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What makes for a successful game?

This is an excerpt from Physical and Health Education in Canada With Web Resource by Joe Barrett & Carol Scaini.

At this point, you may be wondering, "Are some games better than others"? The simple answer is yes, but there is a lot more to it than that. The success of a game depends on a great many factors, ranging from students’ moods to curricular outcomes. There are, however, a few essential considerations that must be satisfied in order for a game to be considered successful as part of a physical education lesson. These essentials hold true for all games - competitive and cooperative, small sided and large sided, teacher driven and student created.


The first essential is that the game must be educational; more specifically, it must help all students develop knowledge or skills related to a specific curricular outcome. Merely getting students physically active is not enough. Many physical educators believe that a class is successful if the students are "happy and busy" (i.e., having fun and being active) and being "good" (i.e., behaving well) (Placek, 1983; Henninger & Coleman, 2008). Certainly, these things are desirable, but if a game is not educational - that is, if students are not learning anything - then we would suggest that it cannot in good conscience be considered successful by a teacher who believes in delivering a physical education program.


The second essential is for the game to have clearly defined rules that are not too hard for students to follow and that help create equal opportunity for all players. If students are unsure how a game should be played, this uncertainty immediately undercuts its potential for success. Specifically, game flow may be disrupted by frequent stops due to rule infractions, and students may be less engaged in the activity because they don’t fully understand what they are - and are not - allowed to do. As a result, games with demanding rules are often problematic at the elementary school level. For example, it would nearly impossible to play a full game of either Canadian or American football with elementary school students; there are simply far too many rules for students to remember and understand. Even at the secondary school level, teachers typically use a modified version (e.g., flag football) or a small-sided version with simplified rules. Of course, problems can also arise if a game has too few rules. For example, safety issues could be problematic for a modified game of floor hockey where the only rule provided is that a goal will be counted when the ball enters the opposing team’s net. Keeping sticks down and body contact, for example, should also be addressed.


The final essential is that the game should be enjoyable and high in "playability" (Casey & Hastie, 2011).Although the need for fun is unsurprising, students’ perceptions of it can be affected by a variety of factors, many of which are hard for a teacher to control. That said, one factor that is sure to influence a game’s level of fun is playability. Students typically want games to feature a balance between offense and defense; even more important, they prefer games that allow for success. For example, in elementary school, volleyball typically lacks playability because it requires very specific skills that are too advanced for most of the students. Therefore, in order to make the game successful with these students, teachers need to find ways to improve its playability - for example, using a beach ball instead of a traditional volleyball. This simple modification gives students more time to set up and make contact with the ball, thus increasing the average length of rallies and increasing students’ ability to succeed in playing the game. Essentially, then, this modification makes the game playable!