Instruct each person to extend both their left and right hands and to curl their fingers inside the matching palms of their partner.
Starting with opposing thumbs side-by-side, each person aims to pin their partner’s thumb under their own thumb first.
Best of five rounds wins.
Swap partners and repeat.
Video Transcript for Thumb Wrestling Energiser Game
presented by Mark Collard
So we are about to do an exercise that you will be immediately go “ooh I know what this is,” except there is going to be something more to it that I add perhaps.
So what is going to happen, we are going to actually shake hands in a really funky way Bri. Where we are actually curl each other’s hands inside the palm of our partner with our thumbs side by side. So what are we now thinking? (Thumb war) Thumb war, thumb wrestling depending in which state you were born, and it is but it isn’t.
For those who are uninitiated to the convention that is thumb wrestling. What’s going to happen is you are going to alternate thumbs to side to side here Bri. By going one, two, three, four I declare a thumb war. Now there is actually two verses, but we do not have time.
So one, two, three, four I declare a thumb war, at which point, the game has started and the object of the game is to pin your partner’s thumb under your own first. Before, of course, they try and get you.
Now I know this for a fact, I worked with the Hills Shire a few years ago here in New South Wales with my oldest ever group. Average age 75, and they had a little old lady come up to me after the end of this exercise and says “I used to play this in primary school.” So I know it’s been around a long long time.
So we are now in the 21st century folks. We now need to enter into the technology of stereo, two hands at the same time. Are you ready? You start when you are ready. Best of three if you lose the first two go to the best of five.
(people playing Thumb Wrestling energiser game)
How To Play Narrative
Ask your group to separate into pairs, perhaps using a fun, random method as described in Getting Into Pairs.
Using the same hand, instruct each person to hold their partner’s hand as if in the typical ‘monkey-grip’ position, ie fingers curled into the matching palm of the other.
Your group is now primed to engage in mortal thumb combat.
The object is for each person to pin their partner’s thumb under their own first. Note – slipping out from under your partner’s thumb, after having been momentarily pinned, is a breach of the International Thumb Wrestling Rules!
At this juncture, you could simply launch into thumb-wrestling utopia, but try these two fun adaptations to add a little pizzazz to an otherwise I-can-see-what’s-going-to-happen activity:
Ask each person to grasp the free hand of their partner to form a second ‘combat zone’ situated on top of or below their already coupled hands. Their arms should now look crossed, to give that peculiar stereo look.
Suggest that before play commences, the partners should join in a quick preparative ditty of “ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, I DECLARE A THUMB WAR,” during which the opposing thumbs alternate side to side across their respective corners of the ‘playing field.’
Best of five rounds wins.
After several rounds, invite everyone to swap partners, perhaps this time looking for someone with a similar-sized thumb.
Practical Leadership Tips
Observe the intense effort and focus some people will adopt during this exercise. It is not uncommon to see two people locked in a battle-to-the-death struggle, often pulling themselves to the ground in desparation. Hilarious.
Consider if your group is prepared to engage in this level of ‘competition,’ ie will it be fun for everyone, or simply an excuse for the most athletic or nimble to excel?
You could integrate Thumb Wrestling in Stereo as part of a well-designed SEL program to help your group make caring and constructive choices about personal behaviour and social interactions across different situations.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of enjoying a good laugh.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus required to interact and engage physically with others may speak to the benefits of having developed a set of supportive and healthy behavioural norms in advance. Or, if not, you could use these less-than-desired interactions or outcomes to explore what sorts of behaviours your group would prefer to see. For example, you could invite your group to reflect on the level of safety consciousness that was demonstrated during the activity and relate this to a set of observed impacts on others.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Thumb Wrestling in Stereo could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Alternate Arms: Swap the set of hands that appears on top of the other.
Wrestling In Trio: Try it with three or four people. Continue to apply the ‘monkey-grip’ posture, but this time all wrestlers curl their fingers into one big clump of palm propinquity. Opportunities to form alliances (ie “Let’s work together to pin HIS thumb first…”) adds another level of excitement to the game.
Large-Group Contest: Form a circle of thumb-wrestling holds, where every second person crosses their arms in front of themselves to grab their neighbour’s matching hands. Once both thumbs of an individual have been pinned, they are eliminated and the circle re-joins. Continue until the Thumb-Wrestling Champion of the World is crowned.
Dexterity Plus: Take a look at Wiggle Waggle to enjoy another fun, dextrously-creative stunt.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Just when you expect that you’ve seen it all, or you know what’s about to happen, something comes along that surprises you (ie the stereo adaptation of the classic thumb-wrestling activity)…
Here’s a wonderful exercise which can often say a lot about who we are as a person – do you love to compete, or do you prefer to focus on the fun and interaction. Or perhaps you find it difficult to engage in what appears to be, at face value, a foolish venture?…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this fun energiser game:
What did you notice playing this classic game with two hands, rather than just one?
What strategies did you employ to successfully pin your partner’s thumb under your own?
When your thumb was pinned, what was your immediate response, and why?
Who won, and what does that really mean?
Quick & Very Fun ‘Energiser’ Session
What You Need:
2+ people, 10 mins
Gotcha – a sure-fire game that is guaranteed to generate lots of laughter