Regular five-on-five basketball is a fun game on its own, but it’s always nice to have some variety in the types of games that can be played, especially with kids. As they continue to learn the game of basketball, it is helpful to learn certain skills through drills and other games. In addition, it’s just plain fun!
In this article, we’ll take a look together at some of the most common and popular games in all of basketball. By the end of it, you’ll have many more fun games to play either in a team setting, alone, or with a couple of friends!
Knockout is a basketball game known by several other names, including ‘lightning’ and ‘elimination’. It relies on several key basketball skills to be successful, mainly shooting and rebounding.
The game requires at least two players to play, but it could involve any number of players above the initial two. Once you have two or more players, you’re ready for knockout!
Knockout starts with all of the players lining up in a single file line at the free throw line. The first two players in line each get their own basketball, and the first player in line starts the game out by taking a shot.
If they make the shot, the ball gets returned to the next person in line without a basketball. Immediately after the first player in line takes their first shot, the second player in line is able to take a shot.
If you don’t make your first shot in knockout, you do get a second chance. You can grab your own rebound and try to make a shot from anywhere on the floor – even just a simple layup works. The only thing you need to worry about is time.
So, how do players get knocked out in knockout? It’s simple – a player needs to be able to make their shot before the player behind them makes a shot.
If, for example, the second player makes their initial free throw line shot while the first player misses (and before they can attempt a second shot), then the first player is eliminated from the game, while the second player heads to the back of the single-file line while the game continues.
Eventually, knockout ends with one final player making a shot before the player in front of them can make a basket. The last one standing (or shooting) is the winner!
Sharks and Minnows
Sharks and Minnows is a great game for both fun and player development. It focuses on both conditioning and dribbling ability and is especially helpful for younger players still learning the fundamentals of ball handling.
As the name suggests, there are two different groups of players in sharks and minnows. The object of the game is for the sharks to attempt to tag the minnows while the minnows try to evade the sharks while dribbling up and down the court.
But how does the game work specifically?
It starts out with the minnows lined up along one baseline. Most of the players participating should be minnows to start the game in order to make sure it doesn’t end too quickly. The minnows all have a basketball. Meanwhile, the sharks (usually only one or two players) are positioned anywhere in the middle of the court.
On the ‘go’ signal given by coaches, the minnows will start dribbling across the court towards the opposite baseline from where they started. The sharks will attempt to chase them down and tag them, while the minnows will try to get away and get to the opposite baseline. The key is for the minnows not to pick up their dribble, continuing to keep their eyes up and avoid the sharks while moving quickly.
If a minnow gets tagged by a shark, they become a ‘scarecrow’ and must stay in the spot that they were tagged. They become an obstruction to the remaining minnows and can tag any of the minnows from their stationary spot on the floor. The sharks keep their same roles throughout the game, no matter how many players they tag.
Ultimately, there will only be one minnow left swimming among the various sharks and scarecrows. This minnow is the winner of the game, though every player can pick up valuable skills from sharks and minnows.
Horse is a simple basketball game that is also one of the most commonly played games. It focuses on shooting ability and is more laid-back in pace than many other basketball games in this article. Horse can be played with any amount of players greater than two.
The objective of Horse is to match the made shot attempts of the other players, while also forcing the other players to miss their shot attempts on your made baskets. If any player misses a shot in answer to another player’s made shot, they get one letter added to their score.
How does this work in practice?
Say that Player A takes a shot from the free throw line to start off the game and makes it. Players B and C must now make the same shot in a single attempt to avoid getting a letter added to their score. Remember, the objective is to not get letters added to your score.
In the scenario above, imagine that Player B makes the shot and that Player C misses it. Player C would get a single letter (starting with H) added to their score, while Player B would not get any letters added to their total.
A key point to Horse is that a shot must be made before the other players are forced to make a shot in response. For example, if Players A and B both miss their shot attempts, Player C can take a free shot from anywhere on the court. If Player C makes the shot, then Players A and B would have to answer the made shot.
It’s a good strategy in Horse to try to make the most difficult shots that you can, in order to increase the likelihood that the other players miss their shots. Some players take a different approach, though – they simply take and make as many easy shots as they can while hoping that their opponents will eventually miss these easy shots.
The last player to be left without a full set of letters (H-O-R-S-E) resulting from missed answer shots is the winner – and probably the best shot!
21 is an interesting basketball game that prioritizes toughness and scoring ability while being a fun way to play basketball with a couple of friends while remaining individual on the court. It’s typically played with three or more players but could technically be played with as many players as could fit on a single half-court section.
In 21, a player tries to score baskets from anywhere on the court while the other players try to prevent them from scoring. As you can imagine, this can get pretty difficult to score depending on how many defenders are in the game. Subsequently, players must be crafty and tough to get space to score as well as to finish through contact.
