Game Sense Explanation

By | September 18, 2017

For some time now I have been trying to develop activities that will develop game sense in players. In less developed unions this is a real problem however it is by no means confined to these unions.

What do I mean by game sense?
It is the ability of players to adjust their play to change.

If we take an episode in play from the restart to the whistle things seldom go as planned and it is the ability of the players to adjust to the situation. Too often players expect “the move” to go “as rote”, it seldom does.

The transition from the expected to the unexpected and especially from attack to defence and defence to attack can often be slow. The transition from attack to defence takes more time because of the “let down” when it occurs and the edge that the defence in transition to attack from a turnover, is what often determines points and, ultimately, the result.

But game sense is not just about this major shift following a turnover, it is also the adjustment that is made as team mates react to the behavior of the opposition whether they be in attack and defence and this adjustment is at the heart of rugby’s mode of play.

Just think about it, if a team plays to a pattern, no matter what, the opposition has something concrete they can react to. For this reason the successful move is quickly past its sell by date. But what the move does do is force a reaction by the opposition and this generates options and it is the counter reaction that creates opportunities to succeed.

But more importantly, in the less successful and less skillful levels of the game, the player’s inferior performance forces an adjustment by team mates.
All this involves game sense.

I have tried to use video clips of episodes of play.
What we do is pause the footage at the restart and have the groups of players and coaches explain:

  1. The likely play that will take place.
  2. The functional roles of individual players.
  3. The outcomes you want them to achieve and
  4. The key factors that need to be performed to achieve the outcomes.
  5. And finally the outcome that is most likely to be achieved at the end of the episode.

The episode is then played so the end result can be viewed.

This is followed by comparing the outcomes and, more importantly, the differences in play by the individual players.

It is here that there is the weaknesses because it is very difficult to get footage of all players throughout the episode so the analysis is inaccurate.

I will continue to try and solve this problem but in the mean time I have revised material I have previously produced on attention skills that others have used in a mental skills programme.

This will be spread throughout a number of my blogs. You may find them useful.

It is divided into an education phase, acquisition phase and a practical phase. They are of different lengths so the education phase will be over 2-3 months, the acquisition phase and the practical phase could well combined.



Developing attention skills will enable players and coaches to react to the play of opponents and that of their team-mates.

This has a direct effect on decision-making and game sense.

It gives the situation a context in which the relevant variables are identified and acted upon.

In so doing it can be used to isolate the critical incidents important for decision-making based on the Pareto Principle which states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

The level at which this is done is dependent competency.

The degree to which a coaches and players are able to react depends on competency in a substantial menu of coaching and playing skills.

Teams with substantial skills will be able to react accurately while teams with limited skills are likely to make inferior choices that will be less effective. Their reaction is likely to be inconsistent also.

In this latter situation planning to play an inconsistent opponent is likely to be a waste of time because they will be erratic. Under these circumstances the team is best to play to their own patterns and impose them on their opponents.

In this module we will practice developing attention skills to improve game sense.

Part One – Education Phase
Exercise 1 – Screening Wisely

The purpose of this exercise is to encourage you to analyse what cues are important to attend to when playing and coaching.  In so doing game sense will improve as you will have a practical way of making a decision and acting on it. Over time the speed and accuracy with which you make decisions will increase.

See the book The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and the use of myelin as a vehicle for performing skills accurately

The first skill is to differentiate between relevant and irrelevant cues.

Initially write down any cues you think may be important. Then look at them closely and identify only those that will have an equitable impact on the immediate plays. An irrelevant cue will be anything else.

In this sense equitable means that an accurate choice performed successfully will result in a reward in the play that immediately follows while an inferior choice performed poorly will be unsuccessful and concede the advantage to the opponents.

Here is a sample response written by a tennis coach.

Situation:  The opponent is preparing to serve. I am waiting to receive the serve.

Cues given by the server
Outcome for the receiver – To return the ball as deep into the court as possible
Relevant Cues Irrelevant Cues / Distractions?
  1. Positioning of the server
  2. Gaze of the server
  3. Angle of the racquet at contact
  4. Point of contact.
  5. Ball Trajectory
  6. The context – first or second serve and the server’s most likely option.
  1. Crowd noise
  2. Movement in the stands
  3. Previous hits and miss hits in the game.
  4. The score

Can you think of any more?

