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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.

PE Games for Middle School

Relay Races

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.

Disc Golf

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 Course

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.

Free-Choice Fridays

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!

Free Resources for PE Teachers

ABOUT MARATHON KIDS

Marathon Kids is on a mission to get kids moving. The nonprofit organization offers free physical education programming through Marathon Kids Connect, a cloud-based PE and run club management platform that includes a mobile app for digital activity-tracking. 

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In the heart of Orange County, in the southeastern portion of the greater Los Angeles area, lies Columbus Tustin Middle School, where Coach Brook Brown hosts the CT Bulldogs Run Club every Thursday. This is the first year for this grant-funded Marathon Kids club. The majority of its 225 participating students, who are in sixth, seventh and eighth grades, run at lunchtime on Thursdays as well as logging miles on Marathon Mondays and during P.E. class on Mile Wednesdays.

Middle School Run Club

Miss Brown, as her students call her, has long roots in the area. She attended Tustin Middle School herself some years ago, and then graduated from Tustin High School. She completed her student teaching at Tustin Middle School before being hired as the school’s girls’ P.E. teacher in 2013. As an athlete who is driven to set and accomplish goals, she wants to inspire her students to do the same.

Now finishing up her sixth year of teaching at Tustin Middle, Miss Brown heads up the CT Bulldogs Run Club with three other coaches, including Steve Dunmeyer, who was her own basketball coach back at Tustin High. “He inspired me to start this run club,” Miss Brown says, “and he has supported me every step of the way. He pushes me to be a better teacher, athlete and person.”

Her mother, Jan Brown, also comes to help out on Thursdays. “She comes out every week with her smile to encourage the kids,” says Coach Brown. “She loves being a volunteer and loves being active!”

Kids Run Club Coach

Jan echoes her daughter’s sentiments. “I love the Marathon Kids program,” she says. “I exercise every day. It’s so important for these kids to get outside, take a break and move. We have walkers and talkers and some competitive kids who run a lot.”

Tracking Their Miles

The students keep track of how many laps they run to equal a mile. On Marathon Mondays, three laps equals a mile; at Run Club on Thursdays, five laps is a mile. The students can also count every 20 minutes’ worth of medium-to-high-intensity sports and games that they engage in as one mile.

Miss Brown has seen numerous benefits for her students since they began running with Marathon Kids. Their favorite part about Run Club is being part of a team. “They love being with their friends and making new ones,” Miss Brown says. She has seen many of the runners’ per-mile paces improve, along with their grades, self-confidence and overall attitudes. “The kids are supporting each other and applauding each other’s efforts,” she says.

Seventh-grader Franco Zavala has always been a hard worker, but since he started with Run Club, his self-confidence is higher and his grades have improved. Jamie Ibarra, also in seventh grade, shows up to the track with a smile on her face and a positive attitude. Miss Brown has noted improved leadership skills in Jamie. “She knows it’s hard work, but she still pushes herself to get in as many laps as she can!”

kids run club runner

Miss Brown uses the app RaceSplitter to track her students’ miles. The children enter their locker numbers when they come by on Marathon Mondays, and they use tally tracking at Thursday’s run club meet-ups. They fill in their own mileage logs once a week, when Coach Brown updates them on their total miles. When the runners hit that magical 26.2 mile mark, they get to enter their names on the Hall of Fame poster outside the gym, and they are also recognized in the school announcements.

Miss Brown and the school have multiple ways of honoring the runners’ milestones and keeping the children’s morale high. She chooses a weekly Runner of the Week, for example, awarding a medal to a student who has shown effort. Eighth-grader Anthony Quintana, a recent Runner of the Week, loves to run and is always one of the first runners out on the track every Thursday. This makes him feel successful.

Marathon Kids California

Miss Brown also features students on the CT Bulldogs Run Club Instagram page when they earn Runner of the Week or hit major milestones, such as completing a marathon. She accompanies their photos with encouraging captions like “Yay!” and “Awesome job!” and “Unstoppable!” The students’ smiles and looks of pride are priceless as they hold up their certificates or rewards like Nike t-shirts and shoelaces.

Youth Run Club

A Fun-Loving Coach Who Knows Kids Need To Be Kids

When the school celebrated “National Pi Day” on March 14, Miss Brown signed up to be one of the teachers at whom students were allowed to throw a pie. “Bring it!” she wrote on Instagram the day before the event.

Miss Brown understands very well that kids need to be kids. Many of these particular kids come from low-income backgrounds, and they love their Marathon Kids running club. It’s new, and it gives them time to be social as they walk or run their miles together. Some of the students help their coach set up and mark off laps. Some of them are competitive and choose to race against each other, racking up miles as quickly as they can. Others walk and talk. Some simply run the whole time, keeping a steady pace as they make progress toward their goals. Marathon Kids is about going at your own pace and challenging yourself as you cover the miles.

Orange County Run Club

Many Benefits For The Students

As much technology as the CT Bulldogs Run Club has incorporated into its activities, it’s still all about getting outside onto the track and putting one foot in front of the other. Many of the runners have finished one marathon already and are well on their way toward finishing a second one. As Miss Brown’s mom Jan says, “Anything is better than staying at lunch on your device.”