How to Play Sharks and Minnows

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Filled with splashing, high-speed swimming and narrow escapes, Sharks and Minnows is a classic, fast-paced pool game. It's also an enjoyable way for young swimmers to develop confidence, improve their speed and extend the length of time they can spend underwater. There are many variations of Sharks and Minnows, but all of them share the same basic principles.

The Basics

  • The many versions of Sharks and Minnows all share the same basic idea: One player takes on the role of the shark to begin, while the other players are minnows. The minnows have to swim from one end of the pool to the other and touch the wall; meanwhile, the shark tries to tag them. The more minnows there are, the less likely it is that the shark will catch all of them. The surviving minnows then return for another round.

Variant Starting Positions

  • Different versions of the game place the players in different positions at the start of the game. In some cases, the minnows begin at the edge of the pool while the shark floats in the water, calling them to come in. There is no standard call, but the shark often uses a simple rhyme such as "Sharks and minnows, one two three, fishies, fishies swim to me!" In other versions, the minnows begin lined up along the pool edge while the shark starts on the edge of the pool, diving in when the game begins.

Variant Tagging

  • In most versions of Sharks and Minnows, the shark may tag a minnow at any time. In others, minnows are protected from tagging at certain times. One common rule is for minnows to be untaggable while underwater; this encourages new swimmers to develop their underwater swimming skills. In other versions, minnows may only be tagged when they are underwater, although this will tend to encourage "safe" swimming.

Scoring and Winning

  • When the shark tags a minnow, several different things can happen. Typically, each tagged minnow becomes a shark for the next round. As the number of sharks increases, the game will get faster and faster. In other versions, each tagged minnow becomes "seaweed." Players who become seaweed must tread water in place; they can tag minnows, but can't swim around the pool to do so. In another variant -- the "fisherman" version -- the caught minnows link hands to form a net. While the remaining minnows are trying to make their way around this obstacle, the shark swims in to catch them. In some versions, a tagged minnow is simply out of the game. This version results in some players spending much of the game doing nothing, which is usually not desirable. The last minnow left becomes the shark for the next game.

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