Learn the Game By Playing The Game

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Learn the Game by Playing the Game


  • When a beginner comes to your sport to be introduced to a game, what is their experience?
  • Should we teach someone how to catch or kick a ball before getting them into a game?

Many say yes and that we need to work on technical and fundamental movements before exposing beginners to a game…Really?

Here’s a concept - Learn the game by playing the game!

It’s by experiencing a game that a beginner can get a feel for playing the game, it’s aims, constraints and dynamics.

What if we could see each learner grow in confidence and competence without any instruction from a coach, but rather through playing games.

There’s NO need for the ‘HOW’:

  • “This is HOW to hit / kick / throw a ball.

Just Design the GAME (The ‘WHAT’):

  • “Hit the ball over the net.”
  • “Get the ball over the line / into the goal.”
  • “Try and score in that goal and stop them from scoring in this goal!”

This is as far as we go with instruction to introduce the game.  Then…


It’s when they’re playing that we’re looking at engagement, dynamics and supporting the success, challenge and fun of it all. The participants will even come up with their own ways to make the game ‘better’ for them.

  • Are they having trouble hitting the ball over the net? Then take the net away! Or take more hits or bounces to get it over:

  • Is one learner not getting the ball? Take away the amount of players/ increase the number of balls:

Next blog: What do we do with beginners? Here is 2 v GK with 2 balls. ‘Learning the game by playing the game’.

A post shared by GAME PLAY LEARN (@gameplaylearn) on

But don’t be too hasty in removing the complexities. With a long term journey in mind, we know they will accumulate more actions anyway, but it’s also not all about the ball.

Just experiencing the game by being amongst it and the having time and be given the space to feel the dynamics flying around you and between you is still an important experience.

This is where the Complexity Guide helps us with team sport  considerations:

COMPLEXITY GUIDE FOR TEAM SPORTS: We can provide varying experiences for each learner while finding more fitting experiences in one area. For example, to give ‘Beginners’ a taste of the bigger numbered game in a less formal nature would be beneficial to experience its complexities, but to spend more time in a smaller-sided constrained context makes sense for success and engagement.

Ideally, the learner is getting choice and feeding back their experiences of navigating the complexities. This encourages them to lead their own journey, at their own pace.

Here’s 3 principles to consider when introducing a beginner to your sport:
  • Learn the Game by playing the Game


  • Keep a Long Term journeying Approach

What is NOT recommended for beginners as facilitator/coach:

  • DON’T CORRECT OR INSTRUCT TECHNIQUE: For example, “Don’t kick it with your toe, kick it with the inside of your foot like this..” Let them explore all aspects of the game for themselves.
  • DON’T GIVE A TASK WITHOUT INTENTION: “Can you get the ball passed me?” (intention) vs “Dribble around the square” (no intention). Even better, work off the Learners requests to come up with the task/challenge/game.
  • DON’T BE IN A RUSH: It takes time to adapt and adjust to a game, the people and environment. They’ll be some great days and probably some very bad days, but this is the life learning, non-linear journey that is development and humanity.

3 Comments on “Learn the Game By Playing The Game”

  1. Hi Joey,

    I´m a big fan of the Game, Play, Learn concept , i love the fact that Sport is about fun and Play , yes there will be some sort of a result outcome , but that shouldnt matter , what matters is Play.. But something confuses me , Many believe that the blue print on How a Sport is played is bases on how Professional Sports is played , being a youth Coach in the u8 and u11´s in Soccer i find it more so , because of the amount of sessions , master classes, blog sites ,Books , Podcasts by Coaches professional ( mostly Academy) and recreational , with that is youth Sports becoming bias towards Professional Sports in the way it is coached and played at amature level?.

    When so many Ex legends of Sports claim that they learnt everything form the streets when they were Young , do Kids (under 14 ) Need Coaching before exploring so early? .

    Like you say let the game be the Winner .

    Kind Regards


    1. Hi Toby,

      Apologies for the delay, thankyou for your comment! A very important point you make that so many are influenced and copy what the Pros do in how they coach young players. Some approaches to professional environments are questionable anyway let alone knowing the differences between working with kids to adults! (See https://gameplaylearn.net/coaching-for-learning-not-performing/) The forgotten concept is articulated so well from our friend Dr Dick Bailey “Kids are not mini adults, kids are not mini adults, kids are not mini adults” That includes teenagers!

  2. Pingback: Learn by Playing, Coach by Facilitating - GPL GAME PLAY LEARN

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