The Top 9 Swimming Pool Games: #3 Sharks and Minnows

Disclaimer: SwimSwam does not endorse all of these swimming pool games. Some are dangerous. Some, which are not so dangerous, will, however, enrage lifeguards and probably get you booted from your community pool.

Tony Azevedo, Olympic Water Polo Player (courtesy of Mike Lewis,

Tony Azevedo, Olympic Water Polo Player (courtesy of Mike Lewis,

1 – Water Polo

It’s the standard swimming pool game, the official Olympic waterball sport.  If you swim or swam in California, you probably played the game. A few elite swimmers have achieved notable success in water polo. 11-time Olympic medalists Matt Biondi won an NCAA Team Title for his role on the Cal Golden Bears water polo team. Terry Schroeder is USA Water Polo’s resident icon, and 4-time Olympian Tony Azevedo is the sports biggest star. Internationally, Hungary is the water polo beast. Period.

– 7 players on each team

– two goals on either side of the pool

– an invasion game, one team strives to get their ball in the opposing team’s goal

1a. Murderball. Like water polo, but without much in the way of rules. One variation involves a standard water polo goal, others involve putting the ball in the gutter and holding it there for a 5-7 second count. Best saved for post-season, though, as this one can get a little rough.

2 – Swimming Battleball

Swimming Battleball is like water polo, but with more teeth and grit. Played in the 1970s and 1980s during first weeks of fall practice, this two hour marathon of war is an ideal way to get swimmers’ their feel for water back fast.

– Divide your swim team up, no matter how big.

– Split the pool in half. The deep end, if you have one, is the playing field. The back field is for two swimmers only from each team.

– Time on the clock? You play the entire workout, treading water the entire practice.

– The goal is a plywood board into which you cut a large hole.

– This is a two-ball game, ideally big balls, beachball-sized. The objective: get your big ball through the hole. Keep your opponent’s ball shutdown, or in the back field.

 – You can dunk the person holding the ball (but SwimSwam’s not responsibility if you do as we’re merely reporting the rules).

– Once your team scores, one swimmer from the goal-scoring team, jumps out, grabs the ball, throws it to their player in the back field. Repeat.

***NOTE, many teams win by dominating the opponent’s ball. Often a strong Swimming Battleball player can simply bear hug the ball and lay on it, suffering multiple dunks without releasing the ball. 

3  – Sharks and Minnows

Sharks and Minnows is as old as swimming. Cavemen painted it on walls… Ok, maybe it’s not that old, but swim teams and summer leaguers have been playing it since the 1950s  You know the rules, but why not make the rules work for your development and success. Try our version,  SwimSwam Sharks and Minnows.

– Always play the length of the pool, not the width, preferably in a 50 meter pool to test your skill.

– Pick your shark, the best swimmer on the team.

– Staying underwater isn’t enough for the shark not to get you according to SwimSwam Rules. You have to stay in a tight steamline position as you kick underwater to the other side. No streamline, you’re shark bait.

***Disclaimer: We use these rules to encourage tight underwater streamlines, but don’t push yourself too much. Swimmers can blackout if they hold their breath too long. Remember this is only a game. Breathe if you need to breathe. 

4 – Whale

Whale is nothing more than running on deck and jumping over the swimmer in the pool. We’re not a fan of this game. It’s popular, but it is not safe, and, frankly, most swimmers, hardcore swimmers, aren’t that agile on land.  Whale is #4 on our list, but we if you play this game, be very, very careful.

5 – Bean

Bean is famous…was made famous by SwimSwam co-founder Garrett McCaffrey, when he actually captured it on video many, many years ago… meaning 2007. Alas, the video is now gone from the web. (If anyone can find it, please forward the link.) The Rules? I don’t know the rules. They’re lost to time and the suckhole of the web. I know elite swimmers played it. I know Michael Phelps played it. I know it resembles a watery form of tag, though passive and sneaky, often executed during warmup or long distance sets. If you know the BEAN RULES, please educate us and share in the comments below.

6 – Marco Polo

After enormous research, the evidence is fairly clear. This games suffers from more cheaters than any other in the world.  You know the rules. One person is it. They have to close their eyes and try to find the other players. They shout “Marco” while the other players are supposed to shout “Polo” in response, but that’s rarely the case. If someone’s close to the person yelling “Marco,” they stay silent. Moreover the person yelling “Marco” tyically sneaks a peek. This game is lame, though wildly popular, which is why it comes in at #6.

7 – Capture the Change

This is easy and always a winner with kids.  Throw a few hundred dollars in change in a pool, and let your swimmers work on their underwater speed scooping all of it up.

