YMCA Gladiator

Programming Profile

By Joey Welle

The Madison Area YMCA in Madison, N.J., hosts Teen Scene every Friday evening for more than 100 sixth, seventh and eighth graders. We have an equal focus on art, dance, sports, team-building, movies, video games and computer use. Of the dozens of games and activities offered throughout the night, there are about six activities going on at any one given time for the kids to choose from. The activities change throughout the night, so from trash art or hip-hop dance to Gladiator or the movie theater, there is sure to be something for everyone.

A key component of the four-hour evening is sports. Many traditional gym games are worn-out or have no depth. Creativity and versatility in our game designs are what keep young teens returning from week to week. Gladiator was created to provide a high-energy activity that takes not only athleticism but detailed strategy to win. It was also important to create a game where we could control the energy level and length without having to change the rules every few minutes. The successful result lies somewhere among pulled ribbons, flying dodgeballs and an ever-changing maze that has kids lining up to play.


Gladiator is a combination of dodgeball, flag football and capture the flag. Players defend their team flag while trying to capture the other team's flag. To do this they need to avoid being hit by a ball or having their flag-football ribbons pulled from their waist belt as they stealthily navigate the maze-like court. Players get the other teams players out by hitting them with dodgeballs or pulling their ribbons. Once a player has captured the other team's flag, they return it to their team's base and win.


A single-court gymnasium is the optimal size. For a double court, just double everything. Downsizing would be difficult. Either way, just keep safety in mind.


You'll need a set of 20 flag football waist belts with ribbons, 20 penny jerseys (10 of each color), six dodgeballs (yes, the real kind), and enough gymnastics mats, barrels and wedges or other safe barriers to build between 12 and 20 structures.


The single-size gym court should be set up like a speedball course in paintball. Simply set up small stacks of gymnastic mats, barrels and wedges to create bunkers and neat-looking obstacles. They need to be sturdy enough as to not fall over at each ball impact. A good spacing between obstacles is about 8 feet. You can speed up or slow down the game by where you place the barriers, so experiment with what works best. We have found that the more open the court, the faster and more athletic the game, but the more it looks and feels like a maze, the more the teens work together to strategize.


For a single-court gymnasium with the right amount of barriers, a safe number is 10 on each team. Both teams need penny jerseys or some kind of identifier as well as matching flag-football ribbons. We even have added team headbands.


Encourage staff to play. Staff can play and referee at the same time, but you still need full-time referees. We dedicate four staff for Gladiator. Two staff members play and referee, while two staff solely referee.


Have staff play in order to keep kids involved by teaching strategy and creating neat plans of attack. Use jail breaks to even up the odds or help out a struggling team. How you set up the barriers makes a huge difference in the flow of the game.


When a player gets a ribbon pulled they are out. This is done by either face-to-face dueling or sneaking up on an unsuspecting opponent. The belts must be worn over all clothing with the ribbons on each hip. Misplaced or hidden flags constitute an out.

When a player gets hit by a ball thrown from the opposing team they are out. Once a ball makes contact with something, it is a dead ball, therefore throws that bounce off the floor, walls or other players don't count. Any initial contact with a thrown ball is an out, that is, catching or being skimmed.

  • W Players may NOT move with a ball. They have a pivot foot only.
  • W Balls must be thrown within 5 seconds of being picked up.
  • W Balls may not be passed to teammates or dribbled along.
  • W Balls may be used to block incoming throws.
  • JAIL
  • W Once a player is out, he or she goes to a wall designated for jail and must remain seated. Make sure the view from jail isn't too obstructed because you will have kids getting up to look at what is going on.
  • W The only way out of jail is a "JAIL BREAK." This is called by a staff member in order to even up scores and control game times. Most games are quick enough that a jail break isn't needed.
  • W Use a large visible item for a team flag, for example, a large exercise ball.
  • W Position the flags openly on opposite sides of the court.
  • W A team is never allowed to touch its own flag.
  • W When players capture the other team's flag they have to return it to their flag area to win.
  • W The flag may not be passed or handed off.
  • W If a player gets out while carrying the captured flag, the flag is temporarily out of play for 10 seconds. This allows the defending team to set up a new perimeter before the flag can be captured again.
  • W All players are "fair game" anywhere on the court. Meaning that a player is on both offense and defense at all times and can be gotten out at any time.
  • W No climbing on mats or barriers.
  • W No tackling, pushing, holding or charging.
  • W Make sure you have enough staff to ensure fun and safe play. I recommend at least three staff for 20 kids.


    Joey Welle is the teen director for the Madison Area YMCA in Madison, N.J. He comes from a YMCA family and has more than 10 years experience working with teens and pre-teens throughout the country. For more information, visit www.madisonareaymca.org.

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