Be king of the mountain.

Like any subject, PE learning is a journey. A Journey that we at TLG-PE illustrate with mountains. Starting at the bottom, each step of the mountain is an important part of the journey.

Why mountains? Well, firstly, learning is a journey. A journey that focuses on reaching a specific place at a designated period in time. To us, Primary PE focuses on summiting the mountain in Year 6, and working backwards from there.

Secondly, I have a very slight infatuation with mountaineering. The challenge, the danger, the fact that your mind will beat you before your legs do…

So the mountain design is based on an expedition. Each year group’s objectives are like camps. You can’t successfully reach a camp until you have reached the one before. You need to build your journey. In PE that means you move on from one to the next. Systematically building on the skill sets and focusing on the specific learning to ensure every child is on target to summit in Year 6.

Take invasion games. In Year 3, the focus is on equipment – What to do with it. How to hold it. How to move with it. How to pass it. Embedding core skills that if not mastered, stop us from progressing further into the learning.

In Year 4, secure with our knowledge of the equipment, we focus on getting the equipment from the other person. Tackling, beating a defender, executing a 2 v 1…all core skills that need developing in a structured, constraint led environment.

On to Year 5. The tough year! The year when we really challenge both the teacher and the pupil. In Everest terms, this would be the dead zone. The area where if we get it wrong, we fail. This is the one where we learn about the game. Really learn. Deep, lasting learning. We focus on attacking and defending principles. We’re not just playing the game; we’re learning how to play it WELL. We’re learning about width, depth, penetration…

Year 6 is our summit. It’s our early start on a clear day to get the reward of a view. It’s the final push to knowing that we’ve done it – We’ve done something that not many people in the world can do. In PE terms, it’s our reward that we’ve really TAUGHT PE.

Don’t worry – Teaching is not solely down to you. The game is the teacher, the pitch is the classroom. You are simply the facilitator.

All great in theory. But how? Well, don’t tell anyone, but here’s the secret.

1) Get KS1 right.

Obvious. But if children can’t do the fundamentals by the time they finish KS1, the KS2 journey becomes infinitely harder. Not impossible, but harder. Think Everest without a gas cylinder.

2) Stick to the task.

Differentiation in PE is a hot topic. Should children who are struggling play different games to those that are excelling? Should the lower ability children be held back?


Rather than differentiation, think constraints. Any game can have constraints placed on it, either to effect individuals, or the group as a whole. Constraints can keep the task the same, whilst affecting how each INDIVIDUAL benefits from it.
Those that are good will benefit from continually practicing. Resist the urge to “move on”. Lionel Messi still does passing games in training. Owen Farrell will still run passing lines. You get my point.

3) Games, not drills.

You can teach technique till the cows come home, but if your skill level is lacking, your technique will let you down when it matters. Skill comes from practicing in a game scenario. You can constraint the game as needed, but there is nothing better than learning through play. Practice makes perfect. In sport, it does – but practice needs to be relevant. It needs to be game based, it needs to look and FEEL like the game, it needs to have plenty of decision-making, lots of touches of the ball. Game based learning creates smarter decision makers who can play what’s in front of them in a game.

4) Subject Knowledge.

Know your onions. If you don’t, you can’t teach it – simple. But you can be smart. Most invasion games have similar attacking and defending principles and the way they are utilised is mostly similar too. Take width in attack. Its use is to spread the defence and create holes for players to attack. Football, Rugby, Netball, Hockey – All the same.

5) Coach, not referee.

Finally, this is the nugget. This is the one that will make you stand out from every other teacher on the planet. In PE you are a coach, not a referee. Your job is not to blow the whistle when the ball goes out; it is to ascertain why the ball went out. Why did the defender just kick it directly into touch? Could they not see the passing options available? Did they not have time to process the options in front of them? Did their teammates not offer them options?

Coaches find the answers. Ideally, Players find the answers – we just steer them. But ultimately, we need the answer. We need the answer so we can place constraints on the game to maximize the learning for all involved.

So next time you blow a whistle and find yourself in ref mode, remind yourself that referees very rarely find their way into training sessions!


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