Even boring games can be super fun if you’re energetic! I like to fire up the teams before the game commences with a bit of team comraderies. Give teams names and let the kids come up with a team chant or a team ‘move’. Check my little video clip at the bottom of this article to see what I mean.

Why not join in the game with the kids. It’s no fun being the bystander or referee. You can always give one of the kids that roll. The kids love to see that you’re having fun too! If there are parents watching, pull them into the game as well. The more the merrier!

10 Tips to Running Youth Group Games (Ultimate Guide)

Why not give commentary throughout the game, or give this job to one of the bystanders or players?

Believe That the Game is Worth Playing

Your confidence in the game will determine how the game goes. Believe that the kids want to have fun and that the game is a great game! This believe will exuberate from you when motivating the kids and with delivering the group game rules. If the kids sense you’re not confident, then they may play on it or lose faith in the game before you even begin.

Shared Ownership

All people like to be heard and valued. It is no different with the youth in your group. Another top tip for running youth group games is to involve the kids with the decisions around the game. You may not want to jump straight into this as there does need to be boundaries and expectations set around the game. So, to start with, allow decisions around small things, like coming up with a team name. However, as your group gets more and more used to playing collaborative group games, then they can also take on more and more of the decisions around the game.

Something I find to be powerful, is to have a short reflection routine after every game session. Have the kids be present to one another and give them an opportunity to share what they liked about the game. Then ask them, “What can WE do to make this game even more fun?” Encourage the kids to pair up and discuss ideas, then have these ideas shared with the group. If you feel there is eagerness to go with one of these ideas, then bring it to a vote. Call it a trial idea and add it into the game.

This process is great for kids, and they do come up with excellent ideas that do build upon the game. For the process to be effective, the group would need to be facilitated in a way that the kids feel safe to speak out and to be heard.

This process can also be used to sort out problems, or situations that caused a problem, in the game. Be careful not to name and shame individuals, rather, use the group to seek fair solutions.

You Can Never Be Too Prepared

Running Youth Group Games Successfully

As a school teacher, I learnt years ago that I needed to be one step ahead of the kids. If I wasn’t fully prepared, they would walk all over me and the lesson I was running would fall apart. Preparation with group games is super important.

Know your game. Watch a video on it and read the game brief so that you fully understand the game. You will soon be in front of your excited youth group explaining how it works. You need to know the rules inside out.

Think about your space where you’ll be running the group game. Is it safe, big enough and suitable for the size group you have and type of game? Consider any kids with special needs and how you’ll cater for them. Where will the bystanders be? For outdoor group games, is the space suitable for the expected weather and do you have a back up plan if the weather changes?

Gather together equipment needed and think about how it will be utilized. Set equipment up beforehand. Consider how teams will be selected. I like to just number kids off randomly, rather than let them pick teams. This is quick and you can manage it, so you can ensure that is fair.

Have the Goal in Mind

Have the group game goal in mind whilst planning and when delivering the game rules. Tell the kids what the game goal is. It will make the game so much clearer to the kids and put the game rules into context.

Also be clear on why you want to play the game with the kids. Is it about team building, communication, leadership, to energize, or simply to have fun! If you know ‘why’ you chose that particular game, you’ll be keeping in mind as to whether you’re achieving your outcome throughout the game.

Delivering the Game Rules

Make sure you have eliminated distractions and you have the kids’ full attention before giving the game rules. When outside I always ensure the kids have their backs to the sun, so they don’t have it in their eyes when listening. Do this for distractions as well. Have the kids backs to whatever it is that may distract them.  I like to sit the kids down for the rules.

Keep the group game rules concise. Kids only have a short attention span. More than five minutes delivering the game rules will be counterproductive. It is a good idea to have the rules written out on a palm card. Avoid skipping over rules. This will only lose the kids and when you start the game, they won’t get it, and the game will fall apart.

If you have downloaded our Wacki App, then consider showing the kids the short demonstration video for the game. A visual of how the game works is the best way for them to understand.

Remember, keep your energy high. Start with the game goal. If the kids know the objective to the game, then they will better understand the rules.

Where possible, model aspects of the game. You may enlist someone who already knows the game to help with the demonstrations.

Use the kids’ names when delivering the game rules. This keeps them alert and enrolled in the game.

For games with many elements, it is better to start with a base game, play it for a while, then stop the game, gather the kids and build upon the game.

Have individual repeat back different game rules. Have kids pair up taking turns repeating the game rules to each other.

Always ask if anyone has questions before commencing the game.

Kill the Game Before it Dies

Killing the game whilst the kids are still having great fun ensures that they will want to play it again. This is reverse psychology. The kids won’t want to stop! What it will do is guarantee that they will be super excited to play the game again when you next meet. They’ll also talk about how awesome it was days afterwards.

Be careful not to over play your best games. You don’t want the kids to get bored with them. Best to mix them up.

If a game isn’t working for some reason, then stop it and change the game. Avoid pushing on with it. It’ll only snowball into a bad experience for all.

It’s All About the Experience

Entwine a story into the game to create the experience. Have characters, leaders, special roles etc

Games like Narnia and Star Wars do it well. For example: Narnia entwines the story of the battle between the White Witch’s army and Aslan’s (the lion) army. Each army has a dungeon. The armies battle it out to save their leaders who are locked up in the dungeons. They have to deliver the magic keys to their leaders without getting captured.

Even consider some props to enhance the characters. Like a witch’s hat and a lion’s mane for Narnia.

As the kids get to know a game, amp it up with additional features/challenges to the game. As outlined above, involve the kids with building layers to the game.

No Bystanders

The best youth group games involve everyone all the time. You don’t want kids standing around waiting for a turn or sitting on the ‘out’ bench getting bored. Have things in place that gives everyone something to do. For example, if you have kids who get out and would normally sit to the side waiting until the game finishes, consider giving them an opportunity to win their way back into the game. In the game Human Pinball, kids who get out can seek to catch a wayward ball to earn their place back into the game.  

With games where kids go to a jail, give them an out, such as they have an opportunity to be rescued by a team-mate, or they do some sort of task in the jail (funny dance or push-ups) that gets them a free pass out.

Find ways to include those on the sidelines. These might be reluctant parents. The kids love to see their parents running around!

Ensure your game is suitable for the group size and age. If there are too many players, then they will have limited opportunities to be involved. Avoid having kids waiting for their turn.

Give kids the opportunity to be the referee.

Pit Stops

Having short breaks during longer games or between group games helps to revive the kids. Send them off for a drink of water (hydrate) or give them a time out. This also allows you a few moments to set up for the next game and to catch your own breath. With team games, allow the kids time for short team meetings to discuss strategy.

There you have it. Thirty-five years of experience bundled into ten top tips to running youth group games session that are simply awesome. Good luck and enjoy!

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