5 Basketball Variations to Play in Your Backyard

People playing basketball
People have come up with all sorts of ways to play around with the rules of basketball. See more sports pictures.

They say baseball is the great American pastime, and it's obviously quite popular in the United States. Yet whose home doesn't have a basketball hoop sprouting up in their driveway or backyard? Like baseball, basketball is a home-grown American sport, invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, a Massachusetts physical education instructor. Naismith was charged with creating a new game that could be played indoors to keep students occupied and out of trouble during Massachusetts' harsh winters. He came up with Basket Ball, which today, after a slight name change, is played by more than 250 million people around the globe in some kind of organized manner, plus who-knows-how-many others in pick-up games [source: U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Germany].

And then there are basketball's innumerable variations, which can be played alone or with at least one other [source: Basketball]. It's hard to say who created these variations over the last 120-some years, and it probably doesn't matter. But here are five you can test out for yourself. Maybe afterwards, you'll be inspired to create one of your own.


5: H-O-R-S-E

Guys playing basketball
Behind the free-throw line, through the fog, off the backboard.
Doug Menuez/Photodisc/Thinkstock

H-O-R-S-E is all about having fun -- and a little about one-upmanship -- as opposed to honing your basketball skills [source: Games ... For All Reasons!]. It's also a pretty versatile game, as it can be played with two or more players. The game begins with Player No. 1 deciding on a shot he wants to take, announcing it, then taking it. For example, he may say, "lay-up," or something zany, like, "Turn around in a circle twice, then shoot backwards through your legs." If Player No. 1 makes the shot he calls, Player No. 2 must make the exact same shot. If Player No. 2 fails, he receives the letter "H." If he makes it, Player No. 3 must now make the shot, and so on [source: Gels]. If all players make the shot, the ball goes back to Player No. 1, who must re-make the shot. Play continues until someone misses this particular shot. Once someone misses, he receives an "H" and the next player in line calls the next shot [source: Gels].

So what happens if Player No. 1 calls a shot and doesn't make it? He gets an "H," and Player No. 2 calls a new shot. As the game continues, every time a player misses, the rest of the letters in the word "H-O-R-S-E" are added to his score. Once someone has received all five letters and spelled H-O-R-S-E, he's out. The last player left is the winner [source: Gels].


There are actually quite a few variations on the game of H-O-R-S-E. If there are a lot of players or the group is short on time, you may play P-I-G instead. P-I-G is the exact same game, only a shortened version, as you're spelling a three-letter word instead of a five-letter one [source: Gels]. Another variation is a rule change that says when a player spells H-O-R-S-E, he can stay in the game and erase the "E" he's just received if he makes a bonus shot. And sometimes, certain shots aren't allowed because of physical limitations. For example, if there are some really tall and really short players, one rule might be that a dunk isn't allowed, since the shorter players could never make that shot [source: Games ... For All Reasons!].

4: 21

Basketball players
Once Player No. 1 takes a shot, the others will try to rebound it and take it from the three-point line.

The game of 21 is actually a version of 1-on-1, and helps you hone your basketball skills. You need at least one other player to play, and it's easiest to play at a playground with a marked half-court. All players play as individuals. The game begins with Player No. 1 dribbling the ball from the three-point line and trying to make a basket. If she misses, she can go for the rebound and shoot again. The others play defense, trying to prevent her from getting a basket. If she sinks it, Player No. 1 gets a point and the next player takes the ball out from the three-point line. The first player to get 21 points wins [source: Lifetime].

Scoring rules vary in 21. Some count a basket as one point, while others count it as two. You may give shots made from the three-point line three points or not -- it's your decision. A player can win by hitting 21, or may have to hit 21 plus be ahead of the next player by at least two points [source: Games ... For All Reasons!]. Typically, standard basketball rules apply. So double dribbling isn't allowed, and a foul is still a foul. Finally, you may allow free throws for any baskets that are made [source: Lifetime].


3: Lightning

Person shooting free throw
Lightning begins with a free throw.
© Getty Images/Jupiterimages/Thinkstock

Take a big breath before you start a game of Lightning -- you'll need it. This game is good for your cardiovascular system, plus it hones your ability to shoot under pressure. It's best played with three or more, and requires two basketballs.

First, set a free-throw line anywhere you'd like. (FYI - regulation distance is 15 feet, or about 5 meters, from the backboard.) Next, have all players stand in a single line just behind the free-throw line. The first two players in line each get a basketball. The basic premise of the game is for the second person to make a basket before the first person does [source: Lifetime]. Here's how it works.


Player No. 1 takes a shot. The second the ball is released from Player No. 1's hands, Player No. 2 can take a shot. If Player No. 1's shot goes in first, he passes the ball to the third person in line and jogs to the back of the line. If Player No. 1 misses, he must rebound the ball and keep shooting until it goes in. Player No. 2 must also rebound missed balls and keep shooting. If Player No. 2 makes a basket first, then Player no. 1 is out [source: Lifetime].