If a player does end up making a shot, they get credit for their score for either a two or three-point basket. On top of this, they also get the opportunity to shoot up to three free throws. Any missed free throw results in normal play resuming, but any made free throws (up to the limit of three) count individually towards a player’s score.
The game starts with one of the players taking a shot from beyond the three-point line. If they make the shot, this counts towards their score and they can take free throws. If they miss the shot, then the game starts in earnest, with whoever gets the rebound trying to score. Any change of possession, whether from a steal or a rebound, requires the player possessing the ball to dribble out to the three-point line before attempting to score.
To win 21, a player must be the first to end up with exactly 21 points. There are often variations to this, with specific scoring rules required depending on the home-court rules. However, the most commonly used rules are that any player going over 21 has their score knocked back down to 11 while the game continues. In addition, players who miss a free throw while their score sits at 20 get knocked back down to a score of 11, considering that they can’t make a field goal without going over 21.
Around the World
Around the World is a game that requires good shooting ability – but not only that but shooting under pressure. Two or more players are required to play the game, but otherwise, it only requires a basketball and a hoop.
To start out, players pick ten spots on the floor to shoot from in sequence. These spots can be anywhere on the floor but should be the same spots and in the same order for every player.
Then, the players will take turns shooting. They start at the first position, and if they make the shot on their first attempt, they can move to the second spot and continue shooting. If they miss their shot, the next player gets a turn to take a shot, and the same rules apply.
Ultimately, the first player who makes a shot from each designated position on the floor is the winner of the game. Sometimes there are variations that allow for the remaining players to have a chance at redemption – this includes allowing them to try and make all the necessary shots left to complete the sequence without a miss in order to force a playoff.
Around the World is a great way to foster a competitive team environment while also working on shooting ability from all over the court. In a close basketball game, these characteristics can be the difference between a win and a loss.
Firing Squad is not as violent of a game as it sounds – but it’s certainly higher energy in comparison to some other games on this list!
In fact, Firing Squad has many similarities to Around the World, but it’s a little higher energy and focused on more than just shooting. Like Around the World, Firing Squad has the players taking shots from a sequence of spots on the floor. The main difference between the two games is in the pace of the game and the greater emphasis placed on rebounding.
In Firing Squad, all the players involved (there needs to be two or more) start shooting from the first spot on the floor at the same time. This is already a difference from Around the World, but in addition, players continue shooting and attempting to make shots from wherever they get the rebound from a missed shot.
Once each player makes a shot, which can be attempted from anywhere as long as the initial shot attempt comes from one of the designated spots, then the player can move to the next spot in the order. The object of the game is to be the first player to complete a shot attempt starting from every spot on the floor.
The spots on the floor usually follow the three-point arc from corner to corner, and there are typically seven total spots in Firing Squad. This game is a great way to hone your shooting, rebounding, and conditioning!
Poison is an unusual basketball game that combines elements of free throw shooting, strategy, and even bowling. Intrigued yet? Keep reading to find out more.
Poison is best played with somewhere between two and ten players but only requires two players at the minimum. In terms of basketball skills, Poison’s best application is in free throw shooting – but rebounding also plays a role.
To start the game, players line up in a single file line behind the free throw line. The first player takes a shot, and here’s where the chaos begins: if they make the shot, then they must get the rebound after only one bounce.
If they miss the shot, then the player behind them must get the rebound, but again after only one bounce. If the ball bounces twice (or not at all) on a made shot, the shooter is out of the game. If it bounces twice (or not at all) on a missed shot, the next player in line is out for failing to get the rebound.
But it gets a little more complicated than this. The player shooting can also make three shots in a row, continuing to shoot by getting rebounds after only one bounce. In this case, they yell out “POISON” after getting the rebound on the third shot, and every other player must freeze (they’re free to scatter at any time, but at least one player usually needs to stay close to get rebounds).
Once everybody is frozen in place, the shooting player rolls the ball at any frozen player as if they were bowling. If the ball hits that player, they’re out of the game.
Ultimately, the game is won by whichever player is the last one out. This can happen in a variety of ways, whether through making shots and rolling the ball, or by failing to get rebounds off a bounce. Poison is truly a crazy game!
Have you ever played musical chairs? Musical Basketballs follows a nearly identical concept – but with a basketball slant! It can be played with any number of players greater than two but is an excellent game to play as a team.
To start out the game, figure out the number of players and place a group of basketballs in any spot on the court. There should be one fewer ball than there are players.
The players then form a circle around the basketballs. Just like in musical chairs, when the music starts, the players begin moving around the circle. When the music stops, everybody must grab a basketball as fast as they can! The player who ends up without a basketball at the end of each round is out of the game.
