How to create positive learning through games

Develop a fantastic training environment for your players to develop in. Here’s how I translate a positive learner-centre culture into my sessions.

Flow plays a big part in making learning positive. It is where the player is in:

 “a state of being absorbed in the experience of action through intense concentration, as the athlete is lost’in the flow of the experience. It provides a positive affective experience through which deep learning occurs, especially when the coach ‘gets the game right’” (Thorpe & Bunker, 2008).

The key to creating flow in players is to play conditioned games, for at least five minutes at a time, but definitely no more than 10 minutes. 

Through experience five minutes allows for the game to get up and running for the players to have a good go at playing and trying things. Ten minutes is too much of an unrealistic time for the game to flow without any intervention from the coach to provide teaching and/or coaching moments.

Somewhere along the line there will be a stumbling block that will be preventing progress being made if you allow the game to keep going on for a very long time without an intervention. You will have a gut feeling of when is the right time to stop the game.

Flow doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the game you design doesn’t quite work. You either have to change some rules/conditions at the time, or you reflect on the experience post-training session ready for the next time you will use that game.


After a five minutes of “play” I would have each team get into a huddle and ask one of the leaders in that team to ask the following questions to their teammates: “What are we doing well..?”. Then: “What are we not doing well…?”.

Then I would facilitate asking: “What do you need to work on…?”. Then I would ask: “What conditions/rules could you add/take away to help the area you need to work on?”

This last part is very important where you start to empower the players allowing them to take ownership of their learning environment. This then increases their intrinsic motivation and thus their effort, concentration and participation in the game that they are now designing, which then increases the intensity and quality of the game.


If there is a little knock-on and the same player collects the ball I say “play on”. Another example would be if that I player attempted a very difficult offload but it was technically a forward pass, again I would say “play on”. If a poor pass went straight into touch I would just throw the second ball I always carry towards the other team.

Each scenario is eradicating any emphasis on the mistakes made therefore building a culture of that it is okay to make them.

Mistakes happen when players try new things and they don’t quite work out. Or when players are trying difficult skills which shows that they are trying to push themselves. These scenarios are challenging the players to push the boundaries. 

By making the mistake the learning process kicks in and the players will reflect on what they just did and start to think how to do this better. They can then try again very soon afterwards as the game continues to carry on. Depending on the rules of the game and the timings the players will be able to have lots of goes trying the new or difficult skills and tactics.

Approach based on Positive Pedagogy for sport and coaching, Sport Education and Society (Richard L. Light & Stephan Harvey, 2015)


I use a clear template based on Antonovsky’s Salutogenic theory and Sense of Coherence:

  1. Comprehensibility: knowing why, when and where to do things in the context of a game, not just the how.
  2. Manageability: incorporating challenges where players feel they have support from their teammates and their coach.
  3. Meaningfulness: where training sessions are designed in the context of the game and learning is related to the game that they will play.

I design conditioned games to work on a tactic and/or a technical skill where I let them “play” for at least five minutes and I only referee the “rules” and do not saying anything else. I allow the players to work out and try different solutions to the problem.

I ask open-ended questions. I allow thinking time before taking answers and I have a culture of asking players to put their hands up rather than shouting out so that players do not shut down other players’ thinking.

Share this
Follow us