How To: Design the GAME

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Before we dive into the How Tos, let’s remember some of the benefits of WHY we use a Games-Based Approach rather than Drills:

  1. SOCIAL-CONNECTION: Games require PLAY. Playing means there are interactions and connection between team members and/or an opponent. There is mutual respect and empathy required to Collaborate and make the Game experience as best as possible.
  2. SELF-CONFIDENCE: There’s freedom and autonomy in how to express yourself in a Game rather than being told what to do in a Drill. Confidence then breeds Creativity by being brave enough to take risks, or make a mistake because the reward of trying something different is something to be proud of.
  3. SKILL-COMPETENCIES 1: PERCEPTION-ACTION COUPLING is very important in Skill Acquisition, some refer to it as decision making: “We must perceive in order to move, but we must also move in order to perceive” (James Gibson, Ecological Dynamics). But most drills are instructed “Do this!” Rather than providing Game information such as opponents, space, direction, or goals to give a reason to move.
  4. SKILL-COMPETENCIES 2: REPETITION WITHOUT REPETITION (Nikolai Bernstein) is another important concept in developing skill. A main argument of drills would be for the benefit of repetition.
  5. FUN: What’s more enjoyable, playing a Game or doing a Drill? If we want to nurture a ‘Love of the Game’, our participants experience must be FUN!
  6. LET THE GAME BE THE TEACHER: Games are easier to Facilitate than Drills because once we’ve set it up, the game and players can take ownership. Most Drills need constant direction from the Coach in explanation, demonstration, correction and instruction.

WHAT GAME are going to play?

So as long as our participants are playing a Game we know they are benefitting but is one game better than another? There are a few options to consider:

  • WHAT THE PLAYERS WANT v WHAT YOU FEEL THEY NEED: Players don’t always know or agree on what Game they want to play. This can be quite a timely process of collaboration and negotiation in itself. It’s worth pursuing though because the group will become better at knowing themselves, each other and what will suit the context just as we do as Facilitators. We may want them to play a game for a certain purpose but what is more important in that moment, the game or the player’s autonomy? If it is the game, you may need to negotiate or develop your powers of persuasion.
TRY A FAMILY GAME! This group of kids (Under 10s) loved playing with and against their Parents/Carers. It took some persuasion to get Mum or Dad to want to play 😉
  • GIVE CHOICE and AUTONOMY: It’s important for the Participants to have choice as to if they want to play or not. If they don’t, it doesn’t mean the participant has an attitude problem, but rather the Environment isn’t engaging enough. Or they just might not be feeling well. It’s ok if they don’t want to play, it’s a hint to get to know them more.
A great idea for Choice and Autonomy!
  • LEARN THE GAME BY PLAYING THE GAME: Whatever your Sport is, that will be your main Game. There’s many different combinations of variations just in THE Game. Numbers of Teams, Numbers on Teams, space, goals and competition to suit their needs. Did you play a ‘Big’ Game last time? (More numbers on teams e.g 11v11) Do you do it again to explore the learning deeper or do you want variability and more repetitions in playing a ‘Small’ Game (Less numbers e.g 3v3). Again, facilitate the decisions with your Participants.

2v2s DRIBBLE FOOTBALL (Inspired by Belgium Football) The most basic version of the Game with high Repetition of Interactions (Repetition without Repetition). They played this for a full hour then a Parent asked me, “So Joey, when are the kids going to work on their Skills?” Arggghhhhh 🙁
  • VARIABILITY: There are many variations of Games to play within your sport and changes you can make to highlight certain skills. Please be mindful when taking away any of the Game Integrity though such as goals, direction, opponents, it can lose it’s representative power. If you do, it should be for good reason. The other ultimate variation is to explore Multi-Sport or what we call Multi-Games ie Combining Sports into one game eg Foot Volley/Tennis. Even Basketball would be a great Multi-Game for Soccer. You can also look within your own Sport to find some ‘Multi-Movement’ or Positional Roles to explore. For E.g GOALIE BALL


  • The Environment needs to be engaging and inviting to participate. Setting up for the Game might be something you can do together with participants o create more autonomy once knowing the numbers and what Game has been decided. Or you can set-up the environment before-hand with Fields setup (use different locations where possible) Goals, different types of Balls and equipment, music, food and drink, costumes, signage, anything that you feel may add to creating a fun experience to engage with.
Adding Music and an Indoor Environment can be an extra FUN-Factor


  • Whether you do it at the start, end or all of your Session/Event, Don’t forget Free Play!
Our ultimate example of a FREE-PLAY ENVIRONMENT: A Skate Park
  • If you haven’t done much Free Play, try setting up the Area before the session would usually ‘officially’ start, with Goals and Balls (and markers to outline the shape of the field if needed.) And stand back or talk with Parents/Family as the players arrive and see what they do without any instruction. Do they like shooting for Goal? Doing tricks? Playing a GAME? Do they wait for instructions?
  • The FREE PLAY PLEDGE: For more on Free Play, our friends as Salisbury Rovers have led an initiative to make it more valuable in Coaching Contexts. Sign up HERE to support!


  • What Game are we going to Play?


1. What the players want v What you feel they need

2. Give Choice and Autonomy

3. Learn the Game by Playing the Game


  • Set up the Environment
  • Don’t Forget FREE PLAY!


2 Comments on “How To: Design the GAME”

  1. How have people found introducing free play to adult sides? The kids I coach love it but not tried it with adults.

    1. joey peters

      Hi JC and thanks for your great question, I ended up sharing it on our Sunday Night Group Live. I introduce ‘Free Play’ as more ‘Free Time’ for older players. Using it at the beginning of the session instead of a ‘Warm-Up’ or at the end of the session ‘last 10 minutes free time!’ It’s interesting to see what players do on their own.

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