No Props—No Problem

By Jim Cain

For those moments when you have plenty of time and space, but absolutely no equipment, here are four activities to help create something wonderful.

The Invisible Obstacle Course
This warm-up activity is half-creativity and half-physical fitness. Each small group creates an imaginary obstacle course, with group members crawling, jumping, running, and helping each other through the obstacles they encounter. A volunteer in each group begins the activity.

After each element, leadership changes, and another member describes an obstacle, and then helps the other members navigate over, under, through, or around it. In the process, a variety of obstacles can be encountered (e.g., climbing a giant marshmallow mountain), creativity and leadership are explored, and most importantly the group is warmed up, energized, and ready for the day.

The Trust Drive
While there are many trust-building techniques, this activity is one of the best.

Begin with partners of similar heights in an open space with no obstacles, with one partner standing behind the other, both facing forward. The front “driver” holds onto an imaginary steering wheel and closes his or her eyes. With eyes open, the “backseat driver” places his or her hands on the driver’s shoulders and says, “I’ve got your back.”

The front driver controls the speed, while the rear driver provides information and direction (like a human GPS system), avoiding collisions with other drivers and fixed objects.

After a few minutes, the front driver opens his or her eyes and provides the following feedback to the backseat driver:

  • What was good about the technique?
  • What could be done even better?

Next, the two participants exchange roles, after which another feedback session is provided.

This is an excellent activity to begin a more in-depth trust sequence. Be sure to have plenty of supervision and a safe, level, open space. Use this activity to “diagnose” the readiness of a group to explore activities that require an even higher level of trust and commitment. If there are a few “fender-benders” or collisions, a group may require additional work before it is prepared to move on. If participants exhibit caution and care and do not cause any accidents, a group is probably ready to proceed to another activity.

High energy, great theatrics, and quick play make this a permanent part of my personal top-ten activities!

Wah is a game of the ancient samurai (well, probably not, but it is fun to frame it that way!). So, when you say, ‘Wah!’ you can’t say it with a New York accent, but say it like a samurai, ‘WAH!’ There are three basic movements to this game.

Begin with multiple circles of about eight people in “Wah position”—feet slightly spread (like the capital letter A), hands together, pointing forward. In each circle, one person volunteers to begin the game by gaining eye contact with another person, pointing to him or her with both hands, and yelling “Wah!”

The second person now raises both hands straight up over his or her head, and says “Wah!” The third and final move involves two people standing on each side of person two, and making non-contact lumberjack chopping motions towards that person, and also shouting “Wah!” If each person completes the task and says ‘Wah!’ with gusto and on time, the game continues. But if anyone is early or late in the performance or just messes up, that person is ”out” of the game. The good news, however, is that person is not permanently out.

The best part of no-prop games--everyone can participate!

That person can quickly move to another circle and immediately get back into the game. After the third movement is completed, person number two (whose hands are still raised high above the head) becomes the first person in the next round, points to one of that group’s members, and evokes the command “Wah!” and the game continues.

Pulse is an outstanding no-prop table game that can be played on the floor as well. Begin with a small group of seated players, with one hand of each player flat on the surface of the table. Each player is to imagine there is a hinge at the wrist. The group leader begins the pulse by pointing out the direction the pulse will travel, and then raises the fingers of his or her hand (while the wrist stays in contact with the table), and slaps the table once. The pulse moves in the direction stated, and the next person continues by slapping the table once as the pulse continues to travel around.

At any point, a player can slap the table once or twice. If he or she slaps once, the pulse continues in the same direction. If the person slaps twice, the pulse reverses direction. If anyone around the table lifts even a single finger when it is not his or her turn, that player is out for the duration of the round. Play continues until approximately half of the group has been eliminated, then players move up to a higher level of challenge.

Round one—players place just one hand on the table.

Round two—players use both hands, side-by-side.

Round three—players use both hands, but cross them (to form an X) so their right hand is on the left, and their left hand is on the right.

Round four—players use both hands, but reach outwards so the right hand crosses over the left hand of the person on their right and their left hand crosses over the right hand of the person on their left, forming X’s with the partner on each side.

Round five—players revert to the starting positions in round two (two hands, side-by-side), but an additional technique is allowed. If a player slaps the table with a fist, the pulse jumps over the next hand in that direction. If the fist double-slaps the table, the pulse reverses direction and skips a hand in the new direction.

Dr. Jim Cain is the author of the teambuilding texts, Teamwork & Teamplay, The Revised and Expanded Book of Raccoon Circles, A Teachable Moment, Teambuilding Puzzles, and Essential Staff Training Activities . He is the Director and creative force behind his company, Teamwork & Teamplay. Reach him at .


A new book, Find Something To Do!, by Jim Cain features more than 100 no-prop activities that counselors and staff members can use throughout camp.  From painless icebreakers and challenging team initiatives to trust activities, puzzles and games, creative debriefing techniques, and closing activities, this back pocket-sized book should be your essential staff-training manual this year.