Tips for Running Great Games

Friday, June 12, 2020

One skill that youth leaders should learn to master is how to run a game or ice-breaker. We know that the purpose of youth group isn't just entertainment and fun, but if we don't have fun then we limit our reach and impact.

Below is an article from Jonathan McKee's website on the Seven Deadly Sins of Game Leading. And we agree with all of them.

Deadly Sin 1 - Tell the crowd that you’re going to play a game!
The best way to ruin a game is tell kids that you’re going to play a game! Youth groups across the nation consistently use this pathetic transition: “okay, we’re going to play a mixer now!” First of all… does the average youth off the street know what a mixer is? Yeah! It’s the thing their mom uses to stir cake mix.
When starting a game… just start doing it. For example: “hey, before we get started today I want everyone on this side of the room to scoot one foot that way while my staff run this rope between you …”
Just start it. Ten minutes later kids will be looking at each other saying, “hey … we’re playing games!”

Deadly Sin 2 - Don’t be prepared
Time is always crucial because attention span is short. In this fast food, microwave, quick cut, MTV, minute rice, Taco Bell generation, kids are used to having what they want, stimulating their eyes, ears and mouth EVERY SECOND. Now if we stand up to play a game that required two marshmellows with a piece of string tied around them … if you walk up with a bag of unopened marshmellows and uncut string that is NOT ALREADY TIED … you’ve already lost. Have everything ready.
If you’ve never done the game before … test it. So many times I thought I was the “Game Master” and all of a sudden I’m up short in front of a bunch of kids. Not a pretty sight. Test it!

Deadly Sin 3 - Don’t have your leaders playing with them
Hopefully your leaders are there to hang out with kids, not to be just a chaperone. Chaperones are no fun and no kid wants a relationship with one. Your leaders should get on the teams with the kids and participate as much as possible. I have students to this day that still remind me of times we annihilated another person with Q-tips when I was on their team during a Q-tip war. Fun memories make lasting impressions.

Deadly Sin 4 - Explain the game for more than 30 seconds
As we talked about above on #2, time and attention span are short. Part of being prepared for a game is knowing how to explain it quickly. Give the basics, maybe with a visual example and jump straight into “ready, set, go!”
Don’t be afraid to start a game even when some are still confused. Your leaders can help push these people along once you start.

Comment: this would mean that your leaders already know the game and how it is played. That means that you have already explained and possibly played the game with them before the event.

Deadly Sin 5 - Take more than 30 seconds to divide teams
Same principle as above. Have a quick tactic planned to divide teams fast. Always try to use natural divisions: grade levels, gender, half of the room, etc. Only # off as a last resort!

Deadly Sin 6 - Have someone without ability or even a personality leading the game
Game leading isn’t something you should just throw on a new staff member. They should be trained in the basics and given an opportunity to lead a game every once in a while. You’ll find that some people just aren’t gifted in being up-front. Don’t use these people. A key to a successful program will be putting people in areas that they are gifted and feel comfortable.
By the way … if something goes wrong, play it off. Games will go sour- it’s a fact. If they do, use the opportunity to make fun of it. If a game goes wrong and the leader is funny about it, kids will still have a good time … and that’s the point, right?

Deadly Sin 7 - Make sure the crowd can’t see those playing the game.
“Of course” you say. But how many times have I seen some cool crowd breaker where a kid is getting dowsed with syrup or a girl is about to suck a jelly bean out of some jello and … I couldn’t see cause some stupid game leader was standing right in the way! If you’re leading a game … STEP ASIDE! If you’re in a level room and you have a visual game … elevate it somehow! You get the point.

You can check out other articles and resources from Jonathan at The Source For Youth Ministry


So if you want games to go well in your group, then avoiding these sins will help. Take the time with your leaders, to train them, help them succeed, make sure they are prepared and can explain the game quickly and clearly.

What would you add to this list?

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