Games of the North

Classroom Activities and descriptions of the games

The games described here have been played for thousands of years in villages throughout the Arctic. 

These games are physically demanding and can help students develop great agility, strength, endurance, and balance. But their importance transcends the physical. They build mental focus, confidence, and toughness, while promoting the Native values of cooperation, self-reliance, and community. The Games can involve participants of every ethnic origin and can work to change both attitudes and behaviors in students anywhere.

For the Teacher

These games are appropriate for Physical Education teachers or for those who have the space and materials readily avaiable.

Day 1: Show the movie, Games of the North, to students before introducing and teaching the games. This will give students background knowledge of the indigenous people of the North and an understanding of the games' cultural roles.

Day 2: Introduce the Games. There are 10 games described in this Learning Center. To effectively introduce the activities the teacher must assess how his/ her class will learn best. Teaching strategies such as pairing students up with differing abilities so that they an assist one another, having rotating stations that allow students to continuously practice the games until they understand the techniques, and posting the steps of each games on the classroom walls are effective.

The Games

Game 1: Eskimo Stick Pull                                

Equipment Needed

A stick or dowel, approximately 1.25 inches in diameter and 18 inches long. A small area of the floor. A mat for the contestants to sit on is optional.

How To Play

  • Two athletes sit facing each other on the floor with the soles of their feet touching.
  • Knees are bent about 45 degrees
  • The stick is placed slightly above their toes and grasped by the athletes, with palms facing down.
  • One person's hands are on the inside and the other's hands are on the outside. All hands must be touching.
  • Once the pulling begins, athletes may not change their grip, nor may they jerk the stick.
  • Contestants use the strength of their legs, arms, and backs to attempt to either pull the stick out of their opponent's grip or raise their opponent off the ground and pull him over.
  • Spotters may be used during the competition. Spotters sit on the floor at right angles to the contestants and place their feet against the upper thighs of the athletes' sitting bodies and against the sides of their feet to keep the contestants from falling over sideways.
  • The winner of the competition is successful in ttwo out of three rounds. The winner of a round is given the same hand position for the next round.

Game 2: Alaska High Kick

Equipment Needed

A target such as a small sealskin ball; a structure that is tall enough to suspend the target, such as a basketball backboard. A tie for the string, that allows for the height of the target to be easily adjusted.

How to Play

  • The athlete sits on the floor below the target and grasps the sole or toes of one foot with the opposite hand. Right or left foot can be used for grasping.
  • The free hand is planted firmly on the floor for balance, and the body is raised off the floor balancing on the kicking foot and hand.
  • In the balanced position the player drives his/her hips and kicks the leg upward, springing into the air and aiming the foot of the kicking leg toward the target.
  • Athletes must not release the grip on their foot.
  • Athletes must jump, kick and land on the same leg while the anchor hand supports the body. While performing the kick, no other body parts may touch the ground.
  • After landing, the athlete may hop to retain balance, but hopping before takeoff, letting go of the foot, losing balance after landing, or twisting over, will disqualify the kick.
  • Do not use a mat with this game, as it will not be as stable as the floor.
  • Three attempts are allowed at each height. The athlete who kicks the target at the highest height is the winner.

Game 3: Kneel Jump

This is a game of agility and explosive strength. Hunters require lightening quick reflexes to survive in the event of an ice break-up. The leg strength needed to do well in the kneel jump is also required to lift heavy game such as seal, whale, walrus or moose and carry it back home.

Equipment Needed

A tape measure. Open floor space with a starting stripe.

How to Play

  • The athlete kneels down on both knees and sits on his/her heels.
  • The top of the feet must be flat on the floor. The feet cannot be crossed over each other, and the athlete cannot be up on his/her toes before the jump.
  • The contestant is allowed to swing his/her arms back and forth and to move his/her body up and down in order to gain momentum for the leap forward.
  • The athlete's hands cannot touch the floor.
  • The athlete jumps out as far as possible, and must land on both feet without falling or without any other part of the body touching the floor.
  • The athlete will scratch if he/she falls back or if one of the landing feet slides.
  • Measurement is taken from the start line to the rear heel.
  • Contestants are given three jumps.
  • The winner is the athlete who jumps the farthest from the starting line.
  • Athletes may wear shoes but not knee pads.

