APP – How do your PE lessons stack up?

APP, or activity per pupil, is not a new concept. Many of the governing bodies of sports in the UK have now turned to a game based approach to learning.


As an England Hockey Coach Educator in my ‘spare’ time, I have been privileged to see how a sport that was always predominantly coached by a drill centered approach has transformed itself with a more game based philosophy on learning. As a youngster, my memories of hockey coaching sessions are clear. Me, and about 9 of my teammates, patiently waiting in a line whilst one of our friends dribbled in and out of cones. Once he’d finish, it was the next persons attempt whilst he joined the back of the line.


I remember waiting. A lot.


Did these closed drills improve my skill? Well no, not really. They may have helped my technique and allowed me to practice turning the stick without fear of losing the ball or being tackled, but they didn’t improve my skill. After all, skill is technique plus pressure, and not a lot of pressure comes from a static cone.


So England Hockey decided that game based learning was best. Coaching players not only have good technique, but also high skill. Coaching players to keep their head up, read the game in front of them and make decisions based on what situation they find themselves in. Quite simply, game based learning develops more skillful athletes and better decision makers.


But what other impact would it have had on my childhood Hockey memories? Well it would have improved my APP no end!


APP is pretty easy to work out. I think the dribbling drill would have lasted at least 15 minutes. There were 10 people to have a go don’t forget, and everyone wanted to do it as many times as possible.


So, when you break it down, I would have had about 3 turns in those 15 minutes. Basically, I would have spent about 90 seconds being active and about 810 seconds watching someone else. Put differently, I would have dribbled for a minute and half, and lined up for thirteen and a half minutes. A pretty low APP.


How many opportunities would I have had to dribble in a 5 v 5 game of some sort that lasted 15 minutes? How many touches of the ball would I have had? How many decisions would I have had to make? How much would I have improved as a hockey player?


Even if I was a pretty low ability hockey player, I could have played in a game with constraints applied to suit my ability (something like no tackling, only intercepting), which would have still given me slightly less pressure than a full on game. More importantly though, I would still have needed to look and react to what was happening around me. I would have needed to change direction and not just dribble in a straight line. I would have found myself in a situation that reflected more of the game that I was trying to get better at.


PE is no different.


Be honest, what does the APP look like in your PE lessons?


Not sure?


Well you can do a test. Choose one pupil next time you do PE, any pupil, and see how often they are active in your game or drill. You can either measure in time (he/she was active for 5 of the 15 minutes) or in touches of the ball (he/she made 15 passes in 5 minutes). You may be surprised at how low it is.


Relate it to any other lesson – The more children practice something the better they become at it. PE is no different. You wouldn’t let a child touch a pencil for 90 seconds of a 15 minute writing assignment!


Sometimes, drills are inevitable and form an important foundation for long-term skill development. That still doesn’t mean that we can’t improve the APP time. Think about the following:


  • Smaller teams so players get more turns.
  • Increasing the tempo of the lesson to get players changing quickly.
  • Making your transitions from one game to another quicker to minimize waiting time.
  • Less talking from the teacher – Let them get playing!


APP – Activity Per Pupil. One for you to think about in your coming PE lessons.





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