Beyond Drills vs Games

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Beyond Drills vs Games

Beyond Drills vs Games

  • Our blog DRILLS VS GAMES

    Drills vs Games

  • Continues to stir a debate with coaches who are adamant in spending time repeating movement patterns in isolated drills in order to  ‘take the skill’ into a game.

    We continue promoting that greater transfer in skill adaptation happens in the variability of a game-like context.

    In a sequel to Drills vs Games we move forward, to explore the science further in Skill Acquisition and we discover some magic along the way…

Design the Game

To recap - as coaches - we work hard to design games which are:

“Beyond mere repetition and imitation of a putative classic action. Instead, as a result of learning, individuals should be able to critically interpret patterns of play, make their own decisions, and create functional actions that can be adapted to solve competitive performance challenges.”Renshaw et al., 2010

  • Skill is the workings of perception and action together:

    “We must perceive in order to move, but we must also move in order to perceive”  (Gibson, 1979)

    This is the Game Intelligence we talk about, the Game Sense of a player we want to develop beyond the ball, to become truly skilful.

Stuart Armstrong of The Talent Equation further explains the shortcomings of drills in his confronting ‘War on Drills’ podcast. GAME PLAY LEARN Team Leader Joey Peters joins the conversation to further explore this mysterious ‘addiction’ to drills in the sporting culture…


So if we move beyond skill and keep moving towards embracing the complexity of a holistic approach in the Development Journey.  Then we find there’s more it than just physical skills…

“Helping students to learn holistically means that there is a need to go beyond simply developing pupils’ physical skills to provide a deeper education for them in line with a broader understanding of learning, development and identity”Bailey, 2005; Kirk & McPhail, 2002 (c/o Chow et al, 2016)

This broader Learning, Development and Identity is part of the greater systems at work. This is why an Ecological Approach is worth exploring:


“Ecological Dynamics considers athletes and sports teams as complex adaptive systems  that need to be understood at an irreducible level of analysis: That of the player-environment relationship” (Davids, Araujo, Seifert & Orth, 2015)

So, for example, to define Talent in an ecological standpoint:

“Talent is not defined by a young athlete’s set of generic or acquired components, but rather a dynamically varying relationship captured by the constraints imposed by the tasks experienced, the physical and social environment, and the personal resources of a performer” (Araujo & Davids, 2011)

This then points to recognising more than a mere task at play, there’s also the matters of the variances in environmental and individual constraints  to consider. Hence, we embrace a…


“Constraints create boundaries where some actions or possibilities are excluded but many others are left for the learner to explore. The interaction of constraints guide & shape the behaviours and skills that do emerge over varying timescales.” (Mark Upton - my fastest mile)

Mark O’Sullivan explains and expands its place in ‘A Holistic View’:


So we are grateful for the science to inform our Game Design,  now where do we find that broader sense of development and identity?

If there was a superpower ingredient in the learning concoction it would have to be:

Let them PLAY

The untapped potential of development still lies in the POWER OF PLAY. Without play, the game is just some fancy scribbles on paper.

PLAY is what brings the game to life!

More powerful than the considerations of our learning design, is the facilitation of the experience.

Whatever the design, if it brings about a playful experience, you’ve struck gold.



It’s where the relationship is. The GAME is the means, and the PLAY  is where the magic is. Play is becoming more readily recognised for more than just fun but it’s serious value in our culture beyond the sporting context.



Primatologist Behncke Izquierdo explains: “Play is not just child’s games…play is foundational for building relationships and fostering tolerance. It’s where we learn to trust and where we learn about the rules of the game. Play increases creativity and resilience, and it’s all about the generation of diversity: diversity of interactions, diversity of behaviors, and diversity of connections. When you watch bonobo play, you are seeing the evolutionary roots of human laughter, dance, and ritual. Play is the glue that binds us together.”

play and education

 So, there’s plenty to re-think in the coaching space to facilitate a playful experience. Are they playing if we’re telling them what to do?

Watch them LEARN

With all this complexity then, when we come to our role, it takes us beyond Game Designers to Learning Facilitators. We become Observers and join our learners in attuning to the emerging dynamics of the play experience.

Without going into anymore depth, for now we leave you with some considerations of our role:

  • “When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance to discovering it for himself.”- Jean Piaget

  • “Life doesn’t make sense without interdependence. We need each other and the sooner we learn that, the better for us all.”- Erik Erikson

  • “Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their performance. It is helping them learn rather than teaching them.”- Sir John Whitmore

2 Comments on “Beyond Drills vs Games”

  1. Looking forward to more exploring more of Play. Why isn’t play recognised for its importance in development. Adults back off!

  2. Skills need to be learnt then let them play they will make their own decisions because circumstances will always give them the chance because the game is not predictable but they make better decisions ifplayers have a good skill base.

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