Once Upon a PE Lesson

It’s Just a Game: By Whose Account?

“It’s my ball, you touched it last!”

“You didn’t tag me, you just touched my t-shirt!”

“No, I tagged you!”

“I don’t want to be in her team, I want to be with my friend.”

“It’s not fair!”

“Teacher, teacher…….”












There’s not a PE teacher anywhere in the world who hasn’t heard any of the above!

At times, students care so much. Of course, they want to win – they notice and worry about the small things that us teachers overlook. It can be frustrating for us teachers. These outbursts ruin the flow of a game, set a negative tone and often go against everything we promote in terms of sportsmanship and fair play.

I’ve been guilty of ignoring some outbursts or telling a student “Don’t worry” or “It’s just a game” because I wanted the problem to go away quickly. Knowing that losing or dealing with poor decisions in a respectful way is one of the lessons that should be learned within PE. But how do we ensure students understand this lesson?


During a game of staff netball, the GA on the opposing team committed an OBVIOUS footwork violation. A good 3-4 steps! I play GD, so I saw this very clearly. However, the umpire did not whistle to indicate this violation and the game continued, the GA scored after her footwork violation and this counted as the winning point for the game. I was gutted!

Throughout the game, I had followed all the rules. Yet, the opposing team had won, essentially because they broke a rule. Obviously, I didn’t ‘kick off’ as this was a social staff game. It was annoying nonetheless.

Then it clicked!

This was how my students felt. However, due to their young age and lack of experience, their feelings were magnified. It did matter, the students did worry and to them it was more than just a game.

When students felt these emotions –  the frustration and unfairness – I needed to treat this as another learning opportunity rather than pushing the situation to one side to save time. I challenged myself to never again say “It’s just a game”.


When students complained about a situation being unfair, we would have a discussion:

  • Why is this unfair?
  • What are the rules?
  • Are any rules broken?
  • What is the aim of the game?

Depending on the situation and number of students involved, this could be a one on one conversation or a group or class discussion. These conversations increased students’ understanding of the rules.


When students complained about their team members, we would talk about the importance of teamwork and support.

  • How could each member of the team work to their strengths?
  • How could you improve your passing so your teammate can receive the ball?


If students have a disagreement, we hold a team talk so students have the time to negotiate. It is now regular practice that we begin and end each lesson with a class discussion and have team talk breaks throughout the lesson so that ideas and disagreements can be talked through and resolved.

We all know that PE develops social skills and emotional intelligence. Above all, it is important to remember that just as students need time and guidance to discover and practice skills, concepts and strategies, we must give students the same time and guidance to process the emotions they feel so that they can have a positive impact on their performance.

More time is needed but tiny changes make the biggest differences.


How do you manage your students’ emotions?

Share your best practice to rachel@onceuponapelesson.com for a mention 😊👍

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