Creating your game model – a step by step guide to create your own mental & performance model in your sport

So, the latest in my series of blogs concerns a topic that seems to be very trendy with coaches over social media at the moment, the ‘Game Model’. Since being introduced to what a game model is and creating my own, this model is quite simply something I cannot live without in coaching! My game model directs everything me and my coaching team do, in line with the training methodology I follow ‘Tactical Periodization’.

The COACHlife podcast – hosted by football coach Adam Lott

I recently spoke about the importance of having a game model on ‘the COACHlife podcast’ (link- However, from what I have seen on twitter over the last 3 months I feel that the whole concept of the Game model is not neccesarily being used correctly for its intended purpose. Therefore, I decided to write a blog, on how to create a Game Model, and how to implement this into practice.

So, how do I begin to create my game model?

Well, before you create your game model, you need to create your mental model of your sport. I should say at this point that throughout I will be referring to my own sport ‘football’ and build up my football mental and game model throughout this blog.

A ‘Mental Model’ for Hockey, explainig the game of hockey in its ‘simplest form’ (England Hockey, 2015)

So what is a mental model? well a mental model may be explained as an ‘individual’s thought process about how something works in the real world’. (Tokuhama – Espinosa, 2010, P280) and might be presented in the form of visual diagram or table form. In sport, a mental model can be used to demonstrate a sport in its simplest form, and provides what we on the masters course would term ‘performance problems’ that are born from each moment of the game (Tee, Ashford & Piggott, 2018).

You can create a mental model from a range of different resources, but the easier starting point is considering the ‘internal logic‘ of your sport. The internal logic simplifies your sport into its basic fundamental principles and is informed by the ‘pre-lusory goal‘ and the ‘constuitive rules‘ of the game (Grehaigne et al, 2005). Now obviously I’m aware that these words are very ‘Jargony’, so allow me to provide an explanation of these terms in english!

The pre-lusory goal in football is to score a goal

The pre-lusory goal is the objective of the game! however, it is the objective of the game without consideration of the rules of the game (Schneider & Butcher, 1997). In my sport, football, the pre-lusory goal of the game is to ‘score a goal’, (Borge, 2019) as this is the ultimate objective!

Heading the ball is a ‘lusory mean’ of football, because the rules dictate that the player can head to ball to score a goal for example

The Constituitive rules are the rules in place that determine the means of action that a player can perform within the game. These rules are not and should not be confused with of all the rules of the game (such as regulative rules), these rules dictate the ‘lusory means’ (these means of action), Lusory means are ‘permitted’ by the constitutive rules to achieve the pre-lusory goal. An example of a constituative rule in football would be ‘the player can score a goal with any part of the their body apart from their hand or arms’. This then creates the lusory means that a player can score a goal by scoring with their feet, knees, shoulders, chest, head ect.

So where are we going with this?
Early form of my mental model for football

Well as discussed, for football the pre-lusory goal is to score a goal, but football is played with two teams, that each share this pre-lusory goal! Therefore, to achieve this pre-lusory goal, a team has to prevent the opposition from achieving the ‘pre-lusory goal’.

But how does the team do this? Well to achieve the pre-lusory goal (scoring a goal) a team has to ‘Attack’, and to prevent the opposition achieving the pre-lusory goal, a team has to ‘Defend’. This forms the basis of creating our ‘mental model’ as in football, in its simplest form, a team either attacks, or defends, which we could say are the two ‘main phases’ of the game.

But theres more to football than that!

So we know in football we either attack the oppositions goal, or defend our goal, but how do we do this? Well again we can consider the internal logic of the sport, and in this case, the lusory means of football.

Early forms of my mental model for football

So, how do we ‘attack’ in football, well by considering ‘what the rules allow a player to do’ if we think simplistically (taking away styles of play, ways to attack ect.) in football each team attempts to attack the goal by attempting to score. But to attempt the score, the team has to hold possession of the ball. Likewise, in football each team attempts to defend the goal, by literally attempting to defend that goal! But ultimately, to achieve the Pre-lusory goal of the game (score a goal), the team has to attempt to ‘regain possession’ in defence.

Now if your stuggling to comprehend this at this point, essentially you have to think ‘simplistically’. I.e, if you were to watch 100 games of football or whatever your sport is, what are the common themes or trends? A good way to think is taking invasion games for example (football, basketball, rugby, handball ect), the common trend in each of these games is that a team attacks and defends, with a continuous interaction in-between. The rules may dictate slight differences between how teams within these sports accomplish attacking and defending, but in each of these sports, those are the basic ‘phases’ that you will see, in its simplest form.

Continuing to build your game model



My model of football

So at this point, you should have your ‘mental model’ in place!

So, how do we go about creating our ‘performance or playing’ model to complete our Game Model?

