16 Throwing and Catching Games to Play With Kids

From 500 and Animal Ball to SPUD and Pickle.

by Harlan Sharpe
Originally Published: 

Catch, the simple act of throwing a ball back and forth, is the most basic throwing game in the world, if you want to call it that. In reality, it’s more like an activity. But all that repetition can get old, and conversation can run stale. If you’ve been looking to raise the stakes and reinvigorate a fatherhood staple, then it’s time to try out a few new throwing and catching games this year. Even better, these throwing games ensure continued opportunities to spend quality time outdoors with your son or daughter and away from his or her smartphone.

One of the best parts of catch is that it’s highly adaptable. Sometimes, the kids need to burn off energy and standing around lobbing a ball doesn’t achieve that. Other times, plain old catching and throwing becomes boring and a bit more fun needs to be injected into the game. Whatever the case, there are many different variations of throwing and catching games to occupy kids. Some are summer camp re-skins that make throwing a ball a bit more active; others are just slight tweaks to the format that adds a nice dose of competition. All are great back-pocket outdoor activities for kids when all you have is a ball and some space. A working rotator cuff helps, too.

Oh, and if any of the kids are just learning how to catch a ball ⏤ or are having difficulty doing so ⏤ it’s important to stop any game to show them proper technique. First, keep the arms outstretched but close together (like train tracks) as the ball approaches. Second, don’t take your eye off the ball. Third, when it hits the arms use the ‘hug trick’ ⏤ just give it a big old hug. Here, then are 16 throwing and catching games to play with kids this year;.

1. 500

A classic spin on traditional catch that works best with three people or more. One designated thrower stands an agreed-upon distance away from the rest of the players, all of whom are catchers. The thrower tosses the ball high in the air and shouts out a number between 25 and 500. Whoever catches the ball without dropping it gets the amount of points; if they drop it, they lose that amount of points. The game lasts until someone achieves 500 or more points. (Kids having trouble catching those high tosses? This is how to teach a kid to field a fly ball, in six steps)

2. Five Dollars

This is just a spin of “500” but it helps facilitate fielding practice. Instead of a thrower, there’s a designated hitter who is self-pitching and smacking balls towards fielders. An allotted money value is given to those who field, say, a ground ball within a couple of bounces; a value is subtracted if they don’t. Traditionally the point values are: grounder, 25 cents; line drive single bounce, 75 cents; line drive two bounces, 50 cents; line drive three bounces ,25 cents; ball caught in the air, $1. The first to $5 wins. In lieu of a hitter, of course, someone can just throw a variety of “hit balls” at fielders for the same effect.

3. Butts Up/Wall Ball

Ah, the schoolyard classic. This needs at least three people to work correctly. But the larger the group, the better the game. Find a wall, start throwing a tennis ball against it. Players gathered away from the ball must field or catch the ball and then throw it at the wall. If someone goes to catch or field the ball and doesn’t catch — or it touches a part of their body — they must sprint to the wall before the ball is thrown against it. If the latter, the person receives one strike. Three strikes and they’re out. Last remaining player wins. And, yeah, schoolyard rules say the loser must bend over and get his butt cheeks pelted by the other players. But just call it wall ball and leave that part out.

4. Pickle/Running Bases

Want to exhaust the kids? Pickle’s your game. Also known as Running Bases or, sometimes, Hot box (?), the game requires two “bases” — i.e. old towels, blankets, or cones — set up 15-20 feet apart, and four or more players. Two players are “It” and stand at each base. The other players divide themselves and stand at each base. Those who are “it” throw the ball back and forth. The other players must successfully run from one base to the other without getting tagged. If tagged, they are now “It”.

5. Spud

Spud is sort of a mash-up of dodgeball and tag. It’s a bit involved, but very fun. It requires a group of four or more players and is best played with a soft ball (something squishy, not an actual softball). Everyone is given a number. There’s a designated thrower who is tasked with tossing the ball up in the air and calling out one of the numbers.

Here’s how it plays out: The person whose number is called must try to catch or retrieve the ball; all other players must run away. Once the designated player retrieves the ball, they shout “Spud!” When this happens, the other players must freeze. The player who has the ball may take four steps, yelling “S!” “P!” “U! “D!” as they do so. They must then try to hit another player by throwing or rolling the ball. Frozen players aren’t allowed to move their feet, but can catch the ball or wiggle their hips/bend to avoid a toss. If the thrower successfully hits or a player targeted tries to catch but misses, they receive a letter (S, P, U, and then D); if the ball is caught, the thrower receives a letter. The player who receives a letter is the next thrower and the game repeats. Once someone spells out SPUD, they are out of the game; the last player remaining wins.

