Prairie Dog Pickoff

Focus Skills: Attacking a Goal · Communication · Defending a Goal

Prairie Dog Pickoff is one of those games that can be tailored to meet a variety of outcomes and student needs. I typically use it as a lead-up game to Team Handball during my middle school (grade six) units.

quickrulesicon Quick Rules

Students begin in a scattered formation with each student in possession of a foamie (their prairie dog) that is stood up in the centre of a hoop (their prairie dog’s nest). Once the teacher adds foam balls to the playing area, students may move away from their nest to gain possession of a ball and throw/roll the ball as they attempt to knock over other players’ prairie dogs. If a player’s prairie dog is knocked over, that player takes their hoop and foamie and go set up beside the player who knocked them over. The two players now form a colony that continues to grow as they successfully knock over more prarie dogs! The game goes on until only one colony is left in the game.

buildicon Builds

Build One: Prairie Dogs

In build one, each student will be given a hoop and a foamie. Students will then set up in a scattered formation, placing their hoop on the ground in front of them with the foamie standing up in the centre of the hoop. The foamies are the students Prairie Dogs, which they must attempt to protect throughout the game. The hoops are the Prairie Dogs’ nests. Students may not stand in or over a nest at any time.

On the teacher’s signal, students get into a defensive ready position and begin to slide around their prairie dog’s nest. When the teacher calls “GET MOVING”, students have 5 seconds to pick up their prairie dog and its nest, move to a new open space, set up once again, and then continue to slide around the nest while maintaining a defensive ready position. The teacher will continue to call “GET MOVING” and can choose to modify the amount of time given to the students to find a new open space.

At the end of the round, the class will come together to discuss tactics they used to quickly be able to identify and move to new open spaces.

Build Two: Prairie Dog Pickoff

In build two, the teacher will add a few foam balls to the game.

The object of the game is for students to knock over opponent’s prairie dogs while continuing to defend their own. To knock over a prairie dog, a student may leave their nest to get a ball. Once the ball is in their hand, the player’s movement is then limited to pivoting. If a player is in possession of a ball, they may throw or roll that ball to try and knock over an opponents prairie dog. If a prairie dog is knocked over, that prairie dog’s owner has to pick up their foamie and hoop and then move to a new open space before they may continue to play.

At the end of the round, the class comes together to discuss the tactics they used to either successfully knock over other players’ prairie dogs or the tactics they used to successfully defend their own prairie dog.

Build Three: Prairie Dog Colonies

In this build, players continue to play just as they did in build two. However, if a player successfully knocks over another player’s prairie dog, then that player must signal to the prairie dog’s owner that they have done so. If a player has their prairie dog knocked over, they must take their hoop and foamie and go set up so that their hoop is in contact with the hoop of the player who knocked over their prairie dog. These two players are now building a colony, and the goal of this build is for players to see how big of a colony they can create and defend.

If a player within a colony has their prairie dog knocked over, then they must leave their colony and go join the player or players who knocked their prairie dog over. If multiple players get their prairie dog knocked over at once, then they must all leave to go join the player or players who did so.

If ever a player has their prairie dog knocked over but are unsure who did so, then they simply leave the colony and set up on their own in an open space.

Players within a colony may make passes between each other in order to move closer to target prairie dogs they hope to knock over. That being said, player movement is still limited to pivoting when in possession of the ball.

At the end of the round, the teacher will lead a class discussion on tactics used to successfully attack other prairie dog colonies as well as those used to successfully defend larger colonies.

Build Four: Prairie Dog Bases

For this build, the teacher will need to pause the game once they see that there are only 2-3 colonies left in the game. Using small cones, the teacher will mark off the perimeter of each colony. This perimeter will serve as the outer edge of the colony’s base. Once the bases are set up, the teacher will remove all of the hoops that form the colony as well as all but 2-3 foamies that will be left in the center of the colony’s base. Just as with the hula hoops, players may not step inside their base unless they are doing so too retrieve a dead ball.

Play then resumes with colonies attempting to win by being the last team with prairie dogs left standing in their base.

tacticalicon Grade Level Outcomes

Executes at least 1 of the following offensive tactics to create open space: moves to open space without the ball; uses a variety of passes, pivots and fakes; give and go. (S2.M2.6)

Reduces open space on defence by making the body larger and reducing passing angles. (S2.M4.6)

Transitions from offence to defence or defence to offence by recovering quickly. (S2.M6.6)


questionsicon Discussion Questions

When are you on offence in this game?

When should you transition between an offensive role and a defensive role (and vice-versa)?

How does working as a team on offence change the way you select and execute tactics in this game?

What are the challenges of defending larger colonies/bases? How did you, as a team, overcome those challenges?

safetyicon Safety Information

Students should aim downwards as they throw the ball to attack.

Students should avoid contact with others.

Students may not jump into other team’s nests/colonies/bases.

equipmenticon Equipment Requirements

Hula Hoops


Gator Balls

Small Cones