Sarah and Martin Moesgaard
Series on Games: Wake up!
Updated: Jan 29, 2022
At TrainMovePlay we only play games with kids...and teens... and adults; and small, intimate groups of people who know each other well and large groups just meeting; and to break the ice, let off steam, come into contact, and loads of other reasons. Games serve so many purposes that when we sat down to write one blog post about how and why we use them, it quickly became a whole series of posts! So settle in for a series on games and tasks.
In this post we share some of the games we use most often when we want to generate dynamic energy. We provide detailed instructions on how to play them, with notes about the groups and situations in which we find them most useful, and tips for leading them effectively. We'll also include variations to make them more versatile, challenging, or appropriate.
Sometimes people come to class in body... but they are mentally exhausted, distracted, and not entirely present.
Picture this group: It is a Tuesday evening in the middle of a cold and dark winter; they just got off of work and drove through the heavy traffic to get to the gym or studio. They are already thinking about what to make for dinner later and considering, Will there be time to do a load of laundry tonight? They have come to class...in body and out of habit. But mentally exhausted and not entirely present, they are looking at us with expressions that say, "Let's just get this over with." We need the energy of this group to go up! We want their minds to come alive and be part of this training along with their bodies. At this point, the gym might start thumping loud music, and the boot camp trainer might start yelling tropisms like, "This is when it counts!"
This is the point where we whip out one (or more!) of the following games!
Phase 1: Start in pairs. Couples alternate saying, "1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3,..." so that partner A says, "1," and partner B says, "2," and partner A says, "3," etc.
Phase 2: Instead of saying, "2," we now clap, so continue as in phase 1, but now always replace the number 2 with a clap.
Phase 3: Instead of saying, "1," we now jump.
Phase 4: Instead of saying, "3," we now run around your partner and back to your place.
When and with Whom:
This is our hands downs favorite game. It is so completely versatile because it always gets people laughing, concentrating, cooperating, making eye contact, and is so simple yet so difficult! Plus, you can include any movements, small or big to keep it relevant and fresh.
Kids as young as preschool can play this and older folks can play - you can even play sitting in a chair.
This doesn't have to take much space, so if you are leading a quick brain break at a long meeting or in a conference room, or playing at the office or a lunch table, it still works.
It can be tempting to cruise through phase 1 because it seems so simple. Some people might even begin to look bored. But don't rush this phase! The more comfortable players are in phase 1, the more success they will have in phase 4 when it gets really challenging. So let them play phase 1 long enough to get bored!
It is nice to mix small and large movements. Or take some cues from what you will do later. Squats, jumps, burpees, front rolls, ground based yoga poses... anything quick enough to make them think fast is good.
If you have an event lasting all weekend or longer, this is a nice "check-in" game. Assign partners at the beginning of the event and then every time the group comes together, start with this game with your same partner. Pairs will eventually get much better and faster at the game, but the real benefit is that they have one person to whom they connect at regular intervals, which usually leads to discussions on other aspects of the event, a person they can regularly vent to or support, and bonding at a personal level.
Steadiness and Mindfulness are KEY.
Say what I say, Do what I say
Instructions for Play:
Phase 1: Whole group starts in a circle holding hands. The leader says, "jump ______" and calls a direction, either Front, Back, Left or Right. The group verbally repeats what the leader said and then follows the direction. So, if the leader says, Jump Right!, the group's says, Jump Right and then everyone jumps once to the right.
Phase 2: The group repeats exactly what the leader says, as in Phase 1, but this time they DO the OPPOSITE. So, if the leader says, Jump Right!, the group says, Jump Right!, but they actually jump left.
Phase 3: In the final phase the group Says the OPPOSITE of the instructions but then does what the leader says. So, if the leader calls, Jump Right!, the group says Jump Left!, and then jumps right. Sounds simple, right? It is not!
When and with Whom:
This game is so sneaky fun and so adaptable, it can work for just about any group. See the variations below, or make up your own to fit the physical ability, age, and intention for your class.
A great way to bring together people who don't know each other because they have to work together a bit, but not super intimately. And they will definitely end up laughing.
Great game for introducing some playfulness and getting folks to lighten up.
This game can work with kids and in family movement sessions, but it could have a tendency to get very silly, so steadiness and mindfulness are key. Maybe make a big deal out of the whole group getting three in a row correct, or another positive way of encouraging success.
Start simple! The final phase is harder than it sounds so maybe start with just Right and Left as direction options, then introduce front and back (or in and out) later.