One other rule to note: If Player No. 1 makes the shot first and hands the ball to Player No. 3, Player No. 2 -- who is likely rebounding his ball near the net -- can continue shooting from wherever he likes. Player No. 3, however, must take his first shot from the free-throw line. The game continues until only one player is left, who is the winner [source: Lifetime].

2: Around the World

Person shooting from behind three-point line
Around the World tests your ability to hit shots from designated spots.

Want to improve your shooting skills? Then Around the World is your game. Designed for two or more participants, Around the World requires players to make various shots from the key -- the area in a basketball court that's under the basket and bordered by the end lanes, foul lines and free-throw line -- with the winner being the first person to successfully complete all shots.

First, players decide how many spots, or stops, to mark for shots. Five to seven is typical, with one being at the top of the free-throw line and the others arranged to create a semicircular shape [source: Lifetime]. Player No. 1 begins by taking a shot from the first stop, which is to the right of the basket near the corner. If she makes the shot, she moves to the second stop and shoots, continuing to advance every time she completes a shot. If she misses a shot, she has two choices. She can stay where she is and it becomes Player No. 2's turn. Or she can call "chance" and take a second shot. If she completes the second shot, she continues shooting. But if she misses it, she has to return to the first stop and start over when it's her turn again. The first player to complete all shots in order -- around the arc and then back again -- is the winner [source: Games ... For All Reasons!].


There are numerous variations of Around the World, including:

  • Starting and ending the game with a lay-up [source: Getting Outside]
  • Ending the game by making a shot from the center of the three-point line [source: Games ... For All Reasons!]
  • Giving everyone three chances to make a shot at any given position instead of two [source: Games ... For All Reasons!]
  • Giving players just one extra "chance" shot per game instead of one or two chance shots per stop [source: Lifetime]

Finally, if Player No. 1 happens to make every shot right away, she isn't immediately crowned the winner. The other players all get a chance to start. If two players should happen to make all shots in a row, then they're tied as winner, and you can leave it at that or have a shoot-off [source: Gels].

1: 1-on-1

Two guys playing one-on-one
Playing 1-on-1 is a great way to work on your skills while having fun.
Design Pics/Thinkstock

The game of 1-on-1 is a miniature version of basketball that's played by two people. The two players square off against each other on a half-court, with the goal being to make as many baskets as you can within a certain timeframe. All of the same rules and fouls apply as in a traditional game.

Like 21, the game begins with Player No. 1 dribbling the ball from the three-point line and trying to make a basket. If he misses, he can go for the rebound and shoot again. The other person plays defense, trying to prevent him from getting a basket. If Player No. 1 sinks it, he gets a point. Then, Player No. 2 gets the ball, starting out from the three-point line as before. You can also elect to play by the rule that whoever makes a basket gets to retain possession [source: Electro-Mech].


Playing 1-on-1 is a great way to practice all basketball skills, but especially the ability to create shots and elude your defenders, which includes learning to drive hard to the basket and shoot off a hard dribble [source: HubPages].

Lots More Information

Author's Note: 5 Basketball Variations to Play in Your Backyard

I played H-O-R-S-E as a kid. And once I played 1-on-1 as a college student, although I really didn't have any idea what the rules were, other than to try and get a basket and not let the other person get one. (Actually, those may be the only two rules!) After writing this piece, though, I've decided I need to try Lightning. Wanna join me?

Related Articles

  • 5 Min. "Driveway Basketball Games - Lightning." (July 12, 2012) http://www.5min.com/Video/Driveway-Basketball-Games---Lightning-517010722
  • Basketball. "Who Invented Basketball." (July 12, 2012) http://www.basketball.org/who-invented-basketball/
  • Electro-Mech. "All You Ever Wanted to Know About Types of Basketball Games." April 17, 2009. (July 12, 2012) http://www.electro-mech.com/team-sports/basketball/all-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-types-of-basketball-games/
  • Games ... For All Reasons! "How to play basketball games such as Horse, PIG, Around the World & 21." (July 12, 2012) http://www.games-for-all-reasons.com/basketball_games.html
  • Gels, James. "Simple, Fun Basketball Games." The Coach's Clipboard. (July 12, 2012) http://www.coachesclipboard.net/YouthBasketballGames.html
  • Getting Outside. "Around the World - Basketball Game." June 3, 2008. (July 12, 2012) http://www.gettingoutside.com/Around-the-World
  • HubPages. "Become a Better 1-on-1 Basketball Player Today." April 12, 2011. (July 12, 2012) http://hoopskills-com.hubpages.com/hub/Become-a-Better-1-on-1-Basketball-Player-Today
  • Lifetime. "5 Family-Fun Basketball Games." (July 12, 2012) http://www.lifetime.com/article/25
  • U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Germany. "Sports in America>Basketball." (July 15, 2012) http://usa.usembassy.de/sports-basketball.htm