The winner of the game is the last player left standing with a basketball! Musical Basketballs is a great way to foster competitiveness within a team and have a little bit of fun along the way.
“Golf” is a basketball game – but it’s modeled after the well-known game of golf. Golf is a great way to practice your free throw shooting, but it also works well to practice getting quick rebounds and shooting from the rest of the court. Like in golf, players try to get the lowest score possible. It’s a fun game that doesn’t even require a set of clubs!
Golf is a game that can even be played with just one player, but it can be played with any number of players beyond that. Each individual player starts at the free throw line, lined up in a single file line. One by one, each player takes a shot from the free throw line. If they make the shot, they get a score of 1 for that round.
However, if they miss the shot they need to get out and grab the rebound. From wherever they grab the rebound, they then need to attempt another shot. If this shot goes in, they get a score of 2 for that round.
You see how this is going, right? Ultimately, each player’s score is directly related to the number of shot attempts required in order to make a basket. Just like in golf, you want to have a lower score. Depending on the game, you can either play nine or eighteen rounds to correspond with a typical golf course.
Some notable exceptions to the otherwise straightforward rules of the game – if a player can’t make a basket within five shot attempts, their score for that round is 6. Also, if a player misses a shot where the ball goes out of bounds, they are penalized with an extra point towards their score and then can shoot again from the free throw line.
Monkey in the Middle
Monkey in the Middle is one of the simplest basketball games, but it can be a lot of fun! Plus, it’s a great way to practice passing.
To play, gather up three players and one basketball. Two of the players will be the passers, while the other player will be the “monkey”. This player’s goal is to intercept the basketball as the other two players pass it between them. They’re free to move around, getting closer to either player, as long as they always stay in the middle.
When the “monkey” intercepts a pass, the player who made the error heads into the middle and takes over the “monkey” role. This error can be an errant pass, a fumbled catch, or simply just being the last one to touch the ball.
Monkey in the Middle can go on as long as the players want to, as players can keep switching around as possession of the ball changes.
Fox in the Hen House
Fox in the Hen House is a fun game that focuses on dribbling ability. Through this game, players can learn how to keep their heads up and avoid defenders in a game setting while keeping their dribble going.
Fox in the Hen House is best with a larger group of players in order to best motivate players to practice their ball-handling skills. However, it could technically be played with any number of multiple players.
To start out, a couple of the players (a minority of the total number of players) should be designated as “foxes”. These players are required to only use the lines on the floor to move around while attempting to tag the “chickens” and dribbling a basketball at the same time. Meanwhile, the chickens must not cross any lines on the court while keeping up their dribble.
When a fox tags a chicken, the chicken must sit down on the floor where they were tagged. They can be ‘saved’ by another chicken if they can manage to tap the seated player lightly on the head.
The game can end anytime, but it finishes most commonly when all the chickens have been tagged. Then, it’s fun to switch some players around to different roles and play again!
Dribble Limbo is a simple drill meant to help players improve their ball-handling skills. It requires a couple of coaches or other helpers, as well as a rope or a pole.
The two coaches or helpers will hold this rope/pole at a given height, depending on the size of the players and their ball-handling ability. Then, the players are given the go-ahead to dribble the ball from one end of the floor to the other, going under the limbo line in the process. They must keep their dribble the whole time, even if they need to get low on their hands and knees or crawl under the pole.
The game has no set ending – just play until everyone is done!
Basketball Tag is a lot like regular tag – only it involves basketball. The game can be played a lot of different ways, as long as there are multiple players.
The game can be played as freeze tag, where one player is “it” and everyone else is trying to stay free. It can also be played where everyone is “it”, and the player who tags the most other players within a short amount of time is the winner.
However, the most common version of basketball tag for youth players is to have a portion of the group of players be “it”. These players then try to tag all of the other players during the course of a short time period, with every tagged player also becoming “it”.
Of course, in any variation, all players should be dribbling a basketball. This helps players to develop their ball-handling skills, elusiveness, and ability to keep their heads up while dribbling. Not to mention, it can be a fun way to start off practice or just to play with friends!
Buzzer beaters are one of the most exciting plays in all of basketball. You can even recreate this moment in the basketball game with the same name – “Buzzer Beater”. You’ll need at least two players and several basketballs to get started.
In Buzzer Beater, each player takes turns shooting from a designated spot behind the three-point line. They get 10 seconds to make as many shots as possible – here’s where it’s important to have several basketballs so the player can keep shooting without having to get a rebound or have the ball passed back to them.
