Conditioned Games

‘Conditioned Games’…’Teaching Games for Understanding’ (TGfU)…’Game Sense’…’Constraints-led Approach’…

These four terms all basically mean the same thing in my opinion…depending on the website you are viewing…the book you are reading…or the country your are coaching in…The principles of learning through playing meaningful games are the essence to all approaches.

I use the term ‘Conditioned Games’ where I put conditions on the game that allow the players to achieve the outcome of how they would like to/want to play the game…

Attack Focus Games

Defence Focus Games

Counter Attack Focus Games

Why ‘Games for Understanding’…?

Through my connection with Wayne Smith…I was able to obtain stats about the first 8 rounds of the 2013 Super Rugby season…

From the data I received from Reg Hall, the Chiefs Analysts, I extracted the following data:-

  • During the first 8 rounds of the 2013 Chiefs Super Rugby season the ball was in ‘play’ for 10,870s in their 8 matches;
  • There were a total of 137 scrums @ 5 seconds each = 6%;
  • There were a total of 179 lineouts @ 2 and a half seconds = 4%;
  • Therefore scrums and lineouts made up  10% of the total playing time.

How many coaches and teams only spend this amount of time out of their total training time on scrums and lineouts…?

  • The Chiefs attacked for 4296s = 40%;
  • The Chiefs defended for 4869s = 45%;
  • Therefore the Chiefs were in ‘Attack’ and Defence’ for 85% of the total playing time.

How many coaches and teams spend this amount of time out of their total training time on attacking and defending…?

So in my opinion…which ‘Principle of Coaching’ best provides the opportunity to mirror and match what happens in the actual game…?

This is where my huge belief in ‘Conditioned Games’ comes from…

Below I share some definitions of the 4 key concepts that get you thinking about how to create a coaching environment that is ‘Purposeful Deliberate Practice’…allowing the players to play games…making sure everyone is active and engaged…has a constant transition from ‘Attack to Defence’ and ‘Defence to Attack’…challenges the players to make lots of decisions…allows the players to take ownership of their learning and playing of the game…works on their conditioning…that increases their work-rate, intensity, enjoyment and intrinsic motivation…:-

‘Teaching Games for Understanding’

“…the teaching of sport/physical activity is a holistic model because it focuses attention on the individual and not with the sub set of activity specific skills for the activity in focus. Learning the skills of the game are placed in the broader context of the game itself. The nature of the game is taught first, and the skills are added at a pace manageable by the participants. By doing this, the thinking and problem solving aspects of the game are taught in tandem with the skills. The result is a participant who is skilled in the broader sense of understanding the game rather than simply being skilful at the game. By manipulating time, risk and space elements of performance with questions to make participants think through the various aspects of performance, a rich understanding of the game is developed.

Instead of “How is this skill performed?” Teaching Games for Understanding begins with a different style of question: “Why are we doing this? and “How can we do it better?” The Teaching Games for Understanding approach is a holistic model where learning the skills of the game are placed in the broader context of the game itself. By manipulating time, risk and space elements of performance, combined with the use of key questions, participants think through various aspects of performance. A rich understanding of the game and the person as a player within the game is developed. Teaching Games for Understanding shifts thinking away from an assumption that once the skills have been taught a person can play the game. It turns traditional coaching for beginners “upside down” as it begins with the game, and not the skills of the game.” (

“Games set realistic problems in practice for athletes and coaches to solve. The idea of TGfU is for coaches to develop purposeful games so athletes can enhance performance through intrinsically motivating activities that involve decision-making and tactics. Coaches design practice sessions that are real to the competition itself, so athletes learn in a competition context.” (

‘Constraints-led Approach’

“The coach is an “inter-disciplinarian”, who has to have an understanding of how to construct a training programme that considers and integrates all areas that affect performance. As such, the key challenge is how coaches integrate the vast amounts of sport science information into their training and competition programmes. A useful framework for understanding how to do this is a model of skill learning called the constraints-led approach. In this model, constraints are not always limiting or negative factors.  They are all the factors that influence learning and performance at any moment in time.  Constraints can refer to the individual, the environment and ultimately the task.” (

‘Game Sense’

“A game sense approach to their coaching…allow players the freedom to play the game with out rigid systems that stave off decision-making opportunities.” (

“The Game Sense approach…focuses on developing thinking through problem solving using physical activity…to place the participant in situations where decision making and problem solving are central to successful performance. The central strategy…is the use of questioning to stimulate thinking about the game…Games are stopped at regular intervals and participants challenged to reflect on their participation in order to mature the play.” (

The video below is Wayne Smith’s thoughts on a Game Sense approach to coaching:- from The Rugby Site YouTube Channel

“…let them play…observe…bring them back in…ask a couple of questions that are meaningful…”

‘Conditioned Games’

“Conditioned games are small-sided games aimed at developing understanding of game play. The ‘conditions’ imposed depend on what the coach is trying to achieve. You can change the size of the playing area, the shape, the goals, restrict the number of touches and so on.” (

The video below is an extended interview by Brian Ashton…at 5min 10sec Brian gives a ‘definition’ of what ‘Conditioned Games’ is…at 12min he describes his ‘Coaching Process’…:- from The Rugby Site YouTube Channel

“…freedom within a framework…to work things out for themselves…”

“…play for 5 minute chunks…let them play and get on with it…”

What can you change…?

  • Size of pitch;
  • Direction of pitch;
  • Ball size;
  • Ball shape;
  • Number of players in Attack;
  • Number of players in Defence;
  • Scoring areas;
  • Scoring points;
  • Number of passes;
  • Number of breakdowns/phases;
  • Number of balls;
  • Communication;
  • Conditions in Attack;
  • Conditions in Defence.

“…you improve ‘Games Understanding’ by actually playing games…” (Brian Ashton, Game Based Team Attack Trailer, The Rugby Side YouTube Channel)

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