Game 4: Scissor Broad Jump

The Scissor Broad Jump harkens back to the hunting of seal and walrus where Alaska Native hunters had to develop balance and quick reflexes in order to jump from one ice floe to another as the ice was shifting in the water.

How to Play

  • The Scissor Broad Jump consists of four continuous jumps.
  • An athlete begins by standing with both feet behind the starting line.
  • Jumping with both feet, land on foot A.
  • Continuing forward momentum, cross foot B behind the landing foot A, transferring weight to B and freeing foot A.
  • Springing off to foot B, land again on foot A carrying forward momentum and continuing the jump, landing solidly on both feet.
  • Continuous forward movement is required throughout.
  • Jumping off of one foot, a foot over the start line, falling at any time, not sticking the landing, or sliding the foot forward after landing will result in nullified jump.
  • The athlete is given three chances. The longest jump wins.

Game 5: Leg Wrestle

This is a game that focuses on leg strength and quickness. The Leg Wrestle was a means for hunters to develop the leg strength needed for carrying game back to the village or for hauling and dragging a seal or beluga whale out of the ocean.

Equipment Needed

A small floor space. A mat for the contestants to lie on.

How to Play

  • Athletes lie on the ground, next to each other, facing in opposite directions.
  • They lock their inside elbows.
  • The contestants' arms must be on their chests with fngers either interlaced or gripping the wrists.
  • They each bring their inside straightened legs up to full vertical--once, twice and on the third time they interlock their legs and try to pull their opponent over or push their opponent's leg to the floor.
  • If the athletes cannot set their legs properly, the teacher may help.
  • Contestants will lose the round if their hands come apart.
  • After the first round, athletes spin around and change legs.
  • Teachers should devise a "STOP" signal in case students get stuck or are in pain; they can yell that signal in order to stop the match.
  • Make sure students pull straight down with legs to avoid striking the opponent in the face.
  • The winner must roll his opponent over two out of three tries.

Game 6: One-Foot High Kick

This is a game of extraordinary agility, balance, coordination, speed, reflexes, and explosive strength. Similar to the Two-Foot High Kick, this game was developed as a means for hunters to communicate visual messages. When a messenger from a hunting or whaling crew was within sight of the village, he would kick high into the air as a sign of a successful hunt.

Equipment Needed:

Use a high kick target (follow the same directions as the Alaska High Kick for the target and structure information).

The target is suspended at an easy starting height for all participants, and then raised incrementally until the winner is declared. Height increments of 1 inch are typical; however, participants' consensus rules.

How to Play

  • Contestants have the option of jumping from a standing position or from a running start.
  • Athletes may use their arms to gain upward momentum.
  • The athlete jumps off from both feet simultaneously, kicks the suspended target with any part of one foot, and lands on the same kicking foot, maintaining balance.
  • Athletes may hop to retain balance.
  • If they bring their knees high before extending the legs, they will achieve better results. 
  • Failing to kick the object, falling, landing on both feet, or landing on the opposite foot will nullify the jump.
  • Three attempts at each height will be given to each athlete.
  • The athlete who touches the ball at the highest elevation wins.

Game 7: Two-Foot High Kick

Years ago, whale hunters returning home to their coastal villages after success at sea would jump and kick both feet into the air while running, signaling the people of the village to come and help in beaching the whale. This game requires steady concentration accompanied by an explosion of physical power. The game was practiced in the winter and often played in a small community house. Thus, the Two-Foot High Kick tested how high a person could jump, rather than how far.

Equipment Needed

The Two-Foot High Kick target follows the same instructions as the Alaska High Kick and One-Foot High Kick.

How to Play

  • Contestants have the option of jumping from a standing position or from a running start.
  • Athletes may use their arms to gain upward momentum.
  • Contestants must leave the ground with both feet together.
  • With both legs kicking simultaneously, they must touch the suspended target with one or both feet, and then land with feet together.
  • Contestants may hop after landing to keep balance.
  • While in the air, athletes should bring their knees in close to their bodies. Once at maximum height, contestants should extend their feet and attempt to strike the ball while keeping head and upper body vertical.
  • The feet must remain parallel and together from takeoff to landing.
  • Falling or landing on one foot will nullify the jump.
  • Three attempts at each height will be given to each athlete.
  • The winner is the athlete who touches the ball at the highest elevation.

