Learn by Playing, Coach by Facilitating

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By Janakan Seemampillai

Game Play Learn (GPL) is an exciting kids sports program that was brought to life by former Matildas legend and FFA A-Licenced coach Joey Peters in 2016.

The philosophy of the program started in 2013 through a group of innovative coaches, namely Mark O’Sullivan, Brad Porter, Andre Gumprecht and Matthew O’Neil.

The purpose of the program is to create a fun environment where kids learn by simply playing games - something they naturally love - rather than be given confusing or monotonous drills.

Cruyff Fun

Learning and educating children has evolved significantly over the years and there is plenty of research that supports the theory behind GPL.

Peters, who played over 100 games for Australia and has coached Australian National teams, admitted the program has changed her philosophy on coaching.

“Traditional coaching focuses on the sport, improving players, improving performance, being an expert and imparting knowledge on how to play, how to perform and how to improve,” explained Peters. “GPL however, focuses on the person, what they want and how they would like to do it.”

Individual learning cartoon
In GPL the traditional ‘coaches’ are called facilitators and that is exactly what they do. Rather than tell kids what they should do and how they should do it, a facilitator’s role is rather to provide encouragement and guidance while letting children work out solutions for themselves.

Peters insists the program focuses on the participants rather than the coaches.

“It’s the player’s experience, not the coach’s that’s most important,” she said.

“It’s a facilitative approach, ‘Facil’ is the Latin derivative which means ‘an unobtrusive guide’.

“Another saying from World Coach Development Leader Mark O’Sullivan that is a GPL mantra is ‘if we’re going to step into the Learning Process, we’d better add value’.

Eddy Jones
“As Facilitators we get the privilege of sharing in each unique one’s journey. And it’s always to support and offer help not control and demand from them.”
The old school method of coaching, where coaches tend to dictate, yell and provide on-the-spot criticism, has long been dismissed as antiquated and unproductive.

Peters was quick to point out that GPL was more than just about learning to play a particular sport, but rather it is designed to create a holistic environment where children learn crucial life skills at an age where they are easily influenced.

“From a child’s perspective it becomes even more important to ensure coaching is ‘Age-appropriate’ and is serious about the rights of the child protecting them from adult pressures and values such as hard work, committment, performance, but rather valuing the dynamic of play and it’s role in not only Learning and Development, but social, psych, and cultural importance.”

Back Off Adults
Peters explained the importance of adults adding value to learning, including helping players solve a problem themselves, rather than a traditional coach doing the thinking for them. She said GPL was about facilitators actually getting involved and engaging with the kids on their level rather than being an authoritative figure.

“It really stops and makes you think about if /when you are going to intervene in a game and how you can change from telling and critiquing to questioning and applauding.

“But it also shows the power of joining in and playing, especially with kids, you can then connect with them on the same level and influence the game so you bring in the shy, beginner kids more and can challenge the more experienced, serious ones.

“Then we can celebrate the joy of playing, having fun, enjoying the experience.”

Peters insisted it was important that kids felt like they belonged regardless of their ability rather than ostracised for not performing at a certain level.

“What I love about this approach, it’s inclusive not exclusive - it’s for both beginner and experienced,” said Peters.

“It values difference and creativity. There’s no such thing as correct technique only interactions and strategy. ‘Can you score and can you stop the opponent scoring?’

Learn the Game by Playing the Game
“That’s the most simple yet complex beauty of playing a game. Not everyone can do a drill, but everyone can play. That’s why we say ‘Learn the Game by Playing the Game or Warmup for the Game by Playing the Game.’”

Peters has clearly embraced GPL and is a passionate advocate of it and it’s philosophies.

“I used to instruct, I used to correct technique and do repetitive drills on how to play, now I see how flawed that was.

“Thinking I had the answers rather than drawing out their own ways for themselves. Isn’t that creativity and why we don’t see much of it anymore?”

You too can Facilitate The GPL Way and learn more with Joey by joining GPL Facilitators from around the world.

2 Comments on “Learn by Playing, Coach by Facilitating”

  1. Can I get some more details please?

    I’m about to get involved in coaching an U8/9’s team and I don’t want to do the standard ‘drills’ for this age group.

    Many thanks for your time in this.


    1. Hi Carol,

      Thanks for your comment, that’s great that you want to provide more than drills, to get started just set up 2 or even 4 Goals with a ball or 2 and see what the kids do? Mostly they’ll play some kind of game, usually it’s THE Game. Then there’s a number of ways to Facilitate what happens next. It’d be great to share more through the GPL Facilitators Group and there’s an Introductory Game Booklet with simple GAMES to facilitate yet powerful for learning and creativity. Hope that helps Carol! Best Wishes, Joey 🙂

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