PE Challenge 3 – Give Sports Context

PE Challenge 3

by @ImSporticus

Over the next 8 weeks, every weekend, I will offer you a challenge for the following week. These challenges will come from other teachers, researchers, academics and coaches and take on different formats. You can try one, try the ones you like, or try them all. The hope is that it will stimulate thought about your practice, your pupils understanding and their learning and potentially change them for the better.

PE Challenge No. 3: Give sports context – start and end a lesson with a small sided game.

This week the Challenge comes from Dr. Richard Bailey, who is an author, researcher and blogger on Physical Education, Sport, Education and Learning. His website ‘Talking Education and Sport‘ is full of excellent articles for teachers of PE and well worth a visit.

The challenge is a simple one. When teaching sport; start and end the lesson with small sided games. After getting the students warmed-up, preferably with a sports specific warm-up, get them straight into the game. Think about the the technical, social, tactical or physical elements you would like students to understand and develop, then implement conditions on those games that highlight them. Ask the students ‘learning questions’ rather than telling them the learning objectives or outcomes for the lesson. This can help with their understanding of what they are trying to achieve. For example ‘By the end of the lesson I want you to tell me what type of pass is the most accurate and consistent in football when passing over a short distance?’

The middle section of the lesson can be given over to specific drills or practices that focus on developing the students understanding of the focus of your lesson. Try to progress them to variable practices, which can help build up a schema to use in games, and then go back into the small sided games before wrapping up the lesson by getting students to answer your learning questions.


I’m sure that you’ve experienced this scenario many times. There is a technique or skill you want students to learn. You have planned some excellent drills to help teach them the skill. They pick it up quickly and race through the progressions you have planned. You see lots of success so you then finish the lesson with a game. The skill development that was successful in your drill has disappeared and frustration sets in as the lesson ends. You are not able to give more time for practice and feedback. You have a week to wait till you see them again, and probably start from scratch.

It shouldn’t come as a surprised though. In a pressurised situation like a game, most pupils and athletes will revert back to their learned skills. This isn’t going to be a new skill they have spent 30 minutes in drills trying to learn that lesson. But why do we see the success then? Because it is a performance of the drill or potentially the skill within the drill. It does not mean they have learnt it. It also means that skill has no context in an open environment like a game. They aren’t able to answer ‘How, where and when’ to that do that skill? You need to give time to set the context.

Potentially small sided games allow more movement and practice than drills, especially if you do line drills, and full sided games. A pilot study with Manchester United and the Sport Science Department at Manchester Metropolitan University compared 4 v 4 vs. 8 v 8 sided games in football. The results are quite significant.

On Average 4 v 4 versus 8 v 8 had:

  • 135% more passes
  • 260% more scoring attempts
  • 500% more goals scored
  • 225% more 1 v 1 encounters
  • 280% more dribbling skills (tricks)

I have adopted a 4 v 4 approach in many of the sports that I teach, especially at KS 3. Regularly teaching classes of 32 pupils, and having played around with my set up, this is my preferred method of delivery as it allows lots of flexibility in my approach.

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4 groups of 8, playing 4 v 4 conditioned games. You can ensure groups are equal in physical or technical ability. Pitch sizes can be changed for the whole class, or specific groups. If you want to make it 4 v 3, a pupil in each group can referee or they can come to you for a specific drill. This helps keep a focus on the condition of the game. You can withdraw individuals or whole groups to the practice area, where you can do either fixed or variable practices with greater chance of giving 1 to 1 verbal feedback, before sending them back into the small sided game. It ensures pupils are always working and there is limited waiting for a turn to practice a skill. It’s hugely enjoyable to teach this way and I feel most of the time pupils are also enjoying themselves whilst being active, practising and learning. Most importantly it helps to set the context for them in the sport.



If you decide to accept the challenge, I would love you to share your thoughts. Did it help your teaching or your pupils learning in anyway? What were the outcomes of the challenge, both positive and negative?

You can either post your response to this blog.

Or on Twitter direct to me at @imsporticus

Or on Twitter with the hashtag #pechallenge and I shall collate them.

In case you missed any of the previous challenges – Challenge No. 1 andChallenge No. 2.

Good luck and I look forward to hearing from you.

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Written by ImSporticus
On the first day in my current school I sat down next to a colleague and began to introduce myself as the new Teacher of PE. She kindly smiled at me, pointed to the opposite side of the common room, and said sweetly ‘I know. The shallow side is over there.’ I’ve been drowning ever since.

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