Rugby Example
Playing Situation:  Defending from a 5metre scrum.

Outcome for the defensive team: To regaining possession of the ball.
An attempt has been made to put the cues in sequential order that is probably an order of priority.

Attacking Team’s Relevant Cues Irrelevant Cues
  1. Alignment of the attacking line.
  2. Positioning of the attacking line.
  3. Depth of the attacking line.
  4. Who wins the hit upon scrum engagement.
  5. Attempts at maintaining scrum pressure by moving forward advancing the side that will create an advantage.
  6. The lines of running of each attacker as play develops.
  7. Whether the attack gets over the gain line
  8. The ball carrier’s relative body position upon contact.
  9. The positioning of attacking support players during and after contact.
  10. 1-3 and 6-9 from phase play ball.
  1. The closeness of the score on the scoreboard.
  2. Crowd reaction.
  3. Time to halftime.
  4. The structure of the halftime break.
  5. Substitutions for the last quarter.
  6. The loss of the toss and playing into the wind this half.

Outcome for the attacking team: 
Regain possession of the ball.
Note: Continue to make the cues sequential and in order of priority.

Cues Given by the Defending Team
Relevant Cues Irrelevant Cues
1 1
2 2
3 3
4 4
5 5
6 6
7 7
8 8
9 9

Situation 2: The teams are participating in kicking duels between 22metre lines with each team maneuvering, looking for a counter attacking  option.

Outcome for attacking team (the team in possession): Achieve field position in the opposing team’s half and, hopefully, possession at the next stoppage of play.
Note: Sequential and prioritised.

Cues given by your team and the opposition
Your Attacking Team’s Relevant Cues The Opposing Defensive Team’s Relevant Cues Irrelevant Cues
1 1
2 2
3 3
4 4
5 5
6 6
7 7
8 8
9 9

Situation 3:  There is 10 minutes to go. You have just scored and the score is 10 – 14 to the opposition. They have kicked off deep inside your 22metre line.

Outcome for your team/ the receiving team: At the next stoppage achieve field position and possession close to the opposing team’s goal line.

Sequential and prioritised.

Cues given by the kicking/ attacking team
Relevant Cues Irrelevant Cues

Attention Analysis:

  1. The purpose of this exercise is to help in determining which tasks benefit from each attention style.
  2. Place each of the tasks in the table below in the appropriate quadrant of attention.
  3. Check your responses against those of others. If they differ, think through the task and the information necessary for successfully completing it.

For example:

  • Scrums and tackle/ post tackle requires a moderately narrow external attention.
  • Changing a game plan during a game falls between a fairly wide internal perspective and a minimally broad external perspective.
  • Winning set piece possession requires fairly narrow external vision and broad external vision.

Exercise 2 – Attention Analysis


Place each of the following tasks in the appropriate quadrant of the attention dimensions diagram below.

Player Skills Coach Skills
  1. Tackling
  2. Goal-kicking
  3. Psyching up for the game
  4. Using the overlap on the wing
  5. Listening to instructions
  6. Planning a pattern of play
  7. Executing a lineout take
  8. Maintaining the pace of the game
  9. Reacting to the opposition scoring in the following play.
A.    Using key factor analysis to correct individual skills.
B.    One-on-one interviews with players.
C.   Selecting a squad of 25.
D.   Modifying the patterns of play to produce a game plan for a specific opponent.
E.    Making a tactical substitution.
F.    Developing a code of conduct for the team.
G.   Observing opposing teams.
H.   Planning a practice session.
I.      Making best use of assistant coaches.
J.     Demonstrating a skill.


Broad / Peripheral Vision
Internal – inward on thoughts and feelings. External – outward on events happening in the environment.
 fill in here  fill in here 
 fill in here  fill in here 
Internal External
Narrow / Tunnel Vision

The purpose of this exercise is to allow you to assess the attention demands of playing and coaching in your current coaching/ playing environment.


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