Are we playing a game?

Do the following situations sound familiar from PE or games and playtimes when you were at school?

Picking sides

Playing full sized games with many players having few skills

Being bored due to lack of contact with the ball

The ‘best’ plyer being Captain

The ‘best’ player hogging the ball

The better players never passing to the poorer players

The ‘best’ player taking all the throw-ins, corners, penalties, kick offs, goal kicks and kudos

Poorer batters being out first ball, and better players getting long innings

The fastest runners haring round the field chasing (and getting) every ball

The class knows we are following a scheme in PE, so we are ‘doing’ or playing the one outdoor sport for a half term. We can be sure at least one child (a better, more competitive, regularly successful player) will ask if we are ‘having a game’ today. By ‘having a game’ they really mean a full-blown game, with sides and rules and keeping score, and them getting to shine.

The answer is always that we are going to play games while we practise skills and improve how we play.

What happens if we just play a game is that the better players get better still, and the less skilled get no better, as their involvement is severely limited. For example, if we play a full on game of rounders the less skilled will miss the ball and not instinctively run to first base. They will stutter, being unsure. The wily backstop (a good catch and a decent throw) will pass the ball on to First Base and the hitter will be stumped out. No hits, no runs, no development. The skilled and confident player comes in, thumps the ball and takes a rounder. He or she gets to repeat the feat, and by practising gets better still.

The same is true in a game of cricket, as we can be sure the bowler will be decent.

In a full game of netball the ball will simply bypass the less skilled and confident. Likewise in football, basketball or tag rugby.

Therefore, we have to intervene, to develop skills, awareness and confidence. We also have to change the rules to require participation and sharing. Neither lessons 1 in either rounders or cricket this week (Years 5 and 6) used a bat, but instead focussed on catching and throwing, with every child involved in pairs or small groups, working on small areas of a large playground. The children touched a ball at least 100 times each.

I’m not saying that in a competitive context we wouldn’t pick a competitive team, but in the meantime we will try develop confidence in every child so that everyone of them enjoys sport (so they might continue), has some skills (so they might get selected), and is active in lessons (so they are fitter and healthier).

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