Keeping kids engaged while still teaching them valuable skills is a tough task for any instructor. Working with kids Judo programs in Rochester NY since I was a kid myself, I've picked up on some great FUN ways to teach students skills they will use during their entire Judo or BJJ journey.
Special thanks to the folks at Rochester Jiu-Jitsu for providing some inspiration for some of these games.
Cut up strips of fabric about for-arm length and width. Have each student tuck the a piece of fabric in the back of their belts. When the game starts, students must get other peoples tails to eliminate them without losing their own tail. This game may be played in pairs or as a free for all group.
This is a great way to teach the fundamentals of grip fighting and movement.
Similar to Tiger tails but with the ability to work both standing and groundwork: Everyone ties their belt without putting a knot in it, if someone gets your belt off you are out. While Tiger Tails is more suitable for younger Judoka who are just developing fine motor skils, Belt Stealers is ideal for Judoka 10+ that should be working on establishing control while also working towards more advantageous positions.
Clothes Pin Judo
A more advanced version of the first two: Get clothes pins and have students put them on their lapels, elbows, back of their belt, back of the collar or any other control points. Students have to get other peoples clothes pins off without losing all of theirs. This game can be played in pairs or as one large group.
NOTE: Make sure to put a bucket in the middle of the mat and tell students that they have to put the clothes pins into the bucket before they go after another one to prevent people from stepping on them and hurting their feet.
Are you running a demo or trial class for students that don't have belts or gi's yet? If so, this is a simple and great game that mimics the best parts of Tiger Tails, Belt Stealers and Clothes Pin Judo.
Students put one sock on their foot and pair off. The object is to get the sock off your opponents foot while not losing your own sock. This game is a blast for students of all ages! Here's a video of an adult class doing this drill:
Bulldog/Sharks & Minnows
Put two students in the middle of the mat and the rest of the students along one side of the mat. Everyone must stay on their hands and knees. Each round begins when the students in the center (The bulldogs/sharks) slap the mat three times, at this point all the other students try and get from one side of the mat to the other (on hands and knees!) without getting turned over and pinned. If you get pinned you join the center as a bulldog. The game ends when one person is left who is not a bulldog, they are the winner and get a round of applause from the group.
NOTE: This game can be played with adults and children, but when mixing students of differing sizes care must be taken to avoid an adult getting turned over onto a smaller child. It's best to play this game where all students are within 30lbs of each other.
Judo Freeze Tag
Classic freeze tag but to un-freeze a partner you have to throw them. Can also be modified for groundwork by doing a turnover from the turtle to un-freeze people.
Students pair off and make a circle with both of their belts large enough to step inside. They get their grips and try to push/pull their partner out of the circle without stepping out themselves. This teaches
Stay in the Box
Similar to sumo circle, students pair off and face each other each standing on a separate mat. They get their grips and try to pull or push their opponent out of their single mat space while staying in their mat. (This only works if you have mats that are similar size to tatami)
Paper Plate Judo
Invented by yours truly...Go to the grocery store and get a bunch of small paper plates, you can usually get 100 for around $2. Give two to each student and instruct them to put one under each foot. Start by having them try to walk/run around the room while not losing the paper plates from under their feet. Then have them move sideways, backward, Tsugi-Ashi, and in a circle. If they do it correctly, they will be able to move fluidly without losing their plates. This teaches them how to maintain contact with the ground while still moving, a skill that is very important in Judo. Next, you can have them play tag while keeping the plates under their feet.
For more advanced students and adults, use the paper plates for foot sweep drills, like O-Uchi-Gari, Ko-Uchi-Gari, and De-Ashi-Barai. Using this method for drilling O-Uchi-Gari is especially important as a very common mistake is lifting the attacking leg when executing the throw. Maintaining contact is essential and this forces students to do it!
Paper plates can usually be used again and again, but after they are worn out, don't forget to recycle!
Bucking Bronco/Crazy Horse
This game is played with an adult paired with a child. The adult gets on all fours and the child gets on their back with hooks (feet) in and arms locked around the body (Seatbelt grip - One over the head and the other under the arm). The adult tries to get the kid to fall off by bucking and twisting. The ferocity of the bucking should be tailored to the individual child to ensure they are challenged but not thrown off violently.
This teaches kids how to maintain back control under tough situations.
This drill is incorporated into another set of great drills/games from Gracie Bullyproof which I would recommend everyone check out:
Kids form a circle with one student having a exercise ball. The student with the ball rolls it towards another student in the circle. That student has to sprawl on the ball and not let it hit any other part of their body but their for-arms. This is a great drill to work on reaction time and proper sprawling. To make the game more difficult and teach breakfalls, have students do a forward roll over the ball while holding it in order to launch it towards the next student.
Everyone walks around like a crab and tries to get other peoples butts to touch the mat by pulling their hands or feet to get them out.
Human Whip Tag
Students form a long line holding onto the belt of the person in front of them on one end of the mat. One student (The fastest of the students) the "tagger" is on the other side of the mat, the tagger wins by touching the last person in the line (The tail of the whip), everyone else in the line must move to defend the tail of the whip.
Foot Sweep Circle
Have students link hands in a circle. Each tries to sweep the feet out from the people next to them. If a person falls down they sit out, and the rest continue until there is only one left.
This is a great drill that improves foot sweep ability and balance at the same time.
A great way to teach guard passing in a fun game: One partner lays on their back, the other stands at their feet, the person standing wins if they can touch the other persons head, the person on the ground defends with hip movement/feet/hands. To make it more difficult have the person on the bottom put one or both hands into their belt.
Partners pair off in the middle of the mat and start on their hands and knees facing each other with left shoulders touching. One persons goal is to make it to the other side of the mat, the other is to stop them before 30 seconds runs out by pinning or immobilizing them. Roles switch and the clock resets. Repeat until exhaustion sets in.
Sausage Roll Tag
One person lays down and the rest of the students form a circle around them. They have to roll around like a sausage to tag someone, and cannot get up on hands/knees or stand. If they get someone then they can stand up and that person becomes the sausage. Optionally to make the game go quicker, you may play where once you are tagged you are always a sausage and the group of taggers keeps growing until everyone is turned into a sausage.
Same thing as sausage tag but the taggers are on hands and feet like Silverback Gorilla. Great way to get warmed up fast!
Knights & Horses
Each kid pairs off with an adult. The adult gets down on all fours like a horse, and the kid gets on top with hooks in like a rider. When the game starts the object is to knock the other riders off their horses to eliminate them from the game. However, only knights can touch knights and horses touch horses. This levels the playing field. This game is a blast and can be quite safe if everyone is careful to not land on their riders :)
Old punctured bike inner tubes can be procured free from any bike shop. One club make some great games using them: