Modify games for better outcomes

Modern coach thinking suggests that we should play the game, but with modifications. Make those changes more effective to allow your players to learn faster and develop better habits.


The right game starts from the sort of match the players are likely to face when they play against an opposition side.

Though that sounds obvious, we must avoid trying to emulate either older year groups or more professional levels of play. Though we should all aspire to be better, the style of play should be appropriate to the skills of our players.

When we use games in training, our modifications should reflect the reality of what our players can cope with, or even better, hope to cope with.

For example, games which hope to work on lots of phases of play or defensive line speed aren’t going to be appropriate for teams up to say under 14.


Modifications are sometimes characterised by the term “constraints”. This is because the approach is known as constraints-led. This has negative connotations. From our point of view, it might be better to think of the modifications as influences.

The new influence will interact with all the other influences to determine the way a player wins the game. The most common constraints in rugby are:

  • Pitch boundaries.
  • Numbers in each team (and numbers of teams on the pitch).
  • Scoring zone.
  • Methods of advancing the ball into the scoring zone.
  • Methods of stopping the advancement.

These influences are known as task constraints. The most appropriate rugby task constraint is that the ball must be passed backwards. That means to win the game, if you can’t kick, is that an attacker must run forward.

There are two other constraints: individual, which is based on the skills and physical make-up of the player, and environmental, which are things like the weather, pitch condition, and social norms. We can’t change those, so we need to think about the task constraints to influence our players.


We don’t need to create a whole raft of modifications. We are better off just making some very simple adjustments. The players can then concentrate on solving one new problem, not lots of them.

For example, set up a game in week 1. There might be a number of rules, such as a certain pitch size, numbers, type of tackle, ways to score. Next week, the same game, but change one rule. For example, pitch size. And the next time you play that game, change another rule.


A blocked practice is where they are no decisions to be made. For example, three players running up and down a box, passing the ball between each other

Sometimes you might want to use these practices, not necessarily because they enhance skill learning in themselves, but they do promote some confidence in the technique.

It’s like hitting a couple of practice shots before a round of golf. It helps create a feel for the technique and reminds the player of some key factors.


Don’t expect your modifications to always to lead to a defined outcome. Let the players find their own solutions and develop at their own speed.

Just keep challenging them with game-realistic situations.


Williams, A.M. & Hodges, N.J. (2005).  Practice, instruction and skill acquisition: Challenging tradition.  Journal of Sport Sciences, 23(6), 637-650.

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