You can also add any other cue that has an opposite, like squat down and jump up, turn right and turn left, right foot/hand in and left foot/ hand in, head in and bum in...
Get specific! If using this as a warm up for a functional class or workout, you might create opposites more relevant to the coming workout, like squat and push up, tuck up and toe touch, etc. If using for an Acroyoga class, you might use this to introduce relevant body shapes like chair and leaf, etc.
Credit: We first played this game with the super fun and engaging teaching and performance team, Duo Die. See more about them on our Resources page.
Make eye contact and connect non-verbally. Chose the thing you liked best, or the thing you found most difficult.
Instructions for Play:
Start in pairs spread around those space. Partner A starts a movement that is simple and repeatable.
Partner B mimics or mirrors Partner A.
When the leader says Go, partner A leaves while partner B continues. Partner A finds a new partner and then becomes Partner B by mimicking that new person's movement.
Eventually, all partners should get around to doing all movements.
When and With Whom:
This game is soooo adaptable and customizable. It can really work for just about any movement group, class, or event; any age as long as they can take turns and mimic movement.
Good for getting people to make eye contact and connect non-verbally.
Options are endless and because you are asking the participants to generate the movement, you can really get a lot of variety. It may be good to make suggestions based on your intention for the rest of the session.
Suggestions for a functional or fitness class could be jumping jacks, high knees, squares, lunges, or push ups.
Suggestions for an acroyoga class could be solo poses like down dog, locust, seated forward fold, and standing wide angle forward fold.
Suggestions for a movement class could be ground-based movement, like squat, cat crawl, ape crawl, or banana rolls.
You might also use this as an ending game and ask movers to chose something you did in class that day to close with. It could be the thing they liked best, or the thing they found most difficult.
Instructions for Play:
Phase 1: Start standing in a circle. When the music begins, start running in a circle and when the music ends, try to tag the person in front of you.
Phase 2: Same circle, same rules as before, but when the music ends try to tag the person behind you.
When and With Whom
Super simple rules, so quick to introduce and pick up and start playing right away. This one is good after a break because it is so quick to play and really gets everyone moving again very quickly.
This one does require running, so it needs ample space and movers who are ok running.
To add another layer of physicality, you could make a second objective: Don't get tagged! Now you'll have to be quick enough to tag your goal and then evade getting tagged yourself.
Credit: Jørn Christensen
This is nice...Almost too nice...
Over, Under, Around
Instructions for Play:
Phase 1 Start in groups of two people. Without speaking, one partner go over, under or around the other. Then both people walk away and find a new partner and repeat the task. Use eye contact or other non-verbal signals to decide who will go over, under or around. Play this way for a few mins.
Phase 2 This is fine, but maybe we can be a bit more sociable and actually get to know each other a bit. So this time, when you find a new partner, shake hands, tell each other your names and also *say something about yourself.* Play this way for a few mins.
Phase 3 This is nice. Almost too nice. This is a movement class so let's get moving. This time, try to get over, under, and around as many people as possible WITHOUT letting anyone get over, under, or around you. GO! Play this way until people start to tire.
When and With Whom:
This game work for groups who don't know each other well and is more fun than a standard introductions circle.
The group needs to be big enough that there will be some variety for phase 2, but time can be adjusted accordingly, so smaller groups just use less time.
Even people who don't move much or are not highly athletic can play because most people can go around others, or even stay stationary as others go around them.
Super fun for groups where adults and kids are mixed because the kids always want to go over, so the adults have to get low.
For Phase 1, In addition to not speaking, other limitations could be layered on, like no hand gestures, or, if you have a few teaching assistants to act as shepherds, maybe eyes closed.
In the "say something about yourself" of Phase 2 think about, What's appropriate for this group. Maybe what department you work in, what your major is, what your favorite color is, etc. Or you can just say, Say something interesting about yourself. Maybe it is appropriate later in the class or the event to ask, Does anyone remember an interesting bit someone else told you in the Over, Under and Around game?
There will be a Quick Reference Guide to all of our games included as the final post in this Series on Games, so check there for an alphabetized list of all of our best games.
Whether we are leading a yoga, movement, Acroyoga or other type of class, and no matter the size or demographic of the group in front of us, games are useful tools. We would loooooooove to hear some feedback from you about how you use these and other games in your movement classes and experiences.
Which games do you love?
Which ones of your favorites did we leave out?
How have you adapted our ideas?