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Game Based Coaching

Discover what a Game-based coaching approach is and why this approach should be used.

Game Based Coaching

Discover what a Game-based coaching approach is and why this approach should be used.

A Game-Based Approach is a Player-centered approach, where you as the coach use Games and Scenarios to support player learning. 

This contrasts more traditional approaches that are common in rugby, where the coach uses a series of technical drills throughout the practice, where they may use a game at the end (if the players have behaved themselves).

The key question... 'Did our training look and feel like rugby?'

The coach will also use a Questioning approach, as opposed to just telling the player’s what to do.



A Game-Based Coaching approach is a heap of fun for the players (and coaches) as it is action packed. Kids have an innate love of play, so let’s ‘play’ to that. The players are also more involved in their learning, so motivation is increased.

"Get Better Quicker"

Another major benefit of Game-Based Coaching, is that the practice environment will replicate the realities of a rugby match, so learning is more likely to transfer from training to the match. Research has shown that training in situations that reflect the actual match will enhance learning far greater than through more traditional technical approaches. (Research and Case Studies are presented below)

Let's 'Re-imagine' Rugby Coaching

And let's face it, the number of young kids choosing rugby as a sport is declining. They are voting with their feet and leaving the sport. They want an experience that is going to capture their imagination. The days of standing in queues doing drill after drill are gone. It's time to provide an experience that meets their needs. A Game-Based coaching is a great place to start. 


Research - Quantitative Interventions

Some quantitative studies have found a positive impact of Game Sense on performance indicators such as decision-making, game knowledge and skill execution, compared to a technique based approach. Gray and Sproule (2011) (4v4 Basketball, PE setting), Turner and Martinek (1999) (hockey, PE setting) and Miller et al. (2017) (Netball, Sport setting) all designed interventions comparing GS and technique approaches. All studies showed the GS groups making significant improvements in decision-making and game knowledge. Turner and Martinek (1999) showed some improvements in regards to technical skill execution, which may be related to this study being over a longer intervention period (15 sessions). This is consistent with the Pizarro et al (2017) study, which found that U12 footballers make significant improvements in decision-making and skill execution after 22 sessions, but not after the first 11 sessions.

Note, no research has been sourced that shows a technical, drill-based coaching approach improves skill execution in a match situation.

Hockey Case Study: (Turner & Martinek, 1999)

This study was conducted with 71 sixth and seventh grade students across seven teaching groups, through the context of hockey. Three groups used a Game Sense (GS) model, three groups a technique approach and one control group did softball (no intervention or hockey). Two teachers taught the six hockey groups and in order to eliminate potential bias taught a combination of both GS and technique groups. For example one teacher taught two GS groups and one technique group throughout the duration of the study (fifteen 45 minute lessons). Pre and post-tests were conducted for hockey knowledge, skill and game performance. The GS groups scored significantly higher than the technique groups and control group on decision making, knowledge and skill execution (ball control and passing). Interestingly the technique group did not perform better than the control group on most measures. This raises the question as to why coaches rely on technique based coaching, especially if you can play softball for 15 sessions and be on par with students that have actually practiced hockey. 

Basketball Case Study: (Gray & Sproule, 2011)

This study was set in a PE setting in urban Scotland and was conducted through 4 v 4 basketball. One teacher used a Game Sense approach encouraging student-centered strategies such as problem-solving, discussing and reflecting. The second teacher taught using a technique approach, so taught skills of the game directly to players. Data was collected before and after the intervention to establish the students’ knowledge and experience of basketball and also assess performance (decision-making off the ball) of the two groups throughout the intervention (five weeks). A questionnaire was administered post-intervention in order to establish the students’ perceptions of their own decision-making. The study found that the Game Sense group made significantly more good decisions compared to the technique group. There was no significant difference between the groups post-intervention on skill execution. The game-based group also developed a “more sophisticated understanding / language about the game” (p. 27) as players had the opportunity to think critically, solve problems and construct new knowledge. The Game Sense group felt their decision-making had improved and interestingly the technique group felt their decision-making had actually deteriorated over the five weeks. 

References + Links to Full Journal Article

McLean, J. K. (2021). How a game sense coaching approach impacts on the learning experience for teenage rugby players (Thesis, Master of Health, Sport and Human Performance (MHSHP)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Click HERE

Gray, S., & Sproule, J. (2011). Developing pupils’ performance in team invasion games. Physical education and sport pedagogy, 16(1), 15-32. 

Gray & Sproule (2011) Developing pupils performance in team invasion games.pdf

Miller, A., Harvey, S., Morley, D., Nemes, R., Janes, M., & Eather, N. (2017). Exposing athletes to playing form activity: Outcomes of a randomised control trial among community netball teams using a game-centred approach. Journal of Sports Sciences, 35(18), 1846-1857. 

Miller et al (2017) Exposing athletes to playing form activity outcomes of a randomised control trial among community netball teams using a game centred approach.pdf

Pizarro, A. P., Domínguez, A. M., Serrano, J. S., García-González, L., & del Villar Álvarez, F. (2017). The effects of a comprehensive teaching program on dribbling and passing decision-making and execution skills of young footballers. Kinesiology, 49(1).

Pizarro et al (2017) The effects of a comprehensive teaching program on dribbling and passing decision-making and execution skills of young footballers.pdf

Turner, A. P., & Martinek, T. J. (1999). An investigation into teaching games for understanding: Effects on skill, knowledge, and game play. Research quarterly for exercise and sport, 70(3), 286-296. 

Turner & Marnwick (1999) An Investigation into TGfU - Effects on Skill, Knowledge, and Game Play.pdf

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