Watching athletes compete in the Summer Olympic Games is a long-awaited highlight for millions around the world. It’s a ritual that comes every four years — a chance to escape the heat, crank up the air conditioning and watch televised events like basketball games, track-and-field relays and table tennis matches. But with the coronavirus outbreak forcing the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo to be postponed, viewers will have to wait another year.
So in the meantime, why not create your own Olympics? With most people staying local and many camps shut down, this is an opportunity for adults and children alike to enjoy a day of fun activities and family competition. And it’s not just about the events — it’s the team spirit, the decorations and the ceremonies that will make this a memorable day, and maybe even an annual tradition.
Here are some steps you can take to plan and organize your own at-home Summer Olympic Games.
Bring out the spirit ahead of time.
You don’t have to wait until Games day to get everyone excited.
“Part of our camp Olympics’ success is the hype leading up to it, not just the activities,” said Jed Dorfman, co-director of Camp Walt Whitman in Piermont, N.H., which hosts a two-night, one-day Olympics experience for its 425 campers every summer — with the exception of this one, because of its pandemic-related closure.
Start out by establishing the teams. If you are playing as individuals, each person can choose a color or grab an old Halloween costume. You can add to the spirit with face paint, colored bandannas and beads. “It doesn’t have to be fancy,” Mr. Dorfman said, “but without the theatrics, it’s just a day of playing sports.”
Hang decorations and the schedule of events.
In advance of the day, have each individual or team make a poster to hang with their name (or country), colors or emblem. The players can make another poster together with the Olympic five-ring symbol. To bring more spirit to the backyard, you can hang balloons, flags and banners.
Since this is a competition, you’ll want to write or print out a schedule of the planned events, along with a score sheet that lists columns for each event, team and point tally.
A note on scoring: If you’re playing as two teams, you can score one point per victory. If you have multiple teams participating — either with numerous players per team or as individuals — you will need to set up a scoring system that designates the number of points assigned to first place, second place, third place and so on.
Make it official with an opening ceremony.
Start the day with the passing-of-the-torch ritual from team to team — using a candle, a drawing or an inflatable plastic torch.
Elizabeth Rovit, a 23-year-old graduate student and veteran sleep-away camper, took great pride in organizing a day of Olympics for her family this year.
“It’s all about fun family competition,” announced Ms. Rovit, as she addressed the other teams (her parents and two younger siblings) during the opening ceremony at their home in Short Hills, N.J. “Each person for him or herself during the games, but we all live under the same roof, so at the end of the day we’ll leave it outside.”
Ms. Rovit then passed a white candle down the line to each player. Let the games begin.
Keep it safe.
To avoid injuries, safety should come first. “For younger children, parents need to lay down rules for safety, making sure kids run with their heads up to watch where they’re going, shoes are tied and the area is safe from obstacles,” said Jesse Corben, a physical education teacher for the Hewlett-Woodmere school district on Long Island.
Most games can be played on grass, and with extra caution, a paved driveway. When in doubt, wear a mask, and have a first-aid kit on hand just in case.
With the coronavirus, you will want to be wary of activities that involve close physical distance, especially if your Olympics includes nonfamily members. When Jaime Schechter, also of Short Hills, threw a birthday party for her 7-year-old son, Blake, she organized specific games so children didn’t have to interact closely. For the three-legged relay, each boy teamed up with his mother.
“It was a great way to reconnect with simple activities and avoid close contact,” Mrs. Schechter said.
Choose activities that emphasize the fun.
Your choice of games and events will depend on the ages of your Olympic athletes, as well as your physical space, but try to include different activities — some athletic, some strategic, some silly — that level the playing field and emphasize the fun. This can be a chance to enjoy simple, timeless activities like races, or games needing more elaborate equipment, like a volleyball net. For races, it may be helpful to set up some cones or make some with other objects. (Search online for any rules or clarification.)
Over-and-under race with a wet sponge
Blow out a candle with a water-gun competition
Egg on a spoon
Potato sack (garbage bags make a good stand-in)
Tipsy Waiter (spin around a bat and carry tray of glasses filled with water)
Volleyball or Newcomb
Kan Jam lawn game (or use a Frisbee and a bucket)
Tug of War
Jump rope contest
Capture the Flag
Sudoku (first to finish) and other pencil-and-pen games
Who can build tallest Lego tower in five minutes
Golf with a tennis racket and ball: Create a course by placing cones around the yard and see whose ball touches the cone with the fewest number of swings
Sidewalk or Driveway: Using chalk, make stations by drawing squares in which each player performs an activity before going to the next. For example, bounce a ball 10 times in one square, hop on one foot 10 times in another, and ride a scooter to the finish line. Quickest time wins.
EAT & DRINK
First to finish a doughnut hanging on a string
First to eat the cookie on the bottom of a whipped cream pie
All of these races above could be done without using your hands. The ones below could include alcoholic or nonalcoholic beverages, just change the name for the first idea:
Hold a medal ceremony.
For the closing of the games, tally up the points and then hold a medal ceremony. You can line up three low stools, milk crates or anything safe and stable for the winners to stand on and accept their medals. The ceremony is the time to read out the scores and acknowledge the winning teams (and maybe hand out participation ribbons to everyone).
Remember, it’s meant to be a day filled with sportsmanship and fun.
“We are very intentional about how we end our Olympics, taking a few moments for celebrating and then bringing everyone back together to one community, one family,” Mr. Dorfman of Camp Walt Whitman said. “It’s more about the experience, rather than the winning and losing.”