July 2023

By Gareth Long, Director of Program Innovation and Development, The Australian College of Physical Education.
Adam Bunce, Schools Engagement Lead, AFL NSW/ACT

Although different roles, sports coaches and teachers of physical education do share some things in common. One of these commonalities is the planning and delivery of purposeful small-sided games to support players’ or students’ learning and performance. Therefore, it can be a good idea if, when planning units of work or lessons, teachers look at coaching resources that national sporting organisations, such as the AFL, provide for their coaches.

What do we mean when we use the term purposeful small-sided games?

If we start with small-sided games (SSGs) these are usually directional games that involve:

  • attacking and defending goals/scoring zones
  • fewer players than the full version of the sport
  • typically played on a smaller/different sized field/court
  • often with adapted rules/constraints.

SSGs can be considered purposeful if they have been designed with specific intentions.

For a coach, that intention may be to develop identified technical, tactical, social, or psychological aspects in their players and teams.

For teachers of physical education, the intention would be that the SSG supports students with understanding and demonstrating the curriculum content and outcomes that is in focus.

Coupled with the purposeful planning of SSGs, coaches’ and teachers’ pedagogy and interventions during and after the SSG will also be considered to make the delivery of the SSG purposeful.

The game below from the AFL’s highlights an example of a purposeful small-sided game.

The ‘goal assist’ game ticks the boxes in that:

  1. It has goals to attack and defend
  2. It is played with fewer players (e.g., 3v3, 4v4, or 4v3)
  3. It is played on a smaller field (approx. 60 x 40m), marked into 3 horizontal zones
  4. Rules are modified (goals are created by a handball in the assist zone are worth double)
  5. The game has a clear intention. The reason for the 4 points above is to support players to create scoring opportunities for teammates through the use of handballing.

The Goal Assist Game (from AFL’s ‘Coach Rookie Me’ program)

AFL small sided game
For a teacher of physical education, a SSG such as the Goal Assist Game should have appeal. It is a good game and certainly an example of a purposeful SSG. As such, we are sure that skilled teachers can see opportunities in how such a game could be adopted to support related and relevant curriculum content and outcomes.
However, there is also perhaps a limitation to teachers taking a SSG found in a coaching resource and using it with their students.
The SSG of course won’t have been designed with that teacher’s class of students in mind, so perhaps the teacher should adapt rather than only adopt the game?
In the ACHPER NSW webinar on the 3rd August we will look at ways a teacher can gain the benefits of purposeful SSGs that have already been designed by the AFL, but also how they can maximise these benefits for their students. 
To start this process, take another look at the Goal Assist Game and think about one of your classes.
  • What changes would you make to increase the likelihood that the game would achieve its intended purpose?
  • How would you teach through the game?

PDHPE Masterclass – Purposeful Small-Sided Games
3 August 2023, 3.45-5.15pm
Free for members; $30 non-members

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