Since there are over 10.4 million residential pools in the United States, playing pool games comes naturally for adding some summer fun for the family. There's no better place for kicking back for some family-friendly fun than your own backyard swimming hole. You can keep cool while spending some time with the kids, as well as teaching them the basics of fun fitness, sportsmanship, and even strategy.

Before the advent of home air conditioning, public pools were a natural place to cool off and hang out. Beginning in the late 1800s most major cities boasted public access municipal pools. Residential pools were soon to follow. However, for the most part, these were limited to the wealthiest of families. One of the very first residential pools was built for the Vanderbilt family on their estate in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1895. By the turn of the century, personal swimming pools became all the rage among America’s wealthiest families.

These days, setting up and maintaining a residential pool is quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive. It is also an excellent place for family fun on weekends and holidays. Nothing beats a refreshing dip in the pool on a hot summer’s day. When you or your children have friends over, it’s time to add a few fun pool games into the mix.

To help that along we present 10 popular and easy to play family pool games.

Family Fun in the Water with 10 Fun Pool Games

Before starting any of these pool games, please note that swimmers may blackout in the water if they hold their breath for extended periods. So, don’t push it! And don't encourage anyone else in the pool to take chances. Be careful when holding your breath underwater, and always make sure that any children playing these games have attentive adult supervision.

1. Marco Polo

One of the most popular of all pool games is Marco Polo. Playing Marco Polo is easy. You can play with just two people, but the more, the merrier. Choose one person to be Marco, and put the blindfold on that player. All they have to do is try to tag any one of the other players in the pool. The other players try not to be tagged. However, there is a catch. If Marco calls out, “Marco,” the other players have to immediately reply “Polo!” Using only their voices to determine their location, "Marco" tries to tag one of the Polos. The first one tagged becomes the new Marco.

The rules are easy, but so is the possibility of not playing fair. Marco can try to peek under his blindfold, or one of the Polos may sneak out of the pool. If Marco suspects this, he yells “Fish Out of Water!” If any Polo is out of the pool, they are “it,” and they become Marco for the next round.

This game requires two or more players and a blindfold.

2. Deep-Sea Treasure Hunt

Three person swimming under water

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This is one of the easier pool games, suitable for all ages and simple to play. The object of the game is to collect either the total coins or the most value of coins in a limited time. Players agree on the goal beforehand. Someone scatters the “treasure” coins all over the bottom of the pool.

On the command “GO,” the players dive into the pool and try to collect the most coins in the time allotted. Usually, each round will be either 30 seconds or one minute. The player with the most coins, or the highest value of money, wins.

This game requires two or more players, a timekeeper, and roughly 20 or more coins of various values. To play this with younger children, use a shallow wading pool for your treasure hunt.


3. Chicken Fight

Father and his two sons sitting on his shoulder

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While not one of the safest pool games, Chicken Fight remains one of the most popular. There are even web pages, social media accounts, and online clubs dedicated to tactics and strategy. Though it's true that the origins have been lost to the mist of time, it is easy to imagine it as an ancient army training exercise. No one knows for sure because there's no written record, and, of course, you don’t talk about chicken fight club! You may only be able to play this game in your home pool. Many municipal pools I have visited have had a sign explicitly posted that banned this activity.

A chicken fight involves two or more teams of two players each. Each team determines one player to be the “bottom” and one to be the “top.” The top player climbs onto the shoulders of the bottom player. The two opposite top players each try to force the other into the pool and off the shoulders of their teammate. The two bottom players try to help keep their top player on top. You can do this with tactics such as holding their legs to stabilize them or continually readjusting their position for a sturdier base. The last team standing wins.

As you may imagine, this type of physical competition can get a bit intense. When played by teenagers, it can become even more so. Because of this, such things as hair pulling, punching, biting, ripping of clothing, or any other seriously unsportsmanlike conduct should be prohibited. In some variations of Chicken Fight, players use inflatable pool toys like rafts, loungers, and ring floats rather than a living “bottom.”

This pool game requires at least four players.

4. Sharks and Minnows

One of America's favorite pool games since the 1950s, Sharks and Minnows is a variation of tag. Choose one player to be the “shark,” and the rest are “minnows.”

The shark stakes out an area either at one end of the pool or in the center. The minnows are opposite the shark. The shark yells, “Minnows In!” and the other players enter the pool. The idea is to get to the other side of the pool without being tagged by the shark. Once a minnow is tagged, they become one of the sharks and have to tag the other minnows. The last minnow caught becomes the first shark in the next round.

Over the years, people have devised many variations of this game. Some rules require that the shark physically catches the minnows. Some rules dictate that a minnow cannot be tagged if they are entirely submerged. The shark then must try to tag a minnow when they come up for air. Having a “safe zone” is another variation. A minnow contacting a safe object, like a diving board or ladder, cannot be tagged.

This game requires three or more players at a minimum.

