Making sense of games with Principles of Play

I have posted previously on my conversion to games-based learning, and on the challenges of designing games that are both “representative” (of the real game, and that therefore require the players to develop transferable cricket skills) but at the same time not so constrained and artificial as to no longer be fun to play (the “game” element is important, because we want the players are to come back to it again and again).

Over the summer I finished reading the best book I have ever read on non-linear pedagogy (“Nonlinear Pedagogy in Skill Acquisition – an Introduction“, Jia Yi Chow, Keith Davids, Chris Button and Ian Renshaw, 2015;  ).

OK, this is probably the only book on non-linear pedagogy I ever expect to read, and it gets a bit dry in places, but it describes the theoretical basis of representative games, and Renshaw is very good on games for cricket training.

I was still struggling with creating truly representative games, however, until I came across the concept of Principles of Play.

Principles of Play, for any sport, can be defined as those fundamental strategies used to effectively adapt to any tactical situation during a game.

More simply – the actions taken by the winning team.

For cricket, the Principles of Play might be defined as follows:

  • Batting:
    • score runs
    • don’t get out
  • Bowling & Fielding:
    • take wickets
    • deny the batsman run scoring opportunities

It really is that simple…except, of course, that the balance between the two, not always mutually compatible, objectives, whether batting or fielding, is infinitely nuanced by the match format, the current state of the game, playing conditions (both match regulations and climatic), opposition strengths & weaknesses etc., etc.

But having identified the non-negotiable principles, game selection becomes easier.  Does your game challenge the players to display appropriate behaviours to deliver on the Principles?

No? Then look for another!

Yes? Then you have found your game.

Back in July, I re-posted a blog from the DrowningInTheShallows blog on the application of a game sense approach for cricket in school PE lessons.  The author described a conceptual model of the process of building an innings (“Going through the gears”) which was used to define the “curriculum” for his batting lessons.

Going through the gears – batting

  1. Consolidate (don’t get out)
  2. Comfort zone (attack bad balls)
  3. Dominate (4 scoring strokes per over)
  4. Accelerate (go to 5)
  5. Boundaries (hit the ropes)

For each “gear”, there would be an appropriate modified game, each ideally with progressive levels of difficulty.

This set me thinking about my own conceptual model of batting, and some of the games that we might play to help a batsman to think about building an innings.

Here is my take on the gears, based on the Principles of Play outlined above, together with some ideas of games that might work at each stage.

1st Gear: Consolidate (don’t get out)

2nd Gear: Ticking over (look for singles)

  • “run one, run two” (r1r2) – fielders “in the ring”, batter hits ball into gaps (put a limit on how far they can hit the ball – perhaps no more than 10 m beyond fielding ring) and attempts to run two; fielders stop runs by achieving run outs at both ends; batter to start with (self) drop feed, then progress to bobble feed from coach and/or co-operative bowling (by partner).
    • batsmen encouraged to hit the gaps and to run hard; fielders need to field accurately and back up throws to have any chance of getting their 2nd run out
  • Last man standing – perhaps a little frantic, but good for working on shot placement.

3rd Gear: Accelerate (attack bad balls)

  • r1r2 as above, with coach or co-operative feed; batsmen get a bonus for beating the infield BUT with consequences “if you are out, you are out”
    • demands judgement from the batter, to select bad balls that can be scored from but not take excessive risks

4th Gear: Dominate (4+ scoring strokes per over)

  • as above; consequence -1 if only 3 scoring strokes, -2 if only 2 scoring strokes
    • batters encouraged to take more risks than in the “Accelerate” game with lesser penalties for getting out

5th Gear: Boundaries (hit the ropes)

  • range hitting, 2/3 target zones (straight/leg/extra cover); coach- or co-operative-feed; no penalties for getting caught (we want the batters to try to hit big), but fielders can score bonus points for their team by taking catches.
    • if indoors, the games might be variations of the Lord’s game, with additional bonuses for boundaries.

Some of the games might be a little too complicated to be left almost entirely to the players to run by themselves (as per the intention of the Games Sense model from @ImSporticus), so there might be a need for more coach intervention; we would hope to have a lower coach:player ratio than in a PE lesson, so perhaps we will be OK.

Published by

Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB CA cricket coach working at the MCC Academy, the Essex Indoor Cricket Centre, and with the junior sections at Oakfield Parkonians CC & Regent's Park CC; All Stars Cricket Activator; ECB ACO umpire.

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