At summer camps around the United States, kids of all ages square off in a battle of strength that dates back centuries. Is the water balloon toss really that old? No! We’re talking about tug of war!

Tug of war is a sport that pits two teams against each other to test their strength using nothing more than a rope and pure muscle. Although we can’t be sure exactly when the first-ever tug of war match took place, we do know that it was a long, long time ago.

Ancient Chinese texts claim that military commanders used tug of war (then called “hook pulling”) to train warriors 7,000 to 10,000 years ago. Archaeologists have also found evidence that tug of war was popular in India in the 12th century.

There is also evidence that tug of war was common in ancient Egypt. Old Egyptian legend holds that the sun and the moon played tug of war over light and darkness.

The phrase “tug of war” didn’t always refer to the game we know today, though. The Oxford English Dictionary indicates that “tug of war” used to mean “the decisive contest; the real struggle or tussle; a severe contest for supremacy.” It wasn’t until the 19th century that “tug of war” became associated with the sport between two teams tugging on the ends of a rope.

To play tug of war, you really only need a rope — or anything with opposite ends to tug on — and at least two people. Of course, the more people involved, the more fun it is.

The number of people who can play is really only limited by how long the rope is. Serious tug of war contests usually pit two teams of eight players against each other.

The winning team is the one that pulls the other team past a predetermined point. Often this point is marked on the ground.

Flags are spaced equally along the rope from the center point. As soon as one team pulls the other team far enough for their flag to cross the line, they win.

To make things even more fun, there are many variations that can be included. Sometimes teams play tug of war on either side of a small body of water, with the losers getting pulled into the water. Even more fun is playing on either side of a mud pit!

Tug of war is played in probably every country in the world. Many countries have even set up national governing bodies to oversee the sport. Today, there are more than 50 countries associated with an international tug of war governing body, known as the Tug of War International Federation (TWIF).

Although tug of war was included in the Olympic Games from 1900 to 1920, it is no longer an Olympic sport. Tug of war is currently played in the World Games, and the TWIF regularly organizes tug of war world championships. So, yes, even grown-ups still play tug of war!

 

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    • It’s SUPER fun to play, isn’t it, Zach? We like playing it with our friends here in Wonderopolis! Thanks so much for checking out this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  1. Our English Bulldog played tug of war with our Golden Retriever but the English Bulldog was too lazy to do any work and let the Golden Retriever dragged him all over the patio.

    • That’s really cool, hdhungryman! Thanks so much for sharing about your dogs and their WONDERful game of tug of war! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How many people can play tug of war?
  • When did tug of war start?
  • Do grown-ups still play tug of war?

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Try It Out

Ready to test your strength? That’s right! It’s time to participate in that centuries-old game known as tug of war.

You’ll need just a few things. First, get some players. Find a few friends and family members, and split up into teams of comparable size.

Try to make sure an equal number of kids and adults are on each team to make things as fair as possible. If you have an odd number of people, let one person be the “judge.”

You’re also going to need a rope or something similar to tug on. If you have just a few players, something as simple as an old pair of blue jeans might work. If you can find a sturdy rope, though, that would be best.

Mark the center of the rope with a marker or some tape. Also mark a center line on the ground as the starting point for the center of the rope. You can use paint, a stick or even flour sprinkled on the ground.

You’ll need to decide whether you want to play simple tug of war or make the game more interesting by adding something like a mud pit.

If you go the simple route, you’ll want to measure the same distance from the center of the rope on each side and mark it with a flag or a strip of cloth. Depending on how far you want the winning team to have to pull the other team, you can make this distance as short or as long as you want it to be.

Before you get started, make sure everyone is comfortable with the rope. If it is too rough, you can always let players wear gloves to avoid hurting their hands.

Before you start, make sure everyone is clear on the rules. You can make up as few or as many rules as you want.

Some competitions do not allow people to wrap the rope around their arm, for example. To brush up on the official rules, check out TWIF’s international rule book.

When everyone is set, let the teams square off. May the strongest team win! They’ll be crowned Camp What-A-Wonder Tug of War Champions!

 

Still Wondering

Want to try another fun game? Check out Smithsonian’s History Explorer to learn how to play Running the Blockade, a game based on Civil War signaling and naval strategy.

 

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