Finding the best PE games for middle school students is a surprisingly complex venture. Middle-schoolers are their own special breed, and for good reason. Stuck smack in the middle between elementary and high school, poised on the cusp of young adulthood, these pre- and early teens are dealing with social and academic pressures they’ve never faced before, and managing new stressors like heavy homework loads for the first time in their lives.
These factors make it more imperative than ever that they get regular, vigorous physical exercise to help them expend energy and manage stress levels, but as their social lives shift from the in-person playdates of their earlier childhood to a more isolated and disconnected online or phone-based forum, getting moving becomes less likely. As these children grapple with personal, familial and social issues such as emerging identities, puberty, divorce or bullying, it becomes more important than ever that they develop safe, healthy connections with adult mentors such as PE teachers and coaches.
And here’s a little secret about this age group: While middle-school kids definitely want to feel grown-up, they also still want to play like kids. PE games for middle school students that incorporate teamwork and empathy are perfect for this age group because they enable older children to learn to work together and accept each other’s differences along with their own strengths and challenges. With all of that in mind, here are six of the best PE games for middle school students, to get their bodies moving.
Classic and time-honored for a reason, relay races are excellent for middle-schoolers since they allow them to exercise their natural competitive sides while also developing teamwork skills along with their ability to empathize with, support and cheer on their classmates. Relays are also easy to set up regardless of space or equipment limitations; any area will do, and you don’t even need batons for the teams—they can simply high-five one another when each student completes a leg of the race so the next can take over.
This game, which can be played indoors or outdoors, is structured similarly to a relay race and has similar benefits—helping middle-schoolers develop their hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills along with teamwork and related social skills. Use foam discs for safety, and instruct students not to run with the discs; they must transport their discs from the start line to the finish by catching it, pivoting if needed, and then passing it to others on their team.
Ball and Bucket
For equipment, this game requires only bouncy balls and some type of receptacle for catching the balls, such as buckets or cardboard boxes. Students are divided into teams; each team receives a ball and instructions to take five minutes to devise a creative strategy for getting the ball from the start line into the bucket at the finish line in a maximum of four moves. Teams must work together to determine unique moves and then execute them. Anything that’s safe is fair game: They can toss the ball, roll it, bounce it, or use their bodies in creative ways to reach the goal. This game taps into middle-schoolers’ need for silly play as it develops their collaborative and creative-thinking skills.
Obstacle courses are wonderful because they’re so easily customized to each space, equipment set and student group—and middle school students love to challenge themselves! PE teachers can get as creative as they like in setting up the course to test their students’ abilities on both physical and mental levels. Whether you’re in the gym or outside, incorporate ropes, balls, discs, hula hoops, ladders, balance beams, relay sticks and anything else at hand to create a fun course that will keep middle-schoolers smiling—and moving.
Capture the Flag
This classic game works best with two to four teams of students, each of which will work together to devise strategies for stealing the opposing teams’ flags without getting caught. Each team has its own flag and territory within the play area; inside their own territory, players are safe, but they must venture into other teams’ territories in order to steal their flags. If caught, or tagged, while in another territory, students must perform some PE-oriented task, such as a set number of jumping jacks, burpees or pushups, before they can return “home.” Students should be reminded that Capture the Flag is less about guarding their own team’s flag and more about working with their teammates on creative plans for nabbing the win.
Middle school students are like kids of any other age: They love to feel independent and in control. Thus, Free-Choice Fridays are wonderful to implement with this age group so they can exercise some free will in their physical education. Each Friday (or whichever day of the week works best for your schedule), give students a portion of class time to determine which game they’ll play as a class. Majority rules, but they do have to switch it up each week. One of the best things about Free-Choice Fridays? It gives PE teachers a window into which games and activities students like best, to help you plan lessons for the coming weeks!