Who’d have ever guessed that stacking and unstacking plastic cups as fast as you can would become an actual sport? Believe it or not, it really is, and sport stacking is especially popular among kids. Here’s what you need to know about competitive cup stacking, including the equipment you need to get started.
What is sport stacking?
In 1981, Wayne Godinet was working with a Boys & Girls Club in California. On a whim, he grabbed a stack of paper cups and challenged kids to stack them and unstack them as fast as possible. The activity really caught on, and by the end of the decade, competitive cup stacking had gone nationwide.
Soon, stackers had developed specialized equipment as they continued to formalize the sport. (Specialized sport-stacking cups have holes in the bottom to reduce air resistance. They’re made of very slick plastic to cut down on friction too.) In 2005, the group began using the term “sport stacking,” although you’ll still hear it called “cup stacking” and “speed stacking.” Competitions are held around the world, and many of the competitors are kids.
The World Sport Stacking Association (WSSA) oversees all official events and records. Here’s an overview of the general rules you should know. See the complete WSSA rule book here.
- Players compete in the age/gender division that applies to them. Age refers to the player’s age on the day of play. See all age/gender divisions here.
- Competitors must use stacking cups, StackMats, and tournament displays approved by the WSSA.
- Players must work on each stack in a sequence one at a time, i.e., they cannot use one hand to upstack one set while using the other to upstack or downstack a different set. (Some exceptions apply.)
- Competitors must upstack and downstack in the same direction (left-to-right or right-to left).
- Unsportsmanlike conduct may result in the forfeiture of a match.
What are the sport-stacking events?
Players may compete on their own, in teams of two (doubles), or in relays. There are several different events and stacking sequences for competitors to master. Note: Players may stack right-to-left or left-to-right, depending on their preference, but they must stack cups in the sequence order indicated.
This event starts with three stacks of three cups each. Competitors create three pyramidal stacks of three cups each (two on the bottom, one on top), then downstack the pyramids back into the original three stacks.
Current world record: 1.419 seconds
Starting with three stacks (two stacks of three cups, one stack of six cups), competitors create a pyramidal stack of three cups, one stack of six cups (three on the bottom, two in the middle row, and one on top), and then another stack of three cups. They then downstack them back into the original three stacks.
Current world record, individual: 1.751 seconds
This is the most complex event. It combines several sequences of stacking using 12 cups. Players create a sequence of stacks combining a 3-6-3 stack, a 6-6 stack, and a 1-10-1 stack, in that order. Stackers conclude the Cycle stack with cups in a 3-6-3 “down stacked” position.
Current world record, individual: 4.881 seconds
Does speed stacking teach important skills?
Proponents of the sport point out that cup stacking helps develop skills such as:
- Hand-eye coordination
- Gross motor skills
- Cooperation (in relay and team stacking)
- Increased reaction time
This sport is also very accessible for competitors, with relatively inexpensive equipment and the ability to play just about anywhere. Cup stacking can be a fun event for classrooms, physical education activities, and after-school clubs.
How can kids learn to sport stack?
While the general concept is very simple, sport-stacking competitions can actually get pretty complex. We recommend watching videos to become familiar with how the sport works. YouTube has plenty of sport-stacking videos to check out, both tutorials and real competitions.
One of the best resources for learning how to speed-stack is Speed Stacks. They offer a complete (and free!) curriculum, with videos and accompanying lesson plans that are perfect for an after-school club or PE class. Take a look at what they have to offer here.
Sport-Stacking Sets and Supplies
Note: Official sport-stacking competitions require the use of one of a qualified set, along with a mat and timer. But you can also buy other, non-WSSA-approved cup-stacking sets, designed to challenge kids by matching patterns and other arrangements. We’ve included all of these below, along with some disposable cups you can use for DIY cup-stacking fun!
Speed Stacks Official Competitor Set
If you’re thinking of setting up a competitive speed-stacking club at school, you’ll want a few official sets on hand. This one has everything you need, including a mat, timer, quick stem, and 12 high-quality cups.
Buy it: Speed Stacks Official Competitor Set at Amazon
Gamie Stacking Cups Game With 18 Challenges*
This set is terrific for kids, with a variety of stacking challenges to make them think. The water timer is low-tech but cool, and the smaller-size cups are great for kid-sized hands.
Buy it: Gamie Stacking Cups Game With 18 Challenges at Amazon
Gamie Stacking Cups Game With 54 Challenges*
If you’re looking to add some creativity to your cup-stacking challenges, check out this set. Each picture is a code to show the cups the player needs to stack. Players will need to use their brains as well as their hands to win this game!
Buy it: Gamie Stacking Cups Game With 54 Challenges at Amazon
Yeesport 48-Piece Sports Stacking Cups*
Looking for an inexpensive sport-stacking set you can use in the classroom? This one includes four different-color sets of 12 cups each, perfect for friendly learning competitions.
Buy it: Yeesport 48-pc. Sports Stacking Cups at Amazon
Vinciph Quick Cups Games for Kids*
Here’s another matching-stacking set, with challenges that range in difficulty from pre-K to adult. This set is ideal for families and great for the classroom too.
Buy it: Vinciph Quick Cups Games for Kids at Amazon
Speed Stacks Minis
Looking for a set you can take on the go? Check out these minis! The little quick stem has a clip to attach to a backpack, so kids can practice just about anywhere.
Buy it: Speed Stacks Minis at Amazon
Hefty Party On 100 Disposable Plastic Cups*
Give cup stacking a try without making a big investment using colorful plastic cups. Perfect for classroom games and activities. Tip: Increase stacking speed by poking a hole in the bottom of each cup.
Buy it: Hefty Party On 100 Disposable Plastic Cups at Amazon
Lounsweer 200-Piece 2-oz. Mini Cups*
If you’re looking for mini cups, this colorful package gives you 200 of them in a variety of hues. The small size makes them easier to store, and they can also be easier for little hands to handle.
Buy it: Lounsweer 200-Piece 2-oz. Mini Cups at Amazon
*Note: These are not WSSA officially sanctioned sport-stacking cups.