8 – Capture the Goldfish

This game is even better for working on underwater speed, though peta might not approve. I played it at my summer league banquet party every year, and always got several goldfish for my fishtank.

vaseline-450x450_tcm72-2980219 – Greased Watermelon Football

If you haven’t played this, or watched it, you’re missing out on a simple pleasure in life.  Lather up a watermelon with Vaseline and throw it in the pool. The first people to get it out is the winner. The game always gets bogged-down in a twist of arms, a pile of people, and typically the watermelon slips out and someone quickly rushes it to the edge of the pool or shoreline for the win.
Watch this video until the end to see what we mean:

What are some interesting swimming pool games you like?

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7 years ago

Johnny Weissmuller won Olympic bronze in 1924 for water polo, in addition to his swimming medals.

Also, Sharks and Minnows is best done widthwise in my experience, with a perfect distance being about 12 yards. I’ve played across a 25 yard pool (width of a 50m) and it was absolutely brutal fighting through a half dozen sharks while staying mostly underwater the whole way, then having to go again.

7 years ago

One of my coaches used a game to wake us up and get us in the water at 6 am, we had to throw our goggles from the edge of the pool and try to hook them on the backstroke flags; if you missed you jumped in to retrieve your goggles and kept trying until someone won. It was harder than it sounds. Winners got coupons/gift certificates for McDonald’s.

Reply to  liquidsassets
6 years ago

We played a variation that made it more like a slam dunk contest… running on a pool deck … What could go wrong.

We also played a sprint game called Penguin. If the coach said any other word and you went you were out. DFL swimmer on each round was also dropped.

Mark Canterbury
Reply to  liquidsassets
6 years ago

We did this as a NO PRACTICE thing every once in a while at the beginning of practice. Everyone got only one toss. Those of us that were smart would take apart our goggles at the nose clip which would cause the goggles to wrap around the backstroke flags upon hitting them, thus making this task much easier to accomplish. Of course I’m dating myself a bit in that they don’t make many goggles that you can disconnect the eyepiece from the nose bridge any more. Lol

Reply to  liquidsassets
6 years ago

We play a game similar to this called “Goggle Toss”. Usually it’s at the end of practice after our last start. We have the same rules, except if you win, you get a king sized candy bar and a lot of bragging rights.

Reply to  liquidsassets
4 years ago

The time we tried that, the flags fell down…that was the end of that game

7 years ago

I don’t see the game “finish the practice” anywhere, some list…….

Reply to  coacherik
5 years ago


7 years ago

After a concussion, a broken finger, and a busted ear drum (3 people in one game), our coach put an end to Sharks & Minnows 🙁

Reply to  Alex
6 years ago

I broke my finger playing sharks and minnows last summer… lol

Reply to  gcswimmer
5 years ago

We had some pretty bad injuries, the broken nose requiring plastic surgery was the end of our playing days

Reply to  gcswimmer
5 years ago

I cracked my head open playing “all fishes under”

Reply to  Alex
3 years ago

I also got a concussion playing sharks and minnows… with an older group of competitive kids it gets dangerous!

7 years ago

The Bean videos are still up on

lane 0
7 years ago

Sharks and minnows should be a Olympic sport. FINA should try an exhibition match at one of the world championships.

Reply to  lane 0
7 years ago

YESSSSS I would pay sooo much money to see a Phelps vs lochte sharks and minnows game. It would be so cool to see all the best swimmers in the world face off in a match of the pool game.

Reply to  ozswim
5 years ago

Lochte vs. Phelps vs. Grievers! Grievers is so tall and has such long arms he can practically reach across the pool

Coach T
Reply to  Shannon
5 years ago

My daughter got the chance to do just that with Matt Grevers and Brendan Hanson. And yes, Matt can reach a loooong way! They took out a huge chunk of 100 kids in a pool the first trip. It was fun to watch!

Coach Peter
7 years ago
7 years ago

The Bean is a great game! My college team plays it all the time. The rules are at the beginning of practice someone kicks another swimmer in the leg (sometimes hard sometimes not). The swimmer who was kicked then has the bean. Essentially that means that person is it and has to to kick someone else. So it is basically tag during practice like the article said. The swimmer who has the bean at the end of practice loses the game.The three main rules are be discreet so the coaches don’t find out, you must kick the person in the legs, and you can’t go after the person who just passed you the bean. The best games are when the… Read more »

Reply to  FlyandDie
7 years ago

Can’t forget about no BEANing on the wall.

About Gold Medal Mel Stewart

Gold Medal Mel Stewart

MEL STEWART Jr., aka Gold Medal Mel, won three Olympic medals at the 1992 Olympic Games. Mel's best event was the 200 butterfly. He is a former World, American, and NCAA Record holder in the 200 butterfly. As a writer/producer and sports columnist, Mel has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Universal Sports, …

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