How to Play Marco Polo

kids enjoying the pool while playing

Marco!  Polo!  How many times have you watched the kiddos play the Marco Polo pool game. Perhaps you have even played it yourself.  When it comes to playing Marco Polo, it’s a very simple game that can be enjoyed by swimmers of all ages.

Whether you’re cooling off on a hot summer day or enjoying an indoor pool during winter, all you need is a pool and some friends.  Let’s take a deep dive into the history of and how to play Marco Polo.

Here’s What You’ll Need to Play

  • A swimming pool
  • 2 or more players

How to Play Marco Polo (Game Rules)

Choose a seeker and blindfold them or get them to close their eyes. They then spin around 5-10 times on the spot while everyone else scatters.

Once they’ve spun they call out “Marco” to which everyone else has to reply “Polo”, which clues in the seeker to where the players are standing.

The seeker then tries to catch the players, always calling out “Marco” to hear their “Polo” response. Whoever gets caught becomes the next seeker.

If you’re lucky enough to be playing this one in the pool then you can get out, but then the seeker can call out “fish out of water” and if you’re out of the pool, you’re immediately it!

This game works best in a space that doesn’t have too many obstacles for the seeker to trip over, enough room for the kids to run, but not so much space that no one ever gets caught.

This timeless aquatic adventure has been a summertime fixture for decades.  As far as setup goes, it’s nothing like a traditional game.  All you need is a pool and the players!

children and their mom playing in the pool
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What are the rules of Marco Polo?

Unlike some games, Marco Polo rules are quite simple.  Marco must keep their eyes closed at all times.  Polos must respond to the calls of Marco, while simultaneously swimming around and trying to avoid contact with Marco.  

Winning Strategies

There really isn’t a single winner in the Marco Polo pool game, per se.  The primary objective is to avoid losing– in other words, don’t become Marco.  If the pair or group insists on selecting a winner, it would be the individual who is Marco the least.

However, in larger groups it could be a bit trickier to determine a winner as some players may not ever be Marco throughout the course of the game.

Safety Concerns

As always, water safety is paramount.  Any type of activity that takes place in a pool poses its own risks.  Children should never be unattended in the water.  Regardless of their age and ability level, adult supervision is imperative.  

Furthermore, if a group of children is playing Marco Polo– especially if there are different ages– make sure everybody knows to swim cautiously.

If you are Marco and your eyes are closed, keep your arms in front of you to avoid bumping into the wall or colliding too hard with another player.  After all, it’s Marco Polo, not water polo!

two kids with pool noodle on their waist
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Game Variations

Marco Polo is pretty straightforward with little variation.  However, there are ways to put a spin on it.  Consider using silly accents or even singing the words.  Or adopt your own words entirely.  Really, any agreed-upon word set can be substituted for Marco Polo.  It is the quintessential call-and-response game.  

One fun way to up the ante with Marco Polo is to play while floating on pool noodles or in inner tubes.  Bumping into each other while in floats is always good for a laugh.  And it’s a great photo opportunity for Mom & Dad.

What Kids Learn From Playing Marco Polo

Marco Polo doesn’t involve complicated rules, complex strategy, or keeping score.  It’s a way for kids to get moving and have fun.  Lessons learned from Marco Polo include taking turns, [for the younger set], cooperating as a whole, and good sportsmanship.

Additionally, it helps players hone their auditory skills, especially for the player that is Marco.  Taking away their sight forces them to rely upon what they hear.

Origin of Marco Polo Game

[[ Author’s Note:  I was two credits shy of being a history major, so we could easily spend the rest of this article– and many subsequent ones!– discussing history.  But for the sake of everyone reading this, I shall try to keep it brief. Yet in the spirit of full disclosure, I did go down quite the rabbit hole while researching this. ]]

Marco Polo was a 13th-century trader and explorer from Italy.  It does not appear that there is an actual connection between the historical figure and the game, yet at least one legend claims that he didn’t really know where he was going.

Being directionally challenged probably isn’t the best trait for an explorer, but I digress.

As for more Marco Polo game history, research shows that the game closely resembles the 16th century game of Blind Man’s Bluff, which was played on dry land beginning in the 16th century.

Fast-forward a few centuries and Marco Polo as we know it was commonplace in the pool as of the 1960s.  

No one person is credited with inventing the game.  In fact, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how it got started and its precise evolution.  Challenge your kids to come up with their own origin story.  

Marco Polo – Quick Rules

  • Gather all players in the pool
  • Select one player to be ‘Marco’
  • All remaining players are ‘Polo’
  • Marco closes his/her eyes and starts to swim across the pool
  • As Marco swims, he/she shouts “Marco!”
  • The other player[s] respond “Polo!”
  • Marco follows the sounds and tries to tag a Polo
  • Once a Polo is tagged, they are now Marco.
boy in the pool wearing goggles
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Here are some FAQ’s about the Marco Polo pool game:

Q:  Where did the Marco Polo game come from?
A:  It appears to be a derivative of the old game Blind Man’s Bluff.

Q:  Who invented the game Marco Polo?
A:  The Marco Polo game is not attributed to a single creator.

Q:  Was Marco Polo blind?
A:  He was not blind, though at least one legend has claimed that he had difficulty finding his way around.

Q:  What ages can play Marco Polo?
A:  Any age, as long as you can swim!

Q:  Can Marco Polo be modified?
A: Sure!  Use any words to suit your fancy.

kids enjoying the pool while playing
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