Trending: Changing the “Culture of Games”

Are you one of the 22 million people who has seen the video below, or others like it, shared on social media this week? It is almost the definition of a viral video as I have seen plenty of non #physed teachers sharing it on their social networks and it keeps on popping up wherever I look.
When you saw it did you think “what an awesome game!” and then tell yourself that you simply must play it in your #physed class tomorrow?

TIC TAC TOETIC TAC TOE – Best Warmup Ever Played by young Goalkeepers of Istres Provence Handball Club.Idea by Patrekur Johannesson, Coach of the Austrian Men’s Handball National Team.

Posted by Thomas Bauer on Tuesday, March 1, 2016


As physical educators we all love new games and activities and I’ll admit when I saw it my immediate thought was something along the lines of “the kids will LOVE that game!” This game is well and truly trending amongst #physed classrooms worldwide this week if the tweets, Voxer messages and Facebook posts are anything to go by.

Now I am not disputing that this game is great, however it did force me to get off my couch on a Tuesday evening and bust out this blog post. I’ll warn you now…this may not be the blog post you wanted to read and you may look at me and say, “Whatever Nathan, it’s just a fun warm up game!”  I agree, this game would be a fun warm up game to use with classes of any age.
This blog post is a not about THIS game, its about a bigger issue, its about the “culture of games” which pervades physical education classrooms around the world. This “culture of games” exists in our physical education history and will exist in our physical education futures unless we are prepared to acknowledge that it exists and take steps to create better physical education experiences for our students.

The “Culture of Games”

I experience it every day when I pick up the next class and I am greeted with “What games are we playing today?”
I dream of a day when a student says to me as I greet their class “What will we be learning about today?”Don’t get me wrong learning through game play is ESSENTIAL in physical education. Take a look at all the research on Teaching Games for Understanding or the Game Sense approach. If you still need convincing on this then have a discussion with my good friend Shane Pill.

My bugbear right now around the “culture of games” is that it is that games are being used as time fillers and sources of physical activity rather than as tools for learning in physical education. Games are being played because they are cool or fun rather than because they address educational learning outcomes. To me this is just wrong!

This “culture of games” goes hand in hand with our current educational obsession with the “next great app” or piece of technology. All we have done it transferred our habits and “culture of games” into the 21st century and the technology which is in our hands. What was once games in a book, is now apps on a device. Dr Justen O’Connor wrote a fantastic blog post a few weeks back entitled Terrible Apps for HPE Teachers which delves into this topic in more detail.

Joey Feith recently blogged On Dodgeball, which is a perfect example of the “culture of games” which exists within physical education. How many of us play Dodgeball or games like it as a “go-to” activity? As a reward for good behaviour? As a time filler? Because the kids ask for it?

Changing the “Culture of Games”

I know that those of you who have read this far will either be nodding your head in agreement, or more likely saying “So what Nathan, quit complaining!” and be planning your vitriolic responses.

So here goes, here are three simple things which I think can begin to change the “culture of games” in physical education:

  • Plan and Play with Purpose – Plan your lessons and the games within them with a purpose behind them that are linked to learning outcomes. Modify rules of existing games or create new games which will allow students to succeed in being able to show you their attainment of the learning outcomes the games or activities are aligned to.
  • Be Transparent and Accountable – With everyone about what you are doing in your physical education classes, including yourself. Ask yourself “Why are we playing this game?” If the answer is; “It’s fun, the kids like it, we always play this game” or “I don’t know?” Then probably you are not being the best physical educator you can be. Explain to yourself, your students, colleagues, parents, anyone who will listen as to why the things you are doing in your physical education classes are important to the students in your care.
  • See the Bigger Picture – Both for yourself and for your students. How satisfied will you be as a professional if you keep doing the same things you have always done? What are your students learning playing line tag for the 30th straight week? As physical educators our mission is to help students develop their physical literacy. Ask yourself “are the activities and games I am providing giving my students the best possible opportunity to achieve that?”

If you agree or disagree with any of the things I have said, then I would absolutely love for you to comment below to continue this conversation. I believe it’s an important one, and a conversation that needs to be had. I welcome you to share your thoughts below and to continue this conversation together to change the “culture of games” in physical education.

Nathan Horne is a Physical Educator based in Singapore and founder of iPhys-Ed.com. Be sure to never miss out on any of iPhys-Ed.com’s future posts by connecting with us via TwitterFacebook or subscribing to our RSS Feed
Nathan can be contacted on Twitter @PENathan or via email at nathan@iphys-ed.com


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