Pool Spa Life
Pool Spa Life

Fun and games

Toyless Games

While plenty of us are content to lounge around the pool, book in hand and cocktail at the ready, others need a bit more action.

If you’re low on toys or inflatables and looking for pool party ideas that will tire the kids out, these games are guaranteed get things rolling.

Games for older kids and adults

Depending on how confident everyone is in the pool, some games can be a bit rough for little ones – especially when one person or team is pitted directly against another. Of course, smaller kids can definitely join in but it’s good to aware that the following games aren’t necessarily for everyone. Players should be confident in deeper water and where they can’t reach the edge of the pool.

Marco Polo

Marco Polo is an absolute classic. It’s suitable for three or more players – ideally more to keep things interesting. The rules couldn’t be simpler: one person is designated ‘it’ and starts in the water with their eyes closed. That player calls out ‘Marco’ and the others respond with ‘Polo’.

The aim of the game is for everyone to keep moving and for Marco to locate and touch one of the other players based on the direction of their voice. Once tagged by Marco, that player becomes ‘it’ and the game continues.

While everyone is supposed to stay in the water, smart players slip silently out of the pool to avoid being tagged, hopefully re-entering the water without being caught. If Marco suspects someone is on dry land, they yell ‘fish out of water’. If that player is out of the pool, they become ‘it’…and on it goes. This game brings out the sneak in everyone.

Sharks and minnows

‘Sharks and minnows’ is another popular option. It’s a ‘more the merrier’ game and best played using the deep end, so make sure everyone is comfortable swimming in a relatively crowded pool away from the edges.

One player is nominated as the shark and the rest are minnows. The shark starts the game in the water on one side (or end) of the pool, while the minnows line up on the opposite pool deck. The shark says “Sharks and minnows, one two three, fishies, fishies swim to me!”. The minnows jump in and try to get to the other side without being tagged by the shark. Once tagged, minnows become sharks, making the game increasingly hard as the minnows become outnumbered. The round ends when all minnows have become sharks and the first minnow tagged in the last round starts as the shark in the next.


This one can get a bit rough and rowdy, so it’s probably best for strong swimmers, older kids and adults. You need two even teams and a whole, uncut watermelon to play. One side (or end) of the pool belongs to team one and the other to team two. The game starts with each team closest to their designated edge and the watermelon tossed in the middle (don’t worry, it’ll float). The object of the game is to get the watermelon to the other team’s side and put it up on the pool deck.

You get it there by any means possible – under the water, out of the water, passing it to your teammate or just barrelling your way through. We probably wouldn’t recommend throwing it unless you wanted to ensure a very short game. Meanwhile, the other team is trying to stop you from reaching your goal by tackling, stealing the melon and generally holding you back.

This game gets raucous quickly, so set some rules before you start – no kicking, biting, scratching or holding anyone under the water. A submerged watermelon is much more slippery – and people way more competitive – than you think, so this game can be unruly, but also a lot of fun. Just make sure that everyone playing is confident in the water, particularly if you’re using the deep end of the pool.


If sacrificing fresh produce doesn’t appeal, you can an alternate version using a clear (not tinted) two-litre plastic water or soft drink bottle with the label removed – ideally with a white lid. Fill the bottle with water so it doesn’t float and toss it in the pool. The objective is the same – get the target to the other team’s side – but the difficulty in finding a near-invisible clear bottle in the pool changes the game’s focus. Still plenty of fun to be had and no fruit gets harmed in the process.

Chicken, or shoulder-wars

Chicken, or shoulder wars, has teams working in pairs. One player sits on their teammate’s shoulders and the two work together to attack the other teams, attempting to separate the ‘riders’ from their ‘carriers’. The rules are pretty fast and loose but it’s generally accepted that only the rider can use their hands to unseat their opponent, while the carrier acts as a vehicle and can make contact with the other team using their legs and body only.

As with any water-based play, safety comes first. Set some grounds rules around acceptable moves – for example, tickling and pushing are okay, but punching, hairpulling and other rough contact are absolutely off the table. Remember to steer clear of the pool edges and make sure everyone is swimming within their capabilities.  

For the littlies

If all this roughhousing sounds like too much for the little ones, there’s plenty of gentle options that still provide hours of fun.

Diving for treasure

A simple game for any number of players – even one – diving for treasure works equally well in the shallow or deep end, depending on swimming ability. Line the players up on the pool deck with their backs to the water so they can’t see where the ‘treasure’ goes. Throw in some items that will sink to the bottom but still be easy to spot – coins or rocks will do – set a timer and yell “go!”. Players then turn and dive for the items and the player that recovers the most when time is up is declared the winner. Goggles will be a great help here.


Players in FISH ‘follow the leader’ by copying tasks. This could be swimming from one pool edge to the other, doing a handstand, pencil diving into the water or sitting cross legged on the pool floor – whatever the leader decides. When a player fails to complete the task, they ‘earn’ a letter, starting with F, then I, and so on. Once they’ve earned all the letters to spell out FISH, they are out of the game. The round ends when all players are out, with the last player swimming starting the new round as leader.


With a name like Popsicle, this must be a US import. It’s another game that works well for at least three – but preferably more - players. One is nominated ‘it’ and tags other swimmers, who must immediately ‘freeze’ and hold their arms up over their head – becoming a Frozen Popsicle. Frozen Popsicles are melted back into the game when they are tagged underwater by another swimmer. It’s a game of constant freezing and melting, which basically has no end, so you’ll probably need to referee and make sure that everyone gets a turn at being ‘it’.

Safety…and fairness…first

Pool games are a great way to bring everyone together and can provide hours of fun…but any competition can easily end in tears. Make sure that everyone knows how to play nicely and that the big kids take care of the tiny ones.

Before starting any game, assess all players’ swimming capability. If anyone needs a life jacket or other flotation aid, make sure they are correctly and securely fitted before entering the water.

It goes without saying that adult supervision is a must – ensuring both safety and fairness. Games where someone is ‘it’ almost always involve disagreement, so get ready to be an umpire as well as a lifeguard. Make sure you can see everyone in the pool from your vantage point…and let the games begin!

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