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Want to be a great kids coach? Think like a video game designer...

I was reading this great article from Ash Smith over at which was all about how kids developing amazing abilities by challenging each other and trying to outdo the last trick or skill they have performed.

It took me back to my childhood when I used to invent games with my brother and freinds to play in the park or the garden and I recognise now that this helped me to develop my abilities in a big way and also were the first steps on my coaching journey.

Essentially, I was using a constraints based model for game design without knowing it!

For example one of the games was a garden cricket game played with a golf ball and a really thin bat we called 'Golf Ball Nightmare'!

Golf Ball Nightmare (GBN) was so called for a couple of reasons..

1. It was a golf ball and if it hit you in the shin or on the knuckle then it hurt which was a nightmare. There was a healthy element of fear involved!

2. We played towards the house and if you caught one with the bat then it could hurtle towards the patio window. The bowler had to be brave and stop the ball from smashing the window so as to stop us from being grounded for the rest of our lives!

The game was intense but it was one of the best games we played, we would play for hours and took great pleasure whenever we smashed each oher on the shins and laughed as the other person hopped around holding their lower leg!

The reason the game worked was because it was brilliantly designed!

We started with the player experience...what did we want from the game?

  • We wanted to all have a go at batting regularly so the game had to be hard so that people got out a lot.

  • It had to have fear so that we could show our bravery or laugh at each other when we got a bit hurt but it couldn't be too dangerous or we wouldn't want to play.

  • You had to show skill to stay in bat.

  • Everyone needed to be involved, fielding is boring so we needed to make sure that fielders had some skin in the game. They really had to be on their toes to stop the windows getting smashed and us all getting into really deep trouble.

  • The golf ball bounced more realistically than a tennis ball.

Most of this design happened by accident and we made up most of the rules as we went along, modifying and tweaking the way it was played in order to make it harder or easier, more dangerous or less dangerous.

A big part of the fun was making up the rules and coming up with the game formats.

Jane McGonigal is a game designer and she talks pasiionately about the role that games and play can have to enrich our lives. I can definitely align with that!

I am left thinking how much the youth sports experience is like this.

The vast majority of kids aren't playing garden games like this anymore as they are so hooked into video games that are designed by very smart people who spend their lives working out ways to make their games more fun and more addictive so that the kids want to play again and again.

So our challenge is to think like these super smart game designers and try and beat them at their own game. We have to create really 'sticky' activities that they are going to want to do again and again.

So here are some questions to ask yourself when you are designing your activity?

Is everyone engaged?

Is there a challenge that makes them strive to go beyond their abilities?

Do players get loads of goes or do they need to stand around and wait?

Does the activity require them to solve a problem?

Do they have to think about solutions themselves and work it out or do they get given the answers?

Do they get feedack that encourages the effort in trying rather than just praise which encourages not failing?

Does it simulate the game effectively, is it realistic to what they will confront when they play in matches?

For some of us, thinking through these activities and coming up with games or activities that answer these questions is a really challenge...

So I will give you a couple of secrets...

1. Just use trial and error.

The first go at anything is rarely the best version so be prepared to flex and improve as you go. Some of my best activities have come from me having to solve a problem in the session because something wasnt working and making a tweak that made the whole activity loads better.

2. Get the kids to design with/for you.

Kids are really creative and they love designing games. They will come out with some crazy ideas that you won't even think of, you can then distill these down into something that will be really good. I often ask the question "how can we make this even better" or "how can we make it harder". The answers are usually genius.

Some people are fearful of this because they think that they will look like they don't know what they are doing?

I would answer like this...

Do we want to look good...or do we want to get better? Do we have a Growth Mindset as coaches or do we have a Fixed Mindset?

I will leave Trev Ragan from to reinforce the point.

Get out there and coach ugly!

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