The power of team games

Cameron Stewart

I’ve delivered P.E to primary aged children for over six years and only now am I discovering how big an impact positive P.E can have on primary children’s lives, especially team game experiences.

Delivering and developing game-play for primary aged children can be challenging and requires time and work but the benefits of a great team games experience can be so vast it’s hard to fathom.   If you don’t have personal experience of the sporting world in some capacity, delivering team games can possibly be daunting.  However all it requires is a bit of knowledge in some key areas.

Thinking about the P.E benchmarks, all of them can be developed through a game. Cognitive skills, Personal qualities, Physical competencies and Physical fitness, can all be enhanced through game play.  I have seen children change before my eyes through positive experiences in games.  I have seen some become more confident in the classroom and with their friends, and others become almost “super thinkers” in environments which are not sports related.

These results, however, do only mature if the delivery is of a high quality and high quality includes exposure to game play concepts. If the conditions are not right, development will still take place but not at the same pace. I’m hoping my guide below along with the SATPE primary resources will give you a helping hand in your quest towards competent games players.


We know kids love to play.  It’s in their nature to be moving and having fun. So it struck me very early on that a gameplay teaching pedagogy would work well with primary pupils. I had personally tried a few teaching pedagogies during my probation year but one that stuck out to me was Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU).

The full blown version of TGFU was found to be too difficult for my primary pupils to follow as they did not possess the tactical knowledge required to develop their game play.  With the goal being to improve everyone’s ability to play games, I had to go right back to basics.

Game form

The first step for any game I deliver, to primary pupils, is to get the basic game form correct. It has to be pitched to the audience’s maturity in terms of movement and cognitive ability. The game form is basically the game that you would play with your pupils.

There are hundreds of different games out there but what you want to try and do is create or find a game that is a more basic version of the game you or I would play. For example,  handball. For me, teaching 7 year olds a game full-scale game of handball was too difficult for them to comprehend, so what is required is a simpler game form that allows all my pupils to participate without being “lost”. This resulted in “Isolation” being created. It is one of the games that is available through the SATPE primary games cards.

Isolation is a ‘watered down’ version of handball. For starters the rules are much more simplistic; how they score, how they can move with the ball etc. The game is also individual which means pupils don’t need to worry about working with teammates at this stage.

Because the game is pitched perfectly for their cognitive development, I can introduce gameplay concepts and benchmarks without “overloading them”. During Isolation lessons I would discuss simple game concepts with my class like attacking and defending and then develop the benchmarks into them. For example attacking…what is it? How do we do it? Why is decision making important in attacking? The children are then able to apply their learning of these concepts/benchmarks into the game easily without being bogged down.


Once your pupils have mastered the basic game form the next step is Layering. In my experience, layering games for learning yields huge results with primary pupils.  When I feel certain pupils are comfortable with the introductory game I begin to layer it through different methods. These are listed below.

  • Rules (Primary & Secondary)
  • Team Size
  • Conditions
  • Court Size
  • Equipment Used

With regards to Isolation I began by adapting the rules for certain individuals. I may allow them to use three steps, for example, if they have possession of the ball. As rules are adapted and layered the game slowly starts to transform. You can even change the rules and conditions to focus on the development of certain concepts or benchmarks if required, really meeting the needs of your audience.   However there is only so much layering you can introduce with these basic game forms before a new game form needs to be introduced.

The new game form is usually more complex and dynamic than the previous one.

Next Steps

For the handball block, the next game form from Isolation would be “Partner Isolation.” It’s basically exactly the same game but pupils play in pairs.  The change from individual to partner work is a huge step forward as it brings in all sorts of new variables for pupils to master, for example passing and maintaining possession.  Since the rules are the same and the attacking and defending concepts are the same, pupils are able to focus and develop the skills required to play with a partner. Layers from the previous games are carried over, building on prior learning.

At the centre of all this are the E’s & O’s, Benchmarks and gameplay concepts. These three vital areas are constantly visited and applied through-out all stages of the process.  When the pupil’s performance is of a good standard, judged by you and using the P.E benchmarks as guidance, a new game form is then re-introduced and the cycle starts again.

Through effective layering and correct game form application, more complex sports such as football, basketball, handball etc can be taught effectively to pupils of a younger age. I have skills tested many of my younger pupils through this model and many of them have improved in a variety of different areas including problem solving and decision making.  If you can get into the mind-set of observing and then layering lessons to suit your pupils needs delivering team games for your pupils will be rewarding and motivating.

As part of the Primary PE Group, Cameron has helped to design The SATPE games cards which include information and guidance on some of the points mentioned in this article, and aim to develop gameplay in children of all different abilities and stages. The game forms selected have been tried and tested in many different schools with great success. Many of the games are also progressive, meaning, a pathway is already in place which you will be able to follow with your pupils step by step.  For further information, e-mail or you can find Cameron on Twitter: @MrStewart_PE