Well, before you actually begin creating your game model, There are several factors relating to your ‘context’ that you should consider before creating the model. Delgardo-Bordonau & Mendez-Villanueva (2012) summarise some areas that you as the coach should consider before creating your model, these can be seen in the image below.

For me, I believe you start with context & culture, club structure & aims, structural organisation, and of course your beliefs as a coach. Why? well it is important as a coach that you don’t walk in with a game model in mind, for me the game model should be created or adapted from your personal philosophy based on these 3 other areas mentioned, because it has to be appropriate for the context!

My personal playing philosophy is to play attractive possession-based attacking football with player rotation, now thats great Sam, but would that work in an amateur club with grown men that just want to play and go for a beer afterwards? probably not no! So thats the first point to consider! Second, what do the club want to achieve? do they want to win, or do they want to develop players? for the latter my philosophy of player rotation would be appropriate as per my first blog post (see below), if the former, then probably not, because teaching player rotation in my experience takes time and causes mistakes, which ultimately cost goals and wins for the team!

Finally, Structural organisation, are you creating a game model for a club that filters down from the first team to the U5’s? (take ‘La Masia at FC Barcelona for example) Or just for the first team? Again this has implications, because for the first team, your model might be more inclined just to win and ignore optimum player development, yet if for the club (like tika taka, associated with Barcelona) then ultimately the game model needs to be an ideal form of playing that each team (from the first team to the U5’s) can work towards!

So thats quite a bit to take in! But its an important process to consider. I think coaches believe this game model should represent them, and yes some of it should because it should represent your values and potentially Your playing philosophy (take Pep Guardiola for example, we associate him with a certain style of football), but understanding the context, club aims, intended purpose of the model is so important, and this all effects your playing Game Model (Although Pep has imposed certain fundamental concepts at both Barcelona and Manchester City from his playing philosophy, Barcelona 2008-2012 and Manchester City do not play exactly the same, because the game model has changed due to these other factors relevant to the context. I’d argue Manchester City work harder out of possession than this Barcelona team did, because the culture of a northern working class English City like Manchester is to work hard! and this reflects the Game Model, as the stakeholders want to see this!).

*Check out S2EP9 of The Sports Coaching Podcast where guest Sam Gevaux explains how culture and capital can be used to create a Game model. Link –

Ultimately as I am going to explain, everything comes from this model!

So, what do we do after this process?

Its simple, like in creating our mental model, we conduct an inductive or deductive analysis to begin creating the ‘principles’ of our performance or playing model! The slideshow below shows how I went through this process.



So does that mean my Game Model is complete? well Yes and No!

As Delgardo-Bordonau & Mendez-Villanueva (2012) say, in building the Game model we have to consider the ‘players capabilities’. Now if you have built up your game model like me, you have a game model with principles that a ‘professional first team produces’, and more than likely if were basing this of Ajax or FC Barcelona, and elite first team with world class players.

So is your Game Model suitable for your players? The answer is probably not!

At this stage, we have to ‘contextualise’ our game model, i.e we have to ‘lower our expectations’ in the case of the principles of the model to make them more suitable and realistic for the players to perform, based on where they are at in their age and stage of development and their ability!

So how do we do this? Well, I’m afraid this is quite difficult to explain over a blog! Therefore should you want to know how to do this, then you’ll have to purchase package 3 of our ‘how-to create a GAME model package.


So once we have created this model, what do we do with it?

When I was luckly enough to be on Adam Lott’s Podcast (COACHlife Podcast) he raised the point that Game model seem to be very trendy at the minute yet coaches are not too sure what to do with them, and I think he made a great point!

At this point, I would direct the reader to check out my second blog on ‘Tactical Periodization’ to explain how to really implement the Game model in practice.

In short, The Game model should guide the entire practice. As a coach you should only ever be working on the principles of the game model, because ultimately, these are the principles that you are wanting your players to implement in the game.

To Summarise

In this blog I have tried to summarise 3 years worth of teachings into how to create a ‘Mental & Performance model’ for your sport. Ultimately, to me the Game model is so important, and so important to work from. I recently asked my players at Old Centralians how they have found practice, and the majority said it was the first time they had spent training sessions learning to play towards a playing philosophy. Having your ‘vision’ as the coach is so important, it informs you how you want to team to play! If you don’t have a vision in place for your team, and are not training your players to train towards this vision, then what are you trying to accomplish in training? Since I have used a Game model in my coaching, it has directed the whole process and I can tell you from recent success with Old Cents Women, that the ladies are playing in a way that stems from my game model, that in itself stemmed from my initial vision for the team.

I hope you have found this blog useful for constructing your own Game model in your sport, any questions please feel free to get in touch!

3 Comments on “Creating your game model – a step by step guide to create your own mental & performance model in your sport”

  1. Hi Sam. Im very impressed with how you have developed your philosophy. Id be interested in buying your pdf of your ‘Beta Plan’ whereby you have simplified you philosophy to deal with young players. I coach u10s and u11s. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

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