5. Handstand Contest

Doing handstands in the pool is far easier than on dry land. I can still do one even at my advanced age (over, um, 30). Underwater handstand is another of those pool games that goes back a long way. At least, farther than anyone who spends a lot of time upside-down can remember.

The object of underwater handstand is to remain in that position longer than your friends. You will need good balance, the ability to hold your breath, and if you are like my friend Tommy, nose clips. Even though you can have a handstand contest with just two swimmers, as always, the more, the merrier! You may have a friend that can’t go upside down underwater without getting water up his nose (looking at you, Tommy). He can still participate by being the judge.

When the judge says, “GO,” the others go underwater and start their handstands. The last player with both feet still out of the water wins. If they can’t achieve a handstand and resurface, they are eliminated.

This game requires two or more players.

6. Dolphin Race

Two little girls playing dophine race in the pool

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Another good pool game requiring no special equipment is the Dolphin Race. The object of the game is to swim the farthest distance without surfacing. You can play this one in a large community pool or in a smaller backyard pool. However, the backyard pool version may require several flips of direction to complete. Whoever can swim the farthest underwater wins!

This game requires two or more players and a judge, if possible.

7. Atomic Whirlpool

people swimming in the pool

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This is a fun pool game that plays better in a smaller aboveground pool and can involve grownups, teenagers, and older children. It is not recommended for beginner swimmers or smaller kids. Have all the participants begin walking either clockwise or counterclockwise around the edge of the pool. After a few seconds, the water starts to rotate in the pool, and it will increase in strength and speed. As long as you continue walking, the whirlpool will continue to speed up.

One way to enhance the game is to have everyone collect at a starting point and race in the opposite direction. Another is to try to cross the pool to the other side directly. Or you can float and let the current take you away. When it slows down, you will notice that any leaves or debris have gathered in the center. This makes it an excellent game to play before you clean the pool. The game is better with as many players as possible, but you can still make it happen by yourself. It just takes much longer.

8. Invisible Bottle Hunt

People of all ages can play this fun pool game. Place the players around the pool facing away from the water. You will need a small water bottle that has been completely filled with water and with the cap on so that it sinks. Make sure to use a clear bottle with the label removed to make it harder to see underwater.

Have a nonplayer walk around the pool with the bottle underwater and release it at a random time. They should continue walking for a few seconds, so no players can guess where the bottle was released. On a signal, have the players turn around, dive in, and try to find the bottle. It sounds easy, but the bottle will be hard to see in the water. It is even more difficult to find when the players are submerged and trying to see underwater.

This game requires two or more players. If you only have two people, one can face away from the pool and throw the bottle backward over their shoulder.

9. Pool Ping-Pong

Take 20 ping-pong balls and number them from 1 to 20 with a permanent marker. You can number them higher if you have more balls. All the players stand with their backs to the water. Throw the ping-pong balls into the water. At this point, there are several ways to play the game. One is to call out a number, and the first player to find that number wins.

You can easily make this one of those educational pool games with this variation. Turn it into a math problem, which makes the game a bit more complicated and suitable for older children. Call out a number that is higher than the numbers on the ping-pong balls. The players must race to retrieve balls that, when added together, equal the number called. For example, if the number called is 16, the players need a combination that equals 16, such as 7 and 9. Just be careful not to make a number that players can’t reach with just one ball in the game. You can either make it that the first player to get the correct numbers wins, or the last player to get an accurate combination loses.

You can also play with teams. To do this, have all the players work together to find the combination of balls to equal the number. You can also play with teams by having each member grab one numbered ball. The team with the largest combined numbers wins.

This pool game requires two or more players.

10. Push the Duck

A white duck link lifesaver floating in the water

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Some pool games are best for players of roughly the same age group and Push the Duck is one of them. Give a rubber duck to each player, although any soft floating objects that are the same size will do. Have each player stand against the side of the pool. On a signal from the judge, each player drops the duck in front of themselves. They then try to push the duck across the pool to the other side with just their noses. An alternative is to have each player blow the duck across the pool. The first player to get their duck across the pool wins.

This game requires two or more players and a judge.

Add Structure to Summer Fun with These Pool Games

Family playing games at the pool

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Kids have a great time in any pool, splashing, diving, and running amok; they tend to forget safety. They get so caught up with their water fun that it’s all they focus on. For that reason, you should always keep an eye on the kids when they are playing in or near the pool. The best way to do that is to play these games with your kids, or at least volunteer to be the judge. That way you can control things and keep these pool games fair and safe.

It may also be a good idea to go over the safety rules with the kids before beginning. Going over obvious rules like no running, no pushing, dunking, or food around the pool shows that you are in charge but concerned for their safety. And it does this without you coming across as just another a meddling grownup out to spoil their fun. So, let them cut loose and have fun knowing that you are the lifeguard and keeping it safe.

​Featured Image Source: Pixabay

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