I’m a huge fan of The Amazing Race. My wife and I have talked about applying to the TV show for years but have never tried signing up (yet). It’s such a great idea, filled with physical challenges, mental puzzles, and teamwork. Now you can use the show’s concepts to create Amazing Race ideas for youth group. You’ll get teenagers out of the house and participating in something fun together, yet they can remain socially distanced (COVID-19 times still).
Here’s how to pull off an Amazing Race event for youth group:
While the TV show takes people around the world, we decided to keep it all in the same town as our church. Participants also used their own vehicles (one per team) to transport themselves. If you live in a city, consider using public transportation if you want to get closer to how the show operates.
The show takes a few weeks, but we decided on three hours. Participants arrived at the church parking lot around 9:45 am, the race began at 10, and it ended at 1 pm. The minimum team size was three, and the maximum was the number of teenagers who could safely fit in your team’s vehicle.
You need enough checkpoints for teams to fill the time, but you don’t want to give them too many, or no one will finish in time. We had everyone begin at the church with some “spot-it” type puzzles. Once a team finished, they received a clue to take them to their first checkpoint. They then journeyed to each checkpoint around town before ending at the finish line in the church parking lot.
To get to each checkpoint, teams need to solve a clue. Each clue was printed out and placed in an envelope with our Amazing Race logo on it (to make it look official). Some clues required kids to decipher a code to get an address. Others showed latitude and longitude coordinates. Some were riddles. And others involved identifying the location from a set of photos. You can allow teams to ask for hints via text, but how much help you offer is up to you. Remember: You want everyone to be challenged, but you also want them to keep having fun.
The challenges at each checkpoint varied. Some involved eating, others were a physical challenge, and others required solving a mental puzzle. Once a team solved one challenge, they received an envelope containing a puzzle or riddle that led them to the next checkpoint. We purposely spaced out checkpoints around town, often having teams double-back, which helped fill the time. Some locations were at church members’ houses, some were at local businesses, and others were in public parks. Personalize this for your community as much as possible. Challenge ideas include: Make five free-throws at a park, thaw and put on a frozen T-shirt at the church, drink a cup of salsa at a Mexican restaurant, and make five paper airplanes that each fly 5 yards at the airport.
An event like this has lots of moving pieces and requires lots of people! Don’t try to do this alone. You’ll need help with all the prep work, plus a host of assistants on the event day — including a few people at each checkpoint. Volunteers need specific information about what to do at their checkpoints. Make sure to over-prepare and over-communicate.
Instead of sending everyone to the first checkpoint, we split teams up so each checkpoint started with no more than four teams. This also meant we didn’t need to have enough resources for all the teams at each checkpoint. All teams had to complete all the checkpoints, but they didn’t all start in the same location. For example, as one team finished their initial set of puzzles at the church, their first clue sent them to checkpoint one. Another team, however, received a clue sending them to checkpoint five. While the first team will end up going from one to 10, the second team will go from five to 10 and then one to four.
Once a team completed their final checkpoint, they received their clue, which led them back to the finish line at the church. Because each team had a different starting and ending checkpoint, we couldn’t simply have the final clue at our final checkpoint. So volunteers were instructed about which envelope to hand to which team. Using the example above, the first team would receive their final clue after completing checkpoint 10, while the second team would receive it after completing checkpoint four. To help with this, we gave a list of all teams to checkpoint volunteers and also added team names to the final clue envelopes, so they made sure to get the correct one. In the future, we might put team names on all the envelopes. If you don’t split up the teams as we did, you can simply give the final clue at the last checkpoint and avoid this potential confusion.
We gave a prize to the winning team as well as prizes for the best team name, best team spirit, and best singing/dancing team (one checkpoint required them to sing a song from memory). Because we did this race during COVID-19, we had opening and closing ceremonies outside in the church parking lot, and we asked only the winning teams to come up and claim their prizes when announced, to maintain safe distances.
Other helpful tips
- Practice the race at least once! Make sure each challenge is possible and doesn’t take too long to complete. Also make sure the entire race fills your time adequately. You don’t want everyone done too early, but you also want to make sure teams can complete the race in the allotted time. For a three-hour race, I recommend making sure the race can be completed in about two-and-a-half hours. Not all teams will complete by then, but you want to make sure it’s possible.
- Keep the race as simple as possible; for example, don’t include things like Speed Bumps, Detours, Road Blocks, Switchback, or any additional types of tasks or clues. They can certainly add to the fun but make the race more complicated.
- It’s okay to have teams zigzagging across town. Just remind them they must do their checkpoints in order. Even if they pass another checkpoint on the way, they must not stop, or it will really mess things up. To help, consider having numbered signs at each checkpoint.
- You’ll need a way to communicate with volunteers and teams. We used a mass texting service and had two groups (one to send messages to volunteers and one to send to participating teams). This service also allowed people to text us, which helped when teams got stuck and needed help.
- Start as early as possible when putting together your plan, gathering volunteers, and organizing the entire race. It takes more time than you think but is worth the investment. We started planning about six weeks out. Two months would be even better. Leave enough time to rework things, as needed.
- Be as specific as possible with checkpoint volunteers about what exactly they’re required to do, especially if you stagger the teams like we did.
- Our race began at 10 am, so checkpoint volunteers arrived at 9:15 to grab all their items (supplies, tables, tents, water, etc.). Then participants arrived by 9:45.
- Our race ended at 1 pm, so we sent out a mass text message to all teams at 12:40 pm, saying that even if they hadn’t finished everything, they should complete their current checkpoint and then head back to the church for closing ceremonies.
- While this is a fun event for youth group, consider hosting it for the entire church. Mixed-age teams of kids and adults will have a blast too. As the event grows beyond your youth group, you probably can find more helpers, too.)
- Create your own logos for advertising. Please don’t get yourself or your church in trouble for using original Amazing Race images without permission.
Someday, I hope to compete in the actual Amazing Race. In the meantime, I’ve really enjoyed creating miniature versions. I hope these tips help you have a fun event as well!
This article originally appeared here.