A Total Learning Experience In One Game

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A total learning experience in one game

There’s no such thing as the ‘perfect session’. Neither are two practices exactly the same. Where humans and learning are involved, as much as we try, we cannot predict nor prescribe what will happen.

As much preparation and careful designing we put into a practice, what ends up emerging cannot be controlled. And we shouldn’t worry, for it’s the experience that matters not the outcome.

Rather than giving you something to ‘copy’, we want to show a practical example of how you can apply principles to your practices in real-time. The more you can identify principles, the more you’ll know how and when to apply them.

Let’s explore how to facilitate a total learning experience through one game whilst embracing the unique, long term journey of each learner.


The example we use here is of a modified Football Game targeted at exploring the midfield role.

The following video shows some clips of ‘A Midfield Game’ as explored by an Under 16 Football Development group.

WE OFFER 7  Principles to Guide a game:

1) Design the Game 

In traditional session design there are ‘coaching points’ or the like. What if we could design a game to include these points?  We can create a powerful  learning experience through play rather than instruction.

‘A midfield game’ example:

The ‘coaching points’ in the game  would be the tasks in attack (e.g. Play forward and support quickly) and defence (e.g. Screen / Block forward options). By including end players and their constraint, this gave learners the chance to explore the tasks with no need for coaching instruction.

2) REFEREE Before coaching

Introduce the game in more of a refereeing manner; Reminding the learners of rules and constraints, even ‘bending’ rules or changing them if needed, to build confidence in the game. Then hand it over to the learners to self-organise while you slip into the background to coach through observing.

‘A midfield game’ example:

The ‘ref’ spent time reminding the end players of 1 touch constraint. They could of asked the players if they needed 2 touch but chose to challenge the learners straight away knowing the importance of affording quicker play.


The more a learner can experience different roles on a team, (yes even Goal Keeper!) the greater the potential for learning.

‘A midfield game’ example:

Every learners gets to experience the midfield role but the game also includes general tasks of all roles.


Bring something new to the session through a change to the environment, players or game. This promotes adapting. And adapting is learning.

‘A midfield game’ example:

‘No boots Tuesday’ meant players  would have to adapt to playing without their boots (cleats).

The use of uneven teams creates opportunity for advantages/ disadvantaged strategies.

Learning is change, adapting to that change and evolving it.Mark O'Sullivan


If we value an experimental approach for our learners and that mistakes are integral to learning, then why not apply that to ourselves as learning designers?

‘A midfield game’ example:

We experimented to see if placing goals more to the left promoted left sided or left footed play? It actually did the opposite as there was more space to use on the right!


Be patient and remember a long term approach to learning.

Allow learners enough space to “adapt to the game and evolve it” in their time rather than jumping it to ‘fix a problem’ or ‘give a solution’. Let them work it out on their own or at most, ask relevant questions to get them thinking.

‘A midfield game’ example:

There were no stoppages to ‘correct’ learners mistakes or give solutions. There was a short time however, of general questions followed by continual discovery though play. Next time they play the game we may explore deeper and ask more specific questions around tasks.


Coaches are traditionally seen as a motivator for players and teams to increase intensity and desire to improve.

What if we didn’t say much and left it up to our learners of how much effort they put in? There’s a risk that they may not try at all OR that it may look different to how you expect. Who are we to judge?

‘A midfield game’ example:

#Q What is your perception of the intensity of this game?

#Q What does the motivation levels look like?

If we judge the learners on our perception of intensity and their motivation, then perhaps we would miss the authenticity of the learner’s experience and what they are perceiving. Are they slow or are they exploring? Are they lazy or are they learning?

Who are we to judge? We are the providers of the learning experience not the owners of it.

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One Comment on “A Total Learning Experience In One Game”

  1. Pingback: The PE Playbook - November 2016 Edition - drowningintheshallow

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