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Small Sided Games - Why they are awesome

1 ball, 2 teams, 22 kids on the field. I hear this and I think, 3/4 of the kids on the field are just passive participants.

Seinfeld and PE:

I remember a Seinfeld episode where Jerry, at the intro of the show during his stand-up routine, he compared PE to Lord of the Flies. One minute you're in the classroom and the next minute you’re running, ducking balls, getting screamed at by your best friend. This is all from memory, I can’t find the specific episode but it did stick with me to some extent. That is the beauty of PE. It is different from the rest of school – generally, you’re not in a classroom, there is a sense of freedom and chances are, we are the most popular teachers. Therefore, to hear that a teacher has one all-in large activity going on is frankly, quite sad.

We have such a golden opportunity in our discipline to have some of the most authentic learning experiences, precisely because we are different. We are exciting. We are generally one step ahead of other classes because the kids usually like PE. Thus, let’s seize the opportunity to make those authentic learning experiences happen.

Teaching Games for Understanding:

A popular model to go by is TGfU (Teaching Games for Understanding). This is a brilliant model to follow as it encourages participation by modifying games to be accessible to all and teaches key skills in the process. I will not go into too much detail about it but a great clip to get more understanding about TFfU is here:

Invasion Games:

A great way to achieve maximum participation is by making your activities less confrontational, less complicated and providing each student with a role to play. Let’s look at Invasion Games – the unit where conflicts are bound to occur and where the ‘athletes’ of the class can ball hog.

Start the game with a game of Crossover. The video below shows level 2. I used the app, CoachNote, to create this short clip. This game is extremely simple and teaches a great deal about the intricacies of invasion games – finding space, making space, defending, attacking, marking, planning, decoy, etc. All you need is a field, some pinnies/bibs and you are good to go.


I love this word for PE since it means all we need is one activity and it can last the entire lesson or more. It essentially means to increase the difficulty of the activity but keeping the premise the same. For Crossover, I layer it like so:

  • Level 1:

  • One side can attack only, the other can only defend

  • Level 2:

  • Both sides can attack and defend at the same time

  • Level 3:

  • Nominate half of your team as attackers and the other half as defenders. Only the attackers can cross the mid-line and only the defenders can catch attackers.

  • Level 4:

  • When an attacker scores a goal they are stuck at goal and need to be rescued by a fellow attacker.

  • Level 5:

  • Distribute beanbags behind the goal line. When the attackers score they take one beanbag. When the defenders notice they are low on beanbags, they can call a time-out, regroup and change positions if necessary.

  • Level 6:

  • Rather than crossing the baseline to score or picking up a beanbag, distribute hula-hoops on each side of the field. Attackers need to find a way into the hula-hoops to score a goal. Upon reaching the hula-hoop, they are stuck and need to be rescued.

There you have it. The same activity, 6 layers, that is good enough for 2 lessons, with minimal equipment needed, and encourages maximum participation. Throughout the activities you can gather the kids and discuss the key elements behind the challenge and the skills required to be successful.

Evidence to support Small-Sided Games:

There is a great deal of evidence that suggests small-sided games (SSGs) enhances exercise intensity. In my university days studying Human Movement, I came across this name quite often - Impellizzeri F.M. He has done a great deal of study into small-sided games and the impact on the physiology of athletes because of them. One notable quote from Sports Medicine states: “In general, it appears that SSG exercise intensity is increased with the concurrent reduction in player number and increase in relative pitch area per player.” Furthermore, “Other studies have also shown that SSGs containing fewer players can exceed match intensity and elicit similar intensities to both long- and short-duration high intensity interval running.” This is taken only from one journal article, but it has been cited 140 times in other journals and was co-authored by my past lecturer, A.J. Coutts – an absolute guru of Sports Science. From those quotes, we notice that:

  1. The athletes worked harder when there were less players since they had to cover more ground

  2. Athletes exceeded match intensity – absolutely desirable since training should be harder than matches

  3. They produce intensities similar to high intensity interval training (HIIT) – this is key, since in SSGs, they are working on skills as well. It is a double whammy of efficiency – getting fit and getting more skill competent.

With this in mind and the simple Crossover game mentioned in the previous paragraph, our kids will be working harder, both physically and mentally without knowing it because they will be having a great time.


In addition, to encourage integration with your classroom, you can go through the same conflict resolution procedures they undertake in the homeroom. My grade 2s use the solution wheel, my grade 1s use Kelso’s choice, and the grade 3s spend a whole unit dedicated to conflict resolution. Since, undoubtedly, there will be conflict in Invasion Games.


As PE teachers, we are really in a unique position; let us not waste these golden opportunities by having students stand around for the lesson. It is so important we keep them engaged, particularly when it is so easy to.

Lastly, allow me to draw your attention to this image below. Now imagine, 11v11.

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