Game 8: Wrist Carry

The Wrist Carry is a game of physical power and endurance. Hauling seal onto an ice floe or carrying a haunch of moose long distance back to the village required great strength.

Equipment Needed

A round stick or dowel 48 inches long and 1 5/16 inches in diameter. The stick is marked with a line the long way so judges can watch for twisting (not allowed). A fairly large, measured floor space. A watch. A start line.

How to Play

  • Wrist Carry is a team event: two members of the team carry the third, the contestant.
  • Two people hold the ends of the stick in the air above the contestants who is sitting on the ground.
  • The athlete makes a fist with one hand (either one), then hooks that wrist over the middle of the stick.
  • With his/her free hand, the contestant grasps the hooked forearm with the thumb wrapped around.
  • If the contestant's grip slips, he is not allowed to re-grip the forearm.
  • The athlete's hooked hand may not touch his face for support while being carried. Nor may the athlete's face touch the stick.
  • The athlete's legs can be crossed however the athlete feels comfortable--cross-legged, tucked or in a Yoga Lotus position.
  • The carriers can hold the stick using the hands alone, or they can place the stick in the crook of their arm.
  • The carriers then lift the contestant and begin to walk or run the course.
  • Each athlete is given one chance. The athlete who is carried the furthest before touching the floor is the winner.

Game 9: Finger Pull

The rigorous subsistence way of life, in practice for thousands of years in the Arctic, required great strength and endurance. The Finger Pull game helped hunters develop and maintain their hand and arm strength.

Equipment Needed

A mat for the contestants to sit on is optional.

How to Play

  • Two athletes sit facing each other.
  • One athlete bends the right leg, and the opponent's feet are braced against the first athlete's right shin.
  • The first athlete leans slightly backwards, bracing his elbow against his right thigh, and places his hand on the opponent's left knee.
  • The opponent braces his/her left hand on the first athlete's left shoulder and then both lock middle fingers.
  • On a signal, both pull slowly and steadily.
  • No jerking, twisting, or re-gripping is allowed.
  • The object is to pull the opponent's arm out slightly or to cause him/her to straighten his/her finger or to otherwise signal giving up.
  • This game was originally played with a piece of string and pull pegs held with the forefingers. This is now a game of fun and endurance.

Game 10: Seal Hop

The Seal Hop is a game that tests the participant's strength, determination, and tolerance for pain. Hunters would often imitate a seal in order to sneak closer, disguising themselves by wearing seal skin, hopping, and even calling like a seal.

Equipment Needed

A starting stripe and a turning stripe. A large floor space. A tape measure.

How to Play

  • The object is to see how far an athlete can hop in a push-up position--hands and toes being the only parts of the body touching the floor.
  • Boys and girls play the game slightly differently. Boys hop on their front knuckles and palms. Girls hop on their open palms. The only other parts of the body touching the floor are the toes.
  • Contestants begin with their shoulders behind the start line.
  • The participant hops forward as far as possible, keeping the back straight, bottom in the air, elbows bent and tucked-in close to the body.
  • The athlete's bottom cannot be higher than his/her shoulders at any time.
  • If the floor space is not long enough, contestants can turn around at a designated turn-line, but they must continue hopping as they turn, their legs must remain together, and both hands and feet must pass the turn-line.
  • Warnings or disqualification may occur if the athlete stops and restarts, straightens the arms, touches the floor with any part of the body other than palms and toes, raises his/her bottom above the shoulders, or moves from the spot where he/she ended before the distance is measured by a judge.
  • Three warnings will disqualify the contestant.
  • The winner is the athlete who travels the farthest distance without stopping.

After viewing of the film Games of the North, engage students in discussions about the following:

1. What ceremonies in your life celebrate your culture? What ceremonies are celebrated in this film?

2. Who in your life makes you see from a different point of view and why?

3. The games in the movie are personal competitions for the athletes. What activity in your life is extremely challenging, yet strictly personal?

4. What skills and knowledge will you be able to pass down to younger people and how would you go about teaching that knowledge?

5. What is the role of Elders in your culture?

6. If your culture was evaporating, what would you do to preserve it?

7. Survival requires different skills depending on where you live. What survival skills are needed in an urban environment?

8. The games in the film are personal, but they are also social, celebrating group support for the individual. What activities in your life support you through community effort?

For more information on ordering the film, Games of the North visit: OR