Every player gets an identical amount of time to make as many shots as they can from the same spot on the floor as all the others. The winner is simple; whichever player makes the most shots within the 10-second period is the winner! If there is a tie, then the players who are tied should go another round to try and get a true winner.
Home Run is an interesting game to combines elements of both basketball and baseball, while also allowing players to practice their speed-dribbling and free throw shooting. It’s best played with at least six players, and you’ll need at least two basketballs. However, any number of players larger than six and in an even number will work.
The players should all split up into two teams. One team will be the “dribbling team”, and the other one will be the “shooting team”.
To start the game, the dribbling team groups up at one corner of the court, while the shooting team forms a line behind the free throw line. One player from each team takes a ball and gets set for the game to start.
When the shooting player shouts ‘go’, both players start their action – the dribbling player starts off from the corner of the court, dribbling as fast as they can towards the half-court line. Meanwhile, the shooting team begins taking shots from the free throw line.
The dribbler’s goal is to take the ball from the corner to the half-court line and back to the corner before the shooter makes a shot from the free throw line. If the dribbler completes their goal first, the dribbling team gets a ‘run’, just like in baseball. The dribbler then stays with the dribbling team and takes their place in line for another turn. If the shooter makes a shot before the dribbler can get back to the corner, then the dribbler is ‘out’, again like in baseball, and doesn’t take any more turns.
It’s best to have three players to simulate three outs in baseball. Ultimately, the goal of the game is for the dribbling team to try and score as many runs as they can before every player on the dribbling team is ‘out’. Then, the players can switch teams and do it again, to see who ends up scoring more runs.
Red Light Green Light
Red Light Green Light is a popular and fun game that helps players to fine-tune their dribbling skills in a competitive setting. It requires at least three players, and one of the players will play the ‘traffic light’. All of the other players will need a basketball.
The traffic light positions themselves at one end of the court, while the other players all stand at the other of the court. The traffic light should be facing away from all of the other players. The goal of the game is for the dribbling players to make their way across the length of the court.
The game starts when the traffic light calls out “green light”. Then, all of the other players begin dribbling across the court as quickly as they can. However, they all must stop moving when the traffic light calls out “red light”. When this happens, the traffic light quickly turns around to face the dribbling players. Whoever is still moving or dribbling the ball and is caught by the traffic light is out of the game.
The players who haven’t been caught by the traffic light or who weren’t moving when the traffic light turned around to stay in the game. They then continue to move up the court on the “green light” signal given by the traffic light after they turn around again.
Whichever player crosses the length of the court first, without being caught by the traffic light is the winner of the game. So, it’s important to try and move as fast as possible, while still being ready to stop on the call of “red light”.
Basketball Pirate is a game that focuses on both dribbling and stealing the ball. It requires at least four players, but the more players there are the more fun it will be. There should be three basketballs for every four players in the game.
The players will be split into two teams – the pirates and the non-pirates. Ideally, there will be approximately one pirate player for every three non-pirate players.
To start the game, all of the non-pirate players take a basketball and dribble it in the middle of the court. Then, all the pirate players line up along one side of the court. Once a signal is given, the pirate players run out onto the court and try to steal the ball from the dribbling players. The dribbling players can run away, use their bodies to shield themselves from the pirates, or do anything else to keep the ball as long as they continue dribbling.
If a pirate player is successful in stealing the ball from the other players, then they take possession of the ball and become the dribblers. Whoever got the ball stolen from them must go over to the side of the court before they return to the middle to try and steal the ball from another player. The game continues this way, with the pirates trying to steal the ball from the dribblers while the dribblers try to keep possession.
The game can end in a number of ways. First, the players can just continue to play until a set amount of time runs out, with whoever has been a pirate the least being declared the winner. Otherwise, the game can end when there is only one player remaining who hasn’t been the pirate. This player is declared the winner.
There are several different ways to conduct a basketball relay. All of the ways help players to work on playing as a team, as well as various other basketball skills.
The most common type of basketball relay is a simple dribbling relay. This type of relay requires several players for each team and a basketball for each team. On a starting call, the first player for each team dribbles from one baseline to the other as fast as possible, before turning around and heading back to the baseline where they started from.
Here, they hand the ball off to the next player on the team, who does the same. The winner of the dribble relay is the first team who manages to complete the relay with all involved players. It’s also possible to do a passing relay. In this type of relay, there must be at least four players on each team, with a basketball for each team.
Similar to in the dribbling relay, two players for each team begin running down the court from one baseline, chest passing the ball to each other as they go. Once the pair reaches the opposite baseline, they turn around and head back to where they started from.
The ball shouldn’t touch the ground, but the players should also pass the ball back to their teammates as soon as they touch the ball. Just like in the passing relay, whichever team finishes the relay first is the winner.