6. Hoop Throw

This is catch but with a skill challenge involved. Set up some hoops on garden stakes (hula hoops, aerobes, or cut cardboard work best) and stake them into the ground at varying heights throughout the yard. All players stand a good distance away from the hoop (exact distance is based on age and skill, obviously) and try to throw the ball through. If a player makes it through the first hoop (easiest), they get 5 points, the second, 10 points, the third, 15 points. If a player misses the hoop, no points are awarded. Players each take a turn at the hoops, moving from one to the other and back again. The first one to 50 points wins.

7. Horse

Yep. This is the classic basketball game but reimagined for playing catch. Same rules apply. A group of players start throwing a ball around. If one player misses a catch, they get a letter. If the thrown ball is uncatchable, the thrower gets a letter. Spell horse and you’re out. The last player standing wins.

8. Underhand “Golf”

Set up a bunch of buckets in your yard (at least 7-8 works) as well as a few delineated “tee off” spots marked with tape or string. Determine a par for each course (2, 3, 4 or 5). Players take turns “teeing off” — throwing underhand, and underhand only, to try to make it close to the bucket. Get in the bucket in one try? That’s a hole in one. But, much like regular fairway play, the object should be far enough away that it should take several tries. Score it like golf.

9. Clap Catch

A fun variation on throwing and catching best played with a soft ball, this game helps increase reaction skills and keeps kids engaged. The premise is simple. Two or more people are playing catch. Before catching the ball, players must clap their hands together as many times as possible before making a catch. If they do, they get a point for every successful clap; if they fail to clap in time or drop the ball, they lose a point. First to 20 wins.

10. Bounce Catch

Best played in the street with a tennis ball or soft ball with decent bounce. Two players stand opposite one another. Instead of throwing the ball in the air, the object of the game is to throw a ball so that it bounces once before reaching the player. Have a hula hoop to throw down as a bounce target? Use it. But hoop or not, it’s a simple twist that adds a lot more fun to the standard game.

11. Double Bounce Catch

Bounce catch but consider the ante upped. Players stand further away from one another and try to achieve a coveted double bounce.

12. Two Ball Catch

Two players, two balls, one game of catch. Each player starts with a ball and throws it to the opposite player. That’s more difficult than it sounds. Timing and rhythm are everything. Balls will drop. Giggles will be shared. But it helps work on coordination. The object is to try to keep the game going as long as possible with zero drops.

13. Backwards Catch

It’s catch, but players stand three to four feet apart and one stands backward. The player not standing backward, gives the other player a heads-up and throws the ball to them. The player catching must try to catch it on one bounce. The backward-standing player must then throw the ball backward for the other person.

14. Double Backwards Catch

Players stand back to back and throw the ball over their heads, trying — and likely failing — to have a no-look catch and throw backward. Will it be successful? Eh, probably not. But kids will have a blast trying.

15. Animal Ball

Circle the kids up a few feet apart from one another. Or, if you’re playing with just one child, line up opposite them a short distance away. Now explain the rules, which are simple. The child with the ball yells out, “A dog says… ruff ruff ruff!” and tosses the ball underhanded to anybody else in the circle. While the ball is in the air, the entire group barks like a dog until it’s caught. The next child then picks a different animal and does the same thing, “A cow says… moooooooo” and throws the ball as everybody ‘moos.’ The game proceeds until the kids exhaust either themselves or their knowledge of animal sounds. You can also let the child who catches the ball make the animal sound first, with the group quickly following their lead and letting out a chorus of ‘quacks,’ ‘meows,’ or ‘hee-haws.”

16. The Catch and Throw Relay Race

For this game, you must have at least four players. Players form teams of two and everyone stands on the same side of the yard. The object is to get from one side of the yard to the other, only by throwing and catching. Teammates throw one another the ball, moving forward as they do so (one person throws; if their partner successfully catches the ball, the thrower then runs in front of that player to try to catch the next throw). Teammates can be as far apart as they want if they think they can make long throws. But if a ball is not caught, teams must go back to the start. When someone shouts “Go” the race is on. The first team to the other side of the yard and back wins.

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