Games for Understanding: why and what?

Along with the Fundamental Motor Skills unit that our Yr7 boys undertake at the start of the year, this unit forms part of a “non-sports specific” element of our KS3 curriculum.

It isn’t my intention in this post to discuss the benefits, drawbacks or pedegogical tripe involved in G4U; if that’s what you’re searching for, try someone more intelligent than me. This is very much in the flavour if the #PETotD (PE tip of the day). Real ideas, you can implement in practical PE. Which is really what you’re probably paid to do.

Why do G4U?

Many of you will have seen or experienced a similar idea before. I remember being on PGCE and doing a couple of sessions on “Teaching Games for Understanding” and it became quite a popular concept in the early-mid 2000’s.

At CLV we decided to dedicate a full 6 lesson unit to the concept & write a specific scheme & lesson plans.

The basic aim of the unit is to develop tactical & strategic awareness & thinking in game situations. There are definite motor skill requirements included but the content is delivered entirely through games, with no drills/practices.

We often expect kids to “know” what to do in a game situation, even though we don’t always make it explicit during our teaching. The nature of delivering via games lends itself better to stopping, questioning, explaining & developing a working understanding of what is going on. It is the hope that this understanding can then be applied to the range of games delivered throughout KS3 & 4.

What? How?

We timetable this as an indoor activity, usually in the smaller of our Sportshalls. On occasion, 2 groups might be timetabled on the activity together. Rather than being inconvenient, this often adds more of a competitive element & buzz to the lesson (just my opinion lads!).

We find that those pink, soft volleyballs (OK, Dodgeballs) are invaluable when delivering the unit. They burst easily so buy loads.


When planning, we worked in reverse. We end the unit with 2 Dodgeball lessons. Reason for this is if we start with DB, all the kids want to know every lesson is “are we playing dodgeball sir?” No. We originally kept lesson 6 as a “kids plan their own games” activity. The girls still do this I believe. Personally however, I think this runs the risk of becoming a classroom/paper-based/planning heavy lesson. If you’ve got 60 lads, absolutely bursting to get active & ready to work their nuts off; don’t put them in a classroom. As my new pal Ben Horbury would say; “we’re educating the physical”.

I’ve included a basic overview of the activities below. These are not extensive instructions/rules. I’m sure you’ll be able to fill in any blanks & do it better than I do anyway!

Lesson 1: Matball/Endball

Set out a “scoring zone”. I like to use gym mats or coned area. Ball can only be moved by passing. Score via pass to teammate in scoring zone. Tonnes of variations here.

Lesson 2: Benchball

Or “screamball” if the girls are teaching it. Set out benches at opposite sides of SH. Start with X number of players on opposing bench, players attempt to throw ball over opponents to bd caught by their teammates on bench. H&S; if your kids are muppets & likely to fall off bench & sustain horrific injuries, get them to stand behind, not on, benches. Ball caught = thrower joins teammates on (of behind) bench.

Lesson 3: Well, we call it “Kicky Rounders”, you might call it Longball etc.

This one is nice to split into 3 teams, kids bibbed-up. 2 teams field, 1 team kicks & runs. Bowler from each team rolls ball out to 2 or 3 kickers. Kick or miss, players have to run across SH to “safety zone” (remove this for extra challenge). Points are scored when runners return over a “home line”. On way, fielders attempt to catch kickers out, or hit them with ball Dodgeball-style below waist. Differentiate points for a run “there & back” or players who chose to stay in safety zone before returning. Fielding teams accumulate points for catches/hits. Good to keep fielding teams active & encourage kids to make good decisions about risk; points are only scored at the home line; is it worth throwing at a runner on their way outwards?

Lesson 4: Corner/Hexiball

Set up goals in corners of SH; we use the tabletennis partition dividers – don’t tell CTTC please, but benches on their sides do the job as well. Or alternatively 6 goals in hexagon shape. Split into 4/6 teams (can do this with massive groups; still 4/6 teams but each has an A & B team with one off the court when other is on).

Ball can only be moved via pass & intercepted in air/on floor. Teams attempt to prevent opponents scoring in their goal whilst attacking all other opponents. If a team concedes, their team is out & their goal is turned over. Last 2 teams play-off in final, defending 2 goals each.

Adaptations: 1) teams start with 2 players. When they score, another player comes into the game. 2) When a team is knocked out, 2 players stay in, attempting to “regenerate” their team. You might use a direct hit on a basketball backboard as a target. 3) Allow dribbling… There are loads more! This game is great. Original idea was pinched from one of the worst teachers I have ever seen – but what a game! Great for tactical discussion, attack vs defence, playing multiple opponents; the kids will often form “alliances” with opponents – @Ticktock80 would love this an an opportunity to discuss historical detantes.

Lessons 5 & 6: Dodgeball

I’m not even going to discuss this here. Have a read of my dodgeball post if you’re after ideas. In a nutshell, it’s brilliant for teaching everything.

Thoughts & suggestions welcome. Big thanks to the lads at CLV: this unit was a joint effort, created at Longhirst Hall, Morpeth